blessings

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

It’s All About God

1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Deuteronomy 30:1-10 ESV

When studying a book like Deuteronomy, with its emphasis on the covenant and God’s expectations that the people of Israel know and keep the commands associated with that covenant, it is easy to place all the emphasis on man. After all, their future seems to be in their own hands. If they would simply keep the requirements of the law as God had commanded and as they had agreed to do, all would go well. They were the masters of their fate. Their decision to obey God’s law would bring blessing. Their choice to disobey would bring the curses of God.

And even a cursory study of Israel’s history would seem to indicate that they chose to take the latter path. After entering the land of promise, the general pattern of their corporate existence was that of disobedience and rebellion. Yes, there were moments when they adhered to God’s commands and experienced His blessings. But, for the most part, they proved to be far less compliant, earning themselves a reputation for unfaithfulness and a designation by God as an adulterous generation. And, eventually, all that God had warned them about happened. They ended up in captivity. It began with the split of the kingdom immediately after the reigh of King Solomon. His failure to remain faithful to God, evidenced by his construction of shrines to the false gods of his many wives, resulted in God dividing the once-powerful kingdom his father David had built.

The northern kingdom of Israel would be plagued by a long line of disobedient and idolatrous kings who would lead the nation into further rebellion against God. And, just as Moses had warned, the people would find themselves conquered and taken captive by the Assyrians.

The southern kingdom of Judah would take a bit longer to experience the same fate, but eventually, they too would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power. In their case, it would be the Babylonians, who would destroy the capital city of Jerusalem, demolish the temple, and haul the brightest and best of Judah back to Babylon as slaves.

That’s the less-than-flattering picture of Israel’s history, after they had conquered and possessed the land of Canaan. But in this chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses is still addressing them prior to their entrance into the land. And he tells them that, even if they should fail to obey God and one day find themselves living in captivity in a foreign land, they can still be restored. All they have to do is repent.

“…return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul…” – Deuteronomy 30:2 ESV

Once again, it would be easy to read this and put all the emphasis on the Israelites. All they had to do was repent and return to God. The ball would be in their court. The responsibility would be theirs. And Moses makes it clear what the outcome of their decision to repent will be:

“…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” – Deuteronomy 30:3 ESV

Repent and be restored. That seems to be the gist of what Moses is telling them. The reward for their repentance will be their return to the land of Canaan.

“…the Lord your God will gather you…” – Deuteronomy 30:4 ESV

“…the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed…” – Deuteronomy 30:5 ESV

But while a study of Israel’s history does reveal that they were eventually returned to the land of Canaan, it doesn’t seem to be because of a spirit of corporate repentance among the people. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah indicate that only a small remnant of the people was willing to make the journey back to Judah when given permission by the Persian king, Cyrus. The vast majority of the people made the decision to remain right where they were, choosing the comfort of captivity over the prospect of a long and arduous trip back to their homeland where they would find their capital city and temple in a state of ruins.

There was no corporate repentance and the people of Judah had in no way shown that they had returned to the Lord with all their hearts and souls. And yet, God graciously returned a remnant to the land.

And Moses went on to explain in great detail what else God would do for His rebellious and unrepentant people.

“…he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers…” – Deuteronomy 30:5 ESV

“…the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” – Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV

“…the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you.” – Deuteronomy 30:7 ESV

The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous…” – Deuteronomy 30:9 ESV

“…the Lord will again take delight in prospering you…” – Deuteronomy 30:9 ESV

The emphasis is on what God will do for them. He is the main focus of this chapter. God will do for them what they could have never done for themselves. He will restore them to the land, not because they have displayed a heart of repentance, but because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. And don’t miss what the result of God’s faithfulness will be.

“…you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” – Deuteronomy 30:8 ESV

Their obedience will be the result of God’s work, not their own decision to repent and return. The truth is, the people of Israel have yet to repent and return to God. Even after He graciously orchestrated their release from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to enter the land of Canaan once again, they never fully returned to Him with all their hearts and souls. Yes, they eventually rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, restored the temple, and reinstituted the sacrificial system. But they remained a disobedient and rebellious nation for generations to come. Jesus would even say of the people of Israel:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

When Jesus showed up on the scene, the people of Israel were living in spiritual darkness. The apostle John describes Jesus as the light of the world who penetrated that darkness, but the “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). And despite Jesus’ offer of salvation, “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). In fact, they would be ones to demand His crucifixion and death. 

