deliverance

Jesus, the Nazarene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set Apart By God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Wounds I Will Heal.

“For thus says the Lord:
Your hurt is incurable,
    and your wound is grievous.
There is none to uphold your cause,
    no medicine for your wound,
    no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
    they care nothing for you;
for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy,
    the punishment of a merciless foe,
because your guilt is great,
    because your sins are flagrant.
Why do you cry out over your hurt?
    Your pain is incurable.
Because your guilt is great,
    because your sins are flagrant,
    I have done these things to you.
Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured,
    and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity;
those who plunder you shall be plundered,
    and all who prey on you I will make a prey.
For I will restore health to you,
    and your wounds I will heal,
declares the Lord,
because they have called you an outcast:
    ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’

“Thus says the Lord:
Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob
    and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt on its mound,
    and the palace shall stand where it used to be.
Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving,
    and the voices of those who celebrate.
I will multiply them, and they shall not be few;
    I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.
Their children shall be as they were of old,
    and their congregation shall be established before me,
    and I will punish all who oppress them.
Their prince shall be one of themselves;
    their ruler shall come out from their midst;
I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me,
    for who would dare of himself to approach me?
declares the Lord.
And you shall be my people,
    and I will be your God.”

Behold the storm of the Lord!
    Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
    it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he has executed and accomplished
    the intentions of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand this. – Jeremiah 30:12-24 ESV

Their guilt was great. Their sins were flagrant. And their pain was incurable and their suffering, unbearable. The people of Israel found themselves under the hand of God, enduring their well-deserved punishment for their rebellion against Him as their God. He had chosen them and made them His own. He had blessed them and provided for and protected them for generations. He had given them the land of Canaan as their very own possession. He had made them powerful and influential. And in return, they had turned their backs on Him, sharing their affections with false gods and willingly disobeying the covenant they had made with Him. So, God was simply fulfilling what He had said He would do if they broke their part of the covenantal agreement.

“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! You will not extend your time in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-18 NLT

Long before the people of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they had show a propensity to disobey God. Just months after being set free from captivity in Egypt, they had constructed the golden calf and were worshiping it in place of Yahweh, their deliverer. And years later, after 40 years of leading these people through the wilderness, Moses gave them a short speech from his deathbed.

“For I know that after I die you will totally corrupt yourselves and turn away from the path I have commanded you to walk. Disaster will confront you in the days to come because you will act wickedly before the Lord, inciting him to anger because of your actions.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 NLT

Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence. But he would be proven right. And that is exactly the place where the people of Judah find themselves as Jeremiah speaks the words of God to them concerning their current state of affairs. Things were bad. But God lets them know why they are suffering so greatly.

“I have had to punish you
    because your sins are many
    and your guilt is great.” – Jeremiah 30:15 NLT

But God has good news for them. In spite of their unfaithfulness, God was going to show them favor. He was going to shower them with His blessings once again. But not because they deserved it.

“I will give you back your health
    and heal your wounds,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 30:17 NLT

He was going to bring them back from captivity and restore their fortunes. He was going to bring joy to the land of promise once more. Jerusalem would be rebuilt. The king’s palace would be restored. The people of God would once again occupy the city of God. And much of this was fulfilled when the people of Judah were allowed to return from captivity in Babylon after 70 years in exile. But this would prove to be a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. Because there is a portion of this prediction that has yet to take place.

“They will have their own ruler again,
    and he will come from their own people.
I will invite him to approach me,” says the Lord,
    “for who would dare to come unless invited?
You will be my people,
    and I will be your God.” – Jeremiah 30:21-22 NLT

Israel has no king. There is no descendant of David sitting on the throne of Israel. But God has promised that it will happen. That day is coming. And this King will once again sit on the throne of David, fulfilling the promise that God had made to David generations before.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

The prophet Isaiah provides further insight into the nature of this descendant of David who will sit on His throne and rule from Jerusalem.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The amazing thing about all of this is that God was going to bless the people of Israel in spite of them, not because of them. They did not deserve His blessings. They had done nothing to earn His favor. But the apostle Paul reminds us that, as believers in Jesus Christ, and recipients of His grace and mercy made possible through His Son’s death on the cross, we too were undeserving. In fact, we were once enemies of God.

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. – Colossians 1:21 NLT

…our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies… – Romans 5:10 NLT

And in his gospel account of the life of Jesus, Luke provides us with an encounter that Jesus had in the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth.

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:16-21 NLT

Jesus was and is the Messiah of Israel. He is the descendant of David. And He is the one who will one day fulfill the promises of God revealed to the people of God through Jeremiah. One day, Jesus is going to restore the fortunes of Israel and Judah. He is going to return to earth as the King of Israel. He is going to reign from David’s throne located in Jerusalem, the city of God. He will bring healing to Israel. He will give sight to the spiritually blind. He will grant freedom to those trapped in slavery to sin. He will release those burdened by oppression and weighed down by sin and guilt. And He will rule with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

In the meantime, Jeremiah reminds the people of Judah and Israel:

Look! The Lord’s anger bursts out like a storm,
    a driving wind that swirls down on the heads of the wicked.
The fierce anger of the Lord will not diminish
    until it has finished all he has planned.
In the days to come
    you will understand all this. – Jeremiah 30:23-24 NLT

One day they will understand. That is why God had Jeremiah put all these words on a scroll. He wanted them recorded for posterity. So that one day, the people of God could look back and be reminded that all that had happened had been the divine will of God Almighty. Their punishment and their ultimate restoration were all the result of the goodness, grace and mercy of God.

