Rock of Escape.

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.

Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. – 1 Samuel 23:15-29 ESV

Verse 14 of this same chapter stated that Saul sought David every day. He was on a relentless, obsessive mission to destroy David because he knew that as long as David was alive, his crown was in jeopardy. He had even warned his son, Jonathan, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31 ESV). And it seems that Jonathan had taken those words to heart. He risked the wrath of his father and his own life by covertly arranging to see David one more time. And at that reunion with his best friend, he disclosed to David, “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware” (1 Samuel 23:17 NLT). Jonathan had seen the handwriting on the wall. He somehow knew that David was to be the next king and that it would be the will and work of God. The text tells us that Jonathan “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16 ESV). He encouraged David to trust God. Not even his father, Saul, was going to be able to stop what God had ordained. Jonathan knew his father was in the wrong and would eventually fail in his attempt to thwart the will of God. It had become increasingly clear to him that Saul’s obsession with David’s death was not only uncalled for, but would prove to be unsuccessful. These words from his best friend and the rightful heir to the throne had to have encouraged David greatly. Jonathan was abdicating any right he had to be the next king because he believed David to be God’s choice for the role.

It is interesting how God sometimes uses others to reveal to us information regarding us that has escaped our notice. All David seemed to know was that Saul was out to kill him. It would seem that he had not yet put two and two together and arrived at the conclusion that Saul’s obsessive-compulsive behavior toward him did have a reason: Saul knew David was God’s choice to be the next king. It took Jonathan to add up the facts and present David with what should have been an obvious conclusion: He was going to be king of Israel. Jonathan assured David that even Saul was well aware of this fact. We are not given insight into David’s reaction at this news, but it had to have been an epiphany for him, a light-bulb-illuminating-over-the-head moment. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. The anointing, spear-throwing, raging, and running all began to come together into a clear picture of what God was going. The last time the two of them had met, David had askedJonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). Now he knew the answer. He was Saul’s God-appointed replacement. No wonder Saul was acting the way he was.

But even with this eye-opening, riddle-solving news, David’s lot in life didn’t undergo any kind of remarkable change. Jonathan would return home and David would find himself still living as a wanted man. In fact, it wouldn’t take long for reality to set back in as David’s location in the wilderness of Ziph was disclosed to Saul by the area’s residents. They ratted David out, informing Saul of his whereabouts, and promising to turn him over to the king. 

To get an idea of what David was thinking at this stage of his life, all we have to do is turn to Psalm 54, which was written at this very time. In this psalm, David bears his heart to God. He calls on God to save him. And he promises to offer sacrifices to God when He does finally provide him with deliverance.

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
2 O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

3 For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah

4 Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
5 He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.

6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.


One of the revealing statements in this psalm is David’s conclusion that those who were seeking him and those who would betray him “do not set God before themselves.” The New Living Translation phrases it this way: “They care nothing for God.” The actions of Saul and the Ziphites had nothing to do with the will of God. David describes them as strangers, ruthless, and enemies; and he refers to their actions as evil. David realized that this was a spiritual battle between those who care nothing for God and God Himself. So David calls on God to do what only He can do. He pleads with God to save and vindicate him, to avenge and deliver him, to hear and help him. David knew that his life was in God’s hands. God had anointed him and would be God who would have to protect and deliver him.

And David would receive yet another timely example of God’s ability to deliver. When Saul heard that David and his men had relocated to the wilderness of Moan, he set out in hot pursuit. The passage tells us, “Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again” (1 Samuel 23:26-27 NLT). Just in the nick of time, God stepped in. It would be tempting to write this off as nothing more than a very timely coincidence. But for David, it would have been the very well-timed, miraculous intervention of God. Just when Saul and his men were closing in, God stepped in and provided a way of escape. And God would use the enemies of Israel to deliver the next king of Israel. The Philistines had chosen that particular moment in time to raid Israel, forcing Saul to abandon his pursuit of David and return home. The name of that place became known as the Rock of Escape. God had become a rock of escape for David, protecting him from his enemies and providing a miraculous, perfectly timed deliverance from his enemies. But notice that God did not eliminate Saul. He did not provide a permanent victory over Saul by allowing David to kill him in battle. He simply removed the immediate threat and gave David a glimpse of His capacity to save. God was not interested in removing the difficulties from David’s life as much as He was in getting David to trust the One for whom no problem was to difficult. Saul was not going to go away, but neither was God. David’s life was not going to be problem-free, but David was going to learn that nothing that happened in his life was free from God’s all-seeing eye. Which is why David, years later, would later be able to write these words:

You are my rock and my fortress.
    For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
    for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
    Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. – Psalm 31:3-5 NLT


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Naomi the Negative. Ruth the Resilient.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” – Ruth 1:19-2:7 ESV

These verses are filled with contrasts. The most obvious one is the difference between the two women: Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. They both arrive in Bethlehem, but with radically different outlooks. Naomi had left during a famine, but arrived back during the barley harvest. Conditions back home had obviously improved. But she is so busy dwelling on all that had happened to her in Moab, that she fails to notice or appreciate the improved conditions in Bethlehem. In fact, she is so despondent over the loss of her husband and two sons, that she informs everyone her name will no longer be Naomi, but Mara. Naomi means, “my pleasantness” and Mara means, “bitterness.” She is so upset with her lot in life that she goes so far as to change her name to reflect her outlook. She is bitter and hold God responsible, claiming,  “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (Ruth 1:27 NLT). In her mind, it was God who had opposed her and the El Shaddai, God Almighty, who had caused her to suffer. Her reference to God using the Hebrew name, Shaddai, reveals her belief in God’s all-powerful, sovereign nature. She rightly understands God’s omnipotence, but fails to grasp His lovingkindness. She views God as an all-powerful and somewhat angry deity who wields His power unfairly and unjustly. She sees no purpose in her losses and can find no silver lining to the dark cloud of her despair. She believes her fate is in the hands of God, but she finds no comfort there.

But Ruth, the Moabitess, seems to have a different perspective. Of the two women, it would seem that she had even more justification to be negative about her new circumstances. She too had lost her husband. She had also left behind her family and friends and moved to a new country with nothing more than her widowed mother-in-law as a companion. She found herself an outsider, a non-Jew living in the land of Israel. And on top of that, she was a woman and a widow, two things that would not be in her favor in the male-dominated society of the ancient Middle East. And yet, Ruth proves to be a beacon of light in the midst of Naomi’s darkened outlook.

