Egypt

Jesus, the Nazarene

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23 ESV

Matthew provides us with no timeline for the events recorded in this chapter. We only know that Joseph was warned by an angel to take his wife and child to Egypt. And sometime later, the angel gave Joseph permission to return to Israel because Herod the Great had died. The dates surrounding these events seem less relevant to Matthew than do the details concerning the return of Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as God had released the descendants of Jacob from their long stay in Egypt and restored them to the land of Israel, so Jesus was allowed to return to the land of promise.

There is an interesting parallel between Jesus and Moses. Both were presented as deliverers of their people. Moses was a Jew who had grown up as an Egyptian, but due to his murder of a fellow Egyptian, he had become an exile and a fugitive, living in the land of Midian. Yet God called Moses and sent him back to Egypt so that he might lead the people of Israel out of captivity and into the land HE had promised to their forefather, Abraham. And God called Jesus out of Egypt, sending Him back to the land of Israel, where He would become the deliverer of His people. Jesus Himself would later proclaim that His God-ordained mission was to provide release for those who were held captive. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” – Luke 4:18 NLT

But Jesus was not talking about release from physical slavery. He did not come to deliver those held captive by some political or military power. No, His mission was to set free all those held captive by sin and death. The author of Hebrews describes the role of Jesus as the deliverer of Israel in the following terms:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

There is a second parallel between Moses and Jesus, and it involves the killing of the innocent. In the opening chapter of Exodus, we are told that the Pharaoh feared the growing number of Israelites living in the land of Egypt, so he came up with a diabolical plan to manage the exploding birthrate of the Jews. He gave a command to the Hebrew midwives, designed to limit the number of male births among the Jews and so eliminate any future threat of an insurrection.

“When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” – Exodus 1:16 NLT

And Herod had issued a similar command in Jesus’ day, ordering the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of two.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. – Matthew 2:16 NLT

In both cases, God spared the lives of Moses and Jesus. One was hidden by his mother in a basket made of reeds and rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh. He would grow up in the wealth and opulence of the royal palace, living like a prince and enjoying all the benefits that come with being part of Pharaoh’s household. Jesus would be hidden by God the Father in the land of Egypt, only to return to the land of promise where He would grow up in relative obscurity and lacking any of the royal perks that Moses enjoyed. Interestingly enough, Moses was a Jew from a poor household who became a prince in the palace of Pharaoh. Yet, Jesus was the Son of God, who left behind His royal rights and privileges and took on the likeness of a man, being born into a nondescript Jewish household with little in the way of wealth or fame.

The apostle Paul describes the entrance of Jesus into the world in terms that express His humility and selflessness.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 NLT

Matthew later records the following statement by Jesus concerning His far-from-comfortable lifestyle.

“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” –  Matthew 8:20 NLT

There are several similarities shared by Moses and Jesus, but the author of Hebrews points out that any comparison between them falls far short. Moses was just a shadow of the one to come. He provided an incomplete picture of the

Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

Moses had been faithful, but not perfectly so. While he had managed to do God’s will and deliver the nation of Israel to the border of the land of Canaan, he would be denied entrance into the land because he had failed to be fully obedient and had treated God with disdain and disrespect. Yet, Jesus was able to confidently assert His full submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.

“I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 NLT

Jesus was the true deliverer. And He came to offer a rest unlike anything the people of Israel had ever known before. The land of Canaan was supposed to have been a place of rest for the people of Israel. But the first generation of Jews who had escaped captivity in Egypt had refused to enter the land when given the opportunity. And while the next generation had finally obeyed God and crossed over the Jordan and taken possession of the land, they had never fully experienced the rest God had offered, because they had refused to live in obedience to His will.

The author of Hebrews points out that Joshua was able to get the people into the land, but they had never enjoyed all the blessings God had promised, because they had refused to keep their covenant commitment to Him. And yet, God’s promise of rest was not eliminated or invalidated. He would still keep His covenant promise.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. – Hebrews 4:8-9 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, the offer of rest still stands.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

Jesus would return from Egypt, settle in the land of Galilee in the city of Nazareth. This was the actual hometown of Joseph, so, in a sense, they were returning home.

Matthew seems to state that Joseph’s decision to settle in Nazareth was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. But the problem is that there is no Old Testament passage that speaks of Nazareth as being the home of the Messiah. Bethlehem is mentioned, but never Nazareth. So, is Matthew making this up? Is he playing fast and loose with his facts? It seems that he is tying together a variety of Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah being despised and associating them with the city of Nazareth. At the time Jesus was born, neither Galilee or Nazareth was held in high esteem. Even Thomas wondered how Jesus, the Messiah could hail from such a lowly place as Nazareth.

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him,  “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 NLT

Matthew seems to be suggesting that all the Old Testament passages that predicted the suffering and ignominy of Jesus were directly tied to His hometown of Nazareth (Psalm 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Daniel 9:26). Jesus would be referred to as a citizen of Nazareth, a designation that would be viewed with scorn and derision, not respect and honor. He would be born in the backwater town of Bethlehem and raised in the lowly environs of Nazareth. He would not be impressive in appearance, renowned for His pedigree, or admired for His roots. And yet, He would be the anointed one of God, the deliverer of His people, and the Savior of the world.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. - Isaiah 53:2-3 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

All According to Plan

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 ESV

After having spent more than three years of his life with Jesus, Matthew had come to believe in two things: The Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and the providence of God. Over time, he had come to recognize that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the prophets had written concerning long-awaited “anointed one” of God.

Matthew would have remembered the words of Jesus, spoken at the synagogue in Nazareth immediately after He had read the following passage from the scroll containing the writings of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 ESV

Jesus had read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a text that the Jews in His audience would have known carried Messianic implications. And when He had finished, He had sat down and stated: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had boldly claimed to be the fulfillment of this passage. He was the anointed one of God, who possessed the Spirit of God and had been sent on a mission by God. And more than three years later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He had suddenly appeared to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus. Once they recognized Him as their risen Lord, Jesus had provided them with insight into His Messianic pedigree.

…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

Those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, where they shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection with the rest of the disciples, including Matthew. And Luke records that Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst and said to them:.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. – Luke 24:44-45 ESV

Matthew fully believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But he also believed that God had been working providentially in the life of Jesus from the moment of His birth to the final minutes of His life on the cross. Nothing had happened that God had not ordained and providentially orchestrated, including the arrival of the Magi and the sinister reaction of Herod to the news of the birth of Israel’s new king.

All of the events surrounding Jesus’ incarnation were planned by God from eternity past. He was not operating in a reactionary mode, responding to events as they happened or forced to alter His plans based on the whims of men. Nothing was a surprise to God. There was never a moment when He was caught off guard or found Himself having to come up with plan B. 

Matthew had come to recognize that every detail concerning Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection had been providentially planned by God. Even the flight of Joseph, Mary, and their newborn son to Egypt had been part of God’s divine strategy. Matthew records that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, warning him in advance that Herod had evil intentions for their son.

“Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” – Matthew 2:13 ESV

Joseph had done as the angel commanded, taking his young wife and newborn son to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod. And we know from the following verses, that the threat had been real, because Herod had all the male children under the age of two murdered, in a vain attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne.

But Herod’s plan would fail. He would prove unsuccessful in his efforts to kill the rightful heir to David’s throne. In fact, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would die a painful and miserable death. Even Luke records that Herod would be “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23 ESV).

But Jesus would find refuge in Egypt, much like the people of Israel had done hundreds of years earlier. Jacob and his family had also turned to Egypt when faced with a famine in the land of Canaan. And 400 years later, God would lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and return them to the land of Canaan. And the prophet Hosea would later record the news of God’s providential rescue of His people from their captivity in Egypt.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1 ESV

Matthew uses this very same Old Testament passage to illustrate how Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what happened when God had returned His “son” from Egypt. Jesus would return from a distant land “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (and) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

When God had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, He had done so in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. He had plans to return them to the land of Canaan, which He was going to give them as an inheritance. He had promised to give Abraham a land, a seed, and a blessing. But while the Israelites finally made it to the land and eventually occupied it, they had never fully lived up to God’s expectations for them. They had proved disobedient and unfaithful. But God was still going to bless the nations through the “seed” of Abraham. And Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise. The apostle Paul made this point perfectly clear when he wrote:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:13-16 ESV

God would once again call “the seed” of Abraham out of Egypt, but this time the blessing would come to the Gentiles. Jesus would do what the Jews had failed to do. He would live in perfect obedience to the will of God, carrying out His commands and accomplishing His will. And there was nothing Herod the Great or his son and successor, Herod Antipas, could do to thwart the plans of the sovereign God. Jesus would not only return from Egypt, but He would also survive childhood, grow to be a man, and begin His earthly ministry just as God had sovereignly ordained. All according to the divine plan and in keeping with on God’s predetermined timeline. 

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

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

One Last Word

1 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. 2 He said,

“The Lord came from Sinai
    and dawned from Seir upon us;
    he shone forth from Mount Paran;
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
    with flaming fire at his right hand.
3 Yes, he loved his people,
    all his holy ones were in his hand;
so they followed in your steps,
    receiving direction from you,
4 when Moses commanded us a law,
    as a possession for the assembly of Jacob.
5 Thus the Lord became king in Jeshurun,
    when the heads of the people were gathered,
    all the tribes of Israel together.” Deuteronomy 33:1-5 ESV

For his final act as the spiritual leader of the nation of Israel, Moses chose to pronounce blessings upon the 12 tribes. In a sense, this was his official last testament. God had just informed Moses that this day would be his last. He would soon be ascending Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, on the eastern side of the Jordan, outside the land of Canaan. Once there, Moses would die, at the ripe old age of 120. The Scriptures are cloaked in mystery when it comes to the details regarding the death of Moses. But it was according to God’s plan and solely based on His timing. The mantel of leadership had been passed to Joshua. The people had been reminded of their responsibility to keep the covenant they had made with God. They had been warned of the consequences should they choose to do so. And, unfortunately, God had revealed that they would prove unfaithful and unwilling to keep His commands, eventually experiencing all the judgments He had warned them about.

But before he passed off the scene, Moses chose to pronounce blessings on the tribes of Israel. This is similar to the blessings pronounced by Isaac (Genesis 27) and Jacob (Genesis 49) on their sons as they lie on their deathbeds. Moses, as the spiritual father of the children of Israel, was communicating his last testament or will. This “blessing” was his gift to the people, his “invocation of good.” For 40 long years they had made his life miserable with their bickering, moaning, constant complaining, and stubborn refusal to remain faithful to God. Yet Moses, with a true shepherd’s heart, displays his deep love for them and his desire that they would succeed and not fail.