But God is not done with His people. And so much of what Moses is describing in chapter 30 of Deuteronomy has to do with God’s future restoration of the people of Israel. It has not yet taken place. They are still in a state of rebellion, exhibiting unrepentant hearts and a stubborn unwillingness to turn to Him as their sole source of help and hope. But the prophet Isaiah tells of a day, yet future, when God will change all that. One day He will redeem and restore His chosen people and return them to the land and reclaim them as His own. But it will all be the result of His divine mercy and grace.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 ESV

It’s all about God. He is the faithful one. He is the covenant-keeping God who never fails to do what He has promised to do.

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

Obedience Brings Blessing

1 “You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. 2 And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, 3 his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, 4 and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day, 5 and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. 7 For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did.

8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess, 9 and that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. 11 But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, 12 a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” – Deuteronomy 11:1-12 ESV

Moses has issued a call to the people of Israel: “change your hearts and stop being stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16 NLT). And this was preceded by the reminder that “the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today” (Deuteronomy 10:15 NLT). 

And what would their change of heart look like? Moses describes it in terms of obedience. 

“You must love the Lord your God and always obey his requirements, decrees, regulations, and commands.” – Deuteronomy 11:1 NLT

Rather than stubbornly refusing to do what God had called them to do, they could prove their love for Him through their willful obedience. But God was not interested in watching His people simply go through the motions. He was not asking for heartless adherence to His commands. As we have seen before, God takes no delight in worship that lacks true reverence.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Moses wanted the people to understand that God loved them and He expected them to return that love through faithful obedience to His will for them. God was not demanding some form of stringent legalism, but a display of surrender to His will motivated by love for who He was.

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

Of all people, the Israelites should have had a healthy fear of and respect for God. After all, He had demonstrated His power and proven His faithfulness time and time again. And the people of Israel had no reason to doubt Him or cause to disobey Him. But Moses emphasizes the fact that the children of the Israelites had not been around when many of the mighty acts of God had taken place.

They didn’t see the miraculous signs and wonders he performed in Egypt against Pharaoh and all his land.” – vs. 3

They didn’t see what the Lord did to the armies of Egypt and to their horses and chariots—how he drowned them in the Red Sea…” – vs. 4

Your children didn’t see how the Lord cared for you in the wilderness until you arrived here.” – vs. 5

They didn’t see what he did to Dathan and Abiram…” – vs. 6

They had not had the benefit of watching God display His mighty power on their behalf. Their young eyes had not had the privilege of witnessing God’s deliverance or seeing His judgment. But the same could not be said of their parents.

But you have seen the Lord perform all these mighty deeds with your own eyes!” – Deuteronomy 11:7 NLT

They had no excuse. They couldn’t plead ignorance or claim to have no memory of God’s past miracles. Which is why Moses warned them to use their knowledge of God’s past power and provision to motivate their future obedience.

“Therefore, be careful to obey every command I am giving you today…” – Deuteronomy 11:8 NLT

And Moses made it clear that their heartfelt obedience to God would bring the blessings of God. Doing exactly what God had commanded would provide them with strength. It would result in victories over their enemies. Ongoing obedience would preserve their place in the land, securing their inheritance for generations to come. The land would yield its harvest, and God would be the one who provided the rain necessary to produce the crops. Unlike their days of captivity in Egypt, their gardens would not be watered by means of irrigation, but by means of the sovereign hand of God. And this would be in keeping with the promise He had made to them.

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land.” – Leviticus 26:3-5 NLT

God was demanding allegiance but also dependence. He wanted His people to rely upon Him for all their needs. He was not interested in seeing how powerful and resourceful they could be. He wanted to display His strength on their behalf. He desired to meet their every physical and spiritual need. 

Moses stressed that the land they were about to enter was “a land that the Lord your God cares for. He watches over it through each season of the year!” (Deuteronomy 11:12 NLT). It was His land, and they were His people. The cities and towns belonged to Him. Every sheep, goat, and bull were His property.

“For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” – Psalm 50:10 NLT

And God was offering to share His bounty with His people. He was pledging to bless them from the vast riches of His wealth. If they would only love and obey Him. Moses had already told them what God desired of them.

“…to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

Now he was assuring them that their heartfelt obedience would come with substantial benefits. Obedience that is motivated by love and accompanied by a humble trust in and reliance upon God’s will, always results in His blessings.

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

 

 

 

If Only Achan Had Waited.