With no means of providing for themselves, Naomi and Ruth are left with no other option than to search for grain in the fields after barley harvesters were done. This was called gleaning and it was a God-ordained policy meant to assist the needy. God had commanded the Israelites:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Ruth determined to do whatever was necessary to provide for she and her mother-in-law. She asked Naomi for permission to do something about their dire circumstances, saying, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so” (Ruth 2:2 NLT). With Naomi’s permission, she headed into the fields. And this is where the story gets interesting. The author gives us a not-so-subtle clue that there is more going on here than good luck. “Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3 NLT). Chapter two began with a brief parenthetical introduction to Boaz, telling us that “Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1 NLT). When Ruth went into the fields, she knew nothing of Boaz or his fields. She simply went to glean. Her objective was to find food, not a husband. Her only motivation was survival. But again, the author lets us know that there is something providential going on here. He writes, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4 ESV). It just so happened that Ruth decided to glean in the field belonging to Boaz. It just so happened that Boaz showed up at the very same time Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a coincidence. What incredible timing.

It would be so easy to read the book of Ruth as a fanciful love story, a kind of screenplayfor a Hebrew Hallmark movie, where the down-and-out country girl meets the well-to-do city boy and their lives end happily ever after. But there is so much more going on here than a cheesy boy-meets-girl scenario with a sappy everything-turns-out-okay ending. This is about the sovereign will of God regarding His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth, this widowed, helpless non-Jewish woman is going to become a major player in the divine plan of redemption. In his genealogical record of the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Spoiler alert: Ruth and Boaz do end up together. They get married and have a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. And from King David's lineage would come Jesus Christ. God would end up making a covenant with David, saying, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). That promise would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose rule and reign on the throne of David will take place in the millennial kingdom.

Ruth went into the field to find grain. But God sent her into the field to find her purpose in life. She would become a major player in God’s divine plan for the redemption of the world and the eventual birth of the One who will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ruth, like Mary, was going to be a vessel in the hands of God to bring about His divine will and accomplish His sovereign plan of salvation. The message given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, sums up the real story behind the story of Ruth. God had far more in mind than providing grain or even a husband for Ruth. He was out to provide salvation to a lost and dying the world.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT


No Brag. Just Fact.

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV

Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public. 

And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.

Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.

While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus andoffering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.


A New Covenant.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. – 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 ESV

This entire paragraph sounds like a riddle. To understand it, we must go back and look at the two verses that preceded it.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 ESV

Paul had just brought up the topic of the new covenant. Now he is going to expand upon it, explaining the difference between it and the old covenant. He will provide seven different contrasts between the two. But before we look at those distinctions, it is important to understand just what he means by a “covenant”. The Greek word for covenant is diathēkē and it refers to a testament or agreement. It is where we get the Old and New Testaments of our Bible. It is a form of agreement between two parties, but it is unilateral, where only one party sets the conditions and the other party must either accept or reject it, much like a last will and testament. Paul is bringing up the differences between the agreement God had made with the Israelites found in the Old Testament with the agreement He has made with the church found in the New Testament. The first agreement was the Mosaic Law handed down to the Israelites from Mount Sinai and administered by Moses. The second agreement was thenew covenant in Christ’s blood handed down at mount Calvary and administered by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus had held up the cup of wine at His last Passover meal with His disciples, just hours before His death, He said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). 

In the closing of his letter to the Hebrews, the author provides the following benediction:

Now may the God of peace—who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. – Hebrews 13:20-21 NLT

Paul refers to the old covenant as “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” (2 Corinthians 3:7 ESV). The Mosaic Covenant revealed the will of God in the form of the law. It contained His commands regarding how the Israelites were to live their lives on this earth as His chosen people. It was intended to set them apart from all the other nations. The law contained plenty of “you shall’s” and “you shall not’s”. It required perfect obedience and it was accompanied with blessings and cursings. If the Israelites kept the law of God, they would be blessed. But if they failed to keep it, they would experience His punishment in the form of God-administered curses.

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands…I will look favorably upon you, making you fertile and multiplying your people. And I will fulfill my covenant with you. – Leviticus 26:3, 9 NLT

However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you. – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

The old covenant was a “ministry of death” because the people could not keep it. It could do nothing but condemn them. It could expose their sin, but was not designed to help them have victory over sin. The law could tell them what to do or not to do, but was not capable of helping them obey. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-20 ESV). In his letter to the Galatians, he responds to the logical question, “If the law can’t help men live righteously, why did God give it?”

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

Paul refers to and incident when Moses came down off the mountain after having received the law from God. His face literally glowed. He exuded the glory of God and the people were awed by it. It was the only evidence that the tablets of the law he passed on to them had come from God. When the glory on his face began to fade, so did their respect for and obedience to the law. But when Christ died, ushering in the new covenant, it was accompanied by the glory of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. Rather than an external and temporary form of glory, it was to be an internal and eternal one.

The new covenant has replaced the old covenant – “what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it” (2 Corinthians 3:10 ESV). No longer do men need to try and live up to the righteous standards of God equipped with nothing more than their own determination and sin-weakened will. They now have the Spirit of God living within them, whose power makes it possible for them to live in obedience to the will of God. The author of Hebrews, quoting an Old Testament prophecy found in the book of Jeremiah, explains the significance of this new covenant relationship with God made possible by the death of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the Lord. But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear. – Hebrews 8:7-13 NLT

The Corinthians were already recipients of this new covenant. They had received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. But the day is coming when even the rebellious people of Israel will know what it is like to experience the grace of God and glory of His Spirit’s presence and power. Remember, Paul claimed his sufficiency came from God (2 Corinthians 3:5). Anything he accomplished was the result of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who made is possible for Paul to be a minister of the new covenant. It was the Spirit who equipped him for service. It was the Spirit who validated his ministry. The new covenant had provided Paul with new life, a new nature, a new ministry, a new perspective on life, new hope, new purpose and a new relationship with God that was based on grace not effort, mercy and not merit.

In That Day.

