discipline

No Empty Words

39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound, and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
40 For I lift up my hand to heaven
    and swear, As I live forever,
41 if I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
    and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
    from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’

43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens;
    bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
    and cleanses his people's land.”

44 Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. 45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 32:39-47 ESV

This was no vapid ditty to be sung with a light heart or whistled absent-mindedly as one walked along their merry way. This was a poem containing the words of God and they were powerful and portentous. As God had told Moses, this divine ode was intended to act as a witness against the Israelites, testifying in advance to their future disobedience and unfaithfulness.

And while this song might be best classified as belonging to the blues genre, it contained more than a hint of hope and a glimpse of God’s gracious compassion and goodness. Yes, He was going to punish Israel for their spiritual adultery, but He also reveals that He will one day redeem and restore them. He will keep His covenant promises. While they would prove to be unfaithful and disobedient, God would never fully forsake them. There would be ramifications for their unfaithfulness and unrepentance though.

“I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

The end would come, in the form of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

“Outside, the sword will bring death,
    and inside, terror will strike
both young men and young women,
    both infants and the aged.”
– Deuteronomy 32:25 NLT

But God would repay these nations for their role in Israel’s demise. God, “the Rock,” would pour out His vengeance and wrath upon all those who took advantage of His people.

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
    In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
    and their destiny will overtake them.”
– Deuteronomy 32:35 NLT

And all of this will be possible because God is God. There are no other gods beside Him. He has no competition. The nations of the earth are no threat to Him. The kings of the earth are set on their thrones by Him. The plans of all men are established by Him.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!”
– Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

This message is an integral part of the song. God’s sovereignty and power were non-negotiable and non-debatable aspects of His character. That is why God could demand that Babylon and Assyria call on “their rock” and see what good it would do them. They would be left all alone and at the full mercy of “The Rock” of Israel.

But notice what God declares about Himself. He kills and He gives life. He wounds and He heals. He has the power to remove or to restore, and the choice is completely His. He can bring the full force of His wrath to bear or He can choose to extend His grace and mercy, bringing healing and wholeness. It is completely up to Him.

And God warns, “when I sharpen my flashing sword and begin to carry out justice” (Deuteronomy 32:41 NLT), you better watch out because He finishes what He starts.

“he will avenge the blood of his children;
    he will take revenge against his enemies.
He will repay those who hate him
    and cleanse his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 NLT

This news was meant to cause rejoicing among the people of Israel. This was the upbeat portion of the song that was intended to bring a smile to the face of God’s people, even in light of all the dire predictions of doom and gloom. While the message of this poem contained ample cause for sadness, it also provided a reason for rejoicing.

God wins. He will avenge His people. He will repay their enemies. He will accomplish His plan concerning the people of Israel – in spite of their unfaithfulness and His well-justified punishment of them. And after Moses taught the words of this song to the people, He commanded them to burn them into their collective memory.

“These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” – Deuteronomy 32: 47 NLT

All that Moses had taught them, which included the laws of God and the words of this song, were to be recalled, recited, and revered. From the promise of blessings and the warning of curses to the assurance of His presence and the threat of His abandonment, all of these matters were to be passed down from generation to generation. They were to remember the ways and the words of God. They were to teach them to their children. And, more importantly, they were to obey the words of God.

The promised land lay before them. But so did the decision to either obey and disobey God. They had been warned what would happen if they disobeyed. They had even been told that they would disobey. But God assured them that His will would be done, with our without them. His redemptive plan would be accomplished in spite of them, not because of them. Why? Because He alone is God.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 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

How Low Can You Go?

52 “They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. 54 The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, 55 so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.”  Deuteronomy 28:52-57 ESV

These are disturbing verses. Their content is graphic and difficult to comprehend. And it is essential that we not forget the context. The people of Israel are poised to enter the land of Canaan and Moses has been addressing them for quite some time now. He has reiterated the law to them and reminded them of the blessings that will accompany obedience to God’s commands. But has also been warning them about the curses that will fall on them should they choose to rebel against God by disobeying His law.

But in these verses, Moses describes some very disturbing scenes that had to have left the Israelites appalled and shaking their heads in disbelief. They could never have imagined these kinds of things happening among their people. The graphic nature of Moses’ words would have been offensive and off-putting. Some probably accused Moses of resorting to scare tactics, using hyperbolic imagery in an attempt to goad them into fear-based compliance to God’s law. The thought of these kinds of hideous things happening among them would have been impossible to comprehend or even consider.

After all, Moses describes grotesque scenes of desperately hungry people resorting to cannibalism in order to keep from starving to death. The enemy has surrounded their city, creating a food-shortage within its wall and leaving the inhabitants with no food and little hope of survival. And this scene will be taking place all throughout the land of Canaan, as city after city comes under attack from a distant nation whom God will send against the people of Israel.

“The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.” – Deuteronomy 28:49-50 ESV

Once again, as far-fetched as all of this may have sounded to the people of Israel, Moses was actually providing a God-ordained glimpse into the future. He was revealing what will actually take place when the Assyrians come against the northern kingdom of Israel and, hundreds of years later, when the Babylonians sweep down on the southern kingdom of Judah. The dire circumstances Moses described would actually take place. And Moses would not be the only one to predict this unfathomable outcome. Hundreds of years later, the prophet, Jeremiah, would deliver the following warning from God to the people of Judah:

“And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbor in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.” – Jeremiah 18:8-9 ESV

The book of Lamentations predicts this same implausible outcome.

Look, O Lord, and see!
    With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb,
    the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord? – Lamentations 2:20 ESV

And the prophet Ezekiel would provide additional proof of God’s coming judgment.

“And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers” – Ezekiel 5:9-10

That these atrocities actually took place is beyond debate. The Jewish historian, Josephus, records that, during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the city’s starving citizens resorted to eating their own children. He provides a detailed account of one such circumstance.