1 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” Joshua 8:1-2 ESV

Achan saw and he took. He violated the command of God by greedily grabbing what God had expressly ordered to be given to the treasury of the Lord. Achan let the lust of his eyes get the best of him and he ended up being stoned to death for his efforts. But if only he had waited. At the battle of Jericho, God had made it clear that no one was to take anything of value away from the city. There was to be no plunder. No livestock was to be taken. Every single living thing was to be put to the sword. And all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron were to be dedicated to God. The victory at Jericho was to be seen as God’s alone. He had brought it all about. And, in a way, it was a test for the people of Israel, to see if they would remain obedient to His command. But they had failed the test because of the actions of one man.

But when God exposed the sin of Achan and commanded Joshua to deal with it severely, the people followed Joshua’s lead and removed the sin from their midst. They cleansed themselves from the impurity created by Achan’s actions, reconsecrating themselves to God. And God, knowing that all of this had been a blow to the confidence of Joshua, encouraged him to stay strong.

“Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Take the whole army with you and march against Ai! See, I am handing over to you the king of Ai, along with his people, city, and land.” – Joshua 8:1 NLT

This is similar to the words spoken by God to Moses when the people of Israel were preparing to attack King Og and the nation of Bashan.

But the Lord said to me, “Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” – Deuteronomy 3:2 ESV

Joshua had been a part of that battle and God was reminding him that just as the people of Israel had enjoyed victories over Bashan and the Amorites, they would defeat the people of Ai. Their set-back had been temporary and due to disobedience. But now that they had purged the sin from their midst, God would deliver the city of Ai into their hands. Victory in the life of the child of God does not come through self-effort and is never the product of self-confidence. And anytime covetousness or greed enters into the equation, the outcome will result in failure. Achan had allowed the things of this world to influence his decision-making, and his desire for material wealth clouded his thinking. He sought an earthy reward and was not satisfied with the God-given reward of victory over a more power enemy. But here is the important lesson in all of this: Had Achan been willing to wait, he would have received all the plunder he could have taken. Had he been patient, God would have allowed he and all the Israelites to enjoy all the tangible benefits of their victory. Look closely at the instructions God gave to Joshua.

Do to Ai and its king what you did to Jericho and its king, except you may plunder its goods and cattle. – Joshua 8:2 NLT

This time, things would be different. Whereas at Jericho, God had forbidden the taking of any plunder and had commanded the destruction of all livestock, in this case He gave different instructions. They could plunder all the goods and keep all the animals for themselves. There was no command to dedicate all the gold, silver and vessels of bronze and iron to God. There was no prohibition on taking the livestock. God was allowing them to take the treasures of Ai as their own. He was rewarding them for their willingness to do things His way and not their own. If only Achan had been willing to wait, he would have enjoyed the blessings of God. But oftentimes, man’s disobedience is fueled by his impatience. We are not willing to wait on God. We seek immediate self-gratification. We want instant results. But God would use wait. He would ask that we place a higher priority on obedience than on personal reward.

There is a well-known verse in the book of Malachi that speaks of this principle of obedience and blessing.

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” – Malachi 3:10 NLT

At Jericho, God had put the people of Israel to the test, and they had failed. At Ai, God was once again testing the people of Israel, but in a way, they were being given an opportunity to test the faithfulness of God. By doing exactly what Joshua commanded them to do and doing it according to the will of God, they would discover the goodness of God. They would learn that doing things God’s way comes with remarkable benefits.

Achan had stolen from God. He had squirreled away “a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels” (Joshua 7:21 ESV). But his guilt was evident because he had buried them in the ground inside his tent. He couldn’t enjoy what he had taken. His crime had saddled him with a guilty conscience. What he thought would bring him joy, brought him misery and, ultimately, death. But had he waited, he would have had all the plunder he could carry and the clear conscience that comes with living in obedience to the will of God. The Bible has quite a lot to say about ill-gotten gain.

Tainted wealth has no lasting value,
    but right living can save your life. – Proverbs 10:2 NLT

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors. – Proverbs 1:19 ESV

1 What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night,
    thinking up evil plans.
You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out,
    simply because you have the power to do so.
2 When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance.