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

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

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

I Will Quietly Wait.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock of Escape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

A Real and Present Danger.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV

Paul is still dealing with the problem taking place in Corinth. There is disunity in the fellowship over eating meat sacrificed to idols. Actually, it was about much more than that. There were those within the church who were most likely using their newfound freedom in Christ to excuse their continued participation in the sacrificial feasts or meals offered on behalf of false gods. These individuals saw nothing wrong with their participation in these pagan events because they rationalized that false gods don’t really exist. But there were others who once worshiped those same false gods, who felt that it was wrong for a Christian to have anything to do with idols. And while Paul agreed that the logic behind the first group’s argument was sound, their motivation was not. They were more concerned about their own rights than they were about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. He let them know that their rights needed to take a back seat to the spiritual health of the church, and he used himself as an example.

Now he lets them know that there is something even more dangerous going on that they are overlooking. The serious threat of falling into idolatry. While there were those in the church who pridefully felt free to associate themselves with others who worshiped false gods, Paul warns them that they are playing with fire. While idols are not really gods, idol worship is real and dangerously deadly. And their relationship with God as His chosen people was not an antidote or protection from the temptation of idol worship. Paul uses the people of Israel as a primary example and he utilizes five comparative illustrations to make his point. First, he talks about the pillar of cloud that guided them. It represented the glory and presence of God. He led, directed and protected them.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:21-22 ESV

As they were leaving Egypt, the cloud came to rest between the people of Israel and the advancing armies of Pharaoh. God protected them throughout the night.

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 ESV

The next day, the people of Israel passed through the sea on dry ground. That is Paul’s second illustration. God miraculously provided a way of escape, delivering every one of the Israelites to the other side, while completely devastating the armies of Pharaoh. They were witnesses to the salvation of the Lord.

Next Paul refers to their “baptism” into Moses. In following the cloud and passing through the Red Sea, they were actually submitting to or immersing themselves under the leadership of God’s chosen deliverer: Moses. He was to be their God-ordained instrument of redemption, leading them all throughout their time in the wilderness. Next, Paul refers to the spiritual food and drink they ate in the wilderness – the manna and quail, as well as the water God provided from the rock. God miraculously provided for their physical needs, providing food and water when none was available. And in both cases, He did so in spite of their grumbling and complaining. Paul makes it clear that the rock was symbolic of Christ, the provider of living water.

But Paul brings all of these marvelous illustrations to a sudden and surprising close by stating: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). Regardless of their unique status as God’s chosen and redeemed people, and in spite of all that God had done for them, they were “overthrown in the wilderness.” In reality, they all died. An entire generation of Israelites would spend the rest of their lives wandering in the wilderness and never experience the joys of entering the promised land. And Paul is going to unpack just exactly why this was the case and how their mistake was to be a warning to the people of God living in Corinth.

One of the most significant moments in the history of the people of Israel took place early on in their wilderness wanderings. They had not been free from bondage very long, when God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to receive the law. While he was there, something happened back down in the valley. Moses records the tragic event for us:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:1-6 ESV

Idol worship. They had been delivered by God, led by God, protected by God and were about to receive the law of God. They had also been given the instructions to build the tabernacle, a structure designed to house the very presence of God. But they returned all the favors of God with unfaithfulness. They had seen God perform ten miraculous plagues. They had seen Him part the waters of the Red Sea. They had walked across on dry land, then witnessed the devastating destruction of the armies of Pharaoh. And yet, they chose to put their trust in a false god rather than the one true God. And Paul tells us, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6 ESV). Their deadly mistake was to be a warning to us. Their ingratitude and unfaithfulness was to be a reminder to us. They enjoyed the presence, provision and protection of God as His chosen people, but that did not make them immune from the punishment of God. And that seems to be Paul’s point. As God’s chosen people, we must never think that we are incapable of sin or insusceptible to temptation. Unfaithfulness ia a real and present danger for each of us. As Paul warned the Ephesians:

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:8-12 NLT

A Real and Present Danger.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV

Paul is still dealing with the problem taking place in Corinth. There is disunity in the fellowship over eating meat sacrificed to idols. Actually, it was about much more than that. There were those within the church who were most likely using their newfound freedom in Christ to excuse their continued participation in the sacrificial feasts or meals offered on behalf of false gods. These individuals saw nothing wrong with their participation in these pagan events because they rationalized that false gods don’t really exist. But there were others who once worshiped those same false gods, who felt that it was wrong for a Christian to have anything to do with idols. And while Paul agreed that the logic behind the first group’s argument was sound, their motivation was not. They were more concerned about their own rights than they were about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. He let them know that their rights needed to take a back seat to the spiritual health of the church, and he used himself as an example.

Now he lets them know that there is something even more dangerous going on that they are overlooking. The serious threat of falling into idolatry. While there were those in the church who pridefully felt free to associate themselves with others who worshiped false gods, Paul warns them that they are playing with fire. While idols are not really gods, idol worship is real and dangerously deadly. And their relationship with God as His chosen people was not an antidote or protection from the temptation of idol worship. Paul uses the people of Israel as a primary example and he utilizes five comparative illustrations to make his point. First, he talks about the pillar of cloud that guided them. It represented the glory and presence of God. He led, directed and protected them.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:21-22 ESV

As they were leaving Egypt, the cloud came to rest between the people of Israel and the advancing armies of Pharaoh. God protected them throughout the night.

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 ESV

The next day, the people of Israel passed through the sea on dry ground. That is Paul’s second illustration. God miraculously provided a way of escape, delivering every one of the Israelites to the other side, while completely devastating the armies of Pharaoh. They were witnesses to the salvation of the Lord.

Next Paul refers to their “baptism” into Moses. In following the cloud and passing through the Red Sea, they were actually submitting to or immersing themselves under the leadership of God’s chosen deliverer: Moses. He was to be their God-ordained instrument of redemption, leading them all throughout their time in the wilderness. Next, Paul refers to the spiritual food and drink they ate in the wilderness – the manna and quail, as well as the water God provided from the rock. God miraculously provided for their physical needs, providing food and water when none was available. And in both cases, He did so in spite of their grumbling and complaining. Paul makes it clear that the rock was symbolic of Christ, the provider of living water.