Among the residents of the region beyond Jordan was a woman called Mary, daughter of Eleazar, of the village of Bethezuba (the name means "House of Hyssop"). She was well off, and of good family, and had fled to Jerusalem with her relatives, where she became involved with the siege. Most of the property she had packed up and brought with her from Peraea had been plundered by the tyrants [Simon and John, leaders of the Jewish war-effort], and the rest of her treasure, together with such foods as she had been able to procure, was being carried by their henchmen in their daily raids. In her bitter resentment the poor woman cursed and abused these extortioners, and this incensed them against her. However, no one put her to death either from exasperation or pity. She grew weary of trying to find food for her kinsfolk. In any case, it was by now impossible to get any, wherever you tried. Famine gnawed at her vitals, and the fire of rage was ever fiercer than famine. So, driven by fury and want, she committed a crime against nature. Seizing her child, an infant at the breast, she cried, "My poor baby, why should I keep you alive in this world of war and famine? Even if we live till the Romans come, they will make slaves of us; and anyway, hunger will get us before slavery does; and the rebels are crueler than both. Come, be food for me, and an avenging fury to the rebels, and a tale of cold horror to the world to complete the monstrous agony of the Jews." With these words she killed her son, roasted the body, swallowed half of it, and stored the rest in a safe place. But the rebels were on her at once, smelling roasted meat, and threatening to kill her instantly if she did not produce it. – Josephus, The Jewish War

So, there’s little doubt that the words of Moses were far from idle threats. God was deadly serious and wanted His people to know that a disregard for His holy law would result a breakdown of the social fabric of Israelite society that would be unimaginable and incomprehensible.

Josephus would go on to describe the scene that took place behind the walls of Jerusalem as “an act unparalleled in the history of either the Greeks or the barbarians, and as horrible to relate as it is incredible to hear.”

The curses of God would render every man and woman into selfish and self-protective beasts whose only concern would become their own personal survival. Love of God and love of others would be the farthest thing from their minds. The thought of a killing and consuming her own child is beyond comprehension. But the judgment of God against the repeated rebellion of His people would be so severe that the unthinkable would become commonplace. What was once immoral would become acceptable and unavoidable. 

The Israelites, who at one time had enjoyed special status as His chosen people, would eventually become guilty of committing some of the most heinous and morally repugnant acts ever committed by humanity. And as Moses has pointed out, it will begin with their decision to disobey the commands of God. The “tender and refined” among them would become the cold-hearted and callous. Rebellion against God is downward spiral with a trajectory that is difficult to reverse. And these mind-boggling, sensibility-shocking descriptions of the once-law-abiding Israelites resorting to cannibalism may be difficult to comprehend, but they would be the unavoidable outcome of a willful choice to reject the will of God by disobeying the law of God. 

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

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

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

Disobedience, Discipline, and Destruction

36 “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away. 38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42 The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground. 43 The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.

45 “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. 49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, 50 a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young. 51 It shall eat the offspring of your cattle and the fruit of your ground, until you are destroyed; it also shall not leave you grain, wine, or oil, the increase of your herds or the young of your flock, until they have caused you to perish.”  Deuteronomy 28:36-51 ESV

How much worse can it get? Evidently, much worse. Because Moses is far from done with his compilation of curses that will come upon the Israelites should they fail to obey God’s commands. And for anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of Israel’s history, his list has gone from premonitory to prophetic. These are no longer warnings concerning what might happen, but bold predictions of what will be.

Look at the specificity of Moses’ warning. He speaks of a king who will reign over Israel - a man whom they will appoint. What makes this significant is that there has been no talk of a king before. Israel was a theocracy, with God as their sovereign King. And yet, Moses describes their chosen king being taken into captivity by a previously unknown nation. This was going to be a human king whom they appointed as a replacement for God. And that is exactly what happened hundreds of years later when the people of Israel demanded that the prophet, Samuel, choose a king for them.

“Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” – 1 Samuel 8:5 ESV

This took place after the period of the judges, when the people of Israel had repeatedly rebelled against God and suffered many of the curses Moses had warned them about. Each time they rebelled, the judgment of God came and they would cry out to God. He would respond by sending a judge to rescue and rule over them. This would result in a brief period of repentance and renewal, but was always followed by more rebellion. And the cycle would repeat itself. But eventually, the people demanded a king, a man who would rule over them just like the kings who reigned over all the other nations. And God made it  clear to Samuel that, in demanding a king, the people were rejecting Him.

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV

It wasn’t that God had never intended for Israel to have a king. It was that their timing was poor and their motivation was wrong. Earlier in the book of Deuteronomy, God had told the people of Israel that the day would come when they would demand a king, but He also told them that the man  would have to meet certain requirements.

“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-15 ESV

The man who served as king would be chosen by God and would have to be knowledgeable of and obedient to His law.

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV

But, here in chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, Moses describes a future scene where the king of Israel is being deported as a slave to a foreign country. The nation of Israel has fallen and the king is just one more captive being transported out of the land of promise by his conquering foes. And all because he failed to keep the words of the law and the statutes God had given them.

And in the new surroundings of their captivity, the Israelites will “shall serve other gods of wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:36 ESV). Having rejected God and His law, they will find themselves worshiping the false gods of their enemy. No longer set apart as God’s chosen people, living in the land of promise, they will experience the pain of captivity yet again. It will be Egypt all over again. Rather than being the prized possession of God, Moses warns them they will “become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you” (Deuteronomy 28:37 ESV). And even in captivity, things will go from bad to worse. The curses will continue.

They will continue to experience fruitlessness and lack of productivity in their agricultural pursuits. Due to insects and disease, their harvests will be small. Any children they bear in captivity will end up as slaves. Rather than enjoying their former status as God’s chosen people, they’ll find themselves living in abject poverty while the non-Jews among them experience prosperity. Being a Jew will become a liability, not an asset. 

And Moses makes clear why these things will happen: “because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you” (Deuteronomy 28:45 ESV). It all hinges on their decision to disobey God’s law. Their disobedience will not only bring God’s discipline, it will ultimately result in their destruction. Disobedience, like cancer, has a way of spreading and growing, eventually infecting the entire body. The decision to rebel against God produces subsequent acts of rebellion, hardening the heart and producing a stubbornness that makes repentance increasingly more difficult.  And the just and righteous judgment of God requires that He discipline rebellion quickly and decisively.

Moses warned that the curses he was discussing would come as a result of disobedience, but he added that they would serve as proof of their failure to serve God with joy and gladness of heart.

