The Messiah Has Come!

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:1-10 ESV

Matthew has an agenda and he wastes no time on anything that will not support his overall objective. His primary interest is to establish Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, and so, after providing an abbreviated overview of Jesus’ birth, Matthew fast-forwards to His baptism and the beginning of His earthly ministry.

In keeping with his more truncated and sparse narrative style, Matthew provides little details regarding the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke’s Gospel contains a much-more detailed account of this seminal character, providing information about his birth, unique lifestyle, and the nature of his God-given assignment to prepare the way for Jesus.

But Matthew eliminates all the background information regarding John the Baptist, introducing him into the narrative in a somewhat abrupt and jarring manner. Matthew fast-forwards from the news that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had settled in Galilee and brings us to a future point in time when John was baptizing somewhere in the Judean wilderness. He makes no effort to explain who John was, but simply gives us a description of his work and his wardrobe.

John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea… – Matthew 3:1 ESV

John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:4 ESV

It’s fairly clear that Matthew saw John as a supporting character in the story. He was vital to the narrative but played a clearly subordinate role to that of Jesus. And John the Baptist had been fully comfortable with his secondary status, having recognized the divine nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission. The apostle John records the words that John the Baptist spoke to his disciples when they expressed concern that Jesus was also baptizing in the Jordan and drawing large crowds.

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

”He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.“ – John 3:28-31 ESV

Once again, Matthew sees the events surrounding the life of Jesus as fulfilling the words of Scripture. He refers to John the Baptist “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” and calling the people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1 ESV). And these actions by John were in direct fulfillment of a message delivered by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” – Isaiah 40:3 ESV

John had been sent by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. He had delivered his message of repentance, warning that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. The long-awaited Messiah was about to reveal Himself.

In his Gospel, Mark shares that John “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). But what was this “baptism of repentance?” What exactly were these people repenting of? And why was John attracting such large crowds?

Some of John’s attraction might be linked to his rather strange attire and bizarre lifestyle. Matthew describes him as wearing “a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist” and subsisting off a diet of “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). John’s attire linked him with the Old Testament prophet, Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). After the last Old Testament prophet spoke his final words, God went silent for 400-years. There were no prophets. There was no communication from God. And then, suddenly, John the Baptist shows up on the scene, bearing a striking resemblance to Elijah and reminding the people of the words spoken by God to the prophet, Micah, hundreds of years earlier.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

John was the fulfillment of this prophetic promise. He came in the spirit of Elijah, accomplishing the same prophetic ministry as his Old Testament predecessor. And God had promised Zechariah,  the father of John, that all of this would take place.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:13-17 ESV

Once again, Matthew is establishing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And John the Baptist was sent to prepare for his arrival by calling the people to repentance. But as we asked earlier, what kind of repentance? The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind.” We tend to think of repentance as exclusively linked to behavior, but it has a much more robust and all-encompassing meaning. Repentance begins, first and foremost, in the mind, not the actions. John was calling the people of Israel to change their minds about everything. They were going to have to radically change their minds about God. They had developed a warped perspective about Yahweh that had allowed them to treat Him with a bit too much familiarity. They were going to have to change their minds regarding righteousness. They were living under the false impression that their status as descendants of Abraham and their relationship with the Mosaic Law made them righteous. But all of that was about to change. They were going to have to change their mind about sin and the means by which the sinner is made right with a holy God. The sacrificial system had never been intended to make anyone righteous.

Years later, the apostle Paul asked the question: “Why, then, was the law given?” and then he answered his own question: “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). And now, here was John letting the people know that the child who was promised had arrived. He was now a 30-year-old man and, as John would later describe Him, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT).

But John’s ministry included proclamation and immersion. He baptized, which is how he got his nickname, John the Baptist. John was calling the people to prepare for spiritual restoration. The anointed one of God had arrived and they were going to have to confess their sins and prepare their hearts for what God had in store. Just as the prophet, Elijah, had called the Jews of his day to repentance, so was John. The Israelites were guilty of spiritual complacency and, at worst, apostasy. And God had graciously sent His messenger, John, to call them back.

But when John saw the religious leaders showing up to be baptized, he accused them of hypocrisy.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” – Matthew 3:8 ESV

They were simply going through the motions, attempting to align themselves with the large crowds that John was attracting. But John’s baptism was intended to reveal the heart of the one being baptized. It was a baptism of repentance, symbolizing a desire to be restored to a right relationship with God. But John saw through the charade of the Pharisees and Sadduccees. They were unrepentant because they saw no need for it. They viewed themselves as fully righteous and John knew that their false concept was based on their status as sons of Abraham. Which is why he stated:

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Matthew 3:9 NLT

Not exactly PC-language. But John was out to prepare the people for the arrival of the Lamb of God, who alone can take away the sins of the world. The Pharisees and Sadduccees saw themselves as sinless and, therefore, in no need of a Savior. But John warns these self-righteous men that their lack of fruit in keeping with true righteousness was going to result in their removal.

“Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:10 NLT

There was a change coming. The status quo that had existed in Israel for centuries was about to be rocked. With the arrival of Jesus, everything was about to change. The first would be last and the last would be first. The self-righteous were about to be exposed as unrighteous. The sinners of the world were about to be embraced by the Savior of the world. The weak would find new strength. The spiritually blind would gain their signt. The captives would be set free. And the lost would be found. Because the Messiah had 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

A Thirst For God

13 Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests;
    wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
    O ministers of my God!
Because grain offering and drink offering
    are withheld from the house of your God.

14 Consecrate a fast;
    call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
    and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to the Lord.

15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
    and as destruction from the Almighty[c] it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
    before our eyes,
joy and gladness
    from the house of our God?

The seed shrivels under the clods;
    the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are torn down
    because the grain has dried up.
18 How the beasts groan!
    The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
    even the flocks of sheep suffer.

19 To you, O Lord, I call.
For fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
    all the trees of the field.
20 Even the beasts of the field pant for you
    because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
    the pastures of the wilderness. – Joel 1:13-20 ESV

The consequences of sin are not always self-evident. They don’t always show up at the point the sin is being committed. But in due time, the sinner always reaps what he sows. We can attempt to hide our sin or act like it never happened, but it will eventually get exposed. As God warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23 ESV).

And the people of Judah were experiencing the painful consequences of their sin against God, in the form of the devastating aftermath of the locust infestation that had left their land devoid of fruit and grain. For generations, they had thought they had gotten away with their repeated rebellion against God, but their sin had found them out. He had been watching and waiting. Now, judgment had come and they had no grain to make bread and no grapes with which to produce wine. And, on top of that, they had no way of offering the grain and drink offerings required as part of the sacrificial system established by Yahweh.

So, Joel calls on the priests of God to put on sackcloth, lament, and wail. Rather than wearing their priestly robes and offering sacrifices on behalf of the people, they were to spend their nights in sorrow, “Because grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1:13 ESV). Joel addresses them as “ministers of the altar” and “ministers of my God,” clearly pointing out how they had abdicated their responsibility as the spiritual leaders of Judah. They were to have led the nation in the worship of God, bringing the sins of the people before the altar and helping to restore them to a right relationship with God.

When God had set apart the tribe of Levi to assist Aaron with the duties associated with the tabernacle, He had told them, “They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:8 ESV). The priests in Joel’s day had failed to keep guard over the people. They had stood back and watched as the people disobeyed and dishonored God by their sinful behavior. Yes, they continued to offer their grain and drink offerings. They kept bringing their sacrifices and fulfilling all the feast days and festivals. But their hearts were not in it. God’s feelings regarding the outward obedience of His people were made quite clear in His words recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”says the LORD.

“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the bloodof bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony. Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting—they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.” – Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT

God was fed up. He had had enough. So, He demands that the priests assemble all the people at the temple and declare a nationwide fast and period of mourning.

Announce a time of fasting;
    call the people together for a solemn meeting.
Bring the leaders
    and all the people of the land
into the Temple of the Lord your God,
    and cry out to him there. – Joel 1:14 NLT

The Hebrew word used for this kind of gathering is `atsarah, and it was typically used to refer to an assembly of the people for the keeping of a feast or festival. But there would be no feasting at this assembly. It was a fast, a willing abstaining from food on order to focus all their attention on God. And they were already experiencing a forced fast because there was no bread to eat or wine to drink. As is self-evident, this was not going to be a joyous occasion. They were expected to cry out to God in confession and repentance, placing themselves at His mercy and hoping that He will show them grace.

And Joel doesn’t want them to miss the seriousness of this occasion. He describes the time in which they live as “the day of the Lord.” And he points out that “Our food disappears before our very eyes. No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God” (Joel 1:16 ESV). They are under divine judgment and its effects are all around them.

The seeds die in the parched ground,
    and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
    and granaries are abandoned. – Joel 1:17 NLT

Even the animals in the fields are experiencing the consequences of Judah’s sin and God’s judgment. The pastures are barren and the flocks are starving. In all of this, Joel seems to be pointing out how Judah’s sin was impacting not only the economy, but the sacrificial system. Not only was there no grain or wine for use in the offerings, the herds and flocks that would have been the source of sacrifices were suffering from starvation. The entire sacrificial system, designed to provide forgiveness from sin and a restored relationship with God, was struggling for its existence. Joel describes the flock of sheep as suffering, but the Hebrew word he uses is 'asham, which means “to suffer punishment due to guilt.” Even the sheep, which were the primary means of substititionary atonement for the sins of the people, were suffering as if guilty. Their lack of adequate food had made them unfit for sacrifice.

These were dark days. And it wasn’t because of the locusts. It was because of sin. And the judgment against Judah’s sin had not stopped with the devouring by the locusts. Joel describes fire as having scorched the fields, leaving any remnant of grain completely wiped out. And, on top of that, the brooks had dried up, leaving the animals in the fields searching for anything to slack their thirst.

The imagery of animals desperately seeking for something to slack their thirst is meant to picture the spiritual state of the people of Judah. They are dying spiritually, and in need of someone to quench their unbearable thirst for satisfaction. And, through the prophet Isaiah, God offers them an invitation.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.” – Isaiah 55:1-12 ESV

The situation is desperate, but are the people of Judah? Are they ready to give up their wicked ways and turn to God? Has the devastation of the locusts left them ready to seek God and serve Him faithfully? Time will tell. But Joel warns them that things are going to get worse before they get better. If they don’t repent, the day of the Lord will come. He is offering to quench their spiritual thirst and alleviate their suffering, but they must confess their sin and return to Him in humility and contrition.

Again, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, reminding the people of Judah what it was He wanted from them. And His words reveal the choice that the people of Judah had to make.

“But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
    he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig's blood;
    he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
    and their soul delights in their abominations.” – Isaiah 66:2-3 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


A Corporate Confession

1 Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—
2  as when fire kindles brushwood
    and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
    and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
    you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
    in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. – Isaiah 64:1-7 ESV

Isaiah continues his passionate prayer to God, temporarily abdicating his role as God’s messenger in order to speak to God on behalf of his people. In a sense, Isaiah reversed his role and became an emissary for Judah to God, pleading with the Almighty to leave heaven and invade their circumstance with His divine presence and power. He wanted God to show up on the scene and prove to the stubborn and sin-blinded people of Judah that He was real and that His promises to save them could be trusted.

Isaiah’s graphic description of how he envisioned God showing up on the scene reflects his understanding of how God had appeared to the people of Israel in the past. When God first appeared to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in the wilderness, Moses had used similar terminology to describe the scene.

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

Isaiah longed to see the very same thing because he knew that his rebellious friends and neighbors would have a hard time ignoring a God who revealed Himself in such a dramatic and undeniable way. With that kind of entrance, even the most jaded among the people of Judah would have to sit up and take notice. They would have no excuse to ignore God anymore. In essence, Isaiah is asking that God move from being transcendent to immanent. It is not that God is one or the other at any given time. He exists outside of time and space and is only knowable by men when He chooses to reveal Himself to them. But God has done just that. As Paul states in his letter to the believers in Rome, “what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT).