It’s likely that Moses modeled his blessing after that of Jacob recorded in Genesis 49. And it’s interesting to note the similarities between these two testaments or will. Genesis 47 contains the details regarding the closing days of Jacob’s life.

Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years. – Genesis 47:27-28 ESV

Jacob was the father of the 12 sons from whom the 12 tribes of Israel would come. But Jacob and his sons were living in Egypt when the end of his life drew near. They had moved there to escape a famine in the land of Canaan. And they had found help in the form of Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. During his time in Egypt, Joseph had been elevated by God from slave to sovereign. He had become one of the highest-ranking officials in the land, second only to the Pharaoh. In his official capacity, Joseph provided his family with land and employment as shepherds. And as the text indicates, they “were fruitful and multiplied greatly.”

But 18 years later, as Jacob lie dying, he called his 12 sons together and he blessed them. They had moved to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, the land of promise. But they had stayed much longer than they had planned, and now Jacob, facing death, gave his blessing to his sons.

Moses, facing his own death, looked on all the descendants of these 12 men and determined to offer his own blessing. But now they stood on the edge of Canaan, poised to enter the land their forefather, Jacob, had been forced to leave nearly five centuries earlier. Many years had passed by and during that time, the nation of Israel had seen it all. They had experience the oppression of slavery and the joy of release from captivity. They had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues, the spectacle of the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of their needs as they made their way to the promised land, and memorable moment when God appeared on Mount Sinai and delivered His law to them.

Jacob had blessed his sons. Now Moses was going to bless their descendants. But before he began, he provided them with a brief history lesson. He reminded them how God had repeatedly appeared to them in the wilderness. He describes the mountains of Sinai, Seir and Paran. From these lofty heights, close to God’s heavenly dwelling place, God had made Himself known to the people of Israel. It was to Mount Sinai that God had descended, accompanied by fire, smoke, thunder, and lightning. From Mount Sinai God had given His law to Moses. The Holy One had condescended and made Himself known to men. He had revealed Himself to Moses and shared His holy law with the people of Israel. He had made a binding covenant agreement with them, vowing to give them the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham.

For Moses, all of this was evidence of God’s love.

“Yes, he loved his people,
    all his holy ones were in his hand;
so they followed in your steps,
    receiving direction from you.” – Deuteronomy 33:3 ESV

God had loved them. He had guided them. He had protected them with His hand. And He had been their king.

“Thus the Lord became king in Jeshurun,
    when the heads of the people were gathered,
    all the tribes of Israel together.” – Deuteronomy 33:5 ESV

Moses had been their leader, but God had been their King. From the day they had left Egypt to the moment they arrived on the shore of the Jordan, God had been their sovereign King and Lord. This great God, who rules in the heavens, had deemed to bring His reign to earth, designating the people of Israel as His holy nation, His royal priesthood, and His chosen possession.

This brief, but significant reminder prefaces all that Moses is about to say to the 12 tribes. As God’s leader, he spoke only by God’s authority. It was essential that the people understand that God was going to continue to be their king. Moses was going away, but God would be with them. Joshua was going to step into the role of shepherd, but God would remain their Great Shepherd. Moses could pronounce a blessing, but only God could fulfill it.

The Israelites needed to understand their complete dependence upon God. Moses was leaving them, but they had no reason to fear. God would be going before them. He would be with them. And the blessings Moses pronounced on them would be totally up to God to fulfill. Like Jacob, Moses knew that any and all blessings come from God, not men. The future of Israel was in the hands of their King and Lord.

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

Set Apart By God

10 “He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
    that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
    bearing them on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him,
    no foreign god was with him.
13 He made him ride on the high places of the land,
    and he ate the produce of the field,
and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,
    and oil out of the flinty rock.
14 Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
    with fat of lambs,
rams of Bashan and goats,
    with the very finest of the wheat—
    and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape.

15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” – Deuteronomy 32:10-18 ESV

The Lord’s song continues. It recounts how God discovered Jacob and his family, the nation of Israel, in Egypt, a desert land. God rescued the descendants of Jacob from their captivity in Egypt, where they had served as the slaves of Pharaoh for hundreds of years. God had heard their cries of despair and had sent Moses to be their deliverer. 

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. – Exodus 2:23-25 NLT

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saw the plight of His chosen people and responded with compassion. He protected them like a mother eagle would its chicks. Using Jacob as a synonym for Israel, the poem describes how God cared for His own.

“he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye” – Deuteronomy 32:19 ESV

Centuries of captivity in a foreign land had not changed God’s feelings about Jacob and his descendants. The circumstances surrounding their years in Egypt were not to be seen as proof of God’s abandonment of them. The promise He had made to Abraham still held. In fact, it was during their stay in Egypt that the family of Jacob increased in number from just over 70 people to a great nation numbering in the millions.

But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:7 ESV

And this meteoric growth was exactly what God had promised Abraham so many years earlier when He had called out of Haran.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

God had kept His promise. But His ways are not man’s ways. His methods don’t always make sense to us. The nation of Israel was born out of adversity. It grew up in the context of slavery and servitude. It was a nation in bondage, enslaved by the enemy and incapable of delivering itself from its predicament.

And it was in the midst of their darkest moment that God stepped in and did for them what they could not do for themselves. He delivered them from bondage. He set them free from captivity. And their rescue is indicative of what God has done for all those whom He has rescued from slavery to sin.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Paul describes us as having been “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20). And Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 NLT). But He has set us free. And “if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).

The Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt. God guided them out of their captivity, having delivered from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. And when they left the land of Egypt, they did so with God alone as their guide and companion, having left the false gods of the Egyptians behind them. And God led them, fed them, and protected them all the way through the wilderness. But more than that, He taught them about obedience and faithfulness, using trials and difficulties to increase their trust in Him.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5 NLT

God was gracious and good to the people of Israel, providing them with an abundance of blessings in the form of tangible and practical resources intended to prolong and improve life.

…produce of the fields
…honey for from the cliffs
…olive oil from the hardest of rocks
…butter from the herd
…milk from the flock
…the fat of lambs
…rams and goats of Bashan
…the best of the kernels of wheat
…the juice of grapes

Even in the wilderness, they enjoyed the blessings of God. They ate well and were well-cared for by God. Even their wilderness experience was better than the years they had spent in captivity in Egypt. Walking with God in the wilderness is always better than living in slavery without Him.

God had set apart Israel as His own precious possession. They had done nothing to earn or deserve His gracious deliverance of them. And Moses had made this point quite clear earlier in the book of Deuteronomy.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

The blessings of God were undeserved. His love for them was not based on any inherent worth in them. And He would continue to love them, in spite of them.

But this song was intended to bring witness against the Israelites, convicting them of their unfaithfulness to God. And to do so, it accentuates the unmerited favor of God. When they had been helpless slaves, God heard their cries and rescued them. He set them free from their oppression and misery, making them His own chosen possession, “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV). But would they remain so? Were the Israelites going to honor the one who set them free by keeping His commands and living in obedience to His will for them?

Even as they stood on the edge of the promised land, preparing to cross over and claim it as their own, God was revealing the sad truth about their fate. They would become slaves yet again. The people whom God had set free would once again find themselves living in bondage and surrounded by false gods and foreign overlords. They had been set apart by God but would choose not to live that way. They had been made His precious possession but would end up as little more than the property of their enemies. And the next verses of the song will explain how this dramatic change in circumstances will happen.

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

Exodus Reversed

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” – Deuteronomy 28:58-68 ESV

In this last portion of chapter 28, Moses makes an unmistakable link between the future state of Israel and their former condition in Egypt. In effect, he describes them experiencing a reverse exodus. More than four decades earlier, God had graciously delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. Now, as Moses attempts to prepare the people to enter the land and conquer it, he warns them of the dangers associated with disobeying God’s commands. If they fail to keep God’s laws, they will experience a litany of curses that will leave them in a state of physical and moral degradation.

And Moses ends his bone-chilling description of the curses of God by letting them know that they will experience a complete reversal of fortunes, including their return to captivity in Egypt.

“And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” – Deuteronomy 28:68 ESV

Think about how this news would have impacted the Israelites. They were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter the land God had promised as their inheritance, and now Moses is telling them that failure to comply with God’s laws will result in their return to their former state as slaves in Egypt. But long before that happens, they will have to endure the same kind of pain and suffering the Egyptians had endured as a result of the ten plagues brought upon them by God.

“…the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.” – Deuteronomy 28:59-60 ESV

God had punished the Egyptians for their refusal to let His people go. Repeatedly, Moses had appeared before Pharaoh, asking that he release the Israelites from their captivity. But each time, Pharaoh had refused. And his stubborn resistance to the will of God had been met with a series of plagues that grew in their intensity. Eventually, God brought upon the entire nation of Egypt the death of the firstborn, a devastating tragedy that struck every household, including Pharaoh’s.

And Moses warns that all this and more will happen to the Israelites – should they choose to live in rebellion to God.

One of the things we tend to overlook or downplay in these warnings from Moses is the extreme dichotomy they represent. Things would not be as they were meant to be. The promised land had been meant to be a place of rest. It was intended to be the polar opposite of their time spend in Egypt. In fact, when God had chosen Moses to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from captivity, He had told him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” – Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

Canaan was to be a place of fruitfulness, abundance, blessing, rest, and peace. And the first time thei Israelites had arrived at the border, they had chosen to reject God’s command to enter the land, out of fear of its inhabitant. And the author of Hebrews used that ocassion as a lesson for New Testament Christians.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. – Hebrews 3:15-19 NLT

They were not allowed to “enter his rest.” Their rebellion resulted in their deaths in the wilderness. That generation would spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, until each of them had died off, before the next generation would be given another opportunity to obey God and conquer the land.

And Moses has warned that second generation not to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers, or they too would find themselves being cast out of the land. They would go from enjoying God’s rest to experiencing slavery in Egypt again.

It was God’s will that the people of Israel “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 ESV). And Moses reminds the Israelites, “the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you” (Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV). But their disobedience would result in the polar opposite reaction from God.

“The Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” – Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV

God would leave the Israelites scattered, demoralized, oppressed, weary, and suffering from “a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul” (Deuteronomy 28:65 ESV). Their hearts will be filled with dread. Their lives will be marked by regret, loss, and a longing for each day to come to an end. But the nighttime will be no better. The hours will drag by as they long for the new day to dawn. Then the miserable cycle of frustration and despair will repeat itself.