“All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed…Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart. – Deuteronomy 28:45, 47 ESV

And their disobedience will result in God’s discipline and, ultimately, their destruction. God will not relent until they repent. The curses will continue and increase in intensity until Israel is completely destroyed. Moses drives that point home four different times in seven verses.

…till you are destroyed. – vs. 45

…until he has destroyed you. – vs. 48

until you are destroyed. – vs. 51

…until they have caused you to perish. – vs. 51

The sad reality will be that, in spite of God’s generosity, kindness, and compassion, the people of Israel will fail to respond to Him in gratitude, joy, and gladness. And, while Moses will go out of his way to warn the people about the judgments of God that come on all who disobey Him, the people of Israel will regularly and repeatedly prove to be unfaithful. And as this passage points out and history will prove true, Israel will suffer the consequences.

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

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

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

Godliness Done God’s Way

15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” – Deuteronomy 21:15-21 ESV

Talk about extremes. These two short paragraphs contain some of the most antithetical statements regarding the raising of sons you could ever hope to find. On the one hand, Moses provides God’s will concerning the proper designation of the firstborn son and the dispersal of the family inheritance. Then. without batting an eye, he shifts his focus to God’s divine disciplinary plan for a rebellious son.

One son receives a gracious gift he didn’t earn or rightfully deserve, just because happened to be the first son born into his family. Yet, the other son earns himself a a death sentence because of his unrepentant stubbornness and rebellion.

What a stark and disturbing contrast these two scenarios portray. But what an important reminder they provide of God’s unmerited grace and sovereign authority over the lives of men. Everything about the lives of the Israelites was to be dictated and determined by the will of God. As we have seen repeatedly, God left nothing to chance. Every phase of daily life fell under the auspices of God’s divine will. And in this passage we see that God put a high priority on the relationship between parents and their children.

God considered the family unit as foundational to the overall health of the Israelite community. Marriage and child-bearing were essential contributors to the corporate well-being of the nation. Which is why God had provided the people of Israel with very  detailed directions concerning marriage and family life. In these verses, Moses relays to the people of Israel God’s will concerning father’s and their sons. And he could not have chosen two more diametrically disparate scenarios to discuss.

But these two examples have more in common than we might imagine. Both involve a father and his son. God had ordained the father as the head of the household, and had placed on him the responsibility of providing for the spiritual and physical well-being of his family.  God’s commands concerning faithfulness and obedience to His law were directed primarily at the head of the household. He held the father responsible for disseminating the law to his family and discipling them in it.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” – Dueteronomy 6:4-6 NLT

And the father answered directly to God. He had to do things according to God’s will and was not free to parent according to some arbitrary set of self-imposed standards. So, when it came to the dispersal of the family’s inheritance, which was primarily tied to the land, God had a vital interest. After all, the land had been His gift to the people of Israel. and He had strong feelings about how it was to be managed.

While God never sanctioned polygamy among His people, it did take place. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of the Hebrew faith, had numerous wives and concubines. But God had made it clear to Abraham that Isaac, the son born to him through Sarah, was to be his heir. And when the time came, Abraham left his inheritance to Isaac.

Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country. – Genesis 25:5-6 ESV

Abraham did not have the right to award the inheritance to any son he chose. And this is what Moses states in the opening verses of this section of Deuteronomy. A father who happened to have multiple wives, could not decide to award the firstborn son of his favorite wife with the inheritance. That was not his decision to make. God had deemed the firstborn child of the first wife as the rightful heir. God had never intended for them to take on multiple wives, and just because they did does not mean they were now free to choose which firstborn they wanted to reward.

Man’s disobedience to God’s will always complicates things. A man with multiple wives and a growing household of children most likely thought of himself as being blessed by God. But his decision to conduct his life in direct opposition to God’s revealed will would end up producing strife, not peace. Every occasion in the Old Testament where we see one of God’s servants choosing to marry more than one woman, we get a glimpse into family dysfunctionality and discord. David’s multiple wives and the children they bore to him ended up wreaking havoc on his home and his kingdom. Stories of rape, incest, and fratricide fill the narrative of David’s life. All because he chose to let his passions control him.

But God has rules. The inheritance was not something to dole out based on favoritism or emotion. Just as Abraham had done nothing to deserve God’s promise of the inheritance, so the firstborn son was to be an undeserving recipient of God’s gracious gift. That was God’s plan and it was to be followed. The firstborn son did not have to be his father’s favorite. In fact, he didn’t have to do anything to earn the double portion, except to be the first to be born, a decision over which he had no control. His birth was the sovereign work of God Almighty.

But then, all of the sudden, Moses shifts gears. He goes from talking about a man who has complicated his life by having two wives to discussing a man who has a stubborn and rebellious son. Based on the description of this son and the God-ordained remedy for his behavior, this does not appear to be a simple case of childish disobedience. What we have here is a hardcore example of what the Bible describes as the stubborn fool.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Whoever brings a fool into the world does so to his grief,
and the father of
a fool has no joy. – Proverbs 17:21 ESV

For fools speak foolishness
    and make evil plans.
They practice ungodliness
    and spread false teachings about the Lord.
They deprive the hungry of food
    and give no water to the thirsty. – Isaiah 32:6 NLT

In each of these verses, the Hebrew word translated as “fool” is nabal and it is most commonly used to describe the most dangerous type of fool. This individual rejects God and His ways. He is overly self-confident and close-minded. He is his own god, freely gratifying his own sin nature. It is his goal to draw as many others as possible into following his wicked ways. And, according to the Scriptures, only God can reprove a stubborn fool.

The son described in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 is incorrigible and beyond hope of redemption. He is ungodly and unwilling to repent of his ways. While his father and mother have tried to discipline him, he has consistently refused their efforts and stubbornly continued down his chosen path of rebellion against God. And, ultimately, that is what this is all about. His rebellion is against God, not his parents. And the punishment for his crime is divinely ordained: Death. 

Notice that the punishment of the rebellious son was to be a public affair because the behavior of this individual had become a blight on the entire community. His personal choices had global implications. And God commanded that the evil be purged from their midst. Toleration of this kind of behavior was unacceptable. The cancer had to be removed. And while we may find this solution distasteful and harsh, it reveals just how seriously God viewed the presence of sin among His people.

