curses

The Sovereign Hand of God

12 Of Benjamin he said,

“The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety.
The High God surrounds him all day long,
    and dwells between his shoulders.”

13 And of Joseph he said,

“Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choicest gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that crouches beneath,
14 with the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
16 with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.
May these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the pate of him who is prince among his brothers.
17 A firstborn bull—he has majesty,
    and his horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he shall gore the peoples,
    all of them, to the ends of the earth;
they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” – Deuteronomy 33:12-17 ESV

A quick comparison between the blessings given by Jacob to his 12 sons and those given by Moses to the 12 tribes of Israel reveal some interesting differences. For instance, Jacob referred to his youngest son, Benjamin, as a ravenous wolf who plunders his enemies at night.

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    devouring his enemies in the morning
    and dividing his plunder in the evening.” – Genesis 49:27 NLT

Yet, Moses seems to refer to the tribe of Benjamin as “the beloved of the Lord.” But the words of Moses can and have been translated in two different ways. The New English Translation renders verse 12 as follows:

“Of Benjamin he said:
The beloved of the Lord will live safely by him;
he protects him all the time,
and the Lord places him on his chest.” – Deuteronomy 33:12 NET

The New American Standard Version takes a similar approach.

“May the beloved of the Lord dwell in security by Him,
Who shields him all the day,
And he dwells between His shoulders.”

In these translations, the “beloved of the Lord” is clearly not a reference to Benjamin, but to somone or something else. It could be speaking of the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the Messiah would come. Recall the words of Jacob’s blessing to his son, Judah.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

The term, “the beloved of the Lord” could also be a reference to Jesus Himself. But it is seems more likely that the tribe of Judah is the focus of Moses’ words. These two tribes, Benjamin and Judah would enjoy close ties, even sharing a common border in the land of Canaan.

The first allotment of land went to the clans of the tribe of Benjamin. It lay between the territory assigned to the tribes of Judah and Joseph. – Joshua 18:11 NLT

Years later, when God split the kingdom of Israel in half, the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin would form the new southern kingdom of Judah. And the larger, more powerful tribe of Judah would provide protection for its smaller neighbor and ally. The territory alloted to Benjamin also contained the city of Jerusalem, which would become the capital of Judah, later known as the city of David, and the place where Solomon built the temple of God.

Jacob predicted that his son, Benjamin, would produce a people who were warlike and reknowned for their success in battle. But the book of Judges reveals that the Benjamites would eventually use their propensity for battle in a civil war against the other 11 tribes of Israel. It would end in their defeat at the hands of their brothers.

And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. So the people of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. – Judges 20:35-36 ESV

These were dark days for the tribe of Benjamin and for the people of God, with the 21st chapter of the book of Judges closing with the sobering words:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 21:25 ESV

But the first king of Israel came from the tribe of Benjamin, a man named Saul, who would prove to be a great warrior, but a lousy king. And God would eventually reject him as king, replacing him with a man after His own heart, a man named David. And David, from the tribe of Judah, and Jonathan, the son of Saul from the tribe of Benjamin, would become the closest of friends. So, we see this bound between these two tribes lived out over time. And eventually, the apostle Paul would come from the tribe of Benjamin.

“I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” – Romans 11:1 ESV

This small tribe would play a significant role in the history of Israel, for both good and bad. But God would use them to accomplish His divine will for His people and for the world. From this somewhat irrelevant tribe would come Saul, the first king of Israel. But hundreds of years later, there would come another Saul, the one known as the apostle Paul, whom God would use to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. And all because Paul would have his life transformed by an encounter with Jesus, the Son of God and a member of the tribe of Judah.

Next, Moses turns his attention to the tribe of Joseph. He was the son Jacob thought had been killed by wild animals, but later discovered had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jacob and Joseph were reunited in Egypt, where Joseph had become a powerful ruler in the kingdom of Pharaoh. And Joseph was able to use his authority to provide protection and provision for his family when the were forced to flee from the famine taking place in Canaan. So, Jacob held a special place in his heart for Joseph, as revealed in the words of the blessing he pronounced over him.