3 But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:1-3 NLT

The author of Hebrews reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). God was calling the people of Israel to have faith in Him, to believe that He exists and that He will reward them at just the right time and in just the right way. They simply must believe. But they must also obey. God gave Joshua very simple, but clear instructions: “Lay an ambush against the city, behind it” (Joshua 8:2 ESV). Their victory at Ai was going to be dependent on their willingness to do things God’s way. Their blessing, in the form of plunder, would be directly tied to their obedience. Just as marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days had made no sense, the battle plan that God gave Joshua for the defeat of Ai would seem illogical and unnecessary. But they were learning the invaluable lesson that doing things God’s way always comes with God’s blessings.

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 Choice Is Up To You.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV

Who are you going to trust? This is a question each and every human being ultimately has to answer. But for those who claim to believe in God, it should be a no-brainer. For the people of Judah, there should have been no question regarding the focus of their trust and hope. It should have been God. After all, He had more than proven Himself trustworthy over the years. All the way back to the days of Abraham, God had promised to make of the patriarch of Israel a mighty nation and to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. And He had done it. Early in their history, when they found themselves living as slaves in the land of Egypt, God had rescued them, miraculously freeing them and delivering them to the promised land. Time and time again, God had shown Himself faithful and worthy of their trust. But they had repeatedly chosen to turn their backs on God, placing their confidence in false gods and making alliances with pagan nations. And God makes it painfully clear that their decision to trust in someone or something other than Him was not going to turn out well for them.

“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT

They had made a choice. They had purposefully determined to place their confidence elsewhere. God wasn’t enough for them. In fact, we see this attitude revealed in all its glory when they had demanded that God give them a king like all the other nations. They had taken their demand to Samuel, the prophet, and he was appalled and appealed to God.

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT

They were guilty of putting their hope and confidence in man and making flesh their strength. It wasn’t as if God had let them down. He had ruled over them through a succession of judges. And those judges had rescued them time and time again from the attacks of their enemies. But they failed to realize that their suffering at the hands of their enemies had been the punishment of God for their sins against Him. Their unfaithfulness, illustrated by their idolatry, was their real problem. A king wasn’t going to fix what ailed them. And that would proven repeatedly over the coming centuries by the long line of wicked and idolatrous kings who would lead them down the wrong path, away from God.

They had been given the chance to trust in God. But they had chosen not to. And the outcome of that choice was far from pleasant. Their turning away from God produced spiritual dryness. Rather than fruitfulness, they experienced a loss of productivity and a moral drought that left them like withered plants in the desert. But God reminded them that trust in Him produced just the opposite results.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

Trusting in God does not eliminate difficulties. Look at these verses. They mention the presence of heat and drought. But they also promise fruitfulness in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Trusting in God brings the provision of God. Those who place their hope and confidence in God find themselves provided for by God. The difficulties of life become opportunities for God to meet needs and prove His faithfulness. Drought is no match for God. Blazing heat can do no harm to those who find rest in the shade of God’s mercy and grace.

But here’s the problem: The human heart. It is wicked and deceitful. We can’t even understand why we do what we do. We may think we understand our motives, but we don’t. Only God truly knows the hearts of men. He is able to look into the inner recesses of our hearts and see the real motivation behind what we do and don’t do. He knew why the people of Israel had demanded a king. They were rejecting Him as their king. He knows our hearts. And He rewards us according to the motives of our hearts.

“I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

The people of Judah had made their choice. They had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. They acted as if they still worshiped Him they went through the motions, offering their sacrifices and claiming to be His children. But their hearts were far from Him and God knew it. So, they were going to suffer the consequences. Rather than blessings, they would experience curses. Instead of fruitfulness, they would endure spiritual dryness and, ultimately, physical death. They had chosen. And they would suffer for their choice. The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed words of reminder.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

God can and should be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is all-powerful, able to provide strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, and renewed energy to those facing difficulty. But we have to choose to trust Him. We have to make the decision to turn to Him, rather than relying on our own human strength or placing our hope in something of someone other than Him. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision. And it is driven by our hearts. That is why we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices, we will tend to trust in the flesh. But it is the Holy Spirit who empowers and motivates us to trust God. He provides us with the capacity to rest in God and allow Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. When we place our hope and confidence in Him, He makes us “like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water” – fruitful and protected from the droughts and the scorching heat of life.

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

Coevnant Breakers.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”

And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.

“Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.” – Jeremiah 11:1-17 ESV

God had made a covenant with the people of Israel. It had been a bi-lateral, binding covenant that promised blessings if they kept it and curses if they didn’t. This covenant required obedience on their part. But it came with incredible benefits, backed by the personal guarantee of God.