Over the centuries, God had revealed Himself to men in a variety of ways. On several occasions, God appeared to Abraham and spoke with Him. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. In the wilderness, He revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Later on, Moses would make a request of God: “show me your glorious presence” (Exodus 33:18 NLT). And, in response, God gave Moses the following instructions:

“Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”  – Exodus 33:21-23 NLT

Isaiah longed for a similar experience. He had obviously talked with God, but now he expressed His desire to see God with his own eyes. And this yearning was driven by a longing to see God intervene on behalf of His people so that the nations would know that the God of Judah was truly powerful. Not only did Isaiah want the people of Judah to see their God for who He really was, but he also wanted their enemies to shake in their boots at the sight of God Almighty. So, he begged God, “to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Isaiah 64:2 ESV).

Isaiah knew that God stood alone. He had no competitors and there were no other gods who could be compared with Him. But he was looking for tangible, palpable proof. He wanted to see God in action with his own two eyes, and he wanted to see Him do “awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations” (Isaiah 64:3 NLT).

But Isaiah knew there was a problem. God was holy and they were not. There were certain requirements that God had placed upon His chosen people. And Isaiah articulated them.

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways. – Issaiah 64:5 NLT

God demanded righteousness. He expected holiness. He had chosen the people of Israel and set them apart for His glory. They were to live their lives according to His laws and they were to reflect His holy character to a lost world. Even back in Midian,  when God appeared to Moses in the form of the burning bush, He had warned him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5 NLT). Later on, when God allowed Moses to see His glory, He denied Moses the right to see His face. God is holy and He expected His chosen people to live holy lives. But Isaiah knew that was a major problem. 

But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved? – Isaiah 64:5 NLT

Here we have Isaiah aligning himself with the people of Judah and asking as their corporate representative. He includes himself as one of the guilty, describing their state as sinners who deserve no salvation from God. And Isaiah doesn’t attempt to minimize the depth of their sinful state. He lays it out in graphic terms that reveal his understanding of their corporate culpability and well-deserved condemnation.

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

This was not a new recognition by Isaiah of the guilt of he and his fellow Judahites. From the day God had called him, he had expressed his realization that they all stood condemned before a holy God. In fact, he had clearly stated, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NLT). But it’s essential that we notice what prompted this incredible confession from Isaiah. Chapter six opens up with the words, “It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple” (Isaiah 6:1 NLT). Isaiah had seen God. He had been given a vision of God. In that vision, Isaiah had seen the seraphim surrounding the throne of God and had heard them proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:2 NLT).

And the immediate impact of that vision on Isaiah was a recognition of his own unholiness. Standing before the perfectly holy God, Isaiah was fully and painfully aware of his own unrighteousness and undeservedness. He had no right to be in the presence of God. He was guilty of sin and unclean as a result. And he knew that the only thing he deserved from God was condemnation and death. Yet, God had sent one of the seraphim with a burning coal from the altar to touch the lips of Isaiah. And the next thing Isaiah heard was the incredible news, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

That experience had left Isaiah a changed man. He would never be the same again. And now, years later, he was pleading with God to reveal His holiness to the people of Judah. Why? Because he longed for them to have the same life-changing experience that had transformed him from guilty to forgiven.

Yet, in spite of their undeniable sin and guilt, Isaiah is shocked to admit that “no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy” (Isaiah 64:7 NLT). There was no one willing to confess, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.” And, as a result, Isaiah sadly acknowledges the state of affairs in Judah.

Therefore, you have turned away from us
    and turned us over to our sins. – Isaiah 64:7 NLT

Isaiah was the only one willing to admit the obvious. They were sinners and deserved every ounce of judgment God was bringing upon them. They were a people of unclean lips, but because they refused to admit it, there would be no burning coal to cleanse them and provide forgiveness. Instead, they would face the loving discipline of God. Because they refused to repent of their rebellion against Him, he would punish them for it. But Isaiah was not going to give up. His prayer was not quite finished. He knew what it was like to stand before the holy, righteous God of the universe, and have his life radically altered. And he would not be content until he had interceded with God on behalf of his people.

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

Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance.

9 Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
    we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. – Isaiah 59:9-15 ESV

Where is God? If He loves me, why isn’t He doing something about my situation? If He’s so powerful, why won’t He fix my problem?

How many times have those kinds of questions been asked over the centuries? From believers and unbelievers alike.  And in this chapter, Isaiah has revealed that the people of Judah were asking these very kinds of questions because of their dire circumstances. They had concluded that either God was too weak to deliver them or simply hard of hearing. But Isaiah would not allow them to blame God for their dilemma. He laid the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

…your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers. – Isaiah 59:2 NET

Now, Isaiah positions himself as one of their own, addressing them as a fellow Judahite who finds himself suffering alongside them. Even though he had been faithfully trying to turn them back to God. Picking up where he left off in verse 2, Isaiah adds, “For this reason deliverance is far from us and salvation does not reach us” (Isaiah 59:9 NET). Notice that Isaiah now includes himself in their predicament. Rather than addressing them as “you,” he uses the plural pronoun, “us.” Because of the sins of the many, even the faithful would suffer. 

That’s why Isaiah drives home the unpopular message that it was their sins that separated them from God. And God’s seeming unavailability was a matter of disobedience, not distance. God had not gone anywhere, otherwise Isaiah would not have been doing what he was doing. Every word the prophet shared was from the lips of God. He wasn’t silent. They just weren’t listening. God wasn’t gone, but they had most definitely left Him.

And now, they were suffering the consequences of turning their backs on God. They longed for light, but found themselves surrounded by darkness. They kept waiting for the brightness of day, but seemed to be in a perpetual state of living in dusk turning to more darkness. There was no dawn on the horizon. Their cloud had no silver lining. And not that the light or darkness really mattered. Because they were like blind men groping along and oblivious as to whether it was midnight of the middle of the day. In a sense, they were so spiritually blind, they wouldn’t recognize the brightness of God’s glory if it appeared right in front of them. 

The powerful growl like bears over their sorry state of affairs. They grumble and complains. The weak, like doves, mournfully call out, unable to do anything about their condition. They all “look for justice, but it never comes” and “for rescue, but it is far away” (Isaiah 59:11 NLT). Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance. Neither does anyone any good. Justice that doesn’t ever get meted out isn’t justice at all. Rescue that never shows up is nothing more than disappointment, not deliverance. But again, the problem was not that God was lacking in justice and incapable of rescue. It was their sins. And, Isaiah makes that point quite clear, once again using the plural pronoun, “we” that allowed him to speak as one of their own. He was no longer addressing them as the prophet of God pointing his condemning finger of judgment. He was a brother who longed to see them wake up to the reality of their situation and recognize the gravity of their problem.

For our sins are piled up before God
    and testify against us. – Isaiah 59:12 NLT

They had a long track record of transgression against God. Their sins, like witnesses in a trial, testified against them, condemning them as guilty before God. And Isaiah will not allow them to play the innocent, wrongly accused victim.

we know what sinners we are.
We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.
    We have turned our backs on our God.
We know how unfair and oppressive we have been,
    carefully planning our deceitful lies. – Isaiah 59:12-13 NLT

It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “Let’s stop fooling ourselves. We all know we’re guilty, so let’s just own up to it and confess it.” Attempting to hide or deny their sin was getting them nowhere with God. He knew. He saw. And now He was sending them His judgment. But they could avoid His wrath if they would only admit their guilt.

But while they were longing for justice from God and demanding that He deliver them, they were busy practicing injustice and taking advantage of the weak and helpless among themselves. They were expecting God to do for them what they refused to do for one another. They wanted God to rescue them out of their troubles and trials, while they were busy dragging the innocent into court and treating their brothers and sisters like prey to be devoured rather than family to be cared for.

No, things were not good in Judah. And their circumstances were a direct result of their sinfulness. As the old maxim goes, they had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it.

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

Sinner In Need of a Savior

14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
    nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
    and the breath of life that I made.
17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
    I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
    but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
    I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19     creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    “and I will heal him.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
    for it cannot be quiet,
    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:14-21 ESV

Verse 13 ended with the promise:

But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain. –
Isaiah 57:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is chacah, and it means “to flee for protection.” This is an open invitation from God to His people offering them to place their hope and trust in Him. But He knew they had options, so He challenged them to make their decision. The next time they found themselves in trouble, they could cry out to Him, or they could turn to their assortment of false gods and see how well they fared.

But God makes it clear that, when deliverance comes, it will come from one place: From His hand. The day was going to come when the people of Judah would hear the long-awaited words, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity” (Isaiah 57:14 ESV), and they would come from the mouth of God, not some lifeless idol. And Isaiah differentiates God from the so-called competition by describing Him as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). He is the transcendent God who is above all. He is not relegated to earth and subject to the whims of men. He is not the product of man’s minds or hands and does not require their help in moving from one place to another. He is also eternal, without beginning or end. Every idol the people of Judah worshiped came into existence because someone took the time to manufacture it. And it would one day decay and fall apart. But not God.

And He alone is holy, totally pure and free from any and all forms of defilement. John reminds us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God’s very character makes Him unmatched and unparalleled. There is no one besides Him. 

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

Yet, this transcendent, holy, incomparable God has made Himself known to mere men. But only to those who meet a certain condition or requirement.

“I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.” – Isaiah 57:15 NLT

Notice the attributes of those to whom God reveals Himself. They are contrite and humble, crushed in spirit, and marked by repentant hearts. In other words, they are cognizant of their need for God. No pride. No self-righteousness. No arrogant boasting in their own self-earned standing before God. No, the people to whom God reveals Himself are those who are contrite or broken in spirit. They have been crushed by cares of the world and their own efforts at trying to live righteous lives in their own strength. When Jesus delivered His great invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT), He was addressing all those who were worn out and beaten down by trying to earn favor with God through self-effort.

God reveals Himself to the humble, those who recognize their true spiritual condition and their need for someone higher and greater than themselves to save them. And this requirement of humility is found throughout the Scriptures. 

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT

One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. – Proverbs 29:23 ESV

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 ESV

The people of Judah had become prideful and arrogant, thinking of themselves as somehow better than everyone else because of their unique standing as God’s chosen people. In one of the many confrontations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leadership of His day, He warned them, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT).  Their status as descendants of Abraham gave them no merit before God. Their Hebrew heritage did not impress God or somehow indebt Him to them.

God was looking for those who would humbly recognize their need for Him. His anger against them was real, and it was perfectly justified. He was just and right to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But He wants them to know that His anger can be abated and assuaged if they will only turn to Him and seek His salvation. That is the essence of the gospel message. Sinful men must reach the point where they are willing to admit their sinfulness and humbly acknowledge their complete inability to earn God’s favor through acts of self-righteousness. They must turn to the sole source of salvation made possible through the grace of God. And the apostle Paul puts it in terms we can understand.

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

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

Recognizing God’s holiness and coming to grips with our own inherent sinfulness is the key to experiencing God’s graciousness as revealed through His Son’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus told His disciples, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Lue 5:31-32 NLT).

As long as the people of Judah continued to see themselves as spiritually healthy and in no need of a divine doctor, they would continue to suffer the deadly symptoms of their sin. God reminds the people of Judah about their stubborn refusal to take His punishment of them seriously.

“I was angry,
    so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
    but they kept going on their own stubborn way.” – Isaiah 57:17 NLT

And yet, God delivers the amazing news:

“I have seen what they do,
    but I will heal them anyway!
    I will lead them.” – Isaiah 57:18 NLT

God offers to heal them in spite of them. He promises to lead them even though they had consistently refused to follow Him in the past. But the key to experiencing His healing and help was humility. They were going to have to admit their need for Him. And all that God had been doing to them and around them was so that they might know the reality of their sin and their need for His salvation.

The apostle Peter reminds us of the biblical truth: “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). But he goes on to tell us what to do in response to that truth.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:6 NLT

But what does that humility look like? It is not just a matter of recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It involves a daily dependence upon God and a growing recognition of His love for us and His ability to provide for all our needs, cares, and concerns. Peter goes on to say:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

And God assured the people of Judah, “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (Isaiah 57:18-19 NLT). All they had to do was humble themselves before Him.

But God knew there would be those who refused to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for His salvation. So, He warns them:

“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
    which is never still
    but continually churns up mud and dirt.
There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:20-21 NLT

Like the sea that is never calm, but in a constant state of perpetual upheaval, these unrepentant, prideful, and stubbornly self-righteous individuals would never know the peace that comes through humble contrition and willing submission to “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT). 