Isaiah 11-12, 1 Peter 5

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2 ESV

Right in the middle of all the bad news that Isaiah had to deliver to the people of Israel, God gave him a glimpse into a future time when things for the chosen people of God would be dramatically improved. Isaiah was given a much-needed reminder that God's plan regarding Israel was not limited by their sin and rebellion. His future redemption and restoration of them as His people would not be based on their worth or ability to earn His favor. Just as God had restored Israel to the land after their years spent in captivity in Babylon, there was a day coming when He “will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people” (Isaiah 11:11 ESV). In the centuries ahead, the people of Israel would find themselves scattered and dispersed yet again, but God was going to “assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12 ESV). The God of Israel is faithful. He would prove Himself to be worthy of their trust. He had told them of His faithfulness. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations…” (Deuteronomy 7:9 NLT). But what the people of Isaiah's day needed to understand was that much of what God was going to do for them was to take place far into the future. He described a day when “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 11:6-7 ESV). This is likely describing a future day when there will be a time of unprecedented peace. The imagery of the wolf, leopard, lion and bear all represent the enemies of Israel who had plagued them for centuries. In that coming day, there will be God-ordained peace over all the earth and “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God revealed to Isaiah that there was a day coming when “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1 ESV). There was an individual coming on whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest. He would be marked by wisdom and understanding, counsel and might. He would have unprecedented knowledge and a fear of the Lord. This future leader was to be none other than Jesus Christ Himself. But it speaks of Jesus after His second coming when He will rule and reign as the rightful descendant of David from his throne in Jerusalem. The book of Revelation describes Him in all His glory. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV). Earlier in chapter 9, it was revealed how this future King would arrive on earth. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV). Luke would later record the words of the angel Gabriel, spoken to Mary about her soon-to-be miraculous pregnancy. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV). God was going to send His Son the first time in the form of a helpless baby. He would grow into manhood and eventually give His life as a substitionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. But there is a day coming when God will send His Son again, but on that day He will come as a conquering warrior. He will put right all that is wrong with the world. He will restore creation, redeem Israel, and destroy the enemy of God once and for all. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

As we live in this world, it can be so easy to lose sight of God's bigger plan. We can become so tunnel-sighted that we fail to recognize what God is doing on a grand scale. His long-term strategy so often escapes our notice. But Peter told his audience, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand o God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV). One of the more difficult things for us to do as human beings is to humble ourselves under God's sovereign will. There is a part of us that wants to know, that wants to dictate the direction and control the outcome of our lives. When difficulties come or our circumstances take a turn for the worst, it is easy to forget that God is in control. Our hope is to be a future hope. That does not mean that God is not involved, at this very moment, in the everyday affairs of our lives, but we must never lose sight of the fact that His salvation has a future aspect to it. Over and over again in the book of Isaiah, we read the words, “in that day.” Those words have a future orientation. Isaiah writes, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me’” (Isaiah 12:1 ESV). The situation at the time Isaiah was writing was less-than-ideal. The people were in rebellion. The threat of God's coming punishment hung over their heads. But there was a day coming. Salvation from the hand of God was in the future, and when it finally came, the people were going to be able to express their thanks and appreciation to the faithful, loving God. In the very next verse we read, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2 ESV). Part of the test for the people of Israel was to learn to trust God and to see Him as their strength and salvation, long before the actual experience of that salvation was to take place.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Sometimes it is hard for me to see God at work in and around my life. I can find is so easy to doubt and despair, wondering where He is and what He is doing. But I must always remind myself that His plan is far bigger than what I can see. His ultimate salvation of my life has a future aspect to it. Yes, He has saved me from the penalty of sin and death, but there is also a day coming when He is going to save me from my ongoing battle with my own sin nature. He will release me from this earthly body and allow me to experience what it is like to live a sin-free, pain-free, quilt-free, doubt-free life. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2 ESV). Peter gives us this encouraging words to remember as we live out our lives in the meantime: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 6:10-11 ESV). There is a day coming when God will call me to His eternal glory. At that point, He will completely restore, confirm, strengthen and establish me. It is as good as done. It is a sure thing. I can count on it as if it has already happened. So in the meantime, I need to learn to live my life with that day in mind. That is my future. That is my hope.

Father, I am so grateful that You have the end perfectly worked out. You know my future and You have it securely in place for me. I don't have to worry about it. I don't have to wonder how it all turns out. All because of what Your Son, the root of Jesse, has already accomplished on my behalf. Help me keep my eyes focused on the future as I live out my days in the present. Amen

The Power of Perspective.

Isaiah 9-10, 1 Peter 4

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

God's judgment was coming against the nation of Israel. He made it perfectly clear that He was going to use the nation of Assyria to punish people of God, referring to this foreign power as “the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury!” (Isaiah 10:5 ESV). God calls His own people “a godless nation” and “the people of my wrath” (Isaiah 10:6 ESV). He even painstakingly described the coming invasion by the Assyrians, chronicling their march across the land all the way up to the walls of Jerusalem. But God also made it crystal clear that all of this was His doing. Assyria was simply a tool in His hands, accomplishing His divine will against the nation of Israel. So God also told His people to trust Him. In spite of all that was about to happen, they needed to understand that He had their best interests in mind. God had a long-term perspective that included both judgment and redemption. He said, “O my people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while my fury will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their destruction” (Isaiah 10:24-25 ESV). While certain destruction was eminent, so was their rescue. God's plan included retribution and their ultimate restoration. “In that day the Lord will end the bondage of his people. He will break the yoke of slavery and lift it from their shoulders” (Isaiah 10:27 NLT). God let them know that “the remnant left in Israel, the survivors in the house of Jacob, will no longer depend on allies who seek to destroy them. But they will faithfully trust the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return; yes, the remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is always just and right in all that He does. While we may look at our circumstances and question the very love and mercy of God, we must always understand that God has a different perspective and outlook on our difficulties. The writer of Hebrews gives us a helpful reminder: “‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.’ As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children” (Hebrews 12:5-7 NLT). God punished the people of Israel because they deserved it, but He also did it in order to teach them to rely on Him. Sometimes the very difficulties we detest are the tools God uses to drive us back to Him in dependence. God has a long-term perspective. He knows things we don't know. Even in the midst of Isaiah's prophecies regarding the coming destruction of Israel, God gave him a glimpse of a day yet to come. In that day, God would send a great light to shine in the darkness. He would penetrate the spiritual gloom with the light of His Son. The apostle John describes this future event. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). God knew something the people of Israel in Isaiah's day could not have known. There was a day in which He would send His Son to the earth. He would be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV). But as John said, He would be rejected by His own. Jesus would come to the Jewish people, but they would reject Him. They would refuse to acknowledge Him as their King and Messiah. But Isaiah went on to prophesy, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:7 ESV). While Jesus' first coming ended in death, His second coming will bring about the fulfillment and establishment of His Kingdom on earth.