“Joseph is a fruitful bough,
    a fruitful bough by a spring;
    his branches run over the wall.
The archers bitterly attacked him,
    shot at him, and harassed him severely,
yet his bow remained unmoved;
    his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that crouches beneath,
    blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
    are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents,
    up to the bounties of the everlasting hills.
May they be on the head of Joseph,
    and on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.” – Genesis 49:22-26 ESV

Moses picks up on Jacob’s high honor of Joseph, referring to him as “him who is prince among his brothers” (Deuteronomy 33:16 ESV). And when Moses speaks of Joseph, he clarifies that he is really addressing the tribes of the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Eventually, the name Ephraim would become closely associated with the ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom of Israel. Just as Joseph was “set apart from his brothers” (Deuteronomy 49:26 ESV), Ephraim, Manasseh, and the other eight tribes would be set apart from Judah and Benjamin, dividing the once unified nation in two.

Moses pronounces a blessing on Joseph and his descendants, calling on God to provide them with “the choicest gifts of heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13 ESV) and:

“the choicest fruits of the sun
    and the rich yield of the months,
with the finest produce of the ancient mountains
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness
    and the favor of him who dwells in the bush.” – Deuteronomy 33:14-16 ESV

God would continue to bless Joseph’s descendants, providing them with good land and and an abundance of blessings. But they would prove to be rebellious and spiritual unfaithful to God. They would turn their backs on God by worshiping false gods of their own making. And yet, they would enjoy great success and grow in number.

“…they are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
    and they are the thousands of Manasseh.” – Genesis 49:17 ESV

God would bless them, in spite of them. But the day would come when God would punish them for their sins, bringing judgment upon them in the form of the Assyrian army and allowing them to be defeated and deported as slaves. God would reward the descendants of Joseph for their forefather’s faithfulness while living in Egypt. But, eventually, He would punish them for their own unfaithfulness while living in the land of promise.

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

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

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

It’s All About God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I Am!

1 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
    I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that was not called by my name.
2 I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;
3 a people who provoke me
    to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
    and making offerings on bricks;
4 who sit in tombs,
    and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
    and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
5 who say, “Keep to yourself,
    do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
    a fire that burns all the day.
6 Behold, it is written before me:
    “I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
7     both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they made offerings on the mountains
    and insulted me on the hills,
I will measure into their lap
    payment for their former deeds.” –
Isaiah 65:1-7 ESV

Isaiah has prayed. Now, God responds. And the first thing God does is leave the people of Judah without excuse. Ever since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to all mankind, not just the people of Israel.  The apostle Paul drives home this point in his letter to the Romans.

For 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. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

And Paul goes on to conclude, “So they are without excuse.” God revealed His invisible attributes to mankind, but they chose to worship the creation rather than its Creator. So, God would later reveal Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and directing him to the land of Canaan. Abraham was given a greater revelation of God, beyond that which the rest of the world had enjoyed. And God even made a covenant with Abraham, promising to create from him a great nation, the people of whom would occupy the land of Canaan for generations. And God fulfilled that promise, and by the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name, the descendants of Abraham had been living in the land for centuries. But as we have seen, although God had continued to give His chosen people further revelations of Himself through His law and the sacrificial system, their behavior made it appear that they didn’t know Him at all.

And in the opening verse of this chapter, God indicates that He had a purpose behind His decision to make the nation of Israel His precious possession. When He had given them the law, God had told them that if they obeyed it, “you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Notice that they were to have been his own special treasure from among all the peoples of the earth.  They were to have been His priests, representing Him before all the peoples of the earth. They were to have been His holy, set-apart nation among all the people of the earth. In other words, they were to have been witnesses to the nations of what it looks like to have a right relationship with the Creator-God of the universe. 

But they had proven to be lousy priests and poor witnesses. Rather than bringing God glory by living holy lives, they had profaned His name among the nations, leaving God the job of reclaiming the glory His name deserves.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And in verse one, God indicates that He has been calling out to the nations, “Here I am, here I am.” He has been extending an invitation to all the nations “not called by my name,” and the people of Israel had been His chosen means of communicating that message. The apostle Paul used this very passage to let the Gentile believers in Rome understand that God had always intended to use the people of Israel as His means of sharing His grace and mercy with the world. Paul will repeatedly quote from the book of Isaiah to build his case that God’s plan in choosing Israel had far greater implications than just their personal enjoyment of His blessings. God had something much grander in mind.