This passage is not dealing with a disobedient 9-year-old. This most likely involves an adult child who has established a well-known track record of immoral and ungodly behavior that has left its mark on the community. And the parents, while probably reluctant to do so, were obligated to bring their rebellious son before the community so that divine discipline could be enacted.

What is interesting to consider is the unlikely, but possible scenario in which the rebellious son and the firstborn were one and the same. Ultimately, God was in control of all things. While the father was not free to award the inheritance to whichever son he chose, the son was not free to live however he wanted to. There were divine expectations on everyone. Life in God’s family was not to be a free-for-all, with everyone doing as they pleased. There were codes of conduct and God-ordained rules for every aspect of life, so that God’s people would reflect God’s glory to the world.

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

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

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

Here I Am!

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

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

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

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

But regarding Israel, God said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clay In Need of a Potter

8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
9 Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
    Zion has become a wilderness,
    Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
    where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
    and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord?
    Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? –
Isaiah 64:8-12 ESV

Isaiah, fully aware of the corporate sins of the people of Judah, and his shared guilt as one of their number appealed to God to intervene. He knew that there was nothing they could do about their circumstances. They were facing God’s just and righteous judgment. He also knew that the likelihood of the people changing their rebellious behavior on their own accord and through their own strength was negligible. It wasn’t going to happen. And he had a long history of evidence to use in support of his premise.

So, Isaiah called out to God. He begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 54:1 ESV). He knew the only hope they had was the supernatural intervention of God on their behalf. Unless He showed up like He did in Egypt when He released them from their captivity, the people of Judah would continue to live as slaves to sin and face their own exile in the land of Babylon. 

And to paint an even bleaker picture, Isaiah Judah as being filled with sinners. In a rather blunt assessment, Isaiah states, “we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 NLT). Even if they were to dress up in their best efforts, wearing them before God like garments of righteousness, they would appear as filthy rags to God. In other words, Isaiah knew that the people of Judah were not going to earn their way into God’s good graces by self-produced righteousness. 

So, Isaiah addresses God as their Heavenly Father. He appeals to God’s divine parental instincts, and he utilizes a metaphor intended to illustrate God’s sovereignty and man’s dependency. Isaiah compares God to a potter and the people of Judah to a lifeless lump of clay. The relationship between the two, while symbiotic, is anything but co-equal. This real-world illustration is meant to juxtapose power with passivity and willfulness with submissiveness. And Isaiah wasn’t the one who came up with this compelling analogy. God had used the potter/clay comparison to drive home a point to the prophet Jeremiah.

The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Go down at once to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.” So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working at his wheel. Now and then there would be something wrong with the pot he was molding from the clay with his hands. So he would rework the clay into another kind of pot as he saw fit. – Jeremiah 18:1-4 NLT

Jeremiah was given a visual lesson on God’s sovereignty over His chosen people. Like a potter who fashions a lump of clay, God has the prerogative to do with His people as He sees fit. If He sees a flaw, He has every right to remake them according to His divine will. He doesn’t have to ask them for permission. It would be utterly ludicrous for a potter to seek advice from the clay. In fact, earlier in his book, Isaiah points out the absurdity of that image to the people of Judah.

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, "He didn't make me"? Does a jar ever say, "The potter who made me is stupid"? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

And the apostle Paul picked up on the very same thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

We have no business casting doubt on God’s goodness or questioning His motives or intentions. But, like Isaiah, we can appeal to His sovereign will and humbly submit ourselves to His intervention in our lives. After all, as Isaiah puts it, we are all the work of His hands. He made us and He has every right to do with us as He sees fit. And we can rest in the fact that God does nothing in regards to us that is void of His love. As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child" (Hebrews 12:6 NLT).

Isaiah acknowledges that God has every right to be angry with His rebellious people. They had repeatedly turned their backs on, practicing every imaginable form of idolatry. They had been unfaithful, and God was wholly justified in His anger towards them. Which is why Isaiah pleads with God, “Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever” (Isaiah 64:9 NLT). And He asks God to look down on their situation and recognize the sorry state of their condition. But all of what Isaiah describes had not yet happened. He is painting a picture of Judah’s future as pre-ordained by God and prophesied by his very own lips. He describes their holy cities already as lying in ruins. Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was a burned-out shell of its former glory. All that had once been beautiful was an eyesore.

The fate of Judah was dark. And the hope of Judah was dim unless God intervened. So, Isaiah intercedes on behalf of his people, begging God, the potter, to take matters into His own hands.

After all this, Lord, must you still refuse to help us?
    Will you continue to be silent and punish us? – Isaiah 64:12 NLT

It is as if Isaiah had read Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:

…even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy. – Romans 9:22-23 NLT

Isaiah was counting on God’s patience and mercy. He was putting his hope in God’s character as a loving Father, and believing that He would once again make the riches of His glory shine bright on the people of Judah. No, they didn’t deserve it, but isn’t that the essence of mercy? It is God’s unmerited or undeserved favor, poured out by a loving God who does for His own what they could never have done for themselves.

Not only were they unwilling to change, but they were also incapable. Judah was were little more than a lump of clay in need of the hands of the potter. And Isaiah longed to see God refashion His people into vessels for honorable use (2 Timothy 2:20). He knew that their transformation would only happen through God’s power and, that way, God alone would get the glory. As Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

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

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

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

The Binder of the Broken.

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22 Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

23 And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, 24 and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 And on every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

27 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar,
    burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;
his lips are full of fury,
    and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
28 his breath is like an overflowing stream
    that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction,
    and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray.

29 You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock of Israel. 30 And the Lord will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. 31 The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. 32 And every stroke of the appointed staff that the Lord lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. 33 For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it. – Isaiah 30:18-33 ESV

In the first half of this chapter, God made it quite clear what the people of Judah needed to do if they wanted to escape the coming judgment.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

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

But, like rebellious children, they had repeatedly refused to listen to the words of God’s prophets; instead, they had turned to false gods and sought help from foreign powers. They truly believed they could somehow avoid all that God had decreed against them. But God revealed the foolishness behind their arrogant belief in any form of salvation apart from Him. The destruction was going to come, whether they liked it or not. God’s discipline for their sin was going to fall on them no matter what they believed or what they did to escape it.