Confession of our sin is key to receiving cleansing from our sin. Admission of our guilt is a critical step in experiencing the blessing of God’s grace. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners will never recognize their need for a Savior. Which is why the apostle John so strongly warns us:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 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

A Primer on Prayer.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:5-8 ESV

The Jews were a praying people. Prayer was an important part of their religious practice. They had prayers, like the Shema, that were to be recited both morning and evening. Services were held throughout the day at the synagogue where the people of Israel could gather for prayer. So, the topic of prayer was not uncommon among those who heard Jesus speak that day. Jesus was not promoting the need for prayer. He was trying to expose the false motivation behind their prayers. Once again, He warns them against hypocrisy – a form of play-acting, where outward appearances were meant to be deceiving. The Greek word is hypokritēs and was used to describe an actor in a play. An actor’s job was to pretend to be someone else, and a good actor was successful when the audience became convinced that he was who he was pretending to be.

The problem Jesus is attempting to address is the presence of hypocrisy in matters of faith. Posing and pretending were not to be part of the life of a child of God. Prayer was important to God. Communication between Almighty God and man was important to Him. Prayer was a means by which men could express their needs to God, but also declare the glories of God. They could ask things of Him, but were also expected to offer praises to Him for all He had done for them already. And yet, prayer had become just another means of promoting personal piety. Praying in public, where others could see and hear you, was not only a way to get noticed, but admired for your obvious spirituality. Public praying was a way to put your righteousness on display, for all to see. But Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them” (Matthew 6:5 NLT). The purpose of prayer was not to get noticed by men, but heard by God. Prayer was not meant to be a public display of your piety or personal righteousness. Remember what Jesus said? “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Like alms-giving, prayer had become nothing more than a means to an end, and the end was the praise of men. When Jesus warns them not to practice “your righteousness” before other people, He is not complimenting them on what they are doing. He is not telling them that their giving of alms and public prayers were righteous acts. He is describing what they were doing as self-righteousness. It was their own, self-produced brand of righteousness. And just so we’re clear, Jesus is not saying that alms-giving or public prayer are wrong. He is simply using these two things as examples of good and godly acts that had become misunderstood and misused by men and women who were desperately wanting others to see them as something they were not. They wanted to be viewed as righteous and holy by their peers, so all they did, they did to get noticed.

But Jesus is out to tell them that they are focused on the wrong audience. They are trying to convince the wrong people of their righteousness. It should have been God they were worried about, not men. He should have been the focus of their prayers. And rather than spending their time trying to convince others that they were something they were not, they would have been better off letting God know exactly who they were. It was Os Guinness who wrote, “I live before the audience of One – before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.”

It is important that we recognize that Jesus is not condemning public prayer. But prayer is intended, first and foremost, to be a spiritual activity. It is meant to be a conversation between man and God. Prayer is intended for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. It is meant to give to God (glory, honor, adoration). But it also provided as a means by which men can get from God (forgiveness, healing, guidance). Jesus is rejecting the idea of righteousness being inextricably linked to public prayerfulness. Jesus is saying that, if you pray to impress men, you will fail to gain approval from God. Acts of righteousness done with nothing more than recognition in mind are not acts of righteousness at all, but right things done for the wrong reason. Jesus is exposing the kind of prayer that is self-focused, and meant to get you seen and heard. That is prayer meant to impress, not confess. It’s prayer meant to gain the praise of men, not offer praise to God. It’s prayer designed to boost our reputation before men, not boast in the reputation of God.

So, what are we to do? Not pray? No, Jesus says that we are to go into our room, shut the door and pray to God – in private – where no one else can see. And God, who sees all, will not only see you, He will hear you, and reward you. He will bless you, approve of you, and express His pleasure with you by answering your prayers. The apostle John tells us,

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling us that if we prayer in order to impress men and to get their praise, we will get what it is we desire: Their praise. But we won’t get what we prayed for from God. If getting noticed for our prayers is more important to us than getting our prayers answered by God, we will become well-known and revered for our prayer life, but God won’t become known for His answers to our prayers. Prayers prayed to get noticed by men, will always fail to get men to notice God. But our responsibility as God’s children is to bring glory to Him, not ourselves. We are here to point men and women to God, not to us. We are meant to lift Him up, not ourselves.

Jesus goes on to describe an aspect of prayer with which we all struggle. How do you get God to hear and answer you? So, even if you pray in private, where no one can hear you but God, how do you make sure He really does hear you? Once again, Jesus exposes a misconception. He tells them, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7 NLT). When you talk to God, don’t try to impress Him with the length of your prayer or your choice of words. Don’t drone on and on, somehow thinking that God will be more prone to hear you if your prayer comes across as intense. It is neither the intensity or longevity of our prayers that cause God to answer. It is the motivation of our heart. James tells us, “when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3 NLT). Wrong methods. Wrong motives. That’s the problem. Later on in this same message, Jesus will say:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” – Matthew 7:7-11 NLT

We are to ask, and we are to trust God for the answer. He isn’t going to give us something we don’t need or can’t use. But it’s important to remember that God is not going to give us everything we ask for, because too often our motives are wrong. Also, we don’t always know what it is we actually need. We may think we need healing, but God knows we need to learn faith. We may ask God for a financial solution to our problem, when He knows that the real issue is spiritual in nature. We have a greed problem. So, rather than give us money, He teaches us to live within our means, learning to trust Him for our needs.

Sometimes, we spend far too much time asking God for things. But Jesus reminds us, “your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:8 NLT). This doesn’t mean we don’t have to ask God for things, but that the purpose behind our prayer is not to share information with God, but to communicate our dependence upon God. We don’t pray to keep God up to speed with all that is going on in our life. He already knows. We pray in order to convey to Him our complete reliance upon Him for everything. Prayer is an act of submission to God. It is the adoration of God. It is a means by which we offer up our thankfulness for all that God has done and is doing in and around our life.

Prayer wasn’t meant to get you noticed by men. It also wasn’t intended to get you noticed by God. He already knows everything there is to know about you. Prayer is an expression of humility to God, showing Him that we are completely dependent upon Him for all things. But how easy it is to make prayer an expression of pride and self-promotion. So, Jesus warns us not to pray that way. But then He gives us an example of how we are to pray. But that’s for tomorrow.

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

Lies Aout the Love of God.

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.” – Jeremiah 14:13-16 ESV

Contradicting God is a dangerous game to play. But even more dangerous is to claim to speak on God’s behalf when it isn’t true. To say, “Thus says the Lord” when He has not spoken is to put false words in the mouth of God and to make Him out to be a liar. That is not something God will tolerate. Even Jeremiah, a prophet himself, was a bit confused by the words of those who claimed to be speaking for God. Their messages contradicted his own and, more than likely, caused him to question whether he might not be the one who was wrong. If nothing else, Jeremiah recognized that their message was a lot more acceptable, making them far more popular with the people.

“O Sovereign Lord, their prophets are telling them, ‘All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.’” – Jeremiah 14:13 NLT

They were telling the people what they wanted to hear. They were promising that God was going to rescue them, not punish them. And the people swallowed their message like a kid eating candy. It tasted great, but in the long run, was going to be very bad for them. And God makes it clear to Jeremiah that these false prophets did not speak for Him. He had not sent them or given them any words to speak on His behalf. They were nothing more than self-appointed prophets and bold-faced liars.

“They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” – Jeremiah 14:14 NLT

If these individuals had bothered to read the covenant that God had made with the people of Israel, they would have known that their messages of peace did not gel with God’s warnings of curses for disobedience and unfaithfulness. But perhaps they did know, but they preferred to tell the people what they wanted to hear. It was messages of God’s mercy that resounded with the people, not Jeremiah’s warnings of doom and gloom. Painting God out to be all love and no wrath would prove to be popular, but it was anything but accurate. God is loving, but He is also just and righteous and must deal with sin. He cannot tolerate it or overlook it. It would violate His holiness to turn a blind eye toward sin – especially when it comes to His own people. Many of the laws He had given His people were prohibitive in nature, bearing the words, “Thou shall not…” These commands were not suggestions. They were not optional or discretionary in nature. They were to be obeyed. God’s love for the people of Israel was not going to supersede His holiness or His justice.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

Telling people that God loves them while ignoring their sin is to present God in a false light. It is to offer up a one-dimensional god whose love is overly tolerant and dangerously lenient. The god of many preachers and teachers today is more like a doddering old grandfather than a holy, righteous deity whose love is best expressed in offer of salvation from sin through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

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

Ignoring the sins of mankind would not be love at all. Tolerating our sins and allowing us to continue in disobedience to His just and holy commands would be nothing less than a form of hatred. But God loves us too much to allow us to continue in sin unchecked. So He sent His Son to die on our behalf. And then He sent us to spread the message of the good news of salvation through faith in His Son. And part of that message is the reality of sin and the inevitability of death, eternal separation from God that sin produces. Failure to recognize our sins makes it difficult to accept the need for a Savior. Telling sinners that God loves them and would never punish them is not love, it is nothing less than a form of hatred. It is a lie. It creates a false sense of assurance and presents sin as non-dangerous and God’s wrath against it as non-existent.

But God told Jeremiah that the false prophets were in for a surprise.

“They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine!” – Jeremiah 14:15 NLT

They could deny God’s wrath, but that wasn’t going to make it go away. Pastors today deny the existence of hell or the reality of eternal punishment, but that doesn’t eliminate either one. Telling people that a loving God would never send anyone to hell will make them feel better, but it won’t prevent the inevitable from happening. Telling people the truth about God is the best way to express the love of God. It won’t make you popular, but it will give people a realistic view of who God is and how their own sins have separated them from the love of God. But God sent His Son to fix what was broken, to pay the penalty for sin and to provide mankind with a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. That is love. Anything less is a lie.

Contrary to popular belief, God is not going to save everyone. There is a heaven and a hell. There is a penalty for sin and that penalty is death – not just physical death, but eternal separation from God. You can deny these facts. You can downplay them. You can try to wish them away or contradict them with your own version of the truth. And while you may find yourself with a following, you’ll still be wrong and responsible for misleading others with lies. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day would suffer the same fate as everyone else. They would painfully discover that their words were false and that God really does despise sin. And all He asks is that we confess our sins.

People who conceal their sins will not prosper,
    but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NLT

It is the acknowledgement of our sin that makes it clear we need salvation. Our sin separates us from God and only He has the remedy for that problem: His own Son. Salvation is found in no one else. He alone provides the means by which sinful men can be restored to a right relationship with a holy 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

Sacrifice Without Sorrow.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look and take note!
Search her squares to see
    if you can find a man,
one who does justice
    and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.
Though they say, “As the Lord lives,”
    yet they swear falsely.
O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent.

Then I said, “These are only the poor;
    they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the Lord,
    the justice of their God.
I will go to the great
    and will speak to them,
for they know the way of the Lord,
    the justice of their God.”
But they all alike had broken the yoke;
    they had burst the bonds.

Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great. – Jeremiah 5:1-6 ESV

In order to prove to Jeremiah just how bad things had gotten and to justify the need forthe coming judgment, God gives him a challenge. He tells the prophet to run through the streets of Jerusalem and see if he can find a solitary individual who does justice and seeks truth. Just one man. That’s all Jeremiah had to find. But God warns Jeremiah not to be deceived. They will try to convince Jeremiah that they are God-fearers, but God tells him, “But even when they are under oath, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ they are still telling lies!” (Jeremiah 5:2 NLT). They’ll say and do anything to get out of the disaster headed their way, even swear on a stack of Bibles. But God told Jeremiah not to believe them, because He knew their hearts. This is reminiscent of Abraham’s conversation with God when it had been revealed that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were to be destroyed because of their unchecked immorality. Abraham knew that his nephew Lot and his family were living in Sodom, so he tried to beg God not to destroy the cities. He started out asking God to spare the cities if there were at least 50 righteous people living in them. And God said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake” (Genesis 18:26 ESV). Then Abraham, seemingly knowing that the likelihood of finding that many righteous individuals in the two cities was unlikely, began to bargain with God until he got the number down to ten. And God responded, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32 ESV). In the end, Abraham was simply trying to spare his nephew and his family. But even when they were safely out of the city, God destroyed both Sodom and Gomorrah. There were not even ten righteous people left in either city.