And Moses ends this dismal list of curses with a bleak prediction of Israel restored to captivity in Egypt – right back to where they started. They will be forced to watch as the promised land fades into the distance as they make their way back to Egypt as slaves. They will endure the shame and humiliation of a reverse exodus. And their lives will once again be marked by bondage, not freedom. There will be no more rest. They will enjoy no more rewards or blessings from God. All because they decided to disobey the law of God.

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

And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

5 “And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.” – Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

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

There Is No Other Savior

1 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
6 I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”

8 Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
    who are deaf, yet have ears!
9 All the nations gather together,
    and the peoples assemble.
Who among them can declare this,
    and show us the former things?
Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right,
    and let them hear and say, It is true.
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
11 I, I am the Lord,
    and besides me there is no savior.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
    when there was no strange god among you;
    and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
13 Also henceforth I am he;
    there is none who can deliver from my hand;
    I work, and who can turn it back?” –
Isaiah 43:1-13 ESV

This chapter brings a powerful message of assurance and comfort to the people of God. In spite of their spiritual blindness and deafness, He is going to save them. The very one who called them and ransomed them from slavery in Egypt is going to rescue them once again.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.”
– Isaiah 43:1 ESV

They belonged to God and, as His possession, they were under His divine protection. But that did not mean they were going to escape the punishment that they deserved. God was still going to bring His hand of discipline upon them, but He would never abandon them.

“When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.”
– Isaiah 43:2 NLT

This may have come across as less than good news to the people of Judah. They would have preferred immediate deliverance and a guarantee of no difficulties whatsoever. But God could not and would not disregard their sins against Him. He is a righteous and holy God who is obligated by His own character to deal justly with sin. But, He is also the gracious, covenant-keeping God, who never fails to fulfill each and every promise He has made to His people.

Generations earlier, God had told Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, that his descendants would end up as slaves in a foreign country. But He also promised Abraham that He would redeem them and return them to the land of Canaan.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land… – Genesis 15:13-15 NLT

When God finally rescued the people of Israel and they were standing on the brink of entering the land of promise, God had given a sobering message to Moses, their leader.

“You are about to die and join your ancestors. After you are gone, these people will begin to worship foreign gods, the gods of the land where they are going. They will abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them.  Then my anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods.” – Deuteronomy 31:16-18 NLT

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, a divine punishment for their refusal to enter the land the first time they arrived at its borders, God had announced that they would still prove rebellious. And the book of Isaiah has provided ample proof of that rebellion. And the truly amazing thing about this situation in which the people of Judah find themselves is that they had failed to recognize all that God had done for them.

“Others were given in exchange for you.
    I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
    You are honored, and I love you.”
– Isaiah 43:4 NLT

This verse speaks of the substitutionary atonement that was a major part of the Jewish sacrificial system. God ransomed the people through the death of another. In Egypt, God had sacrificed the lives of all the firstborn of Egypt, in order to purchase the freedom of the people of Israel.

“At midnight tonight I will pass through the heart of Egypt. All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die. Then a loud wail will rise throughout the land of Egypt, a wail like no one has heard before or will ever hear again. But among the Israelites it will be so peaceful that not even a dog will bark. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites. All the officials of Egypt will run to me and fall to the ground before me. ‘Please leave!’ they will beg. ‘Hurry! And take all your followers with you.’ Only then will I go!” – Exodus 11:5-8 NLT

God’s redemption of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt had required a sacrifice. And it was because of the deaths of all the firstborn in Egypt that Pharaoh had finally relented and released the people of Israel.

God is reminding His people that He has the power to redeem. Even though they face defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God is able to rescue and restore them. So, they have no reason to fear.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
    I will gather you and your children from east and west.
I will say to the north and south,
    ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel
    from the distant corners of the earth.”
– Isaiah 43:4:5-6 NLT

Once again, God is promising to bring His people back from slavery. There is no distance too great or pagan power too powerful to prevent God from keeping His covenant promise.

Returning to the imagery of a courtroom, God calls on the nations of the world to come before Him and testify whether their idols can match His ability to predict the future and bring it about.

“Gather the nations together!
    Assemble the peoples of the world!
Which of their idols has ever foretold such things?
    Which can predict what will happen tomorrow?
Where are the witnesses of such predictions?
    Who can verify that they spoke the truth?”
– Isaiah 43:9 NLT

This little vignette is intended to remind the people of Judah that their God is incomparable and without equal. And, if anybody should have understood that reality, it was the chosen people of God Almighty.

“You are my servant.
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me,
    and understand that I alone am God.
There is no other God—
    there never has been, and there never will be.”
– Isaiah 43:10 NLT

There is no other God. And, as verse 11 states: There is no other savior. God alone was going to be the one to rescue and redeem the people of Judah. They could turn to Egypt or put their hopes in one of their false gods, but they would only end up disappointed. Their hope had to rest in God alone. And God reminds them that “You are witnesses that I am the only God” (Isaiah 43:12 NLT). They had seen God work, time and time again. Their ancestors had been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In accomplishing His rescue of them, God had defeated all the false gods of the Egyptians. And, when the people of God had begun their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had given them victory after victory over the nations living in the land, proving Himself greater than the false gods of their enemies.

And, God closes His address to His people with the reassuring words:

“From eternity to eternity I am God.
    No one can snatch anyone out of my hand.
    No one can undo what I have done.”
– Isaiah 43:13 NLT

Yes, the future appeared bleak. God had foretold the coming invasion of the Babylonians and the fall of Jerusalem. But He was God. And He had a plan. Their defeat and deportation would be followed by His redemption and rescue. He had done it before and He could do it again. He had returned the people to the land after 400 years of captivity in Egypt and He was return them to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were His possession and no one could snatch them from His hand. He was in control. He was sovereign over all. And He wanted His people to know that they had no other savior, but Him.

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

Human Vs Holy Help

1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
    and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
    and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
    or consult the Lord!
2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster;
    he does not call back his words,
but will arise against the house of the evildoers
    and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
3 The Egyptians are man, and not God,
    and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the Lord stretches out his hand,
    the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
    and they will all perish together.

4 For thus the Lord said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
    and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
he is not terrified by their shouting
    or daunted at their noise,
so the Lord of hosts will come down
    to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.
5 Like birds hovering, so the Lord of hosts
    will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
    he will spare and rescue it.”

6 Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel. 7 For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you.

8 “And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
    and a sword, not of man, shall devour him;
and he shall flee from the sword,
    and his young men shall be put to forced labor.
9 His rock shall pass away in terror,
    and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
declares the Lord, whose fire is in Zion,
    and whose furnace is in Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:1-9 ESV

Where do you turn in times of trouble? When the going gets tough, what are your go-to options for finding relief? The answer probably depends upon the circumstances. There are a lot of times in life when circumstances can take an unexpected turn for the worse. In no time at all, we can find our life circumstances surprisingly altered and our need for a solution suddenly become a top priority. And the list of potential battle zones is a long one. It includes our health, relationships, emotional state, and financial stability. Things can be rocking along quite well and then, suddenly, the bottom drops out. Our world gets rocked by an unexpected and unwanted bit of bad news. And, again, the question is, where do you turn in those times?

For the people of Judah, things were looking dramatically dire. They were facing the threat of joining a long list of regional powers who had fallen at the hands of the Assyrians. It was only a matter of time before the enemy was at the gates of Jerusalem and the collapse of their once-mighty nation became an all-too-real possibility. And, with that potential outcome looming on the horizon, the leaders of Judah had come up with a plan. They had determined to seek aid from the Egyptians. It was going to cost them, but it seemed like the only viable option left open to them. Or was it?

Throughout this book, Isaiah, has gone out of his way to communicate to the people of Judah that they had another option, and a much better one at that. They could repent. They could humble themselves before God and ask for His forgiveness. After all, everything they faced was coming through His sovereign hands and was intended to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But they could avoid the coming destruction, if they would only turn back to God. In fact, He had told them:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

But, so far, they had refused God’s gracious offer. So, now Isaiah tells them what will happen to them because they chose door number two over door number one. In selecting Egypt as their savior of choice, they were making a huge mistake. It wasn’t that Egypt was a bad choice, it was that it was the wrong choice.

What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help,
    trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers
and depending on the strength of human armies
    instead of looking to the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 31:1 NLT

The problem was that Egypt, rather than being a possible God-appointed option, had become an option other than God. Seeking aid from Egypt was not necessarily a sin. It was that they were seeking aid from Egypt without seeking input from God. The leaders of Judah were circumventing the Almighty because they seemed to know that His help was going to require that they obey His commands. His rescue was going to demand their repentance. And they would rather grovel before Egypt, than humble themselves before God.

Just to stress the point that their choice of Egypt as a potential source of aid was not the root of their problem, consider the story of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, found in the gospel of Matthew. After the visit of the wise men, Joseph received a dream from God, instructing Him to take his wife and child to Egypt.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” – Matthew 2:13 NLT

In this case, Egypt was a good choice because it was the God-ordained choice. Joseph and his young family found refuge from their enemies because they relied upon the wisdom and will of God.

But Judah as guilty of making Egypt a substitute for God, not a possible solution from Him. They were relying on human solutions to what was a spiritual problem. Rather than trusting in God, they were putting all their hope in Egypt's vast military might. But even King David had known that human resources were insufficient replacements for God.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
    but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Those nations will fall down and collapse,
    but we will rise up and stand firm. – Psalm 20:7-8 NLT

And another psalmist echoes David’s sentiments.

You are my King and my God.
    You command victories for Israel.
Only by your power can we push back our enemies;
    only in your name can we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow;
    I do not count on my sword to save me.
You are the one who gives us victory over our enemies;
    you disgrace those who hate us. – Psalm 44:4-7 NLT

And Isaiah lays out the root of the problem:

For these Egyptians are mere humans, not God!
    Their horses are puny flesh, not mighty spirits! – Isaiah 31:3 NLT

They are not God. And they were not intended to act as stand-ins for God. That is the issue here. The leaders of Judah weren’t seeking solutions from God, they were seeking options other than God. But our God-replacements always fall short. They can’t deliver what we demand from them. They are incapable of living up to God’s standard. And yet, despite their abysmal track record, we turn to them time and time again.