And yet, in these verses, God lets the people of Judah know that He is patient. In spite of their extreme hubris and blatant disregard for His calls to repent, He would wait.

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
    so he can show you his love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
    Blessed are those who wait for his help. – Isaiah 30:18 NLT

When reading these Old Testament passages that reveal the stubbornness of the people of God, we can easily overlook God’s incredible patience with them. Time and time again, He sent His prophets to warn the people about His anger with them. He repeatedly called them to repent of their sins and come back to Him. Generation after generation of Israelites heard His heart-felt pleas, but had rejected His generous offer of forgiveness if they would only return to Him.

God desired to show them love and compassion. He wanted to fulfill His covenant promises to them. But, because He is a holy God, He could not ignore their sin. It was impossible for Him to turn a blind eye and act as if nothing had happened.

Which is why Isaiah tried, yet again, to persuade the people of Judah to reject their plans to trust in Egypt and, instead, to call out to God.

He will be gracious if you ask for help.
    He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. – Isaiah 30:19 NLT

All they had to do was ask. It was that simple. But perhaps it all sounded too simple the people of Judah. It may have come across as nothing more than wishful thinking. After all, they were facing the threat of invasion by the Assyrians. No one had been able to withstand their army or escape their destruction. Which is what had prompted the people of Judah to cry out to Egypt for help and protection. But what they failed to realize was that their predicament was the direct result of their disobedience to God. He is the one who had sent the Assyrians. And He would be the one to send the Babylonians long after the Assyrians had returned home.

What God’s people failed to understand was that their suffering was His doing. It was He who had given them “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). But all for good reason. First, it was to punish them for their blatant rejection of Him. But secondly, it was to teach them to trust Him and Him alone. While they were going to suffer greatly because of their sin, He was not going to abandon them. In fact, Isaiah promises them, “your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV). There would be a period of divine punishment, marked by adversity and affliction, but followed by restoration.

This promise was partially fulfilled when God arranged for the people of Judah to return to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Because the nation of Judah would remain stubborn and refuse to call out to God for help, He would allow them to be defeated by the Babylonians in 587 BC. The city of Jerusalem was be ransacked and plundered, the temple would be destroyed, and many of the people would be taken back to Babylon as prisoners. But after 70 years, in keeping with God’s promise, He would allow a remnant to return to the land, in order to rebuild the city, its walls and gates, and reconstruct the temple. And, once the temple was completed, they could institute the sacrificial system after seven decades marked by no atonement for sin.

And yet, there are aspects of this divine promise that have yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah goes on to tell them, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV). This seems to paint an image of a restored relationship with God that features obedience on the part of the people, because Isaiah goes on to describe them destroying all their idols and icons to false gods. It is a picture of national renewal and revival like nothing ever seen in Judah before or to this very day.

In verses 23-24, Isaiah describes what must be a future day, when God will bless them not only spiritually, but physically.

And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork.

This is a description of God’s gracious provision for all their needs, from consistent rain and abundant produce to rich pasturelands where their flocks would grow fat on green grass. But notice the seemingly out-of-place reference to “the day of the great slaughter” found in the very next verse. This statement provides us with insight into the fact that all of these images are linked to a future day in time and history that has yet to have happened. Isaiah is referencing the end times, when Jesus Christ will return a second time and set up His millennial kingdom on earth.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John was given a vision of this yet-future day.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

John is describing the great battle of Armageddon. And after that event takes place, Jesus will set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem from which He will reign for 1,000 years. It will be during that time that a remnant of Jews who will be redeemed during the seven years of the Tribulation, will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s righteous reign on earth. It will be a time of great abundance. It will be marked by peace and joy, and a complete lack of sorrow or tears. Even the light of the moon and sun will be enhanced. There will be abundant water in a land where water was often scarce and drought a constant reality.

But in the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah shifts the focus from the distant future to the more immediate concerns of the people of Judah. He describes what God is going to do for them regarding the threat of Assyria. The people of Judah have no reason to fear, because God was going to take care of their enemies.

The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the Lord, when he strikes with his rod. – Isaiah 30:31 ESV

Whether we focus on the more immediate context or the distant future, we can see the hand of God at work. He is in control of anything and everything. He is sovereign and He has a plan in store for the world, His people Israel, and the church. We have nothing to fear and every reason to rest in His promise to bind up the brokenness of his people.

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

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

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

The Discipline of God.

1 An oracle concerning Egypt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

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

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

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

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

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

God With Us.

1 Then the Lord said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’ 2 And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

5 The Lord spoke to me again: 6 “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7 therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, 8 and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

9 Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:1-10 ESV

If you recall, in the previous chapter, Isaiah told King Ahaz that God was going to give him a sign.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

Now, as we open chapter 10, God gives Isaiah a rather bizarre set of instructions. He was to inscribe on a clay table the name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which roughly translates, “speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil.” The act of inscribing this name on the tablet was intended serve as a prophetic pronouncement of what was to take place. And God had Isaiah seek two men to attest to the validity of the document’s content and date. Then we’re told that Isaiah had sexual relations with “the prophetess.” We are not told who this woman was, but the phrase, “I went to…” conveys the idea of drawing near to someone or something. In this case, Isaiah drew near for the purpose of sexual relations. And it appears as a euphemism several other places in Scripture for the first sexual encounter between a husband and his new wife. So, it would appear that Isaiah married this unnamed prophetess and she became pregnant with a child.

And God commanded Isaiah to name his new son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But it appears that, upon the birth of their son, Isaiah’s wife had named the boy, Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” But God had clearly told Isaiah to use the rather strange name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It is interesting to note the difference in meaning between these two names. One communicates a promise of God’s intimate and pervasive presence and protection. The other describes powerlessness at the hands of an enemy and the resulting state of being plundered. In a way, the people of Judah had the mistaken notion that, because they were the chosen people of God, He would be with them and protect them. But they had forsaken Him. And faced with the threat of the military alliance between Israel and Syria, they had chosen to put their trust in Assyria, not God.