The situation in Judah also brings to mind the days just before God destroyed the earth with a world-wide flood. The book of Genesis tells us:

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

And as a result, He wiped out every living thing on the earth, sparing only Noah and his family, and those animals he had sequestered away on the ark. In those days, unrighteousness had run rampant on the earth. And the same sad state of affairs was true of the capital city of Judah. Wickedness was everywhere. Unfaithfulness marked the lifestyles of all those who lived in the city. It was just as Solomon had written:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

And David echoed this same sentiment when he wrote:

Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you. – Psalm 143:2 ESV

Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart; I am pure and free from sin”? – Psalm 20:9 NLT

And the apostle Paul would pick up on David’s less-than-flattering assessment of mankind when he wrote:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

Man is incapable of performing righteous acts apart from God’s help. Anything and everything we do, in our own flesh, ends up being tainted and polluted by sin. That reality is what led the prophet Isaiah to write:

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

But God had graciously provided the people of Israel with His law to show them His holy expectations of them. And knowing they would be incapable of keeping His law perfectly, He provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of finding atonement for the sins they would inevitably commit. But despite God’s grace and mercy, they still chose to rebel against Him, turning to false gods and treating His sacrificial system with contempt. God knew their hearts. They had long ago fallen out of love with Him, which is what led Him to say of them:

"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

And Jeremiah’s search for one solitary individual who sought after truth proved to be harder than he thought. He soon admitted:

You struck your people,
    but they paid no attention.
You crushed them,
    but they refused to be corrected.
They are determined, with faces set like stone;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 NLT

But in an attempt to be optimistic, Jeremiah concludes that it was the poor who posed the problem. They were uneducated and uninformed. They didn’t know any better. So like Abraham, he makes a deal with God.

“But what can we expect from the poor?
    They are ignorant.
They don’t know the ways of the Lord.
    They don’t understand God’s laws.
So I will go and speak to their leaders.
    Surely they know the ways of the Lord
    and understand God’s laws.” – Jeremiah 5:5 NLT

He was going to check out the upper class, the well-educated cultural elite of the city. Surely, they would produce at least one man who was righteous. Yet Jeremiah would sadly conclude: “But the leaders, too, as one man, had thrown off God’s yoke and broken his chains” (Jeremiah 5:5b NLT). Jeremiah had struck out. His attempt to find just one faithful person had come up empty. And as a result, the judgment of God was assured.'

Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great. – Jeremiah 5:6 ESV

Like apex predators, the Babylonians would come into Judah, viciously and unmercifully ravaging the people of God, because of their open rebellion against Him. Their many sins would have dire consequences. Their failure to respond to God’s many invitations to return to Him in repentance would result in His just and righteous discipline of them. And God had proven to Jeremiah that what was about to happen was anything but undeserved. The prophet had been unable to find a solitary soul within the whole city of Jerusalem who could qualify as righteous before God. Unrighteousness and unfaithfulness go hand in hand. God had never intended the people of Israel to live righteous lives on their own. That’s why He had given them the law and the sacrificial system. One provided them with God’s holy expectations of them. It showed them how they were to live. But God knew they would be unable to live up to His righteous standards, so He gave them the sacrificial system to provide them with a means of atonement or cleansing for the sins they would commit. But these two things were to produce in them a complete dependence upon God. One represented God’s law, while the other represented His grace. And the two were designed to work in tandem, creating in the people of God a complete reliance upon Him for any hope of living righteous lives before Him. But when they determined in their hearts to live unfaithfully, by seeking other gods instead of Him, they revealed that they really didn’t need Him. And their sacrifices lost their value. They could make them. They could offer up their lambs and bulls, shedding their blood in an attempt to receive atonement and forgiveness from God, but the lives of these animals would be given in vain. Because what God really wanted from the people of Judah was true repentance for their sins. David expressed the desire of God well when he wrote:

Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;
you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.
The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit—
O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Sacrifices without true sorrow for sin are meaningless. The apostle Paul put it this way:

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There's no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 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

Behold, he comes up like clouds;
    his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles—
    woe to us, for we are ruined!
O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil,
    that you may be saved.
How long shall your wicked thoughts
    lodge within you?
For a voice declares from Dan
    and proclaims trouble from Mount Ephraim.
Warn the nations that he is coming;
    announce to Jerusalem,
“Besiegers come from a distant land;
    they shout against the cities of Judah.
Like keepers of a field are they against her all around,
    because she has rebelled against me,
declares the Lord.
Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” – Jeremiah 4:13-18 ESV

God was demanding change. He called them to repent and expected that repentance to entail more than just an external change in behavior. God knew that their real problem was much deeper than that. They suffered from a heart condition. Which is why God had Jeremiah warn them:

“O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart
    that you may be saved.
How long will you harbor
    your evil thoughts?” – Jeremiah 4:14 NLT

The day of their destruction was coming, like a fast-approaching storm, bringing devastation and destruction in the form of war horses and chariots. And if the people of Judah had any hopes of avoiding the inevitable outcome of a Babylonian invasion, they were going to have to cleanse their hearts. But was that even possible? And was God really expecting them to be able to do so? The prophet, Isaiah, who was also sent by God to warn the people of Judah regarding their wickedness and God’s impending judgment of them, had a very similar word from God:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow's cause. – Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV

Notice what Isaiah writes. They were to wash themselves. They were to make themselves clean. It was up to them to get rid of their evil behavior and to start doing what God commanded. Their purification was to have external proofs that they had indeed changed. But again, was what God demanded of them even possible? Could they purify themselves? Well, the next verse gives us the answer:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.” – Isaiah 1:16-18 ESV

It was as if God said, “Let’s think about this.” Their ability to purify their own hearts was non-existent. They were incapable of changing their ways – on their own. If fact, later on, in the book of Jeremiah, God makes the following assessment of their ability to change:

You will probably ask yourself,
‘Why have these things happened to me?
Why have I been treated like a disgraced adulteress
whose skirt has been torn off and her limbs exposed?’
It is because you have sinned so much.
But there is little hope for you ever doing good,
you who are so accustomed to doing evil.
Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
Can a leopard remove its spots? – Jeremiah 13:22-23 NLT

Their predilection to sin was ingrained, a part of their DNA. Like every other human being, they had inherited the sin nature of Adam. Disobedience to God came naturally. A propensity toward evil was built into them. They could no more change their nature than a leopard could remove its spots. Like a person’s genetic makeup determines their skin color, the people of Judah had a built-in predisposition toward sin. But God was also telling them that He was willing and able to do something about their condition. He lets them know that even though they have been stained by their sins, He can make them white as snow. He has the ability to wash them clean from all their iniquities and make them pure. Isaiah wrote these words of God to the people of Judah:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
    and I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 ESV

God would remove their sins, not because they deserved it, but simply because He wanted to show His grace and mercy. They would not be able to earn His forgiveness through human effort, but God did expect them to turn back to Him and acknowledge their need for Him. Like the great king David, they would have to call out to God and ask Him to do for them what they could not do for themselves.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. – Psalm 51:7 NLT

It is only when we come to grips with our own incapacity to redeem ourselves, that we turn to God as our redeemer. When we finally realize that we are incapable of improving our own behavior and cleaning up our act, that is when we become desperate enough to call on Him. But for some reason, we stubbornly hold on to the idea that we can change ourselves. We mistakenly cling to the hope that we can muster up enough strength to do enough good things that will earn us favor with God and hold off His punishment of us. But just a few verses later, Jeremiah writes this painful assessment of the people of Judah:

“My people are foolish
    and do not know me,” says the Lord.
“They are stupid children
    who have no understanding.
They are clever enough at doing wrong,
    but they have no idea how to do right!” – Jeremiah 4:22 NLT

Once again, the prophet Isaiah makes a chilling assessment of Judah’s complete inability to mend their hearts and change their behavior.

You assist those who delight in doing what is right,
who observe your commandments.
Look, you were angry because we violated them continually.
How then can we be saved?
We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NET

Isaiah seems to be saying that God comes to the aid of those who long to do what is right, what God demands. But the problem is that those very same people can’t turn their delight into action. Even their most righteous actions end up looking like bloody rags before God. They are completely controlled by the sin in their lives. They want to do what is right, but lack the capacity to turn their desires into reality. The apostle Paul described having a similar frustration:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. – Romans 7:15-21 NLT

Paul fully realized that, if left to himself, he was incapable of doing what he really wanted to do. In the flesh, he couldn’t produce the kind of life God demanded. He could desire it, but his sin nature would fight him every step of the way. So, Paul cried out:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7:24-25 NLT

Paul knew His hope was external, not internal. His Savior was Christ, not himself. He needed Jesus Christ to do for him what he could not do himself. And the people of Judah would have to reach the same conclusion. They would have to turn to God for their salvation, but also for their cleansing. In fact, they were going to need to desire cleansing more than salvation. While they all wanted to avoid the coming destruction, they weren’t all that keen on changing their behavior. They wanted God’s salvation, but didn’t seem to think they were so sinful that they needed His cleansing. But God wanted them to grieve over their sins. He wanted them recognize their sinfulness and their own inability to do anything about it. Then they would turn to Him for help. King David learned that very lesson after having sinned against God by having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, then having her husband eliminated so he could marry her. He recognized His sin against God and realized that what God wanted was a broken and repentant spirit.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

And it was his own brokenness and his recognition of his complete dependence on God to purify him that led David to write:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:2 ESV

And the sad indictment God made against the people of Judah was that their sin had permeated them to the very core of their being. Their hearts were stained by their wickedness. In fact, their wickedness was a byproduct of their sin-filled hearts. Which is why God said:

“Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” – Jeremiah 4:18 ESV

They would need God to do for them what they could not do for themselves. But first they would need to turn to Him. They would need to rely on Him for the power to cleanse and forgive.

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 You Return…

“If you return, O Israel,
declares the Lord,
    to me you should return.
If you remove your detestable things from my presence,
    and do not waver,
and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’
    in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,
then nations shall bless themselves in him,
    and in him shall they glory.”

For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Break up your fallow ground,
    and sow not among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;
    remove the foreskin of your hearts,
    O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
    and burn with none to quench it,
    because of the evil of your deeds.” – Jeremiah 4:1-4 ESV

God’s continued call for the people of Judah to return to Him was conditional. In other words, He was fully expecting them to change their ways. It wasn’t going to be enough for them to display some half-hearted effort at reform. They were going to have to destroy their idols, tear down the pagan alters, and as God so graphically puts it, “circumcise their hearts.” And God knew their hearts were the sources of their idolatry addiction. As God complained through the prophet Isaiah, “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). Any worship the people of Israel did direct toward God was tainted by legalism and man-made decrees. Their hearts weren’t really in it. They were going through the motions, while also worshiping the false gods of the nations around them.

But the conditional nature of God’s call also had a positive side. If they would return, in sincerity and with the proper proofs of their determination to make God their only God, then He would bless them. God would take a rebellious, unfaithful people, who were doomed to destruction, and place them once again at the center of His will and affections. And when the other nations saw the radical reversal of Israel’s fortunes, they too would turn to God.

“…the nations will pray to be as blessed by him as you are
and will make him the object of their boasting.” – Jeremiah 3:2 NLT

When Israel had been delivered by God from captivity in Egypt, the other nations heard about what had happened. The news of Israel’s salvation by their God spread quickly. And as they made their way through the wilderness to the land of Canaan, the nations occupying the land became increasingly more fearful of this nation and its God. In fact, when the two spies went into Jericho to check out the fortifications of the city, they were protected by Rahab. And she told them:

“I know the Lord is handing this land over to you. We are absolutely terrified of you, and all who live in the land are cringing before you. For we heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt and how you annihilated the two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, on the other side of the Jordan. When we heard the news we lost our courage and no one could even breathe for fear of you. For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.” – Joshua 2:9-11 NLT

God’s power was impressive. His care for those who worshiped Him was like nothing these pagan nations had ever seen before. And God is telling Israel that those very same nations will be blown away when they see how forgiving the God of Israel can be when they repent. But again, God was very specific. He was going to require legitimate heart change.