And the amazing this is how patient God is with us as we continue to seek for help from our pseudo-saviors. He was the same way with the people of Judah. He even told them that, in spite of their stubborn rebellion and refusal to repent, He would continue to protect them.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem
    and protect it like a bird protecting its nest.
He will defend and save the city;
    he will pass over it and rescue it. – Isaiah 31:5 NLT

We know from the book of 2 Kings, that King Sennacherib eventually besieged Jerusalem, but was miraculously defeated by the hand of God.

That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. – 2 Kings 19:35-36 NLT

God did what the Egyptians could never have done. He defeated the enemy of Israel, without any aid from a single human being. In a night, 185,000 of the enemy were killed, without a sword being drawn, an arrow shot, or a spear thrown. It was all the work of God.

But at this point in his message to the people of Judah, Isaiah predicts another victory over the Assyrians that is markedly different than the one over Sennacherib. In this case, Isaiah is talking about something that will take place in the future, when God not only gives the people of Judah victory over their enemies, but restores their hearts to Himself.

“I know the glorious day will come when each of you will throw away the gold idols and silver images your sinful hands have made.” – Isaiah 31:7 NLT

On this future occasion, God will do for the people of Judah what they could never have done for themselves. He will accomplish for them things the Egyptians could never have done. First of all, He will dramatically alter their hearts, transforming them from a rebellious and idolatrous nations to a faithful remnant who worships Him alone. On top of that, He will destroy their enemies in a way that no other nation on earth could do.

“The Assyrians will be destroyed,
    but not by the swords of men.
The sword of God will strike them,
    and they will panic and flee.
The strong young Assyrians
    will be taken away as captives.
Even the strongest will quake with terror,
    and princes will flee when they see your battle flags,”
says the Lord, whose fire burns in Zion,
    whose flame blazes from Jerusalem. – Isaiah 31:8-9 NLT

Isaiah describes a victory like nothing the people of Judah had ever seen before. It will be a decisive victory that culminates the end of the age. And because God is going to accomplish this in time, Isaiah pleads with the people of Judah to repent and return to Him now.

Though you are such wicked rebels, my people, come and return to the Lord. – Isaiah 31:6 NLT

He is a great God. He is a reliable God. There is no reason to trust in anything other than Him. No matter what we are facing, our God is sufficient to handle any and all circumstances. He wants us to trust Him. He desires that we turn to Him.

Come and return to the Lord!

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

Where Do You Turn?

1 “Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
    that they may add sin to sin;
2 who set out to go down to Egypt,
    without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
    and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
    and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.
4 For though his officials are at Zoan
    and his envoys reach Hanes,
5 everyone comes to shame
    through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
    but shame and disgrace.”

6 An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.

Through a land of trouble and anguish,
    from where come the lioness and the lion,
    the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
    and their treasures on the humps of camels,
    to a people that cannot profit them.
7 Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
    therefore I have called her
    “Rahab who sits still.” – Isaiah 30:1-7 ESV

As God’s chosen people, the nation of Judah was to have one source of protection and provision: God. He had promised to meet all their needs and to protect them from all their enemies. Long before they ever arrived in the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.

“The Lord will conquer your enemies when they attack you. They will attack you from one direction, but they will scatter from you in seven!

“The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-8 NLT

But this promise was conditional. It required that the people of God obey His commands and worship Him alone. And years later, when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, God had reminded them what would happen if they failed to remain faithful to Him.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations.” – 1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT

And God made it perfectly clear to Solomon and the people of Israel that the fall of Jerusalem would be their own fault – for having abandoned Yahweh as their God, and their sole source of provision and protection.

“And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT

So, at this point in the book of Isaiah, we are looking at a time, long after Solomon had dedicated the temple, when the nation of Israel had been divided in two because of Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God. The southern kingdom of Judah was under intense pressure from foreign enemies, and was turning its gaze to Egypt as a potential source of help and hope. They were making peace overtures to the very nation from which God had freed them from slavery generations earlier.

But God calls them exactly what they were: Stubborn children, and He used a word typically referring to dumb, untrainable oxen. It carries with it the idea of rebellion. Like an ox that refused to get into the yoke and plow, the people of Judah were refusing to do what God had called them to do. They consistently resisted His efforts to teach and train them. So, God warns them:

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
    says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
    You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
    thus piling up your sins.” – Isaiah 30:1 NLT

God had not told them to turn to Egypt. He had not given them permission to make an alliance with Pharaoh. And their efforts to do so would prove to be more fuel on the fire of His judgment against them.

“For without consulting me,
    you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
    You have tried to hide in his shade.” – Isaiah 30:2 NLT

This is the crux of the matter. They were refusing to seek God’s counsel and they were rejecting God’s promise of provision and protection. Rather than trust God, they were putting all their hope in Pharaoh. But they were going to find him to be a lousy replacement for God.

“But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
    and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” – Isaiah 30:3 NLT

Their plans were not going to produce the results for which they were hoping. Rather than help, they would experience humiliation. In the place of deliverance, they would find disgrace. The nation of Egypt was powerful and its borders stretched from Zoan in the north to Hanes in the south. But Pharaoh and his mighty army would prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. And God destroys any lingering hopes the people of Judah might have that their plans will succeed.

“all who trust in him will be ashamed.
    He will not help you.
    Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:5 NLT

With their failure well established, Isaiah now provides the people of Judah with a visual description of the Judean emmissaries’ trip to Egypt in order to deliver payment for their assistance. The route described is remarkably similar to the one that the people of Israel took when they left Egypt under Moses’ leadership centuries earlier. In order to escape detection by the Assyrians, the caravan would wind its way south, through the Negeb, “a land of trouble and anguish” (Isaiah 30:6 ESV).

But this time, they would not be accompanied by God or enjoy His protection. They would encounter an unforgiving desert, occupied by lions and venemous snakes. Their donkeys and camels would be weighed down with riches and treasures intended as payment for Pharaoh’s help. They would be paying dearly for their stubborn refusal to obey God. Their rebellion against Him would end up costing them. And the worst part was, the cost to benefit ratio was going to be minimal.

“All this, and Egypt will give you nothing in return.
   Egypt’s promises are worthless!” – Isaiah 30:6-7 NLT

The imagery here is powerful. The people of Judah were going backwards. They are pictured as returning to the very place from which God had delivered them. They were regressing rather than progressing. Their former deliverance from Egypt was not taking the form of a vain hope of deliverance by Egypt.

And God sarcastically refers to Egypt, using a fairly cryptic monicker: “Rahab who sits still” (Isaiah 30:7 ESV). There is much debate as to what this phrase actually means and how it should be translated. The name “Rahab” is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to Egypt (Psalm 87:4). But the Hebrew word rahav is also used in the Old Testament to refer to a mythical sea monster, the symbol of chaos. That’s why the New Living Translation reads “the Harmless Dragon.” Egypt is described as being shebeth, idle or innactive. Rather than stepping into the situation and providing Judah with assistance, the nation of Egypt is shown to be completely still, providing no help whatsoever. This entire transaction between Judah and Egypt will prove to be an expensive boondoggle that produces none of their hoped-for results.

What a sad and sobering lesson. And yet, as 21st-Century Christians, we can fail to learn anything from this dark moment in the life of the nation of Judah. It is so easy to miss the similarities between our lives and theirs. While we may not face invasion from a foreign power, we are under spiritual attack each and every day of our lives. The apostle Paul would have us remember:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

Notice what Paul says. We are to use God’s weapons, not worldly ones. And our battle is against human reasoning and false arguments. Because we are under the constant temptation to use human wisdom to solve spiritual problems. We too easily find ourselves listening to false arguments that prompt us to turn to something or someone other than God. But we are to take those thoughts captive and teach them to obey what Christ would have us do. Turning to Egypt rather than God will never produce the desired results. Placing our faith in something other than God will always prove empty and futile. But God is always faithful. He is there when we call. He responds when we cry out. He not only wants to rescue us, He has the power to do so.

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

Help and Hope.

1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— 2 at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

3 Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, 4 so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. 5 Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. 6 And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20:1-6 ESV

As has already been stated, this whole section of the book of Isaiah is designed to expose the futility of Judah placing their hope in other nations. Faced with formidable foes threatening to destroy them, the people of Judah were quick to turn to other nations for assistance. Their first line of defense was to make an alliance with a pagan nation like Egypt or Cush.  They had even considered aligning themselves with the Assyrians. But God wanted them to know that He alone was to be their source of safety and security. They had long ago abandoned Him, turning to the false gods of the nations around them and even when faced with His divine judgment in the form of foreign invaders, they remained obstinate, refusing to repent and turn to Him. They thought they could evade and escape His punishment by placing their fate in the hands of a foreign king.

And yet, they watched as, one by one, other nations and cities fell before the unrelenting power of the Assyrian army, including the city of Ashdod. Ashdod was the northern-most Philistine city, located only 35 miles to the west of Jerusalem and, in 713 BC, its king, Ahimiti, had decided to rebel against the the Assyrians, prompted by the promise of aid from the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Ahimiti was replaced by the Assyrians. When the people of Ashdod continued to rebel, the King Sargon II turned the city into an Assyrian province. And the Egyptians never lifted a finger to help them. In fact, the people of Ashdod had pleaded for help from Judah, Moab and Edom, but none ever materialized.

At the time of the fall of Ashdod, God gave Isaiah a strange assignment. He told him to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet” (Isaiah 20:2 ESV). He was to remove his outer garment as well as his shoes and the text says, “he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” But before we jump to conclusions and assume that Isaiah was being forced by God to expose himself to all those around them, it is important to know that the Hebrews word translated as “naked” is`arowm and can refer to complete or partial nudity. In many cases it was used to refer to someone who had taken off their outer garment, only to reveal their tunic or undergarment. It seems unlikely that God would have required Isaiah to expose himself completely. But, in demanding that Isaiah strip down to his undergarments and walk the streets of Jerusalem, God would have been demonstrating the shame that Judah would soon experience. Isaiah’s condition would provide a visual demonstration of the humiliation and shame coming to all the nations on Judah’s list of potential allies. Like someone stripped of his possessions by thieves, Isaiah would be a walking reminder of the fate of Judah’s false saviors. And he would do this for three long years.

But Isaiah’s three-year-long dramatic display was intended to send a message to the people of Judah. God wanted them to know that their refusal to place their trust in Him would prove to be a poor decision.

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” –  Isaiah 20:3-4 ESV

They Egyptians and Cushites would fall, just as the city of Ashdod did. Their people would be led away, their fine garments and sandals removed, looking more like slaves than the citizens of a once-powerful nation. While Isaiah’s dramatic performance was nothing more than theater in the round, what God describes as happening to the people of Egypt and Cush will be real and not an act.