But Paul brings all of these marvelous illustrations to a sudden and surprising close by stating: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). Regardless of their unique status as God’s chosen and redeemed people, and in spite of all that God had done for them, they were “overthrown in the wilderness.” In reality, they all died. An entire generation of Israelites would spend the rest of their lives wandering in the wilderness and never experience the joys of entering the promised land. And Paul is going to unpack just exactly why this was the case and how their mistake was to be a warning to the people of God living in Corinth.

One of the most significant moments in the history of the people of Israel took place early on in their wilderness wanderings. They had not been free from bondage very long, when God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to receive the law. While he was there, something happened back down in the valley. Moses records the tragic event for us:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:1-6 ESV

Idol worship. They had been delivered by God, led by God, protected by God and were about to receive the law of God. They had also been given the instructions to build the tabernacle, a structure designed to house the very presence of God. But they returned all the favors of God with unfaithfulness. They had seen God perform ten miraculous plagues. They had seen Him part the waters of the Red Sea. They had walked across on dry land, then witnessed the devastating destruction of the armies of Pharaoh. And yet, they chose to put their trust in a false god rather than the one true God. And Paul tells us, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6 ESV). Their deadly mistake was to be a warning to us. Their ingratitude and unfaithfulness was to be a reminder to us. They enjoyed the presence, provision and protection of God as His chosen people, but that did not make them immune from the punishment of God. And that seems to be Paul’s point. As God’s chosen people, we must never think that we are incapable of sin or insusceptible to temptation. Unfaithfulness ia a real and present danger for each of us. As Paul warned the Ephesians:

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:8-12 NLT

A Desperation For God.

Isaiah 63-64, Revelation 15

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1 ESV

Isaiah had a first-row seat to the situation going on in Israel. He was a witness to the sin and rebellion of the people and the righteous judgment of God. Every day he could watch how the people neglected their God-given responsibilities to live as His representatives and act as His children. Isaiah had not deluded into believing that they were somehow innocent and undeserving of their punishment. He even included himself when he confessed that they were guilty as charged. “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” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV). Isaiah's assessment of the condition of the people of Israel was bleak. He concluded that, “there is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you” (Isaiah 64:7 ESV). And this was not a new problem. The people of Israel had been unfaithful for a very long time. “…in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 ESV). Things looked dire and desperate. From Isaiah's perspective, things look hopeless. But it was this very feeling of desperation and hopelessness that led Isaiah to cry out, “Oh that you would rend the heaven and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…” (Isaiah 64:1 ESV). Even God knew that desperate times call for desperate measures. He had looked down from heaven and concluded, “there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me” (Isaiah 63:5 ESV). Isaiah, as a representative of the people, called out to God for help. He turned to the only one who could do something about their desperate condition. He reminded God of His role as their Father, Redeemer, and Protector. He appealed to God's zeal, power, mercy and compassion. While they had “become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name,” Isaiah knew that God could be counted on to show goodness, compassion and steadfast love. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

Isaiah knew the rich history of his people. He was fully aware of all that God had done over the generation on behalf of the people of Israel. Which is why he could “recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord” (Isaiah 63:7 ESV). God had been the Savior of Israel on more than one occasion. He had a track record of faithfulness and mercy – in spite of all of Israel's sin and rebellion. “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9 ESV). God had been with them through all the years. He had been an eyewitness to their sin. He had endured the personal affronts to His holiness as the people worshiped other gods. He had patiently put up with their unfaithfulness. He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. He had led them through the wilderness. He had fed them with manna and quail as they traveled all those years. He miraculously prevented their clothes and sandals from wearing out. He provided them with the assurance of His presence through the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of smoke by day. He had safely delivered them to the Promised Land and given them victory over their enemies. He had allowed them to possess “cities that you did not build and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11 ESV). And then He had watched as they quickly forgot all about Him and began to worship the gods of the nations that had possessed the land before them. “They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 2:13-14 ESV). But whenever the people became desperate enough and cried out to God for help, He sent a deliverer. God would use His judges “who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (Judges 2:16 ESV). But once delivered, the people would inevitably turn away from God again. They would forsake God and He would be forced to send their enemies against them as a form of punishment. And when the people became desperate enough, they would cry out to God again. And He would deliver them. Over and over again.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Desperation requires dependence, and dependence is not something mankind finds attractive. We are independent creatures who want to live free from restraints and according to our own rules. At our core, we are rebellious. We tend to bow up at the idea of anyone or anything controlling us. Even the people of God can display a pronounced disgust and disregard for the very idea of His control over their lives. At the end of the book of Judges, we read one of the most revealing statements ever made about men. After years of sin and rebellion, defeat at the hands of their enemies, and desperate cries to God for help, we are told that “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). Rather than do what God required of them, they chose to do what they wanted to do. Their deep desire for independence and autonomy stood in direct conflict with God's desire that they be dependent upon and dedicated to doing His will and bringing Him glory. God wanted to display His power through them. He wanted to shower His blessings on them. He wanted to make His name known to the nations as He ministered to and through His chosen people. But God's deliverance required dependence. And the state of dependence seemed to require that the people of God be brought to a point of desperation. Over in the book of Jeremiah, we read, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV). In the book of Deuteronomy, God had warned the people of Israel that if they did not obey and serve Him, they would end up exiled in a foreign land where they would worship false gods who could not deliver them in their times of desperation. “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV). They would have to reach the point of desperation. They would have to come to the conclusion that nothing and no one else could deliver them from their predicament. In their desperation and despair, they would recognize their complete dependence upon God. “For the Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:31 ESV).