“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.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT

But this covenant had a downside. There were curses associated with it that would go into effect if they chose to break their end of the agreement.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

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

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

There was no question that the people had broken the covenant. They had willingly and blatantly disobeyed God and made a habit out of pursuing false gods. Which led God to proclaim:

“They have returned to the sins of their ancestors. They have refused to listen to me and are worshiping other gods. Israel and Judah have both broken the covenant I made with their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 11:10 NLT

So, God was obligated, by His very nature, to keep His Word and do what He had said He would do if they proved unfaithful to keep His covenant. The curses were coming. The people of Judah were going to be evicted from the very land He had promised to Abraham and given to Joshua and the second generation of Israelites who had survived the years of wandering in the wilderness. They had gone from paupers in Egypt to private land owners in Canaan. They had enjoyed all the benefits of a rich and fruitful land. They had experienced the protective hand of God and benefited greatly from His provision for all of their needs. But, in spite of all that God had done for them, they had proved unfaithful to Him. God had been the one to plant them in the land, like an olive tree. They thrived, bore fruit and were beautiful to look at. But eventually, they became barren and useless, unable to bear fruit and incapable of living up to God’s expectations of them. So He would be forced to destroy them. And no amount of prayers for mercy was going to help. Their sacrifices and vows would prove useless, because God knew their hearts and was well aware that their remorse was a sham.

“What right do my beloved people have to come to my Temple,
    when they have done so many immoral things?
Can their vows and sacrifices prevent their destruction?
    They actually rejoice in doing evil!” – Jeremiah 11:15 NLT

They loved sinning too much to give it up. They weren’t willing to change their ways. They just wanted God to call off the dogs and cancel His plan to destroy them. But all the while they were calling out to God for mercy, they were burning incense and offering sacrifices to their litany of gods, in the hopes that one of them might step in and rescue them. And if you think about it, they were asking their false gods to defeat the revealed will of the one true God. Unwilling to accept the ramifications of their disobedience to the covenant, they were demanding that their false gods deliver them from the divine justice of Yahweh. But God breaks the new to them that “the idols will not save them when disaster strikes!” (Jeremiah 11:12 NLT).

God was going to fulfill the covenant He had made with Israel. He was the one who had planted them in the land. He had made them fruitful. He had blessed them beyond measure. But they had proven to be unfaithful and unwilling to remain obedient to the covenant they had made with Him. And, as a result, God would keep His word and do to them exactly what He had said He would do.

“I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who planted this olive tree, have ordered it destroyed. For the people of Israel and Judah have done evil, arousing my anger by burning incense to Baal.” – Jeremiah 11:17 NLT

And God let’s them know that the blessings they once enjoyed would be a thing of the past. The abundance and affluence they had known in the land of Canaan would not follow them to Babylon.

“You will plant much but harvest little, for locusts will eat your crops. You will plant vineyards and care for them, but you will not drink the wine or eat the grapes, for worms will destroy the vines. You will grow olive trees throughout your land, but you will never use the olive oil, for the fruit will drop before it ripens. You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity. Swarms of insects will destroy your trees and crops.” – Deuteronomy 29:38-42 NLT

God had blessed them beyond belief. He had given them a land they did not deserve. He had provided them with victories over their enemies they could have never accomplished without Him. He had made them fruitful and powerful. He had repeatedly forgiven their sins and provided them with atonement through His sacrificial system. But they had taken all the blessings of God and responded in unfaithfulness. They had treated the God of the universe with contempt. And all God had really asked of them was that they respond to His love with love. He wanted them to show gratitude and affection for His many blessings. And He had warned them that failure to do so would have deadly consequences.

“If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 NLT

The people of Judah loved sin more than they loved God. They found it easier to rejoice in doing evil than to find joy in loving and obeying of God. They took His blessings for granted. They saw His forgiveness as a foregone conclusion. He had always forgiven them of their sins. All they had to do was offer a few sacrifices and tell Him they were sorry. But God was looking for heart change. He wanted love, not sacrifice. He desired obedience motivated by faithfulness and true affection.