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the primary reasons we need to spend more time in God's Word is so that we might gain a greater understanding of God's ways. In the Scriptures, we are given a glimpse into the overall plan of God for mankind. His choosing of Abraham was just the beginning. His creation of the Hebrew nation was only a part of His plan. Yet they saw themselves as the central characters in God's divine plan. Little did they know that God was going to use them to bless all the nations of the earth, just as He had promised to Abraham. But the way in which God would accomplish this would be through the birth of His Son into the lineage of David. Jesus would be born a Jew, but would prove to be the Savior of all mankind. God's plan was so far greater than the Jews of Isaiah's day or even the Jews of Jesus' day could have ever grasped. They, like us, suffered from a limited perspective. They tended to be myopic and self-absorbed, unable to see very much beyond the borders of their current circumstances. But we must always remember that God's plan is far greater than what we can see at any given moment. Peter would remind us, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV). We are to live with the end in mind. We are to constantly remind ourselves that this is not all there is. God has something far greater in store for us than what we can see, feel, and experience in this world. And that divine perspective should change the way we live in this world. It should have practical implications in the way we conduct our lives in the here and how.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This life can have its fair share of difficulties. But I must constantly remind myself that the trials and troubles of this life are temporary. They are also great reminders that I must lean on God and rely on His promises of future restoration and redemption. Peter tells me, “You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 NLT). Sometimes the will of God includes suffering. It will require me to refrain from sin and to reject the desires of my own sinful nature. I must develop an eternal perspective. Again, Peter would remind me, “don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT). Jesus suffered while on this earth. In fact, He died a painful, humiliating death on a cruel Roman cross. But He did so willingly because He understood that it was all part of God's divine plan of redemption. He suffered because He knew that He would be glorified. And that is what Peter is telling us. There is a day coming when we too will be glorified. There is a day coming when Jesus will return again and restore all things. In the meantime, this earthly experience will have its fair share of troubles. But God has a purpose and a plan. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

Father, I want to learn to live with eternity in mind. I know I can't see into the future, but I can know and understand that You have the future fully in Your divine control. You have a plan and You are working that plan to perfection. And while I may not always enjoy or appreciate the difficulties that come with this life, I can rest assured that You have a purpose for all things. Any momentary light affliction I may experience in this life is nothing compared to the glory that is to come. Help me keep my eyes on “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). Amen

Misplaced Allegiance.

Isaiah 7-8, 1 Peter 3

If you will not believe, you surely shall not last. Isaiah 7:9 NASB

Ahaz, the king of Judah, faced a predicament. The kings of Syria and Israel had made an alliance and were threatening to attack Jerusalem. The news was not received well in Judah. “When the house of David was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’ the heart of Ahaz and the heart of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2 ESV). But God sent word to Ahaz through Isaiah, the prophet. “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let you heart be faint…” (Isaiah 7:4 ESV). It seems that Ahaz's real problem was not the threat of attack from Syria and Israel, but the danger of failing to trust God. Faced with eminent defeat at the hands of his enemies, Ahaz was encouraged to put his trust in His God. Isaiah warned him to place his hope in Yahweh alone. But it seems from the text that Ahaz had already come up with a plan of his own. He had probably made overtures to the Assyrians, turning to them as his real source of hope and help. But failing to trust God would prove to be far more risky than the mere presence of enemy armies outside the walls of Jerusalem. God said, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last” (Isaiah 7:9 NASB). God even offered to give Ahaz a sign as proof of His word. But when Ahaz turned down the offer, God provided a sign anyway. By refusing to trust God, Ahaz and the people of Judah would miss out on His divine intervention. God indicted the people of Judah for their lack of trust. “My care for the people of Judah is like the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, but they have rejected it. They are rejoicing over what will happen to King Rezin and King Pekah. Therefore, the Lord will overwhelm them with a mighty flood from the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria and all his glory. This flood will overflow all its channels and sweep into Judah until it is chin deep. It will spread its wings, submerging your land from one end to the other, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:6-8 NLT). Failure to trust God would have devastating consequences.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted to spare Judah. He wanted to rescue them from their enemies. But they were going to have to trust Him and allow Him to do it according to His plan and in His own timing. They could not afford to let their fears get the best of them and force them to take matters into their own hands. The presence of trouble in their lives should not have led to abandonment of their God. Instead, it should have driven them to a greater dependence upon Him. Amazingly, when they had the living God at their disposal, they would soon find themselves consulting the dead – using mediums and necromancers as a means to gain insight into their predicament. Loss of faith in God almost always leads to desperation and results in desperate measures. But God was there all along. He was ready to redeem and rescue. He was poised to act on their behalf. But it would require that they “Listen, calm down. Don’t be afraid. And don’t panic…” (Isaiah 7:4 MSG). Big problems require that we have a big perspective of God. Overwhelming odds can only be overcome when we understand the power of our God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Turning to something or someone other than God is almost a sport for most of us. We do it so easily and so often, that it has become second nature. Most of the time, we don't even know when we're doing it. Our tendency to panic in the face of difficulties has trained us to look elsewhere and seek alternative options for our rescue. Tim Keller calls them “counterfeit gods.” Anything or anyone we place our hope in or seek help from becomes a cheap replacement for the one true God. One of the greatest threats to our lives as believers is that we would stop trusting in God. We face that temptation every day of our lives. And we face it in practical, real life ways. Peter knew how difficult it was for the believers in his day to live out their faith in daily life. He knew that they faced trials, troubles, temptation and tests on a regular basis. And he knew that they would be tempted to turn away from God and seek help and hope elsewhere. That's why he encouraged wives to conduct their lives in such a way that even their unbelieving husbands “may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). It would have been easy for a believing woman who found herself married to an unbelieving man to rationalize and justify behavior that Peter would have deemed ungodly. It would have been tempting for her to question whether she had to honor her husband at all because of his unbelief. But in a way, Peter warns these women to trust God. Rather than come up with their own solution to their problem, they were to trust God by living godly lives. He told them to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. In the same way, husbands were to show their wives honor, whether they deserved it or not. They were to live with them in an understanding and respectful way at all times. To fail to do so would result in a hindered prayer life. There would be times when a man would find it extremely difficult to honor his wife. He would find it easy to rationalize doing just the opposite. But he was to trust God and do things His way. 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It all boils down to behavior. It is our actions that reveal just how much we truly trust God. That's why Peter calls on his readers to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV). Ahaz was encouraged to trust God – in spite of everything he saw happening around him. You and I are encouraged to trust God and live out our lives in such a way that our actions prove that we believe His way is the right way – whether it makes sense at the moment or not. Our trust in God must manifest itself in actions that prove we believe what He has promised. We must take Him at His word and live according to His standards, not our own. Peter reminds us, “but even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubles, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV). God did not promise Ahaz an immediate removal of his enemies. He simply said, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass…” (Isaiah 7:7 ESV). Ahaz was going to have to trust God for not only His deliverance, but for His timing. Sometimes the immediacy of our problems cause us to falter and faint. We grow desperate. We become doubtful. Then we start making plans of our own. But Isaiah's words are a great reminder for all of us. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” (Isaiah 8:17 ESV). 