“Like a farmer breaking up hard unplowed ground,
you must break your rebellious will and make a new beginning;
just as a farmer must clear away thorns lest the seed is wasted,
you must get rid of the sin that is ruining your lives.” – Jeremiah 3:3 NLT

One of the things we tend to leave out when we confess our sins is the legitimate intention of changing our ways. For many of us, confession is nothing more than a required step to get to what we really want: His forgiveness. Our objective is to keep God happy, not to pursue holiness. We know we have screwed up and we also know God is not pleased with us. So, to escape His anger and possible discipline, we confess. It is the equivalent of saying, “I’m sorry.” But what is typically missing is our intention to change our behavior. We simply want to escape God’s wrath, but we have no real desire to pursue holiness. But God had a serious warning to the people of Israel.

“…you must genuinely dedicate yourselves to the Lord
and get rid of everything that hinders your commitment to me,
people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.

If you do not, my anger will blaze up like a flaming fire against you
that no one will be able to extinguish.
That will happen because of the evil you have done.” – Jeremiah 3:4 NLT

Just as God had done all the way back in the days when Moses leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, He gives the people of Israel a choice. They could choose to keep His commands and enjoy His many blessings, or they could choose to disobey Him and face the consequences of His curses.

“Look! I have set before you today life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and disaster on the other. What I am commanding you today is to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to obey his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances. Then you will live and become numerous and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are about to possess. However, if you turn aside and do not obey, but are lured away to worship and serve other gods, I declare to you this very day that you will certainly perish!” – Deuteronomy 30:15-18 NLT

Once again, they had a choice to make. And as before, it was between life and death. And God is trying to get them to understand that their choice of life will require a dedicated commitment to follow Him faithfully, but it will be well worth the effort. But it is interesting to note, that even in light of all the God has promised to do for the, we know that Israel will prove too stubborn to take God up on His offer. They will choose death over life. Why? What would cause them to be that stubborn and self-destructive? The simply answer is sin. Their hearts are wicked. Yes, they had been set apart by God and been deemed His chosen people. But their hearts were far from Him. By the giving of the Law, God had made it perfectly clear what He expected of them. He had made His requirements for holy and acceptable living plain as day. But they couldn’t live up to them. Not only that, they couldn’t stop themselves from chasing after other gods. Their natural inclination was toward sin and away from God. And that has been man’s problem since the fall. Mankind has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Paul puts it this way:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

The amazing thing about God is that He knew Israel would fail to return to Him. He knew they would continue to sin against Him and doom themselves to suffer His discipline. But He was not going to give up on them. In fact, God is far from done with Israel. Their track record of apostasy is undeniable. But God’s faithfulness to them is unalterable. He will one day redeem them and place within them the capacity to do what they have never been able to do from the beginning: Love Him with all their hearts. In the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded a promise made by God to the people of Israel that has yet to be fulfilled.

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:24-27 NLT

God knew Israel would not return to Him. But He also knows that there is a day when they will. But it will be the result of His sovereign work and His Spirit’s transforming power. He will do for them what they could never have done for themselves: Change their hearts.

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

We Come to You.

And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.

“‘I said,
    How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land,
    a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
    and would not turn from following me.
Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
    so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.’”

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
    the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
    they have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
    I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
    for you are the Lord our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
    the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the Lord our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:16-25 ESV

God has called the people of Israel to return to Him. He told them, “‘Come back to me, my wayward sons,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am your true master. If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion.’” (Jeremiah 3:14 NLT). The word for “master” that God uses is actually the Hebrew word ba`al and it is obviously similar to the name of the false god, Baal, whom the Israelites worshiped. The word ba`al can be translated as “master or husband” and carries the idea of dominion. It seems that God was using a play on words, telling His people that if they would give up their false gods (Baal), and return to Him, He would be there real master and faithful husband. And unlike a lifeless idol, God would give them blessings. He would provide them leaders who would prove faithful to him and capable of providing knowledge and insight. And even though God predicts that just a remnant will end up returning to Him, He promises to multiply them in the land. 

In 538 B.C., after the people of Judah had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years, God arranged for a remnant of them to return to the land of promise. Cyrus, the Persian king, issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return the their land and even funded their trip.

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. He disseminated a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, announcing in a written edict the following:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia:

“‘The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.’” – Ezra 1:1-4 NLT

Not all of the Jews took Cyrus’ offer to return to Jerusalem. After 70 years of captivity, they had acclimated to life in Babylon and preferred to stay where they were. Many were probably turned off by the prospect of the long journey home and the prospect of returning to a destroyed city with few, in any, amenities. They were not interested in doing manual labor in a land with no king, no army and trying to survive in a city that had been completely destroyed 70 years earlier. But a few did return. They made the long trek back and, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstructed the temple.

But much of what God promises in these verses has yet to happen. This is typical of many Old Testament prophecies. There is a now/not yet aspect to this prophecy. It will be partially fulfilled when the people return to the land in 538 B.C., but it will not be fully fulfilled until a later time. God says:

“At that time the city of Jerusalem will be called the Lord’s throne. All nations will gather there in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. They will no longer follow the stubborn inclinations of their own evil hearts. At that time the nation of Judah and the nation of Israel will be reunited. Together they will come back from a land in the north to the land that I gave to your ancestors as a permanent possession.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

It isn’t difficult to see that this has not yet happened. The nations have not gathered in Jerusalem to honor the Lord’s name. In fact, in anything, the nations have gathered around Israel in order to destroy it. There are countless nations that would like to see Israel eliminated and its sovereign status annulled. This portion of God’s prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be.

From the day God determined to make Israel His own, He has longed to see them serve Him faithfully and love Him unconditionally. But despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be anything but faithful.

“Oh what a joy it would be for me to treat you like a son!
What a joy it would be for me to give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful piece of property there is in all the world!’
I thought you would call me, ‘Father’
and would never cease being loyal to me.
But, you have been unfaithful to me, nation of Israel,
like an unfaithful wife who has left her husband,”
says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:19-20 NLT

These verses seem to indicate that God was totally caught off guard and surprised by Israel’s unfaithfulness. But He wasn’t. God knew they would prove to be unfaithful, and He had planned all along for their eventual destruction and captivity. When He had given them the Mosaic law, God knew they would fail to keep it. He had warned them that they would need to be obedient in order to receive His blessings. And He had told them that disobedience would lead to curses. And He had been very specific about what those curses would entail.

The Lord will force you and your king whom you will appoint over you to go away to a people whom you and your ancestors have not known, and you will serve other gods of wood and stone there. You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the Lord will drive you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

God had not been surprised by Israel’s apostasy. He had planned for it. Left to their own devices, Israel had proven to be like every other nation: sinful and stubborn. While they had been chosen by God, their sinful natures had led them to choose false gods. Sin came naturally to them. And as a result, they turned their backs on God.

Indeed they have followed sinful ways;
they have forgotten to be true to the Lord their God. – Jeremiah 3:21b NLT

But God proved faithful to them. In fact, throughout their history, God has shown His love for Israel by constantly calling them to repentance.

“Come back to me, you wayward people.
I want to cure your waywardness.” – Jeremiah 3:22 NLT

God simply wanted them to return to Him and admit the folly of their ways. He was looking for confession, not a complete reversal of their behavior. He wasn’t expecting them to fix all their problems on their own and clean up their act before He would accept them. He just wanted them to confess what they had done to offend Him.

“Say, ‘Here we are. We come to you
because you are the Lord our God.
We know our noisy worship of false gods
on the hills and mountains did not help us.
We know that the Lord our God
is the only one who can deliver Israel.’” – Jeremiah 3:22-23 NLT

Notice those four simple words: “We come to you.” They are reminiscent of the words of Jesus spoke to the people of Israel when He appeared on the scene: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). God and His Son both invited Israel to come to them with an attitude of dependency, with arms outstretched. They simply needed to admit their weariness and confess their wickedness. Their turning to God was to be an acknowledgement that He was their only source of deliverance. 

“Let us acknowledge our shame.
Let us bear the disgrace that we deserve.
For we have sinned against the Lord our God.” – Jeremiah 3:25 NLT

Come to me. That is God’s standing invitation and it always has been. He invites us to come to Him in humility and brokenness, ready to receive from Him what we could never have found anywhere else: Help, hope, strength, forgiveness, mercy, love and eternal life. But we have to come. And when we do, the benefits are unbelievable.

“Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord.
“Though your sins have stained you like the color red,
you can become white like snow;
though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet,
you can become white like wool.” – Isaiah 1:18 NLT

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. – Revelation 22:17 NLT

Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. – John 6:37 NLT

Seek the Lord while he makes himself available;
call to him while he is nearby!
The wicked need to abandon their lifestyle
and sinful people their plans.
They should return to the Lord, and he will show mercy to them,
and to their God, for he will freely forgive them. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

Israel had a standing invitation from God. And they had an unbreakable promise from God. He would one day restore them. He would one day do for them what they could not do for themselves. He would redeem them and restore them to a right relationship with Him. He would give them new hearts and a new capacity to live faithfully and love Him fully.

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 Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.”

And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,

“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the Lord your God
and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
declares the Lord.
Return, O faithless children,
declares the Lord;
    for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.’

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” – Jeremiah 3:6-15 ESV

At this point, God shifts Jeremiah’s attention to the northern kingdom of Israel, which for all practical purposes, no longer existed. They had been defeated and taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.. So, by the timeJeremiah began his ministry in 627 B.C., the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had been living in captivity for 95 years. What was likely a second generation of Israelites, born in captivity in Assyria, had probably given up any hope of seeing their land again. God had brought about their defeat and destruction because of their blatant disregard for Him. And He didn’t have to remind Jeremiah what had happened to them or explain why He had done it. Everyone in Judah knew the circumstances behind their fall. But God went ahead and refreshed Jeremiah’s memory.

You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods.” – Jeremiah 3:6 NLT

And God also reminded Jeremiah just why they were in the sorry state they were in. He refers to the as faithless. The Hebrew word is mĕshuwbah and it literally means “apostasy.” They were the epitome of what it means to be apostate, to have turned away and rejected God. Long before they went into exile, God had called them to repentance. He had sent prophet after prophet to deliver his message of warning.

“Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not.” – Jeremiah 3:7 NLT

This is not an indication that God was somehow ignorant of what Israel might do. He knew all along they would not return. He had already raised up the Assyrians to do His bidding and bring an end to Israel’s apostasy. God is simply speaking in human terms to which Jeremiah can relate. From a human perspective, what Israel had done was hard to imagine. How could they have forsaken God the way they had? Why had they so stubbornly resisted His calls to repentance? But God remind Jeremiah:

“Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods.” – Jeremiah 3:7=8 NLT

The southern kingdom of Judah had been an eye-witness to the fall of Israel. And they knew exactly why they had fallen. But instead of learning from Israel’s mistakes, they had followed her lead. The actual Hebrew word God uses to describe Judah is bagowd and it means “treacherous” or “deceitful.” They had known exactly what they were doing and they thought they could get away with it.

“…she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone.” – Jeremiah 3:9 NLT

When Jeremiah had begun his ministry, it was during the reign of King Josiah, who had instituted a number of religious reforms in Judah. Josiah had legitimately tried to turn the people back to God, and while the people pledged to return to God and give up their false gods, they lied. Outwardly, they had showed signs of repentance, but inwardly, things remained the same. The people had no intention of giving up their false gods. It had all been a show. And by the time Josiah passed off the scene, things had gone back to the way they had been before. And God tells Jeremiah that He knew exactly what Judah had done. They hadn’t deceived Him.

“Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so.” – Jeremiah 3:11 NLT

God even describes faithless Israel as less culpable than Judah. The southern kingdom had been able to watch what happened to their northern neighbor. They had been given the opportunity to learn from Israel’s mistakes, but had proven to be less-than-eager students. So, God tells Jeremiah to give a message to the people still living in the desolated remains of the northern kingdom. In other words, God turns His focus away from Judah and toward the former nation of Israel. And His message was clear.