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 Benefits of God's Approval.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

What most people tend to notice when they read The Beatitudes are the nine descriptors of those who are blessed or approved by God: The poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted and reviled. But we spend little time looking at the benefits that come with God’s approval.
…the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven right here, right now
…those who mourn will receive comfort
…the meek will inherit the earth
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will get what they desire, in full
…the merciful will receive mercy from God
…the pure in heart will get to see God
…the peacemakers will be recognized as the children of God
…those persecuted for their righteousness are part of the kingdom of God right here, right now
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Jesus will be able to rejoice in this life because of their reward in the next life is great

Whether we fully understand them or not, those are some pretty amazing benefits that come as a result of God’s approval. One of the first things Jesus mentions in the way of benefits is the kingdom of heaven. The first and last beatitudes both mention it. This is what is often referred to as an inclusio. It is a literary device designed to act as a set of brackets that bookend what is found in-between. As has been the case throughout the book of Matthew up to this point, the emphasis has been on the kingdom of heaven, or what is sometimes referred to as the kingdom of God. By beginning and ending His list of beatitudes with the mention of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus is saying that every one of the beatitudes is about the very same thing. And He makes it clear that there is a now-not-yet aspect to the God’s kingdom. Those are who are approved by God are part of that kingdom right here, right now. They become citizens of God’s kingdom the minute they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus:

He [God] brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. – Ephesians 2:17-19 NLT

He told the same thing to the believers in Philippi:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. – Philippians 3:20 NLT

We have a new home. We don’t belong here anymore. Our citizenship has been transferred to our future home: Heaven. And Peter reminds us:

Dear friends, I warn you as "temporary residents and foreigners" to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

And Paul tells us that we are to live in this life as if we are already there with Him in the next one:

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6 NLT

But in the meantime, we have to live on this earth and experience the pain and suffering that comes with a fallen, sinful world. We still have to do battle with our own sin nature. We will face attack, rejection, ridicule and resistance for our faith. Yet, because we are citizens of another kingdom, we are to react in a completely different manner than those around us. We are to marked by poverty of spirit, not pridefulness. We are to recognize our sin and our constant need of the Savior’s assistance in putting to death those things associated with our old way of life. And we are to mourn over those things that used to bring us joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. Like Paul, we are to see the former pleasures and achievements associated with our old way of life as “worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And our attitude, like his, should be: “For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). And when we mourn over the way we used to seek and find joy in the things of this earth, we will be comforted by God. There is a sense in which we receive comfort now, but its complete fulfillment will come with Christ’s return.

Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. While in this earth we are called by God to give up our rights and place the needs of others ahead of our own, there is a day coming when His children will inherit the earth. This is a blatantly Messianic statement speaking of Jesus’ future reign on earth during the Millennial Kingdom. And this particular message was directed at the Jews in Jesus’ audience that day. While they were currently living under Roman rule and subject to oppression, those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Messiah and gained God’s approval, would someday inherit His earthly kingdom alongside Him. The meek focus on God’s future rewards, instead of demanding them here and now.

What about those who hunger and thirst after righteousness in this life? Jesus promises that they will receive exactly what they crave, in full. They will be completely satisfied and satiated. There is a now-not-yet aspect to this promise as well. When we hunger for the righteousness of Christ in this life, we receive satisfaction. When we deeply desire to be conformed to God’s will and experience the spiritual growth He has planned for us, we receive the satisfaction of experiencing it in this life. But, of course, this will not be fully accomplished until we see Jesus face to face in eternity. There is a day coming when the sin-free life we long for will be ours, completely and fully. And we will be satisfied.

When we live with a spirit of mercy, extending to others what we have received from God, we will continue to enjoy His undeserved mercy in our own lives. Jesus was not teaching that we must extend mercy to others before we can receive it from God. He was saying that showing mercy is the natural response of one who has received it. We were undeserving. So are those around us. And like so many of these beatitudes, this one has a future fulfillment associated with it. There is a day coming when God’s mercy will be fully realized when we stand before Him in His kingdom, having fully received what we never could have earned on our own.

There is a degree to which we can enjoy purity of heart in this life. We have been made new. We have a new nature. But we also have our old sin natures living within us and doing battle with the indwelling Spirit of God. But when we listen to the Spirit and walk according to His will, we can know what it means to live with a pure heart, a heart conformed to the will of God, and characterized by the very nature of God. Paul tells us that when we are led by the Spirit of God, our lives will produce the fruit of the Spirit of God: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). But the day is coming when our sinful natures will be done away with once and for all and we will experience what it means to be completely, wholly dedicated to God. To a certain degree, we get to see God in this life, but we will see Him face to face in the next. Right now, He is invisible to our eyes, but that will not always be the case. Peter reminds us, “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8 NLT). And the apostle John adds, “we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

Peacemakers will be recognized as God’s children. Those who live their lives on this earth focused on reconciling lost men to God, will be see for who they are: God’s representatives. And they will experience both rejection and acceptance for their efforts. Living in a sin-torn world, point people to Christ, will make it obvious that we are sons and daughters of God. But we will not always be accepted and our efforts will not always be appreciated. But when we act as His representatives, we bring glory to His name and make it clear that we belong to Him. And, once again, the day is coming when our status as His children will be confirmed in full when His Son returns.