Father, I want to learn to wait on You and hope in You. It is amazing how many times I turn to something other than You for help and hope. Please forgive me for my lack of trust. Help me to understand that the problems I face are simply opportunities to put my faith into action. I want to learn to listen, calm down, be unafraid, and not panic. Amen

Faithful Obedience.

Isaiah 5-6, 1 Peter 2

…you yourselves like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

Isaiah's calling by God was a remarkable event. He was given an up-close and personal glimpse of God Himself. The vision he received left no doubt in his mind as to the holiness and transcendence of God. In fact, Isaiah was so blown away by the experience, that he could only cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV). The overwhelming reality of God's holiness exposed Isaiah's own sinfulness. He recognized immediately that he had no right to be standing in the presence of a holy, righteous God. When Isaiah referred to God as “the Lord of Hosts,” he was essentially calling Him the the Lord of heaven's armies. Not only was God holy, righteous and just, He was the King of the universe who had power to go along with His position. This awareness on the part of Isaiah gives the sins of the people of Judah outlined in chapters 1-5 a sobering perspective. Isaiah recognized the perilous position of the nation as they stood before God. He was their King and they had been living in open rebellion to Him. Isaiah knew that he was no less guilty than the people. He had no right to stand before God Almighty. His sinfulness separated Him from God. But God took care of that problem. He had one of the seraphim take a burning coal from the altar and touch it to Isaiah's “unclean lips,” pronouncing, “your guilt is taken away, and you sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7 ESV). Isaiah's confession led to cleansing. In spite of Isaiah's guilt, God extended undeserved grace. And what was Isaiah's response to this unexpected and undeserved gift? He answered God's call for someone to act as His messenger, saying, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Isaiah was to be God's emissary, bringing His message of warning and call to repentance to the people of Judah. God, in His mercy, was going to give the people of Judah fair warning. He would provide them with ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. They would not be caught off guard or unawares. Isaiah's God-given message would be clear and concise, leaving them with no excuse when God's judgment came. In chapter five, God had pronounced six woes or laments on the people of Judah, based on their sins. He accused them of greed, seeking after pleasure, willfully committing unrepentant sin, perversity, pride and conceit, and of having lopsided values. As a result, God would be forced to bring judgment on them. He would humble them. “Man in humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought now. But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:15-16 ESV). God would be proven completely just and right in bringing judgment against His people. He would simply be giving them what their actions deserved. That He would even bother to warn them speaks of His grace and mercy. That He would not completely destroy them reminds us of His faithfulness. God had made a promise to Abraham generations earlier, and He was not going to break that promise. In spite of the people, He would still bless them. But He needed a faithful messenger to speak on His behalf.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Like so many before Him, Isaiah was not chosen because he was perfect of sinless. There was nothing about Isaiah that made him the perfect candidate for this assignment. All he brought to the table was an awareness of his own sin and a willingness to confess it before God. Isaiah knew he was unworthy of even standing before a holy God. He was just as guilty as anyone else. But unlike his fellow Jews, Isaiah was willing to admit his guilt and confess his sins before God. His contemporaries were guilty of calling “evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:5:20 ESV). In other words, they had turned morality and ethics upside down. Their behavior revealed that they lived completely opposite of what God had intended for them. They had become “wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:21 ESV). They were unrepentant. They were unashamed. But Isaiah stood before a holy God and was immediately struck by his own sinfulness. And when God extended grace, mercy and forgiveness to him, Isaiah's gratitude was expressed in willing submission to God's will. He volunteered to act as God's spokesman.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

What Isaiah willingly offered to do was going to be far more difficult than he could have ever imagined. God told him that his message would fall on deaf ears. They people of Judah would refuse to listen to his words of warning. He would preach, but no one would respond. He would call, but no one would listen. And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God essentially told him, “As long as it takes.” He would have to remain faithful until the end. He would have to keep speaking until God's judgment came in full. Isaiah had been chosen for a difficult task. He was God's hand-picked man for a very difficult assignment. And in so many ways, we stand in a similar place as Isaiah. Peter reminds us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV). God has chosen us. He has given us an assignment and commissioned us to act as His ambassadors and emissaries to a lost and dying world. Like Isaiah, we have been extended mercy and forgiveness. At one time we stood before a holy God as sinful and deserving of His judgment. But He cleansed us through the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ. And as a result, we should willingly offer ourselves for His service. Like Isaiah, we should say, “Here I am! Send me!” But if we dare to make that offer, we must realize that it will entail difficulty. It will not be easy. He will call us to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11 ESV). We will be required to “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16 ESV). We will be expected to “endure sorrows while suffering unjustly” (1 Peter 2:19 ESV). Why? Because it is “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example” (1 Peter 2:21 ESV). Isaiah's assignment was not going to be easy. But he would prove to be faithful. He would remain obedient to God's call. What about us? Will we live as God's chosen people, declaring His praises and living in willful obedience to His call on our lives? 