But God warns that, before Maher-shalal-hash-baz was old enought to speak his first words, Syria and Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians. And the book of 2 Kings records for us exactly what happened.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. – 2 Kings15:27-29 ESV

God was going to punish the nation of Israel. But the people of Judah would not escape the judgment of God. Because of his alliance with Assyria, Ahaz saw the fall of Israel as a good thing. It seemed to justify his decision to make the alliance in the first place. His plan had worked to perfection. But this alliance would prove to be ill-fated.

And God makes it clear that the entire nation of Judah was guilty. From Ahaz on down, the people of Judah were guilty of unfaithfulness. They were worshiping false gods and placing their hope and trust in the strength of the Assyrian army. So, God accuses them of rejecting “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8:5 ESV). The Shiloah was a gently flowing stream that carried fresh water from the spring of Gihon into the walls of Jerusalem. It was unimpressive in its size, but faithful in its provision of clean, drinkable water. It had always been there for them.

Yet, when the Syrians and Israelites had fallen before Assyria, the people of Judah had rejoiced. They were glad. Their allies had saved the day and destroyed the threat that had been looming over the heads of the people of Judah. But God had bad news. In place of His gently flowing stream, they would experience the devastating impact of the fast-moving waters of the Euphrates River, a symbol for the Assyrians. The very “river” in which they had placed their trust would overflow its banks and inundate their land.“And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” – Isaiah 8:7-8 ESV

And notice the use of the name, “Immanuel.” In spite of the dire predictions found in these verses, God informs His people that He will be with them. So, the name given to the baby by his mother was correct. But so was the name given by Isaiah. There would be plundering and devastation, but also the consistent and persistent presence of God.

The prophecy takes a dramatic turn, with God speaking a word of warning against the nations. He turns His attention from Judah to the pagan nations who surround them, including the Assyrians.

“You will be broken, O nations;
you will be shattered!
Pay attention, all you distant lands of the earth!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted!
Issue your orders, but they will not be executed!
For God is with us!” – Isaiah 8:9-10 NLT

God was going to use the Assyrians to punish His people. In His holiness and righteousness, He could not simply overlook their unfaithfulness. Their sin deserved judgment. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, God disciplines those whom He loves.

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

The psalmist echoes that sentiment.

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. – Psalm 119:75 ESV

God was going to punish Judah, but He would also deal with those nations which played a role in their punishment. He would avenge His people. He would wage war against the nations who, like Assyria, brought destruction and devastation to the people of God.

And God makes it perfectly clear that, in spite of all that would happen, He would be with the people of Judah. “God is with us.” They would one day recognize His all-powerful hand and all-pervasive presence. For the time being, it was going to be difficult. Their sins were going to bring His judgment. But His love and mercy would show up at just the right time. He would eventually avenge them and restore them. Because He is always Immanuel, God with us.

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

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

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

That Day.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”

These are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah:

“Thus says the Lord:
We have heard a cry of panic,
    of terror, and no peace.
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?
Alas! That day is so great
    there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
    yet he shall be saved out of it.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
    among whom I scattered you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.” –
Jeremiah 30:1-11 ESV

Jeremiah is going to write a book. Not the book that bears his name, but another book that has come to be known as “The Book of Consolation.” In actuality, it is God who will be the author of the book and Jeremiah will act as His scribe. God tells the prophet: “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2 ESV). But a better translation would be that found in the New English Translation Bible (NET): “Write everything that I am about to tell you in a scroll.” God is not asking Jeremiah to write down everything He has said over the last 29 chapters. He is instructing the prophet to put down in a scroll all that He is about to say. And God gives Jeremiah the purpose behind this book of consolation he is going to help create.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

God was creating a permanent record of His promises and prophecies, so that when the people of Judah and Israel returned to the land, they would have tangible proof of
God’s faithfulness. There would be a written record of all that God had said He would do. It would contain a recounting of the people’s sins against God and a reminder of how all His predictions of judgment had come to pass just as He had said.

While this record is referred to as “The Book of Consolation”, it starts off an a fairly negative note:

“I hear cries of fear;
    there is terror and no peace.
Now let me ask you a question:
    Do men give birth to babies?
Then why do they stand there, ashen-faced,
    hands pressed against their sides
    like a woman in labor?” – Jeremiah 30:5-6 NLT

God provides a highly descriptive picture of how bad things are going to get. There will be pain and suffering like nothing the peoples of Judah and Israel have ever experienced before. Men will look like they are going through labor pains. God describes it as “a time of distress for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7 ESV). It’s interesting that God uses the name “Jacob” rather than “Israel”. If you recall, there was a time in the life of the patriarch, Jacob, where God renamed him Israel. Jacob’s original name meant “taking hold of the heal, supplanter, layer of snares”. He had lived his life as a conniver and deceiver, cheating his brother out of his birth right and living in self-imposed exile as a result. When God had commanded him to return home, He also chose to rename him. His new name meant “God prevails”. And along with a new name, Jacob received a promise from God:

“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 NLT

So, in His book, God refers to the peoples of Judah and Israel as Jacob. Perhaps He did so as a not-so-subtle reminder that they had lived most of their lives as deceivers and supplanters. The word, “supplant” means “to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like” (dictionary.com). In essence, the people of God had been trying to replace God with false gods. They had been attempting to be their own gods. So, God warns them that they are going to go through a time of great distress. But there’s good news: “Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT). And God gets very specific about what that salvation will look like.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 ESV

Now, this is where we need to stop and think about what God is saying to them. We have to ask the question: Has any of this taken place yet? Has this prophecy been fulfilled. You might conclude that it was fulfilled when the 70 years of captivity in Babylon was complete and God allowed the return of a remnant to Judah to restore the city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But while that would be true, it would only be a partial fulfillment, because the people of Israel never had another king from the line of David. The next king they would have would be Herod, during the time of Jesus, who was an Edomite and a puppet-king of the Romans. He was not a descendant of David. So, this prophecy must have an as-yet-future aspect to it. It is not yet fulfilled. Whenever you see the reference to “that day” in Scripture, it is referring to future event.

The prophet, Zechariah, also spoke of this coming day of the Lord.