“Come back to me, wayward Israel,” says the Lord.
“I will not continue to look on you with displeasure.
For I am merciful,” says the Lord.
“I will not be angry with you forever.
However, you must confess that you have done wrong,
and that you have rebelled against the Lord your God.
You must confess that you have given yourself to foreign gods under every green tree,
and have not obeyed my commands,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:12-13 NLT

What is God doing? Why is He having Jeremiah spend his time prophesying to a nation that no longer exists? Because He is using this message as a reminder to the people of Judah that He is a faithful and forgiving God. In spite of all that Israel had done, He was still willing to forgive and restore them – if they would only confess their sins against Him. And if they would, God tells them exactly what He would do.

“If you do, I will take one of you from each town and two of you from each family group, and I will bring you back to Zion. I will give you leaders who will be faithful to me. They will lead you with knowledge and insight.” – Jeremiah 3:14-15 NLT

This message, while directed at the people of the north, was really intended to have an impact on the people of Judah. They would hear Jeremiah’s words and, if they were remotely sensitive to what God was saying, respond to them. If God would be willing to let Israel return to Him after 95 years in exile, perhaps He would relent in bringing punishment on Judah. And He would, if only they would be willing to repent and return to Him. It was not too late. They had not completely fallen from His graces. He was a merciful God who was incredibly patient and kind. In spite of all the atrocities and apostasies of Israel, He was still willing to accept them back. All He asked for was confession and contrition. He wanted them to admit their sin and recommit their affections to Him. And the same thing was true of Judah. It was not too late. 

But we know how the story ends. Judah would fail to heed God’s call. They would stubbornly refuse His offer of mercy and forgiveness. Rather than learn from the mistakes of Israel, Judah would simply repeat them and prove to be even more unfaithful than their northern neighbors. But none of this diminishes the fact that God was willing to forgive. The very fact that He sent Jeremiah to call them to repentance was a sign of God”s heart. He did this, even though He knew what the outcome would be. And if we fast-forward to the day when God returned to Israel a remnant of the people of Judah from captivity in Babylon, it wasn’t because they had repented or returned to Him. He did so because He had promised to do so. He restored them to the land of promise, not because they deserved it, but because He had made a covenant commitment to do so. What an incredible contrast between the faithfulness of God and the faithlessness of men. Judah was undeserving of God’s mercy. They didn’t merit the presence of Jeremiah in their midst. They had no right to be given a second and third chance. But God is faithful. God is merciful. God is gracious. Not because of us, but in spite of us.

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

Familiarity Breeds Contempt.

“If a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
and becomes another man's wife,
    will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
declares the Lord.
Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
    Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
    like an Arab in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
    with your vile whoredom.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
    and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore;
    you refuse to be ashamed.
Have you not just now called to me,
    ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
    will he be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken,
    but you have done all the evil that you could.” – Jeremiah 3:1-5 ESV

There was little sign that the people of Judah were going to repent and return to God. But God emphasized just how difficult it would be for Him to accept them back should they do so. He compared their unfaithfulness to that of a wife who walked out on her husband and gave herself to another man, even marrying him. According to the Mosaic law, the first husband was forbidden to take his wife back, even if he wanted to.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.” – Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ESV

If a man tried to take back his wife after she had committed adultery and married another man, he would be adding to her original sin. In God’s eyes, he would be making matters worse, not better. His actions, while well-intentioned, would only bring further judgment from God.

And God makes it quite clear that the actions of the people of Judah were far more egregious. They were guilty of having multiple lovers, not one. They were more like a prostitute who willingly and blazenly threw herself at every man she could find, with no sense of remorse or guilt. In fact, God says of the people of Judah: “you are obstinate as a prostitute. You refuse to be ashamed of what you have done” (Jeremiah 3:3b NLT). Their defiance of God’s will and willful determination to seek other gods had resulted in God’s judgment on the land. He had brought famine on the land, a fate He had warned them about hundreds of years earlier.

“I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.” – Leviticus 26:19 ESV

This was just one of the curses God promised to bring on the people of Israel if they proved to be disobedient and unfaithful.

And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 28:23-24 ESV

But they proved to be stubborn and hardheaded, unrepentant and without remorse. And they took their relationship with God for granted. They simply assumed that He would always be there and He would always forgive and forget. After all, they reasoned, He had stuck with them through the wilderness years, putting up with their whining and complaining. He had not destroyed them during the years of the judges, when they repeatedly disobeyed Him and proved to be disloyal to Him. He had patiently endured their sins under the reign of King Saul and graciously given.them King David instead. Even now, after having split the kingdom in two because of the sins of King Solomon, Judah was still around and kicking. So, they assumed all would be well. They were God’s chosen people. He wasn’t about to abandon them. Or so they thought.

Like a spoiled child, Judah had grown accustomed to their privileged position as God’s chosen people. They had become presumptuous, believing that their status as God’s children provided them with immunity from His wrath. They fully expected God to forgive and forget.

“You are my father!
You have been my faithful companion ever since I was young.
You will not always be angry with me, will you?
You will not be mad at me forever, will you?”– Jeremiah 3:4-5 NLT

But God exposes the true nature of their hearts. They fully expected God to remain faithful to them, but they had no intention of following His lead. In fact, God says, “you continually do all the evil that you can” (Jeremiah 3:5 NLT). What’s interesting to note is that the people of Judah were demanding that God be the one to change. They knew He was angry, and justifiably so, but they wanted Him to simply let go off His anger. They were unwilling to acknowledge their sins, repent of them and return to Him. What they wanted was forgiveness with no repentance. They were demanding love in the face of infidelity. They had no intentions of changing their ways.

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. We love being on the receiving end of it. And, as Christians, we can become uncomfortably accustomed to having a never-ending supply of God’s forgiveness at our disposal. After all, as John said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). But notice what that verse says: “If we confess our sins.” Confessions is a prerequisite for forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness if readily available to us, but first we must confess or simply agree with God about our need for forgiveness. We have to acknowledge what it is we have done to offend a holy God. And we also have to desire to give up that behavior in the future. Confession without contrition is meaningless. The definition of contrition is “sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment” (contrition. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved June 22, 2017 from website Confession without contrition is like a child saying “I’m sorry”, but with no intention of changing their behavior. Far too often, our brand of confession is nothing more than remorse, a sorrow for having been caught and a fear of facing punishment. So we “confess” with no intention of changing the way we behave. Like the Israelites, we have the mistaken notion that God is obligated to put up with us – just the way we are. Our familiarity with Him breeds contempt for Him. We treat Him as a cosmic Genie, obligated to grant us our wishes and do as we command. We demand He forgive us, while refusing to give up the behavior that got us into trouble with Him in the first place.

But as King David learned: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). As the prophet Joel would warn the people of Israel: 

“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
   and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
    and he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13 NLT

How easy it is to take God’s love for granted. We can so quickly assume that God is somehow obligated to ignore our sins or to accept our weak and heartless words of confession. We tell Him we’re sorry and fully expect Him to act as if nothing ever happened. But God takes sin seriously. His Son had to die for our sins. God had to put His own Son to death in order to pay the penalty for our sins. So, He doesn’t take sin lightly. He can’t just excuse sin. And while our gracious, merciful God offers forgiveness for sin, He also demands that we exhibit a brokenness and contrition for our sins.

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 Lord Responded.

And when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”

And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up at Gad’s word, as the Lord commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.” Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God accept you.” But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel. – 2 Samuel 24:11-25 ESV

David had sinned. He had conducted a census in order to determine the size of his nation and his army. In doing so, he had revealed that his trust was in his own strength as king which was based on the size and strength of his army. But David would immediately regret his decision and recognize that he had sinned against God. David even confessed his sin to God.

“I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 ESV

David could confess his sin, but the iniquity and guilt remained. David knew that there needed to be restitution made. There would be payment necessary to cover the sin he had committed. As the author of Hebrews reminds us: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). David couldn’t just say, “I’m sorry” and then expect everything to go back to the way it was. Payment for sin was required. And God would offer David three different payment plans. He sent word to David through a prophet named Gad. “I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you” (2 Samuel 24:12 NLT). His three choices included a lengthy famine, a devastating plague, or a three-month time period where his mighty army would be powerless against its enemies. In all three cases, death was a non-negotiable outcome. His people were either going to die by the sword, starvation or sickness. David’s response seems to indicate that the one option he ruled out was the three months worth of defeat at the hands of his enemies. He cried out to God, “let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands” (2 Samuel 24:14 NLT).

So God sent a plague across the entire nation of Israel. Remember, David had just finished numbering his people and determining the size of his fighting force. He had discovered that he had a potential army of 1 million three hundred thousand men. That number must have pleased David greatly when he heard it. But then the guilt had set in when he had realized what he had done. The guilt led to his confession and now God was going to exact payment for his sin. And as a result of the plague, David would lose 70,000 men, not to mention an undisclosed number of women and children. The 70,000 number represented close to 20 percent of his fighting force. And they all died as a result of David’s sin, not because they had done anything to deserve it.

When David saw first-hand the destruction he had brought upon his people, he cried out to God again. “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep—what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family” (2 Samuel 24:17 NLT). And God commanded David, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Samuel 24:18 NLT). This is where it all gets interesting. The threshing floor of Araunah was where the angel of the Lord had been stopped by God from bringing any more destruction upon the people.

But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. – 2 Samuel 24:16 NLT

This place has special significance, because it was there that Abraham had been prepared to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice to God. God had told him:

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2 ESV

And just as Abraham had been ready to take the life of his own son, an angel of the Lord had stayed his hand. Then God provided a substitute sacrifice, a ram whose horns had been caught in a thicket. That ram took the place of Isaac. Its blood was spilled instead of Isaac’s. And on that very same spot, hundreds of years later, God would command David to build an altar in order to offer a sacrifice on behalf of his people.

David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. – 2 Samuel 24:25 NLT

It would be on this very same spot, the threshing floor of Araunah, that Solomon would build the temple. And it would be in that temple where countless sacrifices would be made on behalf of the people, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. David could confess his sins, but payment was still required. But as believers in Christ, we live under a different dispensation. We are no longer required to make payment for our sins. We don’t have to shed the blood of an innocent animal in order to satisfy the just demands of a holy God. Why? Because our sins have been paid for in full. The apostle John reminds us, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 NLT). All we have to do is confess our sins. There is no more condemnation for our sins. There is no further payment required. Jesus paid it all. And the author of Hebrews tells us just how different things are now because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

The sacrifices under that system [the Mosaic law] were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:1-4 NLT

But he goes on to give us the good news:

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

Our sins, past, present and future, have all been paid for by Christ’s death on the cross. He paid the debt we owed. He covered our sins with His blood. And as a result, we have complete forgiveness for ALL of our sins. We don’t have to ask for forgiveness. We simply have to confess our sins. The forgiveness is guaranteed. When we sin, God’s Spirit convicts us. And that conviction leads us to confess our sin to God, to agree with Him that we have sinned against Him. And when we confess, He responds with forgiveness. Each and every time.

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

God Alone.

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:1-10 ESV

This closing chapter of the book of 2 Samuel will not end with David’s death, but with a recollection of yet another of David’s sins against God. This time, he will be guilty of taking a census in order to determine the size of his army. Most commentators believe this was done late in David’s reign and life, because he will use Joab, the commander of his army, as well as his troops, to travel across the length and breadth of the kingdom in order to take the census, a job that would take them nine months to complete. So it is believed that his had to be during an extended period of peace, when there was no eminent threat of war. The latter years of David’s reign was the only time when this could have happened.

But regardless of when it happened, the main concern is that it did happen. And there is a bit of confusion with this point, because the book of 1 Chronicles, in recording this very same episode, tells us, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). And yet, in this version of the story, it says, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’”  (2 Samuel 24:1 ESV). So, which was it? Did Satan incite David to number Israel, or was it God? While this appears to be a contradiction, it is really a matter of perspective. We know from the book of James that God does not tempt anyone to sin.

God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. – James 1:13 NLT

But God does discipline His people for their sins. And He has a track record of using others to accomplish His will, including the kings of foreign nations and even Satan himself.  In the book of Exodus we read how God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that he would refuse to let the people of Israel go. But his stubborn refusal would result in yet another display of God’s glory and greatness. All of this was so that the people of Israel, having lived in Egypt for 400 years, would know that their God was greater than the gods of Egypt. 