And God reveals that it will be only then, as their two allies are led away as captives, that people of Judah “shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast” (Isaiah 20:5 ESV). It is going to take the fall of these two nations to bring the people of Judah to the point of brokenness. The two Hebrew words used to describe their emotional state at that time are chathath and buwsh, and they paint a picture of confusion, fear and loss of hope. They will have placed all their hope and trust in these two nations, believing that they would be the ones to protect them from their enemies. But their hopes will be dashed when their allies fall.

Isaiah is told to warn the people that when this prophecy takes place, it will leave them wondering what happened. It will leave them in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?” – Isaiah 20:6 ESV

And in 701 BC, God’s warning came to fruition. The Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekeh, leaving the people of Judah were left without help or hope. Or so they thought. But God was there. He always had been. And God was ready to help them, to provide them with hope in the midst of the darkness and despair surrounding them. But they would have to turn to Him. They would have to place their trust in Him. And later on in this same book, Isaiah describes the goodness and greatness of the God who stood ready to assist those who will call out to Him in their time of need.

He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31 ESV

God possesses power greater than that of any nation. And He offers that power to those who find themselves suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual weakness. But He requires that we wait on Him. That means we must allow Him to operate on His time schedule, not ours. We must not allow our impatience with His seeming delays to tempt us to turn to other forms of help. The key to enjoying the benefits of God’s strength is learning to trust His timing. Notice that those described in this passage are faint, lacking in strength, weary, and exhausted. They can’t take another step. They are on their last legs. In other words, they have come to an end of their own strength. And it is at that very moment, that we tend to start looking for outside sources of strength. But will we turn to God? Will we wait on Him? Will we place all our hope in His ability to provide the very help we need? God calls out to us as He did to the people of Judah.

“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV

He is our help and our hope.

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

Striking and Healing.

16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them. 17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the Lord of hosts has purposed against them.

18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:16-25 ESV

The key to understanding this section of the oracle delivered against the nation of Egypt is found in the repetitive statement, “in that day.” This is a reference to a future time when God will dramatically reverse the fortunes of the Egyptians. While, in the short-term, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, God reveals that there will be a day Egypt, Judah and the Assyrians will all worship Him together. 

God describes a future period of time when the Egyptians would fear the people of God. Rather than Judah having to beg Egypt for help against their enemies, the Egyptians would tremble in fear before the people of Judah and their almighty God. The oracle describes five Egyptian cities where Hebrew will be the primary language. Not only that, the inhabitants of those cities will swear allegiance to Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Quite a remarkable change of events. And it is quite obvious to see that these things have not yet taken place. But as far-fetched as these prophetic statements may seem to us, they should not be written off as being allegorical or metaphorical in nature. God is providing a glimpse into the eschatological future, the end times – a day when He will rectify all that is wrong on this earth. He is the Creator-God, and He will one day restore His creation to its former glory. That includes those who are made in His image – men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

The text mentions one of the five Egyptian cities being called “the City of Destruction.” In the Hebrew, the word is haheres, which translates into “City of Destruction.” But in several of the older manuscripts from which the Scriptures are translated, the word hakheres is found, which translates into “City of the Sun.” Because of the positive nature of this section of the oracle, it seems that this option is the appropriate one. The Greek rendering of hakheres is Heliopolis, which was the name of one Egypt’s most ancient cities where the sun god, Re, was worshiped. It would appear that the oracle is revealing that the Egyptians will one day abandon their worship of their false gods for worship of the one true God.

Another amazing aspect of “that day” is the mention of “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border” (Isaiah 19:19 ESV). In a land that had been long known for its pantheon of false gods, the mention of an altar to Yahweh is significant. These monuments dedicated to the God of Israel will act as a sign, reminding the people of Egypt that He alone is their source of sustenance and salvation. In fact, the text tells us, “When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20 ESV). The very God who had brought plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses, will one day be the God to whom they turn for help in times of trouble and, He will answer them, sending them a savior and defender. 

It is important to recall that, during the days in which Moses was attempting to free the people of Israel from Egypt, God had promised, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5 ESV). But the Egyptians had continued to reject God. Later on, after God had brought the seventh plague of hail against the land of Egypt, Moses had told Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:29-30 ESV).

In spite of all the plagues God brought against the people of Egypt, they would continue to reject Him as God and refuse to fear Him. But Isaiah describes a day, a future day when all that will change.

…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. – Isaiah 19:21 ESV

The prophet Zechariah spoke of that very same day.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. – Zechariah 14:16-19 ESV

The oracle of God reveals the dual nature of His relationship with mankind. It speaks of Him “striking and healing” the Egyptians. He will bring judgment, but He will also extend mercy. The Hebrew word translated as “striking” is nagaph and it refers to the striking with a fatal plague, sickness or death. But the Hebrew word translated as “healing” is rapha' and it is best understood as, not so much a physical healing, but a restoration to favor. In fact, the text describes the Egyptians as returning (shuwb) to the Lord.

…they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22 ESV

This is interesting phrasing because, in reality, the people of Egypt never worshiped God. And yet, they are described as returning to Him. This seems to be a picture of fallen mankind being restored to the former relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Man was made in the image of God and meant to have an ongoing, unbroken relationship with Him. But sin severed that relationship. And yet, God, in His mercy, will one day restore fallen men. This is not a promise that all men will be saved, but that men from every tribe, nation and tongue will one day worship before the God who made them. The book of Revelation speaks of a day when a great multitude will stand before God’s throne.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

And Isaiah tells of a day when the nations will exist together in harmony. There will be a road leading all the way from Egypt to Assyria, winding its way through the land of Judah. And rather than armies marching along this road to wage war against one another, the Egyptians and Assyrians will use this highway to worship God together. Isaiah describes a God-ordained alliance between Israel, Assyria, and Egypt. He will one day bring the nations together in unity, joined by a common worship of and reverence for Himself. And rather than bringing judgment against the nations, God will bless them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:25 ESV

During Isaiah’s day, the people of God were attempting to create unity through alliances. But these alliances were premature and not God-ordained. God was not interested in Israel or Judah placing their hope in these nations. He wanted them to trust Him. If they would, He would bless them. In a sense, they were trying to face-forward God’s will by doing things their way. Too often, we fail to understand that God has a plan that far surpasses our comprehension. We can’t see into the future, and so, we find ourselves focusing on the here-and-now, and attempting to fix our problems in our own strength. But it is far better to trust in and wait on God. 

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

The Discipline of God.

1 An oracle concerning Egypt.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
2 And I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians,
    and they will fight, each against another
    and each against his neighbor,
    city against city, kingdom against kingdom;
3 and the spirit of the Egyptians within them will be emptied out,
    and I will confound their counsel;
and they will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers,
    and the mediums and the necromancers;
4 and I will give over the Egyptians
    into the hand of a hard master,
and a fierce king will rule over them,
    declares the Lord God of hosts.

5 And the waters of the sea will be dried up,
    and the river will be dry and parched,
6 and its canals will become foul,
    and the branches of Egypt’s Nile will diminish and dry up,
    reeds and rushes will rot away.
7 There will be bare places by the Nile,
    on the brink of the Nile,
and all that is sown by the Nile will be parched,
    will be driven away, and will be no more.
8 The fishermen will mourn and lament,
    all who cast a hook in the Nile;
and they will languish
    who spread nets on the water.
9 The workers in combed flax will be in despair,
    and the weavers of white cotton.
10 Those who are the pillars of the land will be crushed,
    and all who work for pay will be grieved.

11 The princes of Zoan are utterly foolish;
    the wisest counselors of Pharaoh give stupid counsel.
How can you say to Pharaoh,
    “I am a son of the wise,
    a son of ancient kings”?
12 Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt.
13 The princes of Zoan have become fools,
    and the princes of Memphis are deluded;
those who are the cornerstones of her tribes
    have made Egypt stagger.
14 The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit.
15 And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:1-15 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the land of Egypt. Located in close proximity to the land of Cush, Egypt was another potential ally for Judah in their efforts to forestall God’s judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. But, as before, God makes it quite clear that neither Cush or Egypt could prevent what God had planned for Judah. The only thing that could prevent their destruction was repentance, and they showed no interest in changing their ways.

So, God lets the people of Judah know just how helpful Egypt will prove to be as an ally. This powerful nation will find itself experiencing devastating destruction on all fronts. Their economy will suffer. Their ancient way of life will be radically altered. And their once-powerful political structure will collapse.

And the first 15 verses of this oracle are bracketed by statements describing the source of their fall.

Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud
    and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
    and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them. – Isaiah 19:1 ESV

The Lord has mingled within her a spirit of confusion,
and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds,
    as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. – Isaiah 19:14 ESV

All that Isaiah describes in this oracle will be the direct result of God’s actions. This is a not-so-subtle reminder to Judah that they need not fear the Assyrians. They needed to fear God. He was calling them to repentance. He was demanding that they return to Him and honor Him as the one and only God. What the people of Judah needed to realize was that the Assyrians were nothing more than instruments in God’s hands. He was using them as His rod of discipline against His wayward children. But rather than accept the loving discipline of God, the people of Judah were looking for a way of escape. They were attempting to find a savior to rescue them from all that God had planned for them.

God knew their hearts, and He was well aware that they would seek a way of escape. They would turn to one of the surrounding nations to rescue them from the very discipline of God. But God wanted them to know that their efforts would prove futile and pointless. Judah’s real adversary was the Lord. And there was nothing they could do to stop His coming judgment, short of repentance. There was no nation strong enough to stay His hand.

What the people of Judah needed to know was that their seeking of salvation in someone or something other than God would prove pointless. Their only source of help and hope was God Himself. Their plans to turn to other nations for assistance was nothing less than turning away from God. They would be refusing His will as manifested in the form of His loving discipline. And yet, that is exactly what they were planning to do. And when the Assyrians eventually arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, even King Sennacherib knew their intentions.

Then the Assyrian king’s chief of staff told them to give this message to Hezekiah:

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-21 NLT

Even this pagan king knew that Egypt would be no match for the forces of Assyria. But what King Sennacherib didn’t know was that he would prove no match for God. All of these prideful, powerful and self-inflated nations were nothing more than tools in the hands of God. He could and would do with them as He wished.