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:

“The message has gone throughout the earth,
    and the words to all the world.”

But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,

“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
    I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
    I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

But regarding Israel, God said,

“All day long I opened my arms to them,
    but they were disobedient and rebellious.” – Romans 10:16-21 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying here. The very people whom God had chosen to be His means of reaching a lost world had to be constantly invited by God to come back to Him. Rather than doing what He had called them to do, they had proven to be disobedient and rebellious. And God describes their rebellion as anything but subtle. They flaunted it in His face, worshiping false gods right in front of Him. They had disregarded His laws concerning sacrifice, offering inappropriate and unclean gifts in unacceptable ways. They practiced necromancy, a form of divination through attempted communication with the dead. They were guilty of involvement in the occult and witchcraft. Their unholy actions had left them an unholy people, no longer set apart for God and no longer able to be His witnesses to a lost world.

All their religious activity will leave them feeling puffed and prideful. And while they will brag about their holiness, God describes them in less-than-flattering terms.

These people are a stench in my nostrils,
    an acrid smell that never goes away. – Isaiah 65:5 NLT

God finds all their religiosity repulsive. While He had been calling out to them with open arms, they had been embracing false gods and pursuing other loves. And the apostle Paul tells us what happens to all those who replace a personal relationship with God with religion.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

They were religious but lacked the one thing God was looking for: godliness. Their actions failed to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, God was obligated to punish them for their rebellion. He could not and would not allow them to continue to drag His name through the mud. Their disobedience demanded His divine discipline. And when God says, “Behold, it is written before me,” He is referring to the covenant He had made with them. There was a legally binding agreement between God and His people that spelled out their obligations and His. It clearly articulated what God expected of them and what He would do if they kept or broke their part of the covenant. And while they had failed to do what they said they would do, God would prove faithful to His covenant promise. He vows to bring upon them all the curses He had warned them about.

“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
   both your iniquities and your fathers' iniquities together.” – Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV

It is important to remember that God had warned them what would happen if they failed to be His priests and His holy nation. He had let them know well in advance what the ramifications would be if they failed to be His witness to the nations. They would end up scattered among the nations, worshiping gods they never knew before.

For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations, you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. – Deuteronomy 28:64-64 NLT

They would lose their witness. Their role as a light to the nations would fade because they had failed to remain faithful to the call of God. But as we have seen all along in the book of Isaiah, God would remain faithful to them because He had plans to bring salvation to the world through them. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, would be born as a Jew and would become the Priest who lived a perfectly holy life and offered a perfectly holy sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all mankind.

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

Drunk on Success.

1 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
2 Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
3 The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
4 and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.

5 In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
6 and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

7 These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
8 For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.

9 “To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10 For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13 And the word of the Lord will be to them
precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken. – Isaiah 28:1-13 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to Ephraim, referring to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph in Egypt. In fact, Ephraim’s mother, Asenath, was an Egyptian. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, adopted his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, intending to treat them as his own.

“And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” – Genesis 48:5 ESV

In giving his patriarchal blessing to Jacob’s two sons, he intentionally awarded Ephraim the blessing intended for the firstborn. When Joseph tried to correct what he believed was a mistake, Joseph told him: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 NLT). The tribe of Ephraim was later awarded land in Canaan, just north of the Dead Sea and would become a leading tribe of the Northern Kingdom after God split the nation in two. The city of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was located within the territory of Ephraim.

Ephraim, representing to ten northern tribes, is called out by God for its pride and arrogance. It was located in a fertile valley at the southern tip of the Jordan River. It benefited from the frequent flooding of the river valley and enjoyed the fruits of its rich and fertile soil. God even refers to them as “the drunkards of Ephraim” – probably a reference to literal drunkenness from the wine they produced and the spiritual drunkenness that resulted from their intoxication with idolatry. The prophet, Amos, had this to say about Ephraim.