Father, I want to be a willing servant. I want to live in submission to Your call, no matter how difficult it may be. Help me to live in accordance with Your calling on my life. Never let me forget that I am Your possession, and that You have given me an assignment to complete while I live on this planet. It is not to be about me and my own pleasure, greed, conceit, comfort, and will. I have been redeemed so that I might declare Your glory and grace to all those I meet. Amen

Stay Focused.

Isaiah 3-4, 1 Peter 1

Tell the godly that all will be well for them. They will enjoy the rich reward they have earned! Isaiah 3:10 NLT

The opening chapters of the book of Isaiah are filled with God's stinging condemnation of the people of Israel. Through His prophet, Isaiah, God predicts the judgments He is bringing for their unfaithfulness. He outlines their sins in great detail. “For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence” (Isaiah 3:8 ESV). Their words and actions were so wicked, it was as if they didn't even believe that God existed. Their behavior seemed to deny the very presence of God. They were marked by pride and a lack of shame. So God was bringing judgment. But in the midst of all of God's righteous anger and accusations of unfaithfulness, He addresses the righteous or godly. He indicates that there remained a faithful remnant who would continue to honor and worship Him. And He tells them not to worry – that it will be well with them. They will eat the fruit of their deeds. In other words, their faithfulness in the midst of all the unfaithfulness will be rewarded. These people would have to go through the same judgment as everyone else. They would have to endure the same circumstances as the rest of the nation of Judah, but God would be with them. He would somehow reward them for remaining faithful to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our God is fully aware of what is going on in our hearts – at all times. He knows who is faithful and who is not. While it would be easy to draw the conclusion that everyone in Judah was wicked and apostate, God indicates that there are still a few who have not forsaken Him. There was still a righteous remnant who had remained faithful to God and who were trying to stay morally and religiously pure in the midst of the rampant sin and idolatry that was taking place all around them. God is always right in what He does. He never punished unfairly or causes the innocent to suffer unjustly. One of the indictments He had against the people of Judah was their abuse of the poor and needy. He accused the rulers and elders, saying, “You have ruined Israel, my vineyard. Your houses are filled with things stolen from the poor. How dare you crush my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?” (Isaiah 3:14-15 NLT). God was not blind to the injustices. He was not oblivious to the plight of the poor or the lonely condition of the faithful few who were trying to their belief in God alive while surrounded by runaway sin and moral decay. God was watching. He was fully aware of all that was going on. And the same is true in our day.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has always preserved a faithful remnant. There have always been a faithful few in all generations who have refused to turn their back on God. The temptation is to believe that we are all alone, that no one else is faithful, but us. The prophet Elijah faced that problem. He reached a point in his life and ministry when he believed he was the last man standing. After having witnessed a powerful miracle by God, and having personally defeated the prophets of Baal, Elijah received a death threat from Queen Jezebel. This bad news caused him to run for his life. Then, when confronted by God, he answered, ““I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). He was all alone. He was the only one left who remained faithful to God. Or so he thought. But God corrected his thinking, saying, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV). Elijah was not alone. There were others who shared his love for God and his desire to serve Him alone. God had preserved a remnant. But Elijah needed to be reminded that, for all his claims of belief and faith in God, for all his efforts on behalf of God, he had stopped placing His hope in God. He had let his circumstances dictate his conclusions about life and about God's ability to intervene in his situation. That small remnant of faithful Jews living in Judah had no idea what was going to happen. They could not argue with God regarding His assessment of their nation. They were fully aware of the sins taking place all around them. And they were not completely innocent themselves. While they were comparatively faithful compared to the majority of their peers, they were still sinful. They knew God was just in His pronouncement of judgment. But they didn't know what the future held for them. They were going to have to continue to trust God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Peter told the believers living in his day the same thing. They were living in a time of great persecution and difficulty. These relatively new believers found themselves facing all kinds of opposition. But Peter reminds them to keep their eyes focused on their future hope. He wanted them to remain faithful to God in the midst of all their difficulties. They were going to be tempted to take a look at their current conditions and give up. But Peter told them to look up. “Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT). Something greater was coming. God was going to preserve them through their current difficulties because He had promised them something better in the future. Peter went on to tell them, “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). The key to surviving the trials of life was to keep their hope focused on the faithfulness of God. And in the meantime to live their lives according to the reality of their future destiny. Peter told them, “So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as ‘temporary residents’” (1 Peter 1:17 NLT). They were to continue to live holy, set apart lives. Their future hope was to have a present reality to it. Their faith in God's promise of future glorification was to be the impetus for their present conduct. “Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). Because Jesus died and was raised again, we can know that our future hope is secure – no matter what we see happening around us. The trials of this life test the purity of our faith. When things get tough, do we give up or do we look up? When difficulties come, do we focus on our circumstances or turn our eyes to our faithful, promise-keeping God?

Father, help me to keep my eyes focused on You. Don't let me get distracted by the temporary trials of this world. The troubles of this life simply test where my hope and allegiances lie. While this world will constantly disappoint me, You never will. And while You may delay in bringing about Your future reward, help me not to grow weary or to give up. May I live with my eyes firmly focused on the hope that is yet to come. Amen

An Attitude of Humility.

1 Peter 5

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. – Vs 6-7

Notice that it says, "humble yourselves." It is a choice we make. We are the ones who decide that we will take a lower place, or as the Greek word tapeinoo means, "to be ranked below others who are honored or rewarded." We willingly place ourselves under God's mighty hand. But what does that mean? It sounds so negative, as if God is waiting to backhand us if we don't do what He tells us to do. It gives the impression that God is some oppressive, heavy-handed deity who wants to keep us under His thumb just so He can keep us down. But that is NOT what it means at all. In fact, if you look at the phrase. "mighty hand" as used in this verse, it speaks of His power. Look at the definition of the Greek word cheir translated "hand" in verse 6:

Applied to God symbolizing his might, activity, power 2a) in creating the universe 2b) in upholding and preserving (God is present protecting and aiding one) 2c) in punishing 2d) in determining and controlling the destinies of men

So in humbling myself under God's mighty hand, I am submitting to His incredible, universe-creating power, and acknowledging that He is in control of all things and I am not. I don't do this out of fear, but out of the recognition that He loves me. He has chosen me. He sent His Son to die for me. God doesn't want to keep me down. No, instead He wants to lift me up! He wants to exalt me. The Greek word is hupsoo, and it means "to raise to the very summit of opulence and prosperity, to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor and happiness." That is what God wants to do with me! But first I must choose to humble myself under His hand. I must come to Him as one in need. I must admit that I am nothing compared to Him. I must submit to His authority in and over my life.