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

The sad reality is that we never seem to understand or appreciate our complete dependence upon God until we reach the point of desperation and hopelessness. It is as if we have to finally conclude that we no longer have any other options and no other saviors to whom we can turn. When we finally get tired of doing what is right in our own eyes and suffering the consequences of our desire for independence, we will reach the conclusion that God alone is the answer to our problem. And like Isaiah, we will cry out “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We will long to see God do what only He can do. It is sad that it sometimes takes a point of desperation to bring us to an awareness of our dependence upon God. We don't just need Him for salvation from sin, we need Him to live in righteousness. We don't just need Him to provide our ticket to heaven, we need Him to provide the strength we need to live on this earth. It is interesting that during one of the most difficult and desperate times that will ever come upon the earth, there will be those who cry out to God. They will recognize His power, mercy, goodness, and desire to redeem what belongs to Him. Toward the end of the Great Tribulation, as God prepares to bring His final judgments upon the earth, those believers who have been martyred during the tribulation will stand before the throne of God and cry out, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4 ESV). They say desperate times call for desperate measures. But as children of God, we should know that desperate times call for dependence upon Him. God alone can save. God alone can redeem. God alone can solve the problem that has plagued mankind since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. We live in desperate times. Which is all the more reason that we live our lives in complete dependence upon God. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).

Father, I want to live in dependence upon You. I don't want to wait until I reach the point of complete desperation and I have run out of other options. I truly want You to be my first and only option. You have proven Yourself trustworthy and faithful more than enough times in my life. I have proven myself to be a lousy savior and the things of this world have proven themselves to be unreliable deliverers. As we look at the events taking place all around us, may we reach a point of desperation that leads us to complete dependence upon You. Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! Amen

Behold Your God!

Isaiah 39-40, Revelation 3

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isaiah 40:10 ESV

Judgment was coming. While God had spared Judah defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, that did not mean that they had dodged the inevitable punishment of God for theirs sins. They were enjoying an undeserved reprieve, but their sinful state still demanded that a just and holy God deal with them judiciously and rightly. What God wanted from His people was repentance. He desired for them to return to Him in faithfulness and dependence, placing their full trust in Him as their God. He wanted them to reflect their unique position as His chosen people and live their lives in accordance with His commands. But they continued to stubbornly and persistently reject His will for their lives. Even Hezekiah, after having been given an additional 15 years of life by God, makes a cardinal error of giving visiting envoys from the land of Babylon a world-wind tour of his kingdom, showing them all his royal treasures and the extend of his military arsenal. In Hezekiah's mind, he was simply wooing a possible ally in his ongoing fight against the Assyrians. He was trying to impress them with his wealth and power. But in reality, Hezekiah was guilty of placing his hope and trust in something other than God. He saw the eventual rescue of his nation coming from somewhere else other than God. And even when the prophet Isaiah told him that “the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV), Hezekiah mistakenly took it as good news. He somehow thought that this all meant an alliance with Babylon would bring peace and security to the land of Judah. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 39 ends with God's pronouncement of coming judgment on Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. As almost always seemed to be the case, the people of God never quite fully understood the significance or seriousness of what was about to happen to them. They always seemed to have another trick up their sleeve or another plan that they thought could forestall the inevitable judgment of God. Hezekiah just couldn't bring himself to believe that God would actually destroy His own people. After all, they were the descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God. They were the apple of His eye and Jerusalem contained the temple in which God's presence dwelt. But what Hezekiah failed to understand was the holiness of God. He could not and would not tolerate sin among His people. He could not turn a blind eye to their ongoing rebellion and overlook their persistently unrepentant hearts. Judgment was not only inevitable, but unavoidable. As a righteous and holy judge, God had to pass sentence on the sins of the people. To ignore their sins would have made Him unjust. To fail to condemn and pass judgment on their sins would have been an unrighteous act. But God reveals something incredibly powerful in chapter 40. In His divine wisdom and omniscience, God provides Isaiah with a glimpse into the future. It is as if a huge gap exists between the end of chapter 39 and the opening verses of chapter 40. The judgment of God would come. The city of Jerusalem would fall. The temple of God would be destroyed. The people of Judah would end up in exile in Babylon for 70 years. But then something incredible was going to happen. Just when everything was bleak and hopeless, the shout would be heard: “Behold your God!” Just when the people of God had grown accustomed to their exile and resigned to the idea that they would never again see their homeland, the news would be announced, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11 ESV). God was going to act. God was going to do something incomparable and inconceivable. He was going to redeem His people once again from captivity and restore them to the land.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people of Judah did not understand their God. They did not appreciate His power and sovereignty. They took for granted His presence and treated lightly His righteous demands on their lives. God revealed His intimate understanding of them when He rhetorically asked, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (Isaiah 40:27 ESV). Prior to the exile, when they were living in the land of Judah, they acted as if God was oblivious to or indifferent about their behavior. He either didn't care or couldn't see what they were doing. Once they found themselves living in exile, they took the defeatist attitude that God didn't care or was just blind to their predicament. He refused to see anything good that they might be doing. But God reminded them, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV). God was not indifferent to their predicament or incapable of doing something about it. He was the God of the universe. He knows all things. He is all-powerful. He is the source of all strength, all hope, all deliverance, all help, all joy, and all restoration. In spite of the sins of Judah, He would eventually restore them to the land. In spite of the sins of mankind, He will eventually restore His creation to a right relationship with Him. The day is coming when all men will hear the words, “Behold your God!” That does not mean that all men and women will worship Him, but they will acknowledge Him as the God of the universe. There will be no more debate as to His existence or His sovereign reign over everything and everyone.