In the case of David, recounted in this closing chapter of 2 Samuel, it seems that God desired to punich Israel for their disobedience, so he allowed Satan to entice David to take the census. It was in keeping with God’s plan to discipline His own people, but Satan was the instigator of David’s rebellious decision to do what he did. But why was taking a census so bad? What was so wrong about David wanting to know the size of his army? The problem does not appear to be the taking of the census itself, but the motivation behind David doing it to begin with. It was David who wrote:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
– Psalm 20:7 ESV

Another anonymous psalm states a similar truth:

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you. – Psalm 33:16-17 NLT

In taking a census of his fighting force, David was revealing that his hope and trust were in his army, not God. He was placing his confidence in the size of his mighty military machine, not power of God Almighty. He just had to know. So he sent the military commander and his troops to scour the land, determining the exact number of all the men qualified to serve in his army. It is important to remember that this was probably done in a time of peace, when there was no pressing need to have a larger army. But David wanted to know. His action was sinful. And at the heart of David’s sin was his lack of trust in God. And it would appear that David’s lack of trust was an expression of the hearts of the people. God was angry with them, but the text does not tell us why. Perhaps it was their lack of trust in Him that was the real issue here. David, as the king and legal representative of the people, was acting out the very heart attitude of the people of Israel. They had begun to place their trust in someone or something other than God. Perhaps they had become comfortable with David as their king and overly confident in his military prowess and the army’s ability to protect them from their enemies. By the latter years of David’s reign, Israel had become a powerful nation and a force to be reckoned with. Their success had probably produced a fair amount of over-confidence. As is usually the case in most of our lives, when things are going well, we tend to forget about God. In times of relative peace and tranquility, we can find it easy to lose our need for God. Whatever it was that the Israelites had done, God was angry with them, and so, He used David to bring about a fitting punishment for their sin.

David, against the better judgment of Joab, commanded the census be taken, and nine months later he got the news for which he was looking.

…in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. – 2 Samuel 24:9 ESV

One million three hundred thousand men. That is a huge army by any standard. And it must have made David proud to know that he had those kinds of numbers at his disposal. This news would have fed his pride and boosted his ego. He was a powerful king with a formidable army at his disposal. But David’s moment of ego-driven ecstasy would be short-lived. We’re told that, “after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him” (2 Samuel 24:10 NLT). He had second thoughts about what he had done. Perhaps he remembered the words of his own psalm. Whatever the case, his heart began to be burdened by what he had done. He recognized his actions as sin and confessed it openly to God.

“I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 NLT

David had sinned. No surprise there. After all, we have seen him sin before. But the key lesson in this passage is that David recognized his sin and confessed it before God. He admitted his guilt and sought God’s forgiveness. He didn’t attempt to blame anyone else for his actions. He didn’t make excuses. And it’s interesting to note that David confessed his sin before God had done anything to discipline him for it. Sometimes, we can sin against God and be completely comfortable with our actions, until He chooses to punish us. Too often, it is when the disciplining hand of God falls on us, that we see the folly of our sin and confess it to Him. But David confessed before God had done anything. His heart was sensitive enough to recognize the error of his ways and to admit it to God. He didn’t wait until God’s judgment fell on him.

Trust in God is a vital characteristic for the child of God. The proverbs state:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

In numbering the people, David had illustrated his failure to trust God. He was putting his hope and trust in something he could see and count. He was placing his confidence in the physical size of his army, not the invisible might of his God. It’s always easier to trust in something we can see and touch, than to place our confidence in a God who is hidden from our eyes. But God had proven Himself faithful to David, time and time again. He had rescued him repeatedly. He had protected him countless times throughout his life. But here, near the end of his life, David found himself putting his trust in something other than God, and he would pay the consequences for his sin. It is so important for us to remember that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we put out hope and confidence in the things of this world, we will lose the battle. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle that will require faith and hope in God. The size of our army or our bank account will not help us in this conflict. Our physical strength will be no match for the spiritual enemies we face. David could number his army, but they would not be his source of salvation in a time of need. God alone can save. God alone deserves our trust. God alone is the one who warrants our attention, affection and 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

The Joy of Forgiveness.

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah and fought against it and took it. And he took the crown of their king from his head. The weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. – 2 Samuel 12:24-31 ESV

Because of his sin, David lost a son. Because of his repentance, David was given a son. And he named him Solomon (Shĕlomoh). The name David gave this second son born to he and Bathsheba is a derivative of the Hebrew word for peace – shalowm. There is little doubt that, after having received his punishment from God, David was grateful to have been restored back to a right relationship with God. Psalm 51, written by David as a result of his sin with Bathsheba and the forgiveness he received from God, reflects David’s heart at this most difficult period of his life. First of all, he knew his sin.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:5-6 ESV

But he wanted to be made right with God. He wanted to enjoy God’s presence and pleasure again.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit. – Psalm 51:10-12 ESV

And David pledged that if God would restore him fully, he would praise him.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:14-15 ESV

So, with the birth of Solomon, David was obviously feeling a sense of restored peace with God and that most likely explains the name given to his newborn son. But he also gave his son another name, Jedidiah, which means “loved by the Lord”. This name too, reflects David’s understanding of God. Yes, God had punished David for his sins. But He had also forgiven and restored David. David had been broken by God. He had been disciplined for his sins and brought to a point of repentance, which resulted in his restoration. And he had learned a valuable lesson.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:17 ESV

David had experienced the truth found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In another one of his psalms, David penned these encouraging words:

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. – Psalm 32:5 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). He wrote a similar thing to the believers in Corinth: “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT). God loved David, so much so that He was not willing to allow David to remain in his sin. He disciplined him because He loved him. He sent Nathan the prophet to confront him. He brought David to a point of brokenness, because He loved him. And when David confessed, God restored him. In spite of all he had done, David once again enjoyed peace with God and knew that he was loved by God.

David was given a second chance. He was provided with a second son, whose name was Solomon. And it should not escape our attention that, even though Bathsheba had become David’s wife through sinful, deceptive means, God gave David a son through this very same woman. And that son would become the heir to the throne and enjoy the pleasure of God and know what it means to have the hand of God on his life.

It should not escape our attention that Bathsheba is mentioned in the lineage of Jesus found in Matthew 1.

…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah… – Matthew 1:5-7 ESV

In fact, there are three women mentioned: Rahab, who had been a pagan prostitute; Ruth, a Moabitess; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. God used these seemingly unfit, unqualified women to bring about the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ. What a timely reminder that our sins cannot derail God’s plans. His providence can overcome our proclivity to sin. Even our greatest periods of unfaithfulness are always met by His faithfulness.

The rest of the chapter reflects this fact. God gave David victory over his enemies. And David had learned an invaluable lesson.  Once again, we see Joab going to war against the enemies of Israel, but this time, David took part. No more staying back in Jerusalem while his troops did all the work. Joab effectively captured the Ammonite city of Rabbah, but called for David to bring the rest of the troops so that he might receive the glory of taking the city. He jokingly chided David, saying, “I have fought against Rabbah and captured its water supply. Now bring the rest of the army and capture the city. Otherwise, I will capture it and get credit for the victory” (2 Samuel 12:27-28 NLT). And David took the city and captured the king, his crown, and all the people. And the text tells us, “thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:31 ESV). David had returned to his primary role as the warrior-king of Israel. He went back to doing what God had chosen him to do, and God gave him success. David had sinned. God had brought discipline. As a result, David repented and God restored him. This amazing reality didn’t escape David. He would later write a psalm that reflects his understanding of and appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:8-12 ESV

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even our greatest sins, when confessed and repented of, bring God’s forgiveness and complete restoration.

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

Sin Always Leads to Death.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting. And he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling all the news about the fighting to the king, then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’”

So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us and came out against us in the field, but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall. Some of the king’s servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” David said to the messenger, “Thus shall you say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.”

When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. 2 Samuel 11:14-27 ESV

The apostle James wrote this clear and convicting description of sin:

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:14-15 NLT

This entire affair surrounding David’s life and recorded for posterity in chapter 11 of 2 Samuel, is a tragic illustration of the James’ words. David had desires. He had a strong attraction for the opposite sex that he seemed to have a difficult time managing. It had already led to his growing collection of wives. And when he had spied Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, his desire kicked into high gear. The sight of her was not enough. He had to have her. His desires enticed him and lured him into committing an even greater sin than his original lusting after Bathsheba. The Greek word James used is exelkō and it refers to a hunter or fisherman drawing his prey out of hiding by tempting them with something they desire. David took the bait. His desires gave birth to sinful actions. He committed adultery with Bathsheba. But it didn’t stop there. His sin grew. Her pregnancy resulted in David having to attempt to cover his sin by committing additional sins. He lied. He manipulated. He called Uriah, her husband, back from the front in order to entice him into have sexual relations with his wife, so that David’s sin might be covered up. And when that didn’t work, David’s sin gave birth to death. He concocted the plan for Uriah to be killed in battle, and he sent the Uriah back to the front unknowingly carrying his own death warrant in his hands.

This story is meant to shock us, but it should not surprise us. It shocks us because it involves David, the man after God’s own heart. But just because David held a special place in God’s heart does not mean that David was immune to sin. He was human. He had flaws and weaknesses. And David’s sins, just like ours, were potentially deadly. In this case, David’s growing number of sins finally led to literal death, and not his own. It was Uriah who would die. And along with him, a number of other innocent soldiers who were exposed unnecessarily to the same deadly circumstances as Uriah. David’s sin gave birth to death. The Greek word James used is apokyeō and it means to beget, to bring forth from the womb, to produce or generate. Like the unexpected pregnancy of Bathsheba, there would come a time when David’s sins would inevitably deliver. There would be a byproduct to his sins.

It is interesting to note, that in the garden, God had warned Adam about the consequences of disobedience to His commands.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

And the day came when Eve, Adam’s wife, would listen to the enticing words of Satan, and choose to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. – Genesis 3:6 ESV

And the apostle Paul reminds us that Adam’s sin, by eating the forbidden fruit along with his wife, resulted in death.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 3:12 NLT

For the first time, death because an inevitable and unavoidable reality for mankind. Adam and Eve would know the pain of physical death. But it also brought into being the even more hideous reality of spiritual death – eternal separation from God – the fate of all those who do not accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

But Adam and Eve would live long after their sin. Yet it would not be long before their sin gave birth to death – the death of their own son, Abel, at the hands of his own brother, Cain. Sin always brings forth death. It may be physical in nature, but it will always be spiritual. Sin separates us from God. It causes suffering for others. It damages and destroys. It grows and spreads like a cancer, infecting our lives and contaminating those around us. Uriah was an innocent victim of David’s selfish sin. The men who died at his side were also the undeserving victims of David’s sin. And the only thing David had to say for what he had done was, “Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged. The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!” (2 Samuel 11:25 NLT).  No remorse. No repentance. No regret.

And David was not yet done. He still had the pregnancy of Bathsheba to cover up. So, barely giving her time to mourn the loss of her husband, David sent for Bathsheba and married her. Doing so would provide a perfectly good explanation for her soon-to-be-obvious pregnancy. But while David may have thought his act of subterfuge had gone unnoticed, God knew. And God would discipline David for his sin. The apostle Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Ultimately, he is referring to the spiritual death that follows our physical death. There is an eternal separation from God that will be the lot of all those who have sinned, unless they have placed their faith in the redemptive work of Christ. Paul goes on to say that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As Christians, we will sin in this life. But we will never have to face eternal separation from God in the next life. Because Jesus has provided us with eternal life and the guarantee of our status as sons and daughters of God, and heirs of his Kingdom. But sin will still have ramifications in this life. Sin will still produce death. David’s sin, as long as it remained unconfessed and unforgiven, would continue to produce death. It would kill David’s fellowship with God. It would destroy David’s peace and contentment. And it would result in yet another death – one that would come close to home and leave David devastated. Sin is deadly. And while, as Christians, we may rest in the knowledge that spiritual death is no longer a threat to us, we must never underestimate the deadly effects of sin while we live on this earth. Our sins have consequences.

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 Long Wait Begins.