And God describes the Egyptians as devolving into a nation marred by civil war and inner turmoil. Their circumstances will leave them confused and in search of answers. So, they will “inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers” (Isaiah 19:3 ESV). They will seek help from their litany of false gods, but find themselves short on answers and void of solutions. Instead, they will fall to a stronger, more powerful nation. The economy of Egypt will suffer greatly.

And in the midst of it all, the Pharaoh and his counselors will be at a loss as to why any of this is happening. God even mocks Pharaoh, telling him to ask his wise men as to the source of their misery.

Where then are your wise men?
    Let them tell you
    that they might know what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt. – Isaiah 19:12 ESV

All that is described in these verses is the handiwork of God. And He wants His people to understand that their propensity to turn to a nation like Egypt for help and hope will prove futile. God is going to do what He has planned to do, and there is nothing anyone can do about it, including Egypt. Judah can make all the alliances it wants, but there is no nation strong enough to thwart the will of God. And He makes that point painfully clear.

And there will be nothing for Egypt
    that head or tail, palm branch or reed, may do. – Isaiah 19:15 ESV

Whenever the people of God reject Him and place their hope and trust in the things of this world, they will find themselves highly disappointed with the outcome of their strategy. In the case of Judah, they were considering Egypt as a source of rescue. But what they were failing to understand was that the very thing they were trying to escape was the sovereign will of God for them. God’s coming judgment was not intended to be merely punitive, but restorative in nature. He was going to break them so that He might heal them. He was going to chastise them, but only because He loved them.

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

Long before the author of Hebrews penned those words, Moses shared a similar sentiment with the people of Israel as they prepared to enter the promised land.

Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the LORD your God disciplines you for your own good. – Deuteronomy 8:5 NLT

No one likes discipline, even when done in love. In fact, we do everything we can to avoid or escape it. But, as followers of God, we must understand that His discipline is always intended for our good and fully backed by His love. The people of Judah needed to open their eyes and see that their rejection of God was the source of all their problems. Their failure to honor God had brought upon them the loving discipline of God. And, while not enjoyable in the moment, God’s discipline always proves profitable, resulting in our holiness. And the author of Hebrews puts the benefits of God’s loving discipline in terms we can understand and must wholeheartedly believe.   

“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. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at allSince we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:5-11 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

Our Covenant-Keeping God.

1 For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. 2 And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. – Isaiah 14:1-2 ESV

These two short verses may be short, but they are overflowing with significance. And yet, it is easy for us to read them and gloss over what they say – not so much about Israel, but about the God of Israel. They speak volumes about the character of God. In the midst of all the warnings concerning Judah’s coming judgment and the future fall of Babylon, God recommits Himself to keep the covenant promise He made to Abraham.

When God called Abraham out of Ur, He had told him:

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And God led Abraham from his homeland to a new land, the land of Canaan. And when Abraham arrived in this new land, God made another promise to him:

“To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:7 ESV

God would later reiterate and expand on that promise.

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

Years later, when Abraham had been living in the land for some time, God told Him:

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” – Genesis 15:1 ESV

But Abraham had responded with doubt and a bit of confusion. He knew the promises God had made to him, but he also knew that they were going to be impossible to fulfill, because he and his wife Sarah remained childless.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’”And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 ESV

As far as Abraham could see, God’s promise remained unfulfilled and, based on their circumstances, would most likely remain so. nd Abraham’s doubt was from unfounded. 

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. – Genesis 18:11 ESV

There were both very old and, on top of that, Sarah was barren. Not exactly the most conducive circumstances in which to watch God work. But God was undeterred and stood by His original commitment. In fact, He reiterated it again.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God was going to do the impossible. The advanced years of Abraham and Sarah would be no obstacle for Him. Her barrenness would prove to be anything but a problem. God would do what He had promised to do and He would do it in a great way. 

But then, along with the good news, God revealed to Abraham some bad news.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God broke the news to Abraham that his many descendants would end up slaves in a foreign land for a period of 400 years. How do you think that set with Abraham’s understanding of the promise of God? How was he supposed to digest this bit of sober news and reconcile it with God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to his offspring as a possession? But notice that God told Abraham that, after 400 years, they would return to the land. And we know from the book of Exodus, that God kept that promise.

All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:5-7 ESV

Yes, they ended up in Egypt. And there were only 70 of them when they arrived. But it didn’t take long before they had increased their numbers significantly. So much so, that the Pharaoh became fearful of them and devised a plan to deal with them.

“Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” – Exodus 1:9-10 ESV

Even under the oppressive actions of the Pharaoh, the people of God continued to multiply. And God, after the 400-year time period had passed, sent His servant, Moses, to set His people free. God had chosen to fulfill His promise to give Abraham as many descendants as the stars in the sky by sending them to Egypt. It was there that their numbers increased dramatically, under the provision and protection of the Pharaoh. It was only when their numbers grew to such a degree that they caught Pharaoh’s attention, that the persecution began. But God had a plan for that as well. He would set them free and return them to their land. And, long after they had escaped from their slavery in Egypt, God would remind the people of Israel:

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:4-6 NLT

This story of God’s unfailing commitment to His covenant promise to Abraham flows all throughout the Old Testament. The people of Israel eventually made it back to the land, where God gave them victories over their enemies and allowed them to possess the land He had promised to Abraham. He had increased their numbers while they were in Egypt, so that they would prove to be a formidable force when they arrived in the land. There was a method to God’s seeming madness. His ways are not our ways. He does things according to His divine will and in ways that sometimes make no sense to us. But God had told Abraham:

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

Now, years later, God was speaking through Isaiah to the people of Judah. He was addressing the southern kingdom, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They were in the midst of turmoil. They had enemies aligned against them. They were making allliances with pagan nations in the hope they would protect them. And God was warning them of His coming judgment against them. But here in chapter 14, He reminds them of His covenant faithfulness.

“For the Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land.” – Isaiah 14:1 ESV

In all the darkness of their circumstances, God sheds the light of His mercy and the hope of His covenant faithfulness. The people of Judah would eventually fall to the Babylonians and end up living as slaves in a foreign land. But like He had done with the people of Israel in Egypt, God would return the people of Judah to the land. Unlike the group that left Egypt, the number of those who would return to the land from Babylon would be small. They would be a remnant. But they would return. And they would rebuild the city of Jerusalem, reconstruct the temple of God, and reinstitute the sacrificial system.

God paints a picture that depicts the tables as turned. Rather than being slaves, the nations will serve the people of Judah. In fact, God speaks of a restored nation of Israel, a recombined and reinvigorated nation where there will no longer be a northern and southern kingdom…the house of Israel will possess them in the Lord's land as male and female slaves. – Isaiah 14:2 ESV

This is extremely important, because it reveals an as-yet-to-be-fulfilled aspect to this promise from God. While a remnant of the people did eventually return from captivity in Babylon, they never regained the former glory they had enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon. They would prove to be an insignificant player on the global stage and would find themselves constantly at the mercy of their enemies. Eventually, they would fall to the Romans and find themselves living under the heavy hand of the Caesar.

But the point in all of this is that God will keep His covenant promise to Israel. He will regather them to the land. He will reestablish them as His covenant people. He will one day restore their fortunes and redeem them from their slavery to sin. Because He is the covenant-keeping God. And the apostle Paul speaks of that coming day.

…a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

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

Our Good God.

1 The allotment of the people of Joseph went from the Jordan by Jericho, east of the waters of Jericho, into the wilderness, going up from Jericho into the hill country to Bethel. 2 Then going from Bethel to Luz, it passes along to Ataroth, the territory of the Archites. 3 Then it goes down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of Lower Beth-horon, then to Gezer, and it ends at the sea.

4 The people of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance.

5 The territory of the people of Ephraim by their clans was as follows: the boundary of their inheritance on the east was Ataroth-addar as far as Upper Beth-horon, 6 and the boundary goes from there to the sea. On the north is Michmethath. Then on the east the boundary turns around toward Taanath-shiloh and passes along beyond it on the east to Janoah, 7 then it goes down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, and touches Jericho, ending at the Jordan. 8 From Tappuah the boundary goes westward to the brook Kanah and ends at the sea. Such is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Ephraim by their clans, 9 together with the towns that were set apart for the people of Ephraim within the inheritance of the Manassites, all those towns with their villages. 10 However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.

1 Then allotment was made to the people of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a man of war. 2 And allotments were made to the rest of the people of Manasseh by their clans, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida. These were the male descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph, by their clans.Joshua 16:1-17:2 ESV

The author now addresses the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. In spite of Joseph’s ill-treatment by his brothers, God blessed Joseph, sovereignly ordaining his rise to the second highest position of power in the land. It would be Joseph who would be used by God to preserve the lives of his father and brothers when they were forced to turn to Egypt for aid when a famine struck the land of Canaan. When his brothers discovered that Joseph, who they had long considered as dead, was Pharaoh’s right-hand man, they were petrified. But Joseph had assured them that God had divinely orchestrated every event in his life for a much greater purpose.

7 “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:7-8 ESV

And later on, Joseph reconfirmed to his brothers his unwavering belief that God had been behind all that had taken place, so that each and every one of Jacob’s sons would remain alive.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV

God had made a commitment to Jacob, the father of Joseph and brothers, that He would bless him and give him many descendants who would love in the land of promise. And, on his deathbed, Jacob confirmed his belief in God’s promise, choosing to bless the two sons of Joseph, born to him in Egypt. In essence, Jacob adopted his two grandson’s making them his own and promising to give them a portion of the inheritance of the land.

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.’” – Genesis 48:1-6 ESV

More than four centuries later, the 12 tribes of Israel (the sons of Jacob) were in the land promised to Jacob by God. And Joshua was in the process of dividing the land between the tribes. And in keeping with Jacob’s promise to include Ephraim and Manasseh in the inheritance, Joshua awarded a large portion of the land to the descendants of these two men.

Throughout this story, the sovereign hand of God is clearly visible. Had not God prospered Joseph in the land of Egypt, miraculously orchestrating his rise to power, the remainder of his family would have died of starvation in Canaan. God’s original covenant, made to Abraham, was seemingly jeopardized by the sinful acts of Joseph’s brothers. They had sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him. They knew he was their father’s favorite son, and it didn’t help that Joseph had shared with them the content of several dreams he had experienced. In those dreams, Joseph had seen his father, mother and brothers bowing down to him. And Joseph’s disclosure of that news hadn’t won him any favors with his brothers. But the dreams were actually God-given visions of what was to come. His father, mother and brothers did eventually bow down before him, recognizing him as a powerful ruler in Egypt and the arbiter of their fate.