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

In Revelation 2-3, we have the words of Jesus spoken to the seven churches. In these two chapters we see Him both commending and condemning these churches. He acknowledges their faithfulness and perseverance under trial. He praises their endurance and determination to remain true to Him even while facing extreme difficulties. But He also reveals their glaring deficiencies and failures. He points out their compromise, as well as their spiritual arrogance and pride. He exposes their self-sufficiency and tolerance of falsehood in their midst. He accuses them of spiritual apathy and lukewarmness. But repeatedly, He reminds them to stay the course. He encourages them to not give up or give in.

“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Revelation 2:7 ESV

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” – Revelation 2:11 ESV

“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17 ESV

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations…” – Revelation 2:26 ESV

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” – Revelation 3:5 ESV

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” – Revelation 3:12 ESV

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:21 ESV

While this may all sound like the burden lies on us to make it through to the end, the Scriptures make it clear that our ultimate victory is the Lord's doing, not our own. Our ability to conquer and come through this life faithful and true is made possible by the indwelling presence of God Himself. Our faithfulness is not of our own making, but is provided by the Spirit of God within us. He empowers and equips us. He gives us strength to obey and the will to remain faithful to the end. So that when all is said and done, and we stand before the Father in heaven, we will hear the words, “Behold your God!” and fully understand the sobering significance of their meaning.

Father, You are incomparable. Your power is immeasurable. Your love for me is unfathomable. I can't fully grasp who You are and all that You have done for me. Yet You are my God. That is unbelievable. You are with me each and every day of my life. You never leave my side. You never lose sight of me or ever take your hands off of me. You will never leave me nor forsake me. You refuse to abandon me and You will faithfully complete Your plan for me. I WILL conquer. I will survive. I will make it through to the end, in spite of my unfaithfulness, weakness, inconsistencies, lack of love, lukewarmness, compromise and spiritual complacency. It is YOU who are faithful and true. And any good I do in this life is completely up to Your Spirit's work in my life. Amen

Our Gracious and Merciful God.

Nehemiah 9-10, Hebrews 10

Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:31 ESV

Chapter nine of Nehemiah contains one of the most profound prayers found in the entire Bible. It spans almost the entire chapter and it contains a tremendous understanding of the character of God and the sinfulness of mankind. In this prayer, we have an overview of the relationship between God and His people since the day He chose Abram. It provides a glimpse into the character of God and the nature of man. It juxtaposes God's holiness and man's sinfulness. It contrasts God's mercy and grace and man's unfaithfulness and rebellion. For generations, God had shown His undeserved faithfulness to His people. He had rescued, led, fed, guided, provided, spoken, and even appeared to them. And yet they had repeatedly rejected, disobeyed, and forsaken Him. But this prayer expresses a remarkable awareness of just who God really is. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17b ESV). Even after their ancestors had made the golden calf and attributed to it the glory due to God alone, God had remained faithful – “…you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness” (Nehemiah 9:19 ESV). God continued to keep His covenant promise made to Abraham. “You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven” (Nehemiah 9:23 ESV). “And they captured fortified cities and rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance” (Nehemiah 9:25 ESV). God had given them the land – not because they deserved it, but because He had promised it. And yet, they continued to live in unfaithfulness and disobedience. Their history is one in which the cycles of sin, rebellion, God's punishment and ultimate deliverance can be seen over and over again. Through it all, God had remained faithful. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

This prayer reflects an understanding that God was righteous and just, merciful and gracious. It contains a clear admission of guilt and a remarkable awareness of God's holiness and righteousness in His dealings with the people of Israel. “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33 ESV). The people of Nehemiah's day knew full well that their current situation was due to their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They were living back in the land, and while they had completed the restoration of the Temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by enemies. They were still weak and powerless, without a king or a standing army. They were also guilty of having disobeyed God's laws and neglected His commands to keep the Sabbath and His yearly festivals. God was entirely free from any wrong doing in His dealings with the people of Israel and Judah. Any pain and suffering they may have experienced, while brought upon them by God, was due to their own sin. God was simply keeping His word and visiting upon them the curses He had promised should they disobey His commands. The most incredible aspect of this prayer is its portrait of God's faithfulness, holiness, righteousness and love. He is rightfully referred to as “our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:32 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

God had been loving, faithful, gracious, and merciful – over and over again. And yet, the people had proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to Him. Their sin and rebellion in the face of God's mercy and grace should not surprise or shock us, because it is the story of our own lives. Even those of us who have received the incredible gift of God's grace made available through the death of His own Son, find ourselves wrestling with the daily task of trying to stay faithful and true. We battle with the desire to rebel and do things our own way. We forget His mercies and neglect His calls to obedience and faithfulness. And in some ways, our guilt is even greater than that of the Israelites, because what we have received from God is even greater than what they had experienced. We have been offered complete forgiveness of sins – once for all. No more need for repetitive, ongoing sacrifices. We aren't obligated to try and keep the law in order to remain in a right standing with God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). There was a certain sense of hopelessness attached to the sacrificial system. It was always intended to be impartial and incomplete. “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. That is why, when Christ came into the world” (Hebrews 10:3-5 NLT). Jesus Christ is the ultimate and final expression of God's marvelous grace. He came to do the will of His Father and to accomplish what the sacrificial system could only allude to, but never truly provide. “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). While the priests had to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices for sin, Jesus offered “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). 

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

As a result of Jesus Christ has done, there is no longer any offering required for our sins. God has promised to remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more. He has provided us with complete forgiveness for our sins – past, present and future. We stand before Him as righteous because He views us through the blood of His Son. As a result, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 NLT). That incredible reality should dramatically change the way we live. It should motivate us to live differently and distinctively, with an understanding that our behavior does not earn us favor with God, but simply reflects our love and appreciation for all He has done for us. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT). Our final reward is yet to come. This life is not all there is. God has promised us something far greater than what we can experience in this world. We are to keep our sights set on the hope to come. Eternity is our destiny. Heaven is our home. “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT).