But this isn't all about giving up my position and power. It's also includes giving up my anxieties! As I give up control over my life I am released togive up all the cares and concerns of my life. You see, casting and humbling go hand in hand. They are not two separate commands, but one. The NET Bible makes this very clear:

Humbling oneself is not a negative act of self-denial per se, but a positive one of active dependence on God for help.

I humble myself because I know that God is the source for all my needs. In humbling myself, I am admitting my weakness and inability to take care of my problems on my own. I am turning to the one and only source for the solutions I need in life: God. Peter tells us to literally throw our anxieties on God. We are to give to Him all our worries, cares, and anxious concerns. Why? Peter says it clearly. "Because He cares for you." God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, CARES FOR YOU! He cares about you. You matter to Him. So much so, that He has plans to exalt you and just the right time. His goal is not keep you humbled, but to make you dependent. He wants you to come to Him, to see your need for Him, to trust Him, to depend on Him to meet all your needs. But it all begins with an attitude of humility. Swallowing your pride and admitting your weakness. That's hard for most of us. And the truth is, most of us don't do it until we have a life filled with anxiety. We wait until we get to a point where we don't know what to do, then we finally turn to God. Because nothing else is working. We have no more tricks up our sleeves. It is at that point that we finally humble ourselves and come to God. And guess what? He is always there with arms wide open! He doesn't judge us, lecture us, punish us, or shake His head in disgust at us. No, He wraps His arms around us and takes our cares and concerns and replaces them with His comfort and loving concern. And over time He "raises us to the very summit of opulence and prosperity, exalt us, raising us to places of dignity, honor and happiness." Now that's an exchange worth making!

Father, You are an amazing God! You love me more than I could ever know and You stand waiting to bless me in ways I could never imagine. All I need to do is come to you in humility, admitting my weakness and acknowledging my need for You. In exchange for all my cares, worries, and anxieties, You give Me unconditional love. You shower me with Your grace. And on top of that, You raise me up at just the right time and in just the right way. It's a win-win for me. But I still fail to come to You like I should. I tend to wait until I am desperate and distraught. Please forgive me of my stubbornness and pride. You have proven Yourself to me time and time again, but I still refuse to humble myself under Your mighty hand until I have been humiliated by the results of my own sinful behavior. But when I do come, You are always there, and You always love me. Thank You.  Amen

Suffering - Loving - Praying - Serving - Rejoicing

1 Peter 4

Today's chapter didn't have one particular verse that popped out at me. Instead, I found the entire chapter a strange mix of admonitions, encouragements, warnings, and instructions. The major theme seems to be that of suffering. In fact, Peter seems to suggest that our suffering on this earth (as Christians) is a reflection of our salvation. It is proof of the reality of Christ's death and resurrection. We don't have to live a life controlled by sin. We can say no. We can yes to the will of God. Yet we still struggle with the reality of sin in our lives. We may even suffer as a result of its constant onslaught. But that is the life in this flesh. We suffer because we are believers – from the effects of sin and as a result of persecution for our faith. The truth is, most of us in American suffer more from our battle with sin than being persecuted for our faith. But we suffer none-the-less. So Peter tells us…

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. - Vs 12

We are sharing in Christ's sufferings. We are going through the same thing He went through. So what are we supposed to do? Peter lays it out for us. He says we are to pray (Vs 7). He tells us to love one another (Vs 8), to show hospitality to one another (Vs 9), to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another (Vs 10), and to keep on rejoicing (Vs 13). And finally he tells us to see our suffering as part of the will of God and to trust the outcome, the salvation of their souls, to the faithfulness of God.

So then let those who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator as they do good. - Vs 19

So no matter how bad it may seem, we are to do good. No matter how difficult the circumstances may appear, we are to rejoice in them. We are to love one another, serve one another, and open our hearts and homes to one another.  We are to communicate to one another the words of God and serve one another in the strength of God (Vs 11). So that God is glorified through our lives as we live them out on this earth.

Father, I admit that I am still somewhat surprised by the trials that I encounter on this earth. I guess I still kind of expect life to be a little bit easier on me because I am Yours. I don't want to have to struggle with sin. I don't want to have to suffer for my faith. Yet You tell me to expect it and to rejoice in it. Show me how to do that more effectively. I know I try to do it in my own strength and I fail. So help me do it in Your strength. So that I may speak Your words and serve in your power. And so that You can be glorified on this earth in my life.  Amen

Living In Harmony.

1 Peter 3

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. – Vs 8-9

What if we actually did this? What if husbands and wives really did live these verses out in their marriages? What if members of the body of Christ were able to illustrate these truths in their lives together?

Can you imagine the impact we would have on the world around us? Everything Peter lists here is simply the outcome of a life lived in the Spirit. We can't manufacture it or muster it up in our own strength. At least, not for long. Yet because we are new creations with the Spirit of God living within us, we have the capacity to do all of these things. We really can live in harmony with one another, in our marriages, homes, and church. Which means we can be of "one mind," having a common focus, a single purpose for our lives. We can and should sympathize with one another, showing compassion and a mutual understanding of what the other person is going through. Think about that one. If we see a brother or sister, or a husband or wife struggling with sin or stumbling in their walk, we tend to look down our nose at them. We even criticize them, or worse yet, we avoid them. Instead we should have the attitude, "but for the grace of God go I." To sympathize with them is to feel their feelings, to understand their pain, and to express that understanding in love and compassion, not judgment. That's what it means to "love as brothers," compassionately and humbly, not mercilessly and pridefully.