God had remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham. He had also kept the commitment He had made to Jacob, allowing he and his sons to find salvation from the famine in Canaan, by providing them with rest in the land of Egypt. And all of this was in fulfillment of the prophecy He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God had ordained the famine in the land. He had pre-planned Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. And He had orchestrated the 400-year period of exile in Egypt for the descendants of Jacob. Four generations of Israelites would live in the land of Egypt before God determined it was time for them to leave and inherit the land promised to Abraham. All of this was part of His divine plan. The timing was perfect. And it was all because God was willing to keep His covenant promises, in spite of the disobedience of His chosen people. The apostle Paul recognized the sovereign hand of God in his own life, and was able to see His will being accomplished through the ups and downs and the setbacks and seeming successes of life. Which is why he could write:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 ESV

The descendants of Joseph were provided with a place in the land of promise. They were given a portion of the inheritance among the brothers of Joseph who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy. What they had meant for evil, God had meant for good. What they had done in order to bring harm to their brother, God used to bring blessing to their brother’s sons and their descendants. God works all things together for good. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

The Sword of the Lord.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the Philistines, before Pharaoh struck down Gaza.

“Thus says the Lord:
Behold, waters are rising out of the north,
    and shall become an overflowing torrent;
they shall overflow the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
Men shall cry out,
    and every inhabitant of the land shall wail.
At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his stallions,
    at the rushing of his chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels,
the fathers look not back to their children,
    so feeble are their hands,
because of the day that is coming to destroy
    all the Philistines,
to cut off from Tyre and Sidon
    every helper that remains.
For the Lord is destroying the Philistines,
    the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.
Baldness has come upon Gaza;
    Ashkelon has perished.
O remnant of their valley,
    how long will you gash yourselves?
Ah, sword of the Lord!
    How long till you are quiet?
Put yourself into your scabbard;
    rest and be still!
How can it be quiet
    when the Lord has given it a charge?
Against Ashkelon and against the seashore
    he has appointed it.” – Jeremiah 47:1-7 ESV

In this oracle from God, His attention turned to the nation of the Philistines. We are not given any indication as to when this prophecy was given to Jeremiah, but obviously, it was well before the events discussed actually took place. We know that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Ashkelon in 604 B.C. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish. So, this prediction of the fall of the Philistines at the hands of the Egyptians would have probably been given to Jeremiah sometime before that, most likely around 609 B.C. But regardless of its exact date, the content of the oracle is indisputable and its outcome certain.

“A flood is coming from the north
    to overflow the land.
It will destroy the land and everything in it—
    cities and people alike.” – Jeremiah 47:2 NLT

The “flood” from the north is a reference to the Babylonians. At some point, before they made their way to Egypt, King Nebuchadnezzar and his forces invaded Gaza and destroyed the Philistines. Their arrival happened so quickly that the Philistines were totally caught off guard and unprepared to defend themselves. God describes the fathers running for their lives, not even bothering to look back and abandoning their helpless children to fend for themselves against the Babylonian forces.

God makes it clear that He is going to wipe out the Philistines once and for all, and He is going to use King Nebuchadnezzar to do so. The Philistines were not natives to the land of Canaan. They had originally showed up in the land as refugees from Caphtor (Crete). But in the book of Amos, God makes it clear that their presence in the land of Canaan had been His doing.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 9:7-8 ESV

God had been behind the formation of the various nations and their migrations and subsequent settlements around the globe. And God spoke through Amos, indicating that He was going to bring complete destruction on these sinful nations, but would refrain from completely destroying the house of Jacob. But the Philistines, who had long been the enemies of God’s people, were going to experience His wrath. Unlike the Egyptians, who had never turned against the Israelites or treated them poorly, the Philistines had been a perpetual thorn in the side of the people of God for generations. But God makes it clear that their 15 minutes of fame were about to expire.

“The time has come for the Philistines to be destroyed,
    along with their allies from Tyre and Sidon.
Yes, the Lord is destroying the remnant of the Philistines,
    those colonists from the island of Crete.
Gaza will be humiliated, its head shaved bald;
    Ashkelon will lie silent.
You remnant from the Mediterranean coast,
    how long will you cut yourselves in mourning?” – Jeremiah 47:4-5 NLT

God even throws Tyre and Sidon into the mix. Perhaps they were allies of the Philistines, but we are not told why there were included in God’s judgment. More than likely, God is using geographic points of interest to indicate that His judgment will be complete and will encompass the entire nation. Tyre and Sidon were on the northern perimeter of the land of the Philistines, while Gaza and Ashkelon were at the southern-most tip. His wrath would be meted out upon the whole nation, from one end to the other. No one would escape.

Verse six contains a heartfelt plea that God might cease from the slaughter. This is likely a glimpse into how those who witness the coming devastation will respond. They will beg that God call an end to the horror of it all. The fact that this horror is the result of God’s judgment will be clearly evident and it will be to God that the cries will go out.

“Now, O sword of the Lord,
    when will you be at rest again?
Go back into your sheath;
    rest and be still.” – Jeremiah 48:6 NLT

But verse seven gives the response to this call for mercy.

“But how can it be still
    when the Lord has sent it on a mission?
For the city of Ashkelon
    and the people living along the sea
    must be destroyed.” – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

God’s will must be done. His judgment must be fulfilled. His sword will not return to its scabbard until His will concerning the Philistines is completely fulfilled. These oracles concerning Egypt and the nation of the Philistines are intended to remind the people of God of His sovereignty. He is in control of all things. He is sovereign over all the nations. There are no kings who reign without His express permission. There are no dictators or despots who rule without His will making it possible. Like flood waters that overflow their banks and devastate the land, the nation of Babylon would overwhelm the nations of the world, bringing destruction and fulfilling the sovereign will of God Almighty. No one escapes His judgment. No one operates outside of His will. No kings rule without His permission. No governments exist that He has not willed into existence. It was Daniel who said of God:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.” – Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

Despite all that had happened in Judah, and regardless of how bleak things appeared to the people of Judah, God was still in charge. And the words of psalmist provide us with a powerful reminder of God’s sovereign, unstoppable hand in the affairs of man.

“I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’
    I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists!
Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens
    or speak with such arrogance.’”
For no one on earth—from east or west,
    or even from the wilderness—
    should raise a defiant fist.
It is God alone who judges;
    he decides who will rise and who will fall.
For the Lord holds a cup in his hand
    that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices.
He pours out the wine in judgment,
    and all the wicked must drink it,
    draining it to the dregs. – Psalm 75:4-8 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

 

The Futility of Fighting God’s Plan.

Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who are in the land of Egypt. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have declared with your mouths, and have fulfilled it with your hands, saying, ‘We will surely perform our vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her.’ Then confirm your vows and perform your vows! Therefore hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who dwell in the land of Egypt: Behold, I have sworn by my great name, says the Lord, that my name shall no more be invoked by the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord God lives.’ Behold, I am watching over them for disaster and not for good. All the men of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, until there is an end of them. And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who came to the land of Egypt to live, shall know whose word will stand, mine or theirs. This shall be the sign to you, declares the Lord, that I will punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words will surely stand against you for harm: Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will give Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies and into the hand of those who seek his life, as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who was his enemy and sought his life.” Jeremiah 44:24-30 ESV

The people have said, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want” (Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT). They have dug their feet in and refused to budge. They were not going to repent or return to the Lord. They were not going to stop making sacrifices to their false gods. And they made their intentions very clear to Jeremiah.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 454:17 NLT

No remorse. No fear of God. So, Jeremiah was left no other option but to give them the bad news regarding their poor choice. And to fully understand what Jeremiah tells them in these verses, you have to take a look back at an earlier statement they had received from God, back when they were still in the land of Judah and before the nation had fallen to the Babylonians.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

God spoke these words to the people concerning their upcoming fall to King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, and their subsequent 70-year captivity in Babylon. God had let them know that it was all part of His divine plan for them. And that plan included a return to the land of promise when the 70 years was up. God had made a promise to the people of Judah.

“I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:14 NLT

Compare those words of promise to the ones Jeremiah delivers to the people of Judah who have stubbornly refused to return to Judah or to God.

“For I will watch over you to bring you disaster and not good. Everyone from Judah who is now living in Egypt will suffer war and famine until all of you are dead.” – Jeremiah 44:27 NLT

Instead of plans for welfare and hope, God's plans had turned to disaster and not good. Rather than freedom from captivity and restoration of their fortunes, God was going to bring war, famine and death. Quite a dramatic difference. But why? Because the people who were living in Egypt were those who had refused to listen to God and had decided not to surrender to the Babylonians as He had commanded. God had clearly told them that their only viable option was surrender.

“Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!” – Jeremiah38:2 NLT

And while it appears that some heeded the warning and did as God commanded, the majority of the people had not. And when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem, thousands were slaughtered and others were taken captive. Only the poor were left behind.

“Then Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took as exiles to Babylon the rest of the people who remained in the city, those who had defected to him, and everyone else who remained. But Nebuzaradan allowed some of the poorest people to stay behind in the land of Judah, and he assigned them to care for the vineyards and fields.” – Jeremiah 39:9-10 NLT

Along with those who had been left behind, there must be added the ones who had fled to the hills and hidden from the coming disaster. They had refused to surrender, but had also refused to take the punishment that God had decreed. And many of these people were the very ones who had fled to Egypt, against the expressed wishes of God. He had told them exactly what He wanted them to do.

“Stay here in this land. If you do, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you. For I am sorry about all the punishment I have had to bring upon you. Do not fear the king of Babylon anymore,’ says the Lord. ‘For I am with you and will save you and rescue you from his power. I will be merciful to you by making him kind, so he will let you stay here in your land.’” – Jeremiah 42:10-12 NLT

But as we know, they had rejected God’s counsel. Even though He had made it perfectly clear what would happen if they did.

“If you are determined to go to Egypt and live there, the very war and famine you fear will catch up to you, and you will die there. That is the fate awaiting every one of you who insists on going to live in Egypt. Yes, you will die from war, famine, and disease. None of you will escape the disaster I will bring upon you there.” – Jeremiah 42:15-17 NLT

And now, the consequences of their choice were about to happen. And just in case the people don’t believe Him, God determines to give them tangible proof. He declares that the Pharaoh of Egypt would fall to his enemies, just as King Zedekiah had done. Their new homeland and place of refuge was about to get extremely unsettled and dangerous. Their self-selected promised land was going to lose its luster and prove to be no safer than the land of Judah had been.