Father, You are so incredibly faithful, loving, kind, merciful and gracious. You have done for me what I could have never done for myself. You have provided complete forgiveness for my sins and have promised me an eternity in Your presence, free from guilt or any form of condemnation. Help me to realize the magnitude of what I have received. Give me the strength to live with my eyes focused on the promise yet to come, instead of living in the fear of the present. I want to hold tightly without waving to the hope we affirm. May my actions be always based on Your character and faithfulness. Amen

Stop. Stand. See.

 Exodus 13-14, Mark 4

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

This story has always fascinated me. In it we have a wonderful glimpse of the mysterious ways of God. He had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating His master plan to rescue and redeem the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and take them to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago. After ten devastating plagues and the institution of the Passover celebration, God was getting ready to do His greatest miracle to date. But He would do so in such a way that, from the perspective of the Israelites, it all made no sense. He was going to pull off one of the most incredible rescues, but it was going to require some moments of sheer terror and faith-testing uncertainty.

What does this passage reveal about God?

These two chapters in Exodus are all about God. He makes it perfectly clear to Moses and the people that all that is about to happen is focused on and the result of Him. They were to consecrate or set apart the first born of both man and animal to Him. All so they might never forget that "by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place" (Exodus 13:3 ESV). This entire series of events all points to God's sovereign hand over all that was going on. This was not going to be about the Israelites, but about their all-powerful God. When they left Egypt, Moses makes it clear that "God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near" (Exodus 13:17 ESV). In other words, God did not have them take the short route, but a longer, more round-about path. "But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). Not only that, God stopped them right in the middle of their journey and told them to back track, commanding them to set up camp by the sea. It is very clear from the passage that this circuitous journey was God-directed. "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of could by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21 ESV). This was a fail-safe GPS guidance system. So when they found themselves camped on the shore of the Red Sea, they were right where God wanted them to be. It was all part of God's plan. Their seemingly aimless wanderings had given Pharaoh time to rethink his decision and, with some help from God, he changed his mind and set out in hot pursuit of the Israelites, with every intention of forcing them back into slavery. And when the people saw that Pharaoh was bearing down on them and the sea was behind them, they panicked. They cried out to God and the screamed accusations against Moses. Driven by fear, they expressed their regret that they had ever listened to Moses or left the land of Egypt. But again, God had them right where He wanted them. They were helpless, hopeless, completely defenseless and at a complete loss as to what to do.

Then Moses gave them the most perplexing, but perfectly appropriate advice a follower of God could ever receive. He said, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today" (Exodus 14:13 ESV). Everything about what he said sounded illogical and suicidal. It made no sense. Here they were with an unbeatable army in front of them and an impassable sea behind them. Their condition could not have been worse. And yet, they were right where God had led them. They could have run, but they would have been chased down and died. They could have tried to swim, but most of them would have drowned. So Moses gives them the one option that made the least amount of sense and required the greatest amount of faith. They were to stop fearing, stand their ground and watch God work. They were going to have a ring-side seat to one of the greatest shows on earth. Moses told them, "The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent" (Exodus 14:14 ESV). They just needed to shut up and look up. And when they did, God showed up. He parted the sea. He delivered the people. And He defeated the armies of Egypt. As a result, "Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses" (Exodus 14:31 ESV). Fear had to be replaced with faith. Faith in God and His power. Faith required that they stand in midst of the very circumstance that created their fear in the first place. And their faith and firm stand resulted in belief in God, because they were able to witness His power in a real and personal way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the Jews made their way out of Egypt, the Bible tells us "the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle" (Exodus 13:18 ESV). That phrase, "equipped for battle" could be translated "in battle array." They were marching out in well-ordered groups. And they were probably a little bit full of themselves. After all, they were leaving with full pockets, having been inundated by the Egyptians with gold, silver, jewelry and clothing. After the ten plagues, the Egyptians wanted them to leave so badly, they were literally paying them to get out of town. There were probably over a million people in the crowd that made its way out of Egypt that day. But their pride and arrogance would soon turn to fear and, had it not been for Moses, their fear would have quickly turned to flight. But to see the hand of God, they were going to have to stay right where they were. By the time God was done, it was going to be the Egyptians who would fear and attempt to flee. God would turn the tables and literally turn the tide in favor of His people. What had appeared to be a hopeless situation would be turned into one of the greatest miracles any man had ever seen.

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

Over in the book of Mark, we see Jesus speaking in parables, attempting to instruct His disciples about the reality of the Kingdom of God. So much of what He said was a mystery to them, making no sense and even His answers seemed to leave them as confused as ever. His stories about seeds and soils, mustard seeds and lamps, planting and harvest, left the disciples scratching their heads and questioning their meaning. It was not what they expected. But later that day when they found themselves in a boat on the Sea of Galilee caught in a storm, all thoughts of parables and their meaning disappeared. They were in trouble. A severe storm with massive waves was filling their small boat with water and threatening them with possible capsizing and possible death. Jesus was sound asleep in the boat, and they woke Him up, screaming over the wind and waves, "Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38 ESV). And Mark records that Jesus calmly said, "'Peace be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39 ESV). Then Jesus spoke words that apply to each and every follower of His who has ever found himself in a difficult situation and full of fear. "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" (Mark 4:40 ESV).