“I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced.” – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

Do you see the Messianic aspect to this prophecy? It contains a clear reference to Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was pierced for the sins of mankind. In his great messianic chapter, Isaiah wrote of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and of His sufferings on behalf of mankind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

The prophet, Zechariah goes on to say:

“In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.” – Zechariah 13:1-2 NLT

God has Jeremiah write down on the scroll the following words of comfort to the peoples of Judah and Israel:

“For I will bring you home again from distant lands,
    and your children will return from their exile.
Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet,
    and no one will terrorize them.
For I am with you and will save you” – Jeremiah 30:10-11 NLT

And while God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land, they would be without a king. Their lives in the land would not be marked by peace and quiet. They would be surrounded by enemies and constantly harassed by foreign powers, even up until the days of Jesus. They would find themselves under the constant rule of other nations, like the Romans. So, it is clear that this prophecy has only been partially fulfilled. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. That is why He was having Jeremiah put the words He was speaking on paper. He wanted a written record that the people could turn to and be reminded of what He had said He would do. The return of the remnant to Judah from Babylon was just a small glimpse into the greater good that God has in store for His people in the future.

There was more godly discipline coming for the people of God. He was going to continue His judgment of them. Even today, Israel finds itself under the judgment of God. They are back in the land, but they are surrounded on all sides by enemies and face with constant threats against their sovereignty as a nation. They have no king. There is no temple and, therefore, no sacrificial system. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. His plans for Israel are not yet complete. As God had prophesied through Jeremiah in the preceding chapter:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

The captivity of Israel has only partially ended. Their fortunes have only partially been restored. But the days of God’s testing will come to an end. He will one day complete His plans for the people of Israel and restore them completely to a right relationship with Himself. And the prophet, Zechariah gives us an exciting glimpse of that day.

“I will refine them like silver is refined
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name and I will answer;
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 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

That We Might Know.

O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
    my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
    from the ends of the earth and say:
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
    worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods?
    Such are not gods!”

“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:15-21 ESV

The majority of the nations of the earth reject God. It was true in Jeremiah’s day and it is true in ours. And yet, Jeremiah knew that there was a day coming when all of that would change. He had faith and hope in the ultimate sovereignty of God and believed that one day humanity would wake up to the reality that there is only one true God. He envisioned a day when people would realize the error of their ways.

Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!” – Jeremiah 16:19-20 NLT

And he was right, because God has said it would be so.

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between nations
    and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:1-4 NLT

Ultimately, God is interested in revealing Himself to mankind. He has done so through His creation. Paul makes that point clear in his letter to the believers in Rome.

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 2:19-20 NLT

The Bible is a chronicles of God’s revelation to man. He revealed Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and leading him to the land of Canaan. He revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush and called him to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. And all throughout the book of Exodus God assures Moses with the words: “You will know that I am the Lord your God.”

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

The plagues God brought on the Egyptians were intended to show the Israelites that their God, Yahweh, was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt. He was proving Himself to the Israelites by revealing Himself in power. And God continued to do so throughout the book of Exodus as He freed them from slavery and led them to the land of promise. And by the time God was finished in Egypt, the Israelites would not be the only ones who would know that Yahweh was God. He made that point quite clear.

“When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

Ten devastating plagues later, and God would have the attention of the Egyptians and the Jews. He would clearly reveal Himself as the one true God. And God lets Jeremiah know that there is a day coming when God’s power and prominence will once again be displayed before the nations, convincing them of His status as the one and only God of the universe.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:20-23 NLT

That day has yet to come, but it will. Because God has promised it. And God, speaking through the prophet, Ezekiel, told the people of Israel that one day return them to favor in His eyes. Not because they had done anything to deserve it, but because He had promised it and was going to prove to the nations that His word was trustworthy and His power, unequaled.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

But in all this talk of future restoration and the nations recognizing Yahweh as the one true God, there remains the painful reality that Judah was still going to suffer for their sins. God was still bringing judgment on them because they had rebelled against Him. And yet, even His judgment would prove to them that He is God.

“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:21 NLT

The painful reality is that God sometimes reveals Himself through judgment. He disciplines His children, because He loves them. He took the son born to David and Bathsheba as a result of their adulterous affair. And as a result, David knew that God was serious about sin. God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), when they lied about their gift of money to the church. And the church knew that God was serious about sin. God struck Miriam, the sister of Moses, with leprosy, because she and Aaron thought they had as much right to be leaders as Moses had (Numbers 12). And when Aaron saw what God had done to his sister, it got his attention. He suddenly feared God and begged Moses to intercede for her.

The people of Judah were going to experience the consequences of their sinful behavior. And they would learn a great deal about their God in the process. It’s sad to admit that, for many of us, we tend to learn better through difficulties. Our faith grows stronger during times of adversity and trials. But we must always remember that God is constantly revealing Himself to us, even in the difficult times. He wants us to know that He takes sin seriously. He wants us to recognize His power and to learn to rely upon it. He wants us to understand that He considers our call to holiness non-negotiable. He demands that we be holy, as He is holy. He requires obedience and faithfulness from His people. But sometimes, we doubt that He really means it. So, He reveals Himself through discipline. He manifests His displeasure by allowing us to suffer for our sinful habits. But the bottom line is that God is always there and is always revealing Himself to us. He is always proving His power to us and convincing us of His holiness and righteousness. Because His greatest desire is that we know and understand that He is the Lord.

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

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

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

A Divine Perspective.

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
    how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
    what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
For even your brothers and the house of your father,
    even they have dealt treacherously with you;
    they are in full cry after you;
do not believe them,
    though they speak friendly words to you.”

“I have forsaken my house;
    I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
    into the hands of her enemies.
My heritage has become to me
    like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me;
    therefore I hate her.
Is my heritage to me like a hyena's lair?
    Are the birds of prey against her all around?
Go, assemble all the wild beasts;
    bring them to devour.
Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard;
    they have trampled down my portion;
they have made my pleasant portion
    a desolate wilderness.
They have made it a desolation;
    desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
    but no man lays it to heart.
Upon all the bare heights in the desert
    destroyers have come,
for the sword of the Lord devours
    from one end of the land to the other;
    no flesh has peace.
They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns;
    they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.
They shall be ashamed of their harvests
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:5-13 ESV

In asking God, “Why?”, Jeremiah had shared his perspective. He saw things from a human point of view, wondering why he was having to suffer while those who plotted his death seemed to prosper. The circumstances surrounding his life appeared to make no sense. He was doing the will of God and suffering for it. The men of Anathoth were breaking the will of God and apparently, prospering because of it.