Finally, those are experience persecution in this life because of their status as the children of God, have the joy of knowing that they are already part of His kingdom. There place is reserved. They cannot lose their inheritance. And Paul would have us remember:

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Approval by God comes with some significant benefits. And it produces some remarkable character changes in the life of each and every Christ-follower. As Jesus spoke these words to the crowd that day on the hillside, He was attempting to get them to understand that He had come to bring radical change and all that He was going to offer them was freely available to them, but it was going to require repentance, a complete change of mind regarding what they thought about God, His kingdom, salvation, sin, and the Messiah, their long-awaited Savior.

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

A Turning Point.

And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David's spoil.”

Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.

When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa, in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed. – 1 Samuel 30:16-31 ESV

This chapter appears to mark a turning point in David’s life. He had been through a lot since his early days as a young shepherd boy, tending his father’s flocks. There had been his surprising anointing by the prophet, Samuel. That had been followed by his unimaginable defeat of the Philistine champion, Goliath. Not long after that, he had found himself serving as the court musician for the king of Israel, Saul. Then he had been promoted to his bodyguard and eventually to the role of commander in the army of the Israelites. But then everything had gone south when Saul’s suspicions of David caused him to seek his death. That had led to David’s flight and the subsequent years of hiding in the wilderness and, eventually, to his escape to the safety of the land of Philistia, where he had been the last 16 months. But with the sack and plunder of his home base of Ziklag and the capture of his wives, along with the wives and children of all of his men, David had hit an all-time low point in his life. With his city burned, his wives taken captive by the Amalekites, and his men threatening to stone him, David was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his entire life. And it was at this critical juncture of his life that David, rather than letting his emotions get the better of him and making an unwise decision, turned to God. He sought the Lord’s help and received it. God told him to pursue the Amalekites and guaranteed his success in the endeavor.

With the help of a captured Amalekite servant, David learned the whereabouts of the Amalekite raiding party. As the Amalekites were busy celebrating the success of their raids, David and his men attacked. While 400 of the Amalekites were able to escape, the passage tells us that David was able to get back all that had been taken.

David got back everything the Amalekites had taken, and he rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing: small or great, son or daughter, nor anything else that had been taken. David brought everything back. He also recovered all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock. – 1 Samuel 30:18-20 NLT

God had given him victory. They were able to free every single woman and child, and recover every single item that had been stolen, along with an abundance of livestock and loot that the Amalekites had taken from other cities they had plundered. By seeking God’s will and doing things God’s way, David had experienced God’s blessing. No deception had been necessary. Complete, not partial, success had been the outcome. And David’s men went from threatening to stone him to offering him all of the plunder as his reward for saving their wives and children.

But what David does next is what reveals the life-transformative nature of this moment in his life. He returns to the 200 men who had been too exhausted to join him in the fight, and shares the plunder with them. And he did this against the wishes of a group of “wicked and worthless fellows” who had greedily advised that these men get nothing back but their wives and children. But David recognized that their victory had been God-given, and that everyone, even those who stayed back and protected the baggage, were to enjoy in the blessing God had provided. David knew that this whole affair had been God’s doing. He had given them success over their enemies – in spite of them. David knew he did not deserve what God had just done. This entire mess had been of his own making and, yet, God had graciously responded in mercy and provided victory. So he told his men:

“No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the Lord has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. Who will listen when you talk like this? We share and share alike—those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment.” – 1 Samuel 30:23-24 NLT

David wanted everyone to share in the joy of the moment and experienced the material blessings that God had provided. So he not only shared the plunder with his men, but had portions of what had been taken from the Amalekites sent to the elders of Judah. As far as he was concerned, this had been God’s victory and it was only right to share it with all of God’s people.

This passage is a turning point in the life of David. It provides an important transition in the story of David’s life. Yes, he is still persona non grata in Israel. He is still a fugitive, living on the run and Saul has not given up his desire to see David dead. But his transformation from shepherd boy to king was rapidly coming to an end. Saul was still on the throne, but God’s preparation of David to take his place was almost done. And Saul’s demise and David’s rise was much nearer than either man knew.