Like the Israelites in the days of Moses standing at the shore of the Red Sea, and the disciples in that boat on the Sea of Galilee, I have more than enough reason to know that God is powerful and that He saves. I have seen His power in my life over and over again. I have been witness to His deliverance time and time again. But each time I find myself in a difficult spot, I tend to forget what He has done, and to doubt what He is capable of. The Israelites had seen ten plagues. They had witnessed the miracle of the Passover. The disciples had seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons. And yet, when the unexpected storm came, they feared. How easy it is for me to do the same. They also jumped to the conclusion that somehow their predicament was unplanned and out of God's control. They were NOT where they were supposed to be. And yet, Jesus was calmly asleep in the boat. No panic. No fear. No doubt. He was in God's will and had perfect peace. The storm was just an opportunity to watch God work. The armies of Pharaoh were there, not to conquer, but to be conquered by God. The Red Sea was there, not to be a barrier, but a means of escape and a way of deliverance. Oh, that I could learn to stop fearing, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord! I must continue to learn to let fear turn to faith and not flight. I must allow God to do the impossible so that my belief in God will become immovable.

Father, thank You once again for this incredible story and reminder of my need to trust You with the impossible in my life. There are NO circumstances that are out of Your control and No situations that are not within Your ability to provide a way of escape. You are leading me every step of the way. May I learn to see Your hand in every phase of my life, so that I might learn to wait for Your salvation in every situation of life. Amen.

The Deliverance of God.

Exodus 3-4, Matthew 27

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

Slavery, abuse, hopelessness, powerlessness. Sound familiar? It should if you are a believer in Christ. The state of the people of Israel living in the land of Egypt was similar to that of every individual prior to their salvation experience. Living in slavery to sin and under the control of the enemy, they were helpless and hopeless to do anything about their condition. But God saw the plight of man and provided a deliverer. He recognized their hopeless condition and determined to do something about it. God did what man could not do. He provided a way of escape and a means of deliverance that was beyond the realm of human imagination, and not bound by the limits of human power.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is in the delivery business. He delivered Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. He delivered Jacob back from Paddan-aram where he had fled to escape the anger of his brother, Esau. He delivered Joseph from the confines of the prison and placed him in the palace. He delivered Jacob and his family from the famine and relocated them into the land of Egypt. He delivered Moses from living as a fugitive in Midian to becoming the divinely-appointed leader who would deliver the people of Israel from the oppressive conditions in Egypt, and lead them to the land God had promised to Abraham generations earlier. God delivers because man can't. Without God's call, Abraham would have remained right where he was. Without God's assurances and blessing, Jacob would never have risked a reunion with his brother. Without God's supernatural, providential leading, Joseph would have never ended up a slave in Egypt, let alone that nation's second-most-powerful leader. Without God's intervention, Moses would have remained content to live out his days as a shepherd of sheep, rather than a shepherd of the people of God. And without God's clearly articulated plan of salvation, the people of Israel would have found themselves living as slaves in a foreign land rather than free men enjoying the blessings of the Promised Land.

Ultimately, the story of Exodus is simply a picture of a much greater story of redemption and freedom. It foreshadows a much more important and long-lasting deliverance to come – the one we find recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Here we have the story of yet another shepherd who came to provide release and rest for the sheep of God. But this shepherd happened to be the very Son of God. He was delivered up so that we might be delivered out of our slavery to sin and death. He died so that we might have life. He made our freedom possible by paying the ransom required. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time" (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT). Jesus described Himself by saying, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11 ESV). He willingly sacrificed His life in order to deliver us from slavery to sin and provide us with a freedom that includes the rights and privileges of sons and daughters of God Himself. "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1 ESV). God has provided deliverance through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has provided freedom from sin and death. He has provided a restored relationship with Himself. And He will one day deliver us into His very presence where we will enjoy freedom from sin and the pleasure of His company forever.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man needs a deliverer, and human beings – apart from God's help – always make lousy deliverers. If left to our own devices, we have a tendency to screw up even the basic freedoms we enjoy. The Jews of Jesus day, while living under the heavy hand of Rome, still viewed themselves as free men. They refused to acknowledge the Roman government or submit to their authority over their lives. And while they still longed for a deliver, they had become content with their lot in life and grown complacent about the reality of their circumstances. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot of water, they were oblivious to the danger of their predicament and refused to see God's hand-picked solution to their problem. The Messiah was standing right in front of them and all they could say was, "Let him be crucified!" (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And ever since, countless men and women have continued to refuse God's chosen deliverer and perfect plan of salvation.

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

God's plan didn't make a whole lot of sense to Moses. He even argued with God about it, coming up with all kinds of excuses why it wouldn't work. But God's plan didn't need Moses' approval. Moses didn't have to like it or agree with it. He simply had to obey it and trust that God knew what He was doing. That God would choose Moses as His designated deliverer made was as ridiculous to Moses as it would prove to be to the people of Israel. That God could make one of the most powerful men on the face of the earth to willingly set free his substantial, non-paid workforce was a lot for anyone to swallow. None of this was logical. Because it was supernatural. It was going to be a God-thing. The ways of God rarely make sense to us as human beings. Reason has to take a back seat at times when God is at work. Common sense rarely fares well when attempting to explain the uncommon and inexplicable activities of God. That God's plan for Jesus included His death made no sense to Peter. That a suffering Savior was just as important to God's plan of redemption as a conquering Christ was difficult for the disciples to comprehend. But God always delivers on His terms, not ours. His salvation is of divine origin, not earthly. The words on the sign that hung above Jesus' head on the cross, while meant to note His crime, were actually a statement of fact. "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37 ESV). That is exactly who Jesus was and still is. He was their deliver and He was also their sin substitute, taking on the punishment they deserved and offering them a means by which they might enjoy freedom from sin, a right relationship with God, and an eternity in His presence. The freedom Moses provided for the people of Israel would prove to be short lived. It would only be a matter of generations before they found themselves in slavery again, living in a distant land and serving a foreign people. But the freedom Christ offers is of a permanent nature. "So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free" (John 8:36 NLT).