You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:6 NLT

In a sense, they were drunk on their own self-importance. Amos warned them, “you who feel secure in Samaria! You are famous and popular in Israel, and people go to you for help. But go over to Calneh and see what happened there” (Amos 6:1-2 NLT). Calneh had been overrun by Shalmaneser III of Assyria in 854-846 B.C., and God was letting Israel know that the same thing was going to happen to them.

For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground. – Isaiah 28:2 NLT

The Assyrians were poised to bring the same devastation and destruction to the Northern Kingdom that had happened in Calneh. And God doesn’t sugarcoat the news regarding Israel’s fate.

The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
Whoever sees it will snatch it up,
    as an early fig is quickly picked and eaten. – Isaiah 28:3-4 NLT

But God, always rich in mercy, declares that He will spare a remnant of the Northern Kingdom. Yes, He will bring judgment upon Israel in the form of the Assyrian army, but there will be a handful within rebellious Israel who recognize Him as their true source of hope and help.

He will be the pride and joy
    of the remnant of his people.
He will give a longing for justice
    to their judges.
He will give great courage
    to their warriors who stand at the gates. – Isaiah 28:5-6 NLT

But what about Judah, the Southern Kingdom? They are Isaiah’s primary target audience, and his message is intended for them. So, God reveals that He has issues with them as well. They stand guilty of the same sin of pride. They suffer from the same condition of spiritual intoxication.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions. – Isaiah 28:7 NLT

God’s indictment against the governmental and religious leaders of Israel has less to do with physical inebriation than spiritual apostasy. They are described as staggering drunks, but their real problem was spiritual confusion resulting from their steady consumption of the lies of false gods. They were incapable of making wise decisions. Their words of advice were no better than vomit from the mouth of a drunk. And they despised everything that Isaiah had to say.

“Who does the Lord think we are?” they ask.
    “Why does he speak to us like this?
Are we little children,
    just recently weaned?
He tells us everything over and over—
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there!” – Isaiah 28:9-10 NLT

Isaiah’s words were simple and easy to understand, but the people of Israel rejected them. His incessant call to repentance was despised by them. His repeated warnings of God’s judgment were obnoxious to them. They were tired of Isaiah’s message. So, Isaiah let them know that the next words they would hear would be in a language they couldn’t understand.

So now God will have to speak to his people
    through foreign oppressors who speak a strange language! – Isaiah 28:

Over the centuries, God had constantly reminded His people that the land of Canaan had been intended to be a place of rest. Their relationship with Him as His chosen people was meant to be marked by peace, blessing and the joy of His presence. But their disobedience had marred their relationship with God, resulting in the split of the kingdom, constant civil unrest, rampant idolatry, and anything but peace and rest. And while God had graciously sent His messengers, the prophets, with a call to repent, the people had refused to listen. So, Isaiah lets them know that their stubborn refusal to hear and obey will result in their fall.

So the Lord will spell out his message for them again,
one line at a time,
    one line at a time,
a little here,
    and a little there,
so that they will stumble and fall.
    They will be injured, trapped, and captured. – Isaiah 28:13 NLT

And all of this was in keeping with God’s warning, delivered centuries earlier by Moses to the people of Israel. He had called them to live in obedience to God’s commands or face the inevitable consequences.

“The Lord will bring a distant nation against you from the end of the earth, and it will swoop down on you like a vulture. It is a nation whose language you do not understand, a fierce and heartless nation that shows no respect for the old and no pity for the young. Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. They will attack your cities until all the fortified walls in your land—the walls you trusted to protect you—are knocked down. They will attack all the towns in the land the Lord your God has given you.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-52 NLT

And the fulfillment of God’s warning had come. The people of Israel and Judah, drunk on their own success and self-significance, were about to experience the hangover of a lifetime as the wrath of God fell. Their intoxication with the things of this world and the false gods of the Canaanites were going to leave them staggering and stumbling under God’s righteous wrath and just judgment.

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

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

1 A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2 Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

14 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” – Joshua 23:1-16 ESV

Years have passed. Joshua has been in leadership over Israel for quite some time and is coming to the end of his life. And like his predecessor, Moses, Joshua feels compelled to give the people under his care one last word of instruction. He probably remembered well the words spoken to him by Moses when the mantel of leadership had been transferred.