Then David fled from Naioth in Ramah and came and said before Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” And he said to him, “Far from it! You shall not die. Behold, my father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me. And why should my father hide this from me? It is not so.” But David vowed again, saying, “Your father knows well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he thinks, ‘Do not let Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved.’ But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” Then Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” David said to Jonathan, “Behold, tomorrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit at table with the king. But let me go, that I may hide myself in the field till the third day at evening. If your father misses me at all, then say, ‘David earnestly asked leave of me to run to Bethlehem his city, for there is a yearly sacrifice there for all the clan.’ If he says, ‘Good!’ it will be well with your servant, but if he is angry, then know that harm is determined by him. Therefore deal kindly with your servant, for you have brought your servant into a covenant of the Lord with you. But if there is guilt in me, kill me yourself, for why should you bring me to your father?” And Jonathan said, “Far be it from you! If I knew that it was determined by my father that harm should come to you, would I not tell you?” Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?” And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field.

And Jonathan said to David, “The Lord, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? But should it please my father to do you harm, the Lord do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father. If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” – 1 Samuel 20:1-15 ESV

It would still seem as though David was unaware of the true meaning behind his anointing by Samuel. He is at a loss as to why Saul would want to have him killed. He even asked Jonathan, ““What have I done? What is my crime? How have I offended your father that he is so determined to kill me?” (NLT). If David had been aware that he was to be the next king of Israel and Saul’s replacement, then he would have put two and two together and recognized Saul’s attempts on his life for what they were: Acts of jealousy and anger. But instead, David seems to think that he has done something to offend Saul. He is trying to figure out what he could have done to cause such anger in the king that he would want David dead. David even begged his friend Jonathan, “kill me yourself if I have sinned against your father. But please don’t betray me to him!” (1 Samuel 20:8 NLT).

The difficult part of this story is that David’s fear for his life was well-justified. Saul was out to kill him. But what made it all so difficult was that David was oblivious as to the reason. He couldn’t figure out why the king was so angry with, angry enough to want to kill him. How many sleepless nights must David have had trying to determine what he had done to deserve such rage. It seems that David would have gladly confessed whatever it was he had done to offend the king if he could just figure out what it was.Years later, David would compose a psalm that reflects his innate desire to have a guilt-free conscience. David was not one who was content to live with unconfessed sin in his life.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

But no matter how hard he tried, David was not able to not find a sin to confess or a crime he had committed against Saul for which he could accept responsibility. So he was left with no other option than to run for his life. But he appealed to Jonathan in a last-gasp attempt to resolve his situation with Saul.

The reference in this passage to the “new moon” has to do with a God-appointed sacrifice and meal that was to be celebrated on the first day of each new month.

On the first day of each month, present an extra burnt offering to the Lord of two young bulls, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. These must be accompanied by grain offerings of choice flour moistened with olive oil—six quarts with each bull, four quarts with the ram, and two quarts with each lamb. This burnt offering will be a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. You must also present a liquid offering with each sacrifice: two quarts of wine for each bull, a third of a gallon for the ram, and one quart for each lamb. Present this monthly burnt offering on the first day of each month throughout the year.

On the first day of each month, you must also offer one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord. This is in addition to the regular burnt offering and its accompanying liquid offering. – Deuteronomy 28:11-15 NLT

David’s plan was to use this feast day as a means to discern the true nature of Saul’s relationship with him. He usually celebrated this feast day in the presence of the king and his family, but on this occasion, David remain in hiding, and Jonathan would tell Saul that he had returned home to Bethlehem to be with his family. If Saul became angry, as David seemed to know he would, it would be proof to Jonathan that David’s fears were well-justified. And the truth is, Jonathan should have been well-aware of his father’s intense anger with David, because Saul had already commanded Jonathan to kill him. But Jonathan, as a loyal son, was probably having a difficult time understanding what was really going on. He knew Saul loved David just as much as he did. His father’s actions were a mystery to him. Jonathan so wanted everything to return to the way it was before. But, sadly, that would not be the case.

Jonathan made a pact with David, saying, “I promise by the Lord, the God of Israel, that by this time tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, I will talk to my father and let you know at once how he feels about you” (1 Samuel 20:12 NLT). And Jonathan made David swear that, not matter what happened, he would remain faithful to him. “And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth” (1 Samuel 20:14-15 NLT). Jonathan seemed to know that God’s favor was on David. He sensed that David was going to go on to great things, and continue to experience victories over the enemies of God and Israel. And Jonathan also seemed to have a premonition that things were not going to turn out well for he or his father. And years later, after Saul and Jonathan were dead and David was king, David would recall the pact he made with Jonathan, showing favor to Mephibosheth, the sole remaining son of Jonathan.

Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always. – 2 Samuel 9:7 NLT

It is easy to see why God had referred to David as a man after His own heart. With each passing scene we are given a glimpse into the character of this young man. He is faithful and loving. He is diligent and determined to serve his God and his king well. After each attempt by Saul to kill him, David simply returned to duty, conducting himself with honor and integrity. Not once did he attempt to defend himself. We never see him get angry or vindictive toward Saul. He never utters a single harsh word about Saul. All David wanted to know was what he had done to make Saul angry. If he was guilty, he would confess it. If he had done something wrong, he would attempt to rectify it. In spire of all that had happened to him, David continued to treat Saul with respect, viewing him as God’s anointed and the king of Israel. Not once do we hear him utter the words, “This is not fair!” He doesn’t point his finger at Saul and declare him as the guilty one. He doesn’t defend himself before God or even Jonathan, for that matter. He was confused. He was obviously frustrated. But he remained faithful and willing to accept his lot in life as having come from the hand of God. 

Jonathan made a statement to David that rings with prophetic weight: “May the Lord destroy all your enemies!” (1 Samuel 20:16 NLT).  Little did Jonathan know that his words would come true. God would end up bringing about the destruction of Saul, the man who would become David’s most persistent and perplexing enemy. Saul would remain king. He would continue to pursue David, treating him as a fugitive and as an enemy of the state. And yet David would never feel the freedom to defend himself against Saul. He would never sense God’s permission to take Saul’s life. For the next several years of his life, David would be dependent upon God’s mercy and grace to sustain and protect him and to eventually crown him as king over Israel.


Where Is Their God?

Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples,Where is their God?” – Joel 2:17 ESV

This was a prayer prescribed by God Himself. It was to be prayed by the priests and ministers of the people in response to the coming “Day of the Lord”. God was bringing judgment against His people. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!” (Joel 2:1-2 ESV). Joel was used by God to prophesy to the nation of Judah and warn them of the coming judgment of God for their unfaithfulness and empty religious formalism. They had been going through the motions religiously for years. But what had been missing was true repentance. Their sacrifices had been meaningless. They were empty exercises, religious activities that had no heart behind them. The prophet Isaiah had delivered this stern message from God to the very same people: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11 ESV). What God was looking for was repentance and actions that properly illustrated their changed hearts. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV).

God gave the very same message through Joel. “‘Yet even now,‘ declares the Lord,return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:12-13 ESV). God was willing to forgive. He was anxious to see His people return to Him in brokenness and humility. He even had Joel suggest that they father all the people and hold a solemn assembly and fast. He even gave the religious leaders the very prayer they should pray. Because God knew that one of the consequences of the coming judgment would that the pagan nations would conclude that He had abandoned His people. Their failure to repent and return to God would not only result in their punishment, but it would harm the reputation of God among the nations. God stood ready, willing and able to forgive and restore them. But it was conditioned on their response. Disobedience would bring destruction. Repentance would bring restoration. 

One of the results of refusing to repent would be that the people of God would a “reproach”. The Hebrew word for “reproach” is cherpah and it means “disgrace, contempt, scorn”. By rejecting God's plea that they confess their sins and accept His mercy and forgiveness, they would bring judgment on themselves. It would allow the nations around them to mock and ridicule them. But worse yet, it would cause the godless to dishonor the name and reputation of God Himself. They would sarcastically ask, “Where is their God?” By stubbornly refusing to accept God's offer of forgiveness and restoration, they would be disgraced, but God would be dishonored among the nations. How often does that sad scenario take place even today? We refuse to come to God in repentance, confessing our sins and humbly accepting His offer of forgiveness and restoration. So we continue to live in defeat, despair and disillusionment, lacking joy, missing out on the promise of abundant life and failing to experience the full extent of His power and presence. Many who know us to be believers probably ask that very same question, “Where is their God?” They look at our lives and wonder what difference our salvation has made. We don't seem to live any differently than they do. We don't have any more joy than they do. We don't seem to have any supernatural advantage over them, in spite of our so-called status as children of God.

But the lesson from the book of Joel is that of repentance. It is a reminder that the deliverance of God is never far away. It begins with a heart of repentance. It is as close as our next confession. He has never left us or forsaken us. The answer to the question, “Where is their God?” is: Right here. He stands ready to step in and offer His forgiveness to any who are ready to confess their sins. He is always ready to restore those who are willing to repent. The amazing thing is that each and every time we return to God in repentance and humility, not only do we receive His mercy and forgiveness, but the world gets a first-hand look at what it means to have a relationship with the living God. We become living, breathing witnesses to the love and grace of God. Our lives become illustrations of His power and presence on earth. God gets glory. Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). Peter echoed those same words when he wrote, “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Where is our God? As close as our next confession.

Don't Fear. He Hears.

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear to my cry for help!” You came near when I called on you; you said, “Do not fear!” – Lamentations 3:55-57 ESV This prayer, recorded in the book of Lamentations is found in the midst of a lengthy section that recounts the faithfulness of God. The book was more than likely written by Jeremiah and is a post-captivity record of his reflections on all that had happened to Judah as a result of their refusal to return to the Lord. Their stubborn rebellion had brought about the fall of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the people of Judah to the land of Babylon. Jeremiah remained behind and the book of Lamentations contains his thoughts on all that had happened. The book opens with the following statement: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1 ESV). The first chapter paints a bleak and depressing scene as Jeremiah, sitting in the abandoned city of Jerusalem, recalls the cause of the nation’s fall from grace. He pulls no punches when he writes, “the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (Lamentations 1:5 ESV). “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy” (Lamentations 1:8 ESV). “Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future” (Lamentations 1:9 ESV). All that had happened was the result of their sin and the work of God. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago; he has thrown down without pity; he has made the enemy rejoice over you and exalted the might of your foes” (Lamentations 2:17 ESV).

In chapter three, Jeremiah recounts his own suffering during his days as the prophet of God. He had spent years attempting to call the people of Judah to repentance, but with no success. He endured rejection, ridicule and even physical abuse as a result of his ministry. There had been days when he felt all alone and it seemed as if God had abandoned him. He had gotten so low that it led him to say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). But in the midst of all his sorrow, he kept going back to the one thing he knew about God. He was loving and faithful. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV). Even while sitting in the middle of a burned out, broken down, and abandoned city, Jeremiah could think about the love and mercy of God. Even though he knew that the destruction of Judah had been the work of God, it did not change his view of God. He was able to say, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:25-27 ESV). He knew that God's punishment had been justified and had been done out of love. He also knew that, “though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:32 ESV).

For Jeremiah it was pretty simple. The people of Judah had gotten what they had deserved. They had no right to shake their fists at God in anger or accuse Him of injustice. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:39-40 ESV). Their circumstances called for a time of reflection and self-examination. They needed to focus on and own up to their own sinfulness. They desperately needed to come to the point where they could confess, “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3:42 ESV). But Jeremiah knew that no matter how bad things got or how deep their pit of despair may feel, their God would hear them when they called out. He knew it from personal experience. “I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea.” He had known what it is like to have God come near when called. He had heard God say, “Do not fear!” There is no sin too great for God to forgive. There is no pit so deep that God cannot reach down His hand and rescue. There is no cry He can't hear. All He asks is that we acknowledge our sin, admit our need for Him, and return to Him in humility and dependence.

Too often, our cries to God are based solely on what we want Him to do for us. We want His deliverance from pain and suffering more than we want Him. We want Him to rescue us from our predicament, but we don't necessarily want to submit to His lordship over our life. We want Him to fix our problem, but don't want to admit that we were the cause of it. One of the hardest things for us to do is to test and examine our ways. We don't want to take ownership for our sin. We don't want to admit guilt. We would rather justify our actions. It is difficult for us to say, “We have transgressed and rebelled.” But confession is essential if we want to experience God's forgiveness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We don't need to fear, because He hears. But he wants to hear us call with repentant hearts, openly confessing our sins and humbly submitting to His will for our lives.