Father, You have provided a means by which I can enjoy freedom from sin and the condemnation of death. It is hard to explain, difficult to understand, but completely free for the taking. Thank You for sending Your Son as my deliverer. Thank You for setting me free and transforming me from a slave to Your son. Amen.

Right With God.

Romans 1:1-17

This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life." – Romans 1:17 NLT

It's not hard to tell what Paul has on his mind as he launches his letter to the believers in Rome. Seven times in seventeen verses he brings up the topic of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was a favorite topic of Paul's and he never grew tired of writing and talking about it. But his interest was far more than academic. The Good News truly was great news to Paul because it had transformed his life in a real and radical way. At one time he had been a paid persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ, arresting Christians and throwing them in prison. He was determined to destroy Christianity and everyone who confessed to follow the teachings of Jesus. He was on his way to the city of Damascus to continue his personal vendetta against "The Way," when he had a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His recounting of the story is recorded in Acts 26, where he is on trial before King Agrippa. "One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests. About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the son shone down on me and my companions. We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.'

"'Who are you, lord? I asked.

"And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God's people, who are set apart by faith in me.'" (Acts 26:12-18 NLT).

At that moment, Paul's life was radically changed and he would never be the same man again. He became one of the greatest witnesses for the transforming power of Christ and spread the message of the Good News found through faith in Christ throughout the known world of his day. Paul knew the power of the Good News. He had experienced it first hand. He had been called and commissioned by Jesus Himself to tell of this Good News to each and every person he met, and he did so unashamedly and unapologetically. The essence of the Good News and what makes its message great is that it contains the key to men being made right with God. Paul knew that apart from the Good News, there was nothing but bad news in store for all men and women. Throughout this letter, Paul would remind his readers over and over that there was only one way for them to be made right with God. And it was through faith in Jesus Christ. No amount of good works, religious efforts, or behaviorial change would fix what was wrong between them and God. They were all sinners and all faced the same dire prognosis. "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard" (Romans 3:23 NLT). They all faced the same fate. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23a NLT).

But Paul had Good News. "…but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23b NLT). The Good News was that God had provided a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with Him. He had provided a solution to the problem of sin and the penalty of death. He had sent His own Son to die in the place of men, sacrificing His own sinless life in order to pay the penalty for their sins and satisfy the just demands of a holy, righteous God. And all anyone had to do was accept the reality of that fact and believe it to be true for them – by faith. Paul will spend the rest of his time in this letter, painting the very real picture of the bad news and proclaiming the unbelievable reality of the Good News. This letter will be deeply personal, incredibly theological and highly practical. It will reveal the incredible mind of the apostle Paul and his passionate desire to see all believers grow in their knowledge of Christ and experience the full scope of the life-changing nature of the Good News. Read it slowly, thoughtfully and deliberately. Ask God to give you a deeper love and appreciation for the Good News than you have ever had before.

Father, make the Good News truly great in our lives. Don't let us become complacent about this greatest of all gifts. Drive into our minds the reality of the bad news so that we might better appreciate the unbelievable beauty of the Good News. We have been made right with You and we played no part in it whatsoever. Don't let us take that for granted. Amen.

Authority and Power.

Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37

“Jesus cut him short. 'Be quiet! Come out of the man,' he ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.” – Mark 1:25-26 NLT

When Jesus entered into the world in human form, it was like light penetrating the darkness. His presence would prove to be a shock to the collective system. The status quo was disrupted and the spiritual atmosphere was altered in a major way. As Jesus began His public ministry, there was a spiritual war that was taking place behind the scenes. We saw in His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, that the powers of hell were aligned against Him. We saw after His birth, that spiritually dark forces even tried to eliminate Him through the mass execution of all the baby boys, a sinister plan instigated by Herod. Now we see Jesus stepping into the synagogue in Capernaum, and immediately being confronted by a demon-possessed man. Here was this man, perhaps a regular attendee of the synagogue, suddenly confronted with the presence of the Son of God, the Messiah. The evil spirit that possessed him knew instantly who Jesus was. He began shouting at Jesus, "Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!" (Mark 1:24 NLT). This demon knew that Jesus was not going to allow him to have free reign in this man's life any longer. He also knew that because of who Jesus was, He was not going to tolerate the rule and reign of Satan in this world. He had come to bring release to those in captivity. He had come to bring sight to the blind and freedom to those being oppressed. He was penetrating the spiritual darkness with His presence and power.

As the Holy One of God, He had authority given to Him by His Father, to speak on His behalf. Jesus authority was going to become an ongoing point of debate and contention between He and the religious leaders. They would question His authority regularly. They would doubt His God-given right to rule and reign. But that day in the synagogue, that solitary demon had not doubts about the authority and power of Jesus Christ. When Jesus spoke, the demon listened, and obeyed. The people who witnessed this event were shocked and amazed by what they had seen. They were probably not surprised at the presence of a demon-possessed man in their midst. Because of the spiritual darkness in which they lived at the time, demon possession was probably a regular and fairly typical occurrence. But what amazed them was Jesus. "Amazed, the people exclaimed, 'What authority and power this man's words possess! Even the spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!'" (Luke 4:36 NLT). Jesus was like no one they had ever seen before. He had a power like nothing they had ever witnessed before. He spoke and the demons obeyed. He didn't just talk a good game, He brought change. He had the power to make a difference. Jesus was not going to leave the world the same in which He found it when He came. He was a game-changer, who was about to shift the balance of spiritual power in a new and much-needed direction. And He is still doing the same thing today. His word has power. He speaks with authority. He penetrates the darkness in our lives. He changes things. He disrupts our comfortable worlds. He wages spiritual war with the enemy. And He makes a difference in the lives of every one He touches.

Father, thank You for the authority and power You gave to Your Son that has made forgiveness possible, grace available, and eternal life attainable. Help me to recognize His power and to never cease to be amazed by it. Amen.