7 “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:7-8 ESV

And Joshua had seen that promise fulfilled. He had watched God work and was able to say to his people, “you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you” (Joshua 23:3 ESV). They had possessed the land, but not without the help of God. He had fought for them and had routed their enemies before them. But, even all these years later, there was still more work to be done. There were still more enemies to conquer and land to possess. But Joshua simply passed on to the people what he had heard from Moses:

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left. – Joshua 23:6 ESV

Nothing had changed. Even after all the years that had passed, God was still in control and His demand for obedience and faithfulness still held. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy and true to His word. He had exhibited His power, time and time again. And Joshua reminded them, “the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day” (Joshua 23:9 ESV). So, any nations that remained would prove to be no problem. But Joshua knew his people well. After decades of leading the people of Israel, he had come to know their strengths and weaknesses. He was well aware of their shortcomings and the possibility that, after all these years, they could still end up turning their backs on God. So, like a loving father, he warned his sin-prone children.

11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God. 12 “But if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, 13 then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land. Instead, they will be a snare and a trap to you, a whip for your backs and thorny brambles in your eyes, and you will vanish from this good land the Lord your God has given you. – Joshua 23:11-13 NLT

Joshua knew that love for God had to be expressed in obedience to God. Lip-service was not going to cut it. The prophet Isaiah would later record the words of God, spoken in accusation against the future descendants of this very group of people listening to Joshua’s final charge.

"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

Joshua had a sneaky suspicion that his people were going to constantly struggle with faithfulness. He knew that the remaining presence of the unconquered Canaanites in the land was going to be a constant problem, because of their false gods. He also knew that there was going to be a temptation for the people of Israel to compromise their convictions and disobey the expressed will of God by intermarrying with the Canaanites, rather than destroying them. But Joshua warned that accommodation could bring condemnation. Making concessions would only make things worse, not better. God was not going to tolerate any decision on their part to do His will their way.

It’s interesting to note that Joshua was passing on to the people the very same words God had spoken to him years earlier, when the mantel of leadership had become his.

6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:6-7 ESV

Those words had been proven true. Joshua believed them, because he had seen them fulfilled in his own lifetime. He had learned the value of obedience and faithfulness. He wanted the people he left behind to remain true to God and His Word. And why wouldn’t he? As he reminded them, “not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14 ESV). God had been faithful to them, so why in the world would they ever choose to disobey His commands? But Joshua understood human nature. And he was very familiar with his own sin nature. Covenant faithfulness was always in jeopardy because of the presence of indwelling sin. The presence of God’s law was not enough to cause obedience. In fact, the apostle Paul would later write of his own experience with the law of God.

7 I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires. For apart from the law, sin is dead. – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

Paul knew that the law could not prevent sin. It could only reveal it. Which he made perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatians.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

God had forbidden intermarriage with the Canaanites, but here was Joshua warning them once again not to do just that. Why? Because he knew that they were prone to do what God had told them not to do. God’s ban on intermarriage was meant to be a protection. It was to keep his people from worshiping false gods and turning their backs on Him, the one true God. He was trying to protect them from experiencing His wrath. As God, He is obligated by His very nature, to punish sin. He cannot and will not tolerate unfaithfulness. His holiness and righteousness will not allow Him to do so. Compromise is not an option for God.

But we know how this story ends. The book of Judges and the history of the kings of Israel, recorded in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, remind us of Israel’s failure to keep God’s commands. In spite of Joshua’s warning, they would prove to unfaithful. They would intermarry. They would make compromises and concessions. They would worship false gods and turn their backs on the one true God. And the prophetic words of Joshua would come to pass: “the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you” (Joshua 23:16 ESV).

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

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

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

The Yellow Brick Road of Disobedience.

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:7-22 ESV

Johanan and the people had asked Jeremiah to seek the will of God concerning whether they should stay in Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar over the murder of the man he had appointed as governor, or should they hightail it to Egypt. They had assured the prophet that they would do whatever God told them to do. So, ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the new from God. And it is not what they had been expecting or desiring to hear. He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that God wanted them to stay right where they were, and God communicates His message with two if-then conditional statements. The first described what would happen if they obeyed His will and stayed in the land.