The bottom line was that the people were going to fine out who was the real one in charge. Was it going to be them or God? Would they prove to be the ones who had the right god and the right solution to their problem? Or was God going to come out of this on top and in perfect control of any all circumstances in Egypt as well as Judah? God shared His opinion:

“Then all those who came to Egypt will find out whose words are true—mine or theirs!” – Jeremiah 44:28 NLT

When the dust settled, it was going to be perfectly clear who was in charge. His way always proves best in the long run. His will always gets accomplished. We can fight it and refuse to submit to it, but our stubbornness doesn’t make a dent in the sovereign will of God. We can choose to do things our own way, but the only only one who suffers any harm will be us. God’s will remains unchanged and undamaged.

They could have repented of their unfaithfulness to God, but they had refused to do so.

They could have surrendered to the Babylonians as God had commanded, but they had refused to do so.

They could have remained in Judah as God had told them to, but they had refused to do so.

They could have submitted themselves to the all-knowing, gracious, and loving will of God Almighty, but they had refused to do so. But their repeated refusals didn’t change God’s will, it simply exposed them to another aspect of it. Rather than blessings, they would experience the curses that came from disobedience. Rather than plans for welfare, a future and hope; they would experience disaster, war, famine and death. Either way, God’s will would be done.

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

 

The One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: “Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” – Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god.” – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there. 

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

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

 

Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. – Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath's hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

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

 

I Will Quietly Wait.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
    and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
    rays flashed from his hand;
    and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
    he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
    the everlasting hills sank low.
    His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
    the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us. –
Habakkuk 3:1-16 ESV

How many times has your response to hearing from God been to sing? That what Habakkuk did. When the prophet heard that God’s plan included the use of the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah for their sins against Him, but that He would also bring destruction on Babylon, Habakkuk sang. Or at least he wrote words that were later turned into a psalm of praise. Even though Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians were going to be God’s chosen instrument of judgment against the people of Judah, he rejoiced in the fact that God was merciful and had no plans to do away with His people – even though they deserved it.

Habakkuk opens up his prayer with an acknowledgement of God’s greatness. He admits that he has heard about the greatness of God. As a young boy growing up in a Hebrew home, he would have heard the stories of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. He would have known well the story of the Israelites miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their many God-ordained victories that led to their occupation of the Promised Land. Habakkuk would have been well-verses in the history of the people of Israel and God’s sovereign work among them. So, knowing what he knew about God in the past, he appeals to God to so the same thing in the present.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by.
And in your anger,
    remember your mercy. – Habakkkuk 3:2b NLT

Habakkuk knew that God was angry with the sins of the people of Judah. That was the whole reason He was bringing the Babylonians against them. He was doing to them what He had done to the northern kingdom of Israel. He had punished them for the wickedness and rebellion by bringing the Assyrians against them. Because of their worship of idols and stubborn rejection of Him as their God, He allowed them to fall at the hands of their enemy and be taken into captivity. And now, God had revealed to Habakkuk that He was going to do the same thing to Judah, but this time, using the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment. But Habakkuk pleads for mercy. He knew God was just in what He was going to do, but appealed to His grace and mercy, asking Him to deliver His people, just as He had done in the past.

The next thing Habakkuk does is describe what it must have been like when God delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. He says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran” (Habakkuk 3:3 ESV). Teman was located in Edom and Mount Paran was nearby. They were east of Egypt and Habakkuk describes God as having come from that direction as He approached His people in order to deliver them. Habakkuk describes God as having a brightness like light. This is most likely a reference to God’s shekinah glory. This Hebrew word was used to describe God’s visible presence as displayed in a form of light or other natural manifestation. When the people left Egypt, they were led by God, who revealed Himself to them in a tangible form that was to give them confidence and courage.

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:20-22 ESV

Habakkuk also recalls what it must have been like when God descended upon Mount Sinai in order to give His people the law.

When he stops, the earth shakes.
    When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
    and levels the eternal hills.
    He is the Eternal One! – Habakkuk 3:6 NLT

God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel in an unforgettable fashion. His glory had been literally earth-shaking and fear-inducing.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. – Exodus 24:17 NLT

Habakkuk also recalls God’s power as displayed in the ten plagues that He used against the people of Egypt, forcing them to let the people of Israel go.

Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels. – Habakkuk 3:5 ESV

God is all powerful. His majesty and might are incomparable. He controls the heavens and His very presence shakes the earth. Egypt was no match for Him. And Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians would also find themselves unequal to the task of trying to stand against God. 

Those nations that witnessed the Israelites’ divinely ordained departure from Egypt would have been amazed at what they witnessed. The Israelites, nothing more than slaves, had somehow defeated one of the world’s greatest powers and walked out of Egypt without firing an arrow or throwing a single spear. It had been a divine deliverance, complete with the parting of the Red Sea. This miraculous event, as well as the God’s of the waters of the Nile into blood, are both referenced here by Habakkuk.

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea? – Habakkuk 3:8 ESV

This rhetorical question was Habakkuk’s way of stating that God’s anger was directed against those two bodies of water, but they were simply instruments or weapons in His hands. He used them to accomplish His will, much like a soldier uses his sword or spear. Habakkuk describes God in all His might and majesty, using metaphors that provide the reader with a sense of God’s awe and power. The mountains shake. The sun and moon stand still. All nature stands in awe of God. The entire created order is nothing compared to the greatness and grandeur of God.

All of this imagery is Habakkuk’s feeble attempt to describe the power and sovereignty of God. And it causes him to fear and tremble. But he says, “I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us” (Habakkuk 3:16 NLT). Habakkuk was putting His faith in the God of the past and trusting Him to be the God of the future. He was placing His faith in God’s consistency of character and proven track record of faithfulness. God had proven Himself powerful enough. God had repeatedly shown Himself more than faithful enough. And that was enough for Habakkuk to place his hope and trust in God.

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

Pharaoh, Flocks and Famine.

He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to show the way before him in Goshen, and they came into the land of Goshen. Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while. Israel said to Joseph, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.” Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.’ When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan. They are now in the land of Goshen.” And from among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our fathers were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, for the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. And now, please let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you. Settle your father and your brothers in the best of the land. Let them settle in the land of Goshen, and if you know any able men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” – Genesis 46:28-47:6 ESV

Sometimes the stories of the Bible become so familiar to us that they lose their significance and we lose our sense of awe at the display of God’s power found in them. The story of Joseph is a case in point. We have already seen so many examples of God’s sovereign, providential hand at work, predestining Joseph for his role as the savior of God’s people. Time and time again, God has displayed His power and undeniable control over the affairs of men and even the realm of nature. The seven year famine was part of God’s plan, just as much as Joseph’s rise to the second most-powerful position in the land of Egypt. Each and every event connected with this story reveals yet another example of God’s sovereign control over everything and everyone. 

As Jacob, his sons and their families arrive in Egypt, and are reunited with Joseph, we are provided with yet another example of God’s providence. Jacob was a shepherd by trade. So were his sons. When Jacob had gone through his self-imposed exile in Paddam-aram, he had been a shepherd, tending the flocks of his uncle, Laban. And he had been good at his job, at one point telling his uncle, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done” (Genesis 30:29-30 NLT). Jacob eventually left Laban’s employment, but not before he had a few choice words for his uncle and former boss:

“For twenty years I have been with you, caring for your flocks. In all that time your sheep and goats never miscarried. In all those years I never used a single ram of yours for food. If any were attacked and killed by wild animals, I never showed you the carcass and asked you to reduce the count of your flock. No, I took the loss myself! You made me pay for every stolen animal, whether it was taken in broad daylight or in the dark of night.

“I worked for you through the scorching heat of the day and through cold and sleepless nights. Yes, for twenty years I slaved in your house! I worked for fourteen years earning your two daughters, and then six more years for your flock. And you changed my wages ten times! In fact, if the God of my father had not been on my side—the God of Abraham and the fearsome God of Isaac—you would have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen your abuse and my hard work. – Genesis 31:38-42 NLT

It had been God who protected Jacob and who increased his wealth – in spite of the efforts of Laban. And it was Jacob who passed on his knowledge of shepherding to his sons. And they too became the owners of great flocks and herds. But then the famine came. Famine and flocks do not go well together. So Jacob and his sons were forced to look for another source of food to provide for their flocks and families. That is what had led them to Egypt in the first place. And now they were returning to Egypt to live, bringing all their flocks and families with them, because there were five more years of famine yet to come. Once again, this had all been a part of God’s divine plan for His people. It had been God who had blessed Jacob with flocks. It had been God who had brought about the famine that had threatened the well-being of Jacob’s flocks. And it was God who had moved the heart of Pharaoh to willingly and graciously accept Jacob and his family and flocks into Egypt, providing for them the best of his land as their possession.

Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and go to the land of Canaan! Get your father and your households and come to me! Then I will give you the best land in Egypt and you will eat the best of the land.’ You are also commanded to say, ‘Do this: Take for yourselves wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives. Bring your father and come. Don’t worry about your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt will be yours.’” – Genesis 45:17-20 NLT

And when they arrived, that is exactly what happened. They came before Pharaoh, explained their plight and pleaded for his help. Verse four of chapter 47 sums it all up.

Then they said to Pharaoh, “We have come to live as temporary residents in the land. There is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. So now, please let your servants live in the land of Goshen.” – Genesis 47:4 NLT

What is truly amazing about this is that Pharaoh, as an Egyptian, hated shepherds. Joseph had even told his brothers to say to Pharaoh, “Your servants have taken care of cattle from our youth until now, both we and our fathers,” and warned them that, “everyone who takes care of sheep is disgusting to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34 NLT). And yet here were Hebrew shepherds coming before one of the most powerful men in the world, asking him to provide them with land to care for their flocks. And what did Pharaoh do? He gave them the land of Goshen, the best land in Egypt. Not only that, he employed some of the brothers to care for his own flocks and herds. These events should create in us a sense of awe and wonder at the providential care of God. This had all been His doing. The book of Proverbs reminds us, “The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:12 NLT). Pharaoh’s generous offer had been part of God’s plan, just as much as the famine had been. The unlikely and implausible blend of Pharaoh, flocks and famine was God’s doing. As William Cowper stated so well, “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” An Egyptian Pharaoh, a seven-year famine, and the famished flocks of the people of Israel. What a strange combination. And what a wonderful example of God’s mysterious providence. Which is why Cowper goes on to remind us:

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.