It is sometimes at the lowest points of our lives that God chooses to step in and reveal His grace and mercy in abundance. It is at our moments of greatest need that God appears, because it is at those moments that we tend to call out to Him. When our capacity to solve our problems diminishes and our resources of self-preservation finally run out, we typically call out to God. And He hears. And He answers. And He rescues. It is the very same principle that applied to our salvation. Paul reminds us that, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). At the point of our greatest need – in the midst of our sin-saturated, self-centered, death-deserving hopelessness – God stepped in and did what only He could do. He saved us. He gave us victory over sin and death. He blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. And we are to share those blessings with others. We are to share the love of God with others.

Jesus told His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV). Our salvation is to mark a turning point in our lives, when we move from selfishness and self-centeredness to selflessness and love for others.

In many ways, the words of Paul, found in his letter to the Corinthians, fit perfectly with what we see displayed in the life of Paul in this passage. But they also apply to us. We have been reconciled to

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NLT

Like David, we have been reconciled to God. We have been given a second chance, a new lease on life. We have been spared from a fate worse than death: eternal separation from God. And as a result, we are to share the joys and blessings of our reconciliation with God with others.

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 Secret To Success.

Proverbs 22

“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.” – Proverbs 22:4 NLT

Does this verse contain the secret to success? Yes, but we tend to put the focus on the wrong end of the verse. We look at the words, "riches, honor, and long life" and stop there. We assume that because we are Christians, we have the first part of the verse down and so we should automatically receive the "promises" it offers. We then define what riches, honor and long life should look like according to our plans. But the real point of this verse is contained in the description, "true humility and the fear of the Lord." Those two things are critical and non-negotiable to any blessings beings received from God. They describe the life of the person who has a right relationship with God. They reveal the heart of the individual who loves God and shows Him the proper awe, reverence and fear He deserves as the Almighty God of the Universe. The humility is based on an understanding of who God is. In the face of God's power, majesty, magnitude, intelligence, holiness, and complete righteousness, this person responds with an awareness of their own sinfulness, weakness, unfaithfulness, powerlessness, need, and unrighteousness. That awareness produces dependence. It results in a growing reliance on God for ALL things, including not only salvation, but daily sanctification. It drives out self-righteousness and any thought that we somehow deserve the blessings of God. Humility is our response to God's majesty and glory. It is a "true" humility, not some kind of false self-abasement to impress others. It is real and the result of a growing awareness of just how great God really is.

Humility goes hand-in-hand with the fear of God. Over in Proverbs 9:10, Solomon reminds us that "Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom." When we learn to fear God, we grow in wisdom. We begin to realize just how much we need Him and all that He offers. We need His help in order to live the life He has called us to live on this fallen planet. We need His wisdom to navigate all the issues that face us each and every day. We need discernment, knowledge, discretion, and good old common sense – all of which come directly from God. What Solomon is telling us in today's verse is that any degree of riches, honor and long life will come only as we learn to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. They will only come about if we learn to fear Him, honor Him, worship Him and show Him the awe He so rightly deserves. But if we begin to worship riches, honor and long life, we miss the point. We can easily make idols out of the blessings and miss the One who alone can provide them. That is NOT the fear of God. We can find ourselves expecting God to give us happy homes, great jobs, good incomes, solid marriages, successful careers, obedient kids, and a host of other blessings. The problem is that many of us know nothing of true humility and the fear of God. We almost demand that He bless us, like the prodigal son demanding his inheritance from his father. No love, no respect, no honor, no fear. Back in Proverbs 9, Solomon tells us that the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. In other words, it is the starting point, the very beginning of our quest for wisdom. It begins with the fear of God. So not until we fear God will we receive the wisdom we need that can help us succeed in life, marriage, parenting, work, and every other area of our lives. Proverbs 22:4 is not some kind of magic mantra that guarantees success. It is a reminder that the fear of the Lord is what should be the singular focus of our lives. Don't obsess over the gifts, focus on the Giver. Make Him your highest priority. Make getting to know Him more important than getting things from Him. Then You will have true success.

Father, continue to teach me what it means to fear You. Don't let me shy away from that concept just because I find it difficult to understand and unattractive to my sensibilities. The fear of You is the key to receiving wisdom from You. And without Your wisdom, there is no way that I will ever find true spiritual success in this world. Amen.