If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” – Jeremiah 42:10 ESV

Obedience would bring the blessing of God. Rather than punish them, He would protect them, even preventing the king of Babylon from seeking revenge against them. They would no longer have to fear Nebuchadnezzar. God Almighty would stand in the gap and act as a shield of protection for them. There was no need to run and seek shelter in Egypt, because they had God on their side. But God knew their hearts and so, He gave them the second scenario.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.” – Jeremiah 42:15-16 ESV

They had a choice to make. They could obey God and live, or they could disobey God and take their chances in Egypt. But if they chose option B, they would discover that Egypt would make a lousy savior. Their problems would follow them there, because there is no escape from the wrath of God. It was King David who wrote:

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,”
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Of course, David meant his words as a positive statement regarding God’s inescapable presence. He took comfort in the fact that there was no place where God was not present and His not all-pervasive. But for Johanan and the remnant of the people of Judah, they would find out that there was no escape from God judgment for disobedience. God had ordained the fall of Judah and He had chosen to use Nebuchadnezzar to do it. He had also told the people of Judah on numerous occasions, that it was His will that those who were left behind after the fall of Jerusalem were to stay in the land and remain under the submission of the Babylonians. What they didn’t realize was that God had a purpose behind His command. He intended the Babylonians to provide the remnant, in their weakened and vulnerable state, with protection from the mightiest nation on the planet. Their conquerors would become their defenders. But in order to enjoy that divinely ordained protection, the people of Judah would have to choose to remain under Babylonian rule. They would have to trust God and give up their desire to run from what they perceived as a threat on their lives.

But God knew what was going to happen, and He didn’t need His omniscience to come to that conclusion. He had seen this scenario played out time and time again with His people. He was well-acquainted with their hearts and their propensity to do things their own way. He even told them what they were probably thinking:

“We will not stay here; instead, we will go to Egypt where we will be free from war, the call to arms, and hunger.” – Jeremiah 42:13-14 NLT

Notice the rationale behind their decision. Freedom from war, the end of conscription of their young men for war, and no more hunger and starvation as a result of war. They viewed their escape to Egypt as a panacea for all their perceived problems. But the yellow brick path of disobedience never leads to the Emerald City. Choosing to disobey the will of God never ends well. It may seem appealing and, even logical, but it will always result in disappointment and disillusionment. Remember what happened to Johan when he refused to do what God commanded him to do? He was to take God’s offer of repentance to the people living in the city of Ninevah. But rather than obey God, Jonah chose to get on a boat and head in the opposite direction. And how did that work out for him? He ended up in a storm, getting thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and thrown up on the beach. On top of all that, he ended up doing God’s will anyway. And what is fascinating about the story of Jonah is that the fish was actually the means of Jonah’s salvation, not a punishment from God. God sent the fish to keep Jonah from drowning, and Jonah reflects his awareness of this fact in his own words:

“You threw me into the deep waters,
into the middle of the sea;
the ocean current engulfed me;
all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.
I thought I had been banished from your sight,
that I would never again see your holy temple!
Water engulfed me up to my neck;
the deep ocean surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;
the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;
but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God.” – Jonah 2:3-6 NLT

As Jonah sank into the depths of the sea, he called out to God to save him, and God sent the fish to do just that. The fish was his means of escape. Yes, he had to remain three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but his life was spared. And, as a result, he was able to heed God’s second call to go to Ninevah and, this time, he went.

Johanan and the people of Judah had their answer from God. Now, the question was what they were going to do with it. How would they respond? Jeremiah seemed to already know, because he flatly told them:

“You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it!’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.” – Jeremiah 42:20-22 NLT

They weren’t going to listen. They were not going to obey. They had already made up their minds and had the maps and provisions for their journey to Egypt pre-prepared. They probably had their bags packed. And it wouldn’t be long before they were on their way, following the yellow brick road of disillusionment and false hope. This should bring to mind a warning God gave to the people of Judah earlier in this very same book.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 NLT

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

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

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Choice Is Up To You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coevnant Breakers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your towns and your fields
    will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
    will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be blessed.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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