We really can extend blessing to one another instead of getting back or getting even. As followers of Christ we can suffer insult or injury, even from those we love or those we attend church with, and keep a good conscience (Vs 16). We can respond in a Christ-like way because we have the Spirit of Christ within us. In fact, we can do all these things because it was for this purpose we were called. We are to be living out our transformed lives in the midst of life. It should be reflected in our behavior toward one another – in our homes, marriages, and churches. Believers loving believers. But it also extends beyond our relationships to one another to those outside the family of Christ. To our lost family members, neighbors, co-workers and friends. The words found in these two verses are a reflection of the words Jesus spoke in Luke 6:27-28.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you."

This is the Christ life, the life to which we have been called. We are change agents in a world that is desperately looking for something different than the same old thing. We have what they are looking for: The hope that is in us (Vs 15) lived out in daily life through our actions. That is the best defense of the Gospel there ever was. Far more powerful than a well-articulated, biblically sound defense of the faith. Because actions really do speak louder than words.

Father, may I continue to learn to live these verses out in my daily life. Forgive me for the lack of harmony, sympathy, compassion and humility that so often marks my life. It is a reminder that I am living according to the flesh and not the Spirit. Open my eyes to see that You have called me to something far greater than to live out my own petty, self-absorbed life. I am called to be Your hands and feet on this earth, living out Your love to all those around me. Amen

Living Up To Our Calling.

1 Peter 2

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.– Vs 9

This is who we are. It's our identity. As believers, we no longer belong to this world, but we are "aliens and strangers" (Vs 11). We are "free men" (Vs 16). We are "living stones" (Vs 5). We are a people who have been handpicked, chosen by God Himself. We are a royal priesthood, set apart to serve Him. We are a holy nation, serving a new King. We are a people who belong to God and Him alone.

Sure, we still live in this world and we are susceptible to its temptations and trials. But the fact is, we are no longer of this world. We can and should live lives that are different and distinct. We can say no to the desires of the flesh that tempt us to do what we know we shouldn't do (Vs 11). We can live good and godly lives that produce acts of goodness (Vs 12). We can submit to those in authority over us, whether we think they deserve it or not (Vs 13-14). We can enjoy our new-found freedom in Christ without using it as an excuse to snub our noses at those in authority, whether it's the president of our country or the boss where we work (Vs 16). We can show honor to ALL people, not just those who are honorable (Vs 17). We can patiently put up with undeserved suffering (Vs 20). We can die to sin and live to righteousness (Vs 24).

Why? Because we are His. We belong to Him. We have His Spirit within us. We have His power available to us. We have His nature. So we have the capacity to live as who we are. And when we do, we "show others the goodness of God" (New Living Translation). Our lives become living proof of God's grace, mercy, and transformational power. We live differently because we are different. We stand out because we have been set apart. And together we create a spiritual temple where we offer up sacrifices to God as we live out our lives in faithful obedience and service to Him.

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service." – Romans 12:1

Father, help me to live as who I am. May my life be increasingly more reflective of my set-apart nature, my alien status in this world. I want my conduct and speech to reflect Who I belong to, and to literally shout Your praises as I live my life. Amen

Holy, So Live Like It.

1 Peter 1

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – Vs 13

Sometimes when reading a passage, I like to look at other translations of the Bible in order to get a better grasp on the meaning. Check out how these versions translate the same verse:

Therefore, get your minds ready for action by being fully sober, and set your hope completely on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NET Bible)

So think clearly and exercise self–control. Look forward to the special blessings that will come to you at the return of Jesus Christ. (New Living Translation)

So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that's coming when Jesus arrives. (The Message)

So make your minds ready, and keep on the watch, hoping with all your power for the grace which is to come to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Bible in Basic English)

Get your minds ready, roll up your sleeves, think clearly, prepare your minds for action. Do you get a sense of what Peter is saying? He is talking about having minds that are on the alert and ready to act. They are not distracted or weighed down by the cares of this world. It is a picture of a soldier who is fully prepared for battle. He can respond without delay to whatever need may arise. He is focused on the job at hand. Peter says that is the way our minds should be.

Be sober, self-controlled, put your mind in gear, keep on the watch. The Greek word used for "sober" has to do with abstaining from wine, but it can also mean "to be sober, to be calm and collected in spirit." Basically, Peter seems to be saying, "Don't let anything or anyone else influence you." The senses of your spirit need to be alert and ready at all times. Yet how often do we find ourselves "drunk on" or "under the influence of" the things of this world. We fill our spirit with the false messages of hope, happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction this world offers. Then when God calls on us to act, we are unresponsive. Our spiritual reflexes are slowed or impaired. Instead of keeping watch, we become distracted or even fall asleep at our post.

Fix your hope, look forward to, be totally ready, hope with all your power. There's a reason we are to have our minds ready and our spirits on high alert. So that we can fix our hope on what is to come. The final measure of God's incredible gift of grace that we will receive when Jesus Christ returns. Our hope is not in this world. Sure, we are enjoying God's grace right now, but the real basis of our hope is yet to come. Jesus is going to return one day and complete God's plan of redemption and reconciliation. He will make all things right. He will restore everything back to the way it was meant to be. Righteousness will reign. The rule of sin will be over. That is what our hope is fixed on. It is what our salvation is based on.

So what's the point? Peter gives it to us just a few verses later when he says, "like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior" (Vs 15). Peter isn't saying that we have to be perfect and sinless. He is saying to see ourselves as set apart unto God. We have been chosen by Him (Vs 1). He has caused us to be born again (Vs 3). He has reserved an inheritance in heaven for us (Vs 5). So we should live lives that reveal we are His. We have been set apart by God for His use. We belong to Him. So Peter says act like it. Live like it. Behave like it. Don't live like the world. Don't live according to its standards. Instead, live according to God's standards. Get your minds ready for action. Keep your spirits sober and alert. Fix your hope on the return of Jesus.

Father, thank You for choosing me, for setting me apart as Your own. I want to live up to my calling. I want to reflect with my life the unique nature of who I am: a child of God. Help me keep my mind ready for action, my spirit sober and alert, and my hope fixed on the future return of Your Son. Don't let me get distracted, disillusioned, or drunk on the things of this world. Because I am Yours! Amen