So, God share His perspective with Jeremiah. He gave the prophet some insights into how He saw things. First, God let Jeremiah know that things were going to get worse before they got better. And if he found his present circumstances difficult, he was going to be overwhelmed by what was coming. In fact, God gives Jeremiah the bad news that things were already worse than he thought. It wasn’t just the men of Anathoth who were plotting against him.

“Even your brothers, members of your own family,
    have turned against you.
    They plot and raise complaints against you.” – Jeremiah 12:5 NLT

As God’s spokesman, Jeremiah was going to find himself at odds with just about everyone in Judah. His message was not going to be well received by anyone. So, he better get used to being disliked. To use a more modern-day idiom, it was as if God was telling Jeremiah, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, you better stay on the porch.” Being a prophet was not for the weak or feint of heart. It took guts and determination. Speaking the truth, the Word of God, required real courage, because the opposition was real and the possibilities of facing harm were as well. God warned Jeremiah that it wasn’t just the outspoken loud mouths he had to fear. It was also the so-called friends who spoke to him using pleasant words and appeared to be on his side. No one could be trusted.

But the one thing Jeremiah had overlooked in all of this was how God felt. This is a common mistake we all make. For whatever reason, we see God as having no feelings. He simply acts, meting out justice and administering judgment, with no personal implications or emotional ramifications. We somehow see God as an unfeeling automaton, who lacks the ability to experience sadness or any other human-like emotion. But God paints a very different picture for Jeremiah. You can almost hear the pain in God’s voice as He shares with Jeremiah:

“I have abandoned my people, my special possession.
    I have surrendered my dearest ones to their enemies.” – Jeremiah 12:7 NLT

All throughout this section of chapter 12, God uses terms like “my heritage”, “my house”, “the beloved of my soul”, “my vineyard”, and “my portion”. God is expressing His deep love and affection for the people of Judah. They are His children and He loves them. This wasn’t a case of some distant deity lashing out in hate at His helpless human subjects. This was a loving Father having to discipline His own children. And He felt great pain for having to do so. As Thomas L. Constable points out in his study notes on Jeremiah, “The Hebrew verbs in this section are prophetic perfects, which view future events as already past.” God is revealing what is going to happen as if it already has. He knows what the future holds, but He does not relish the idea of His own children’s destruction. Yes, they deserved it, but that doesn’t mean God enjoyed the idea of having to bring it about. Unhindered by the constraints of time, God can see into the future and witness the suffering on His people. He can see the devastated land of promise that He had promised to Abraham and provided to Joshua and the people.

“They have made it an empty wasteland;
    I hear its mournful cry.
The whole land is desolate,
    and no one even cares.” – Jeremiah 12:11 NLT

He had given this land as a gift to the people of Israel. It had been an expression of His love for them. But it would lie wasted and abandoned, its cities destroyed and its inhabitants either murdered or taken captive as slaves. And this would all be God’s doing.

“The sword of the Lord devours people
    from one end of the nation to the other.
    No one will escape!” – Jeremiah 12:12 NLT

He would be the one to bring it about. His people had broken their covenant with Him. They had abandoned Him for false gods. They had been unfaithful to Him, willingly turning their back on Him and giving their affections to lifeless idols instead. Rather than trusting in God and relying on His track record of faithfulness, they had looked elsewhere.

“My people have planted wheat
    but are harvesting thorns.
They have worn themselves out,
    but it has done them no good.
They will harvest a crop of shame
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:13 NLT

And this broke God’s heart. He had promised to provide for them. He had made a covenant with them that guaranteed they would never do without – as long as they remained faithful to Him.

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

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

God wanted to bless them. He wanted to provide for them. But they had decided to provide for themselves. They had made it a habit of relying on themselves or, worse yet, on the false gods of the nations around them. So, rather than enjoying the blessings of God, they were doomed to experience the curses He had warned them about. And God found no joy in any of this. But His holiness and justice demanded it. He could not allow them to get away with their treatment of Him. They had profaned His name among the nations. They had desecrated the land with their actions. They had proven to be poor bearers of His image. And God was obligated to deal with them accordingly. But like a loving Father punishing His wayward child, God was grieved by what He had to do.

Over in the gospel of Luke, we have recorded the words of Jesus, spoken as He neared the city of Jerusalem – the very same city that would be destroyed during the days of Jeremiah. And Jesus, as the city came into view, began to cry and said:

“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:32-44 NLT

Jesus, like His Father, knew what was coming. He was well aware that, in the not-too-distant future, Jerusalem would be destroyed yet again. In 70 A.D., the Romans would set fire to the temple, reducing it to rubble and destroy the remainder of the city as well. But Jesus wept over what He knew was coming. He longed that the people of Jerusalem would recognize who He was and accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. But that was not to be. They would reject Him. They would play a part in having Him crucified, choosing to see a common criminal named Barabbas freed instead of Jesus. They would chant, “Crucify Him!” They would demand His death and jeer and mock Jesus as He made His way to Golgotha, bearing the weight of the cross upon which He would die. And even as Jesus hung on that cross, near death, rather than lash out at those who stood watching Him die, He would state, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24 ESV). Even in the midst of their rebellion and rejection of Him, Jesus loved them. He loved them so much that He took on their sins and died for them. And God would one day redeem the people of Judah as well. He would restore them to the land. He would rescue them from their captivity. Not because of them, but in spite of them. God takes no pleasure in punishing His children. But He lovingly disciplines them and faithfully rescues them – for the glory of His own name and in keeping with His covenant promises.

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

Just and Justified.

Woe is me because of my hurt!
    My wound is grievous.
But I said, “Truly this is an affliction,
    and I must bear it.”
My tent is destroyed,
    and all my cords are broken;
my children have gone from me,
    and they are not;
there is no one to spread my tent again
    and to set up my curtains.
For the shepherds are stupid
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
therefore they have not prospered,
    and all their flock is scattered.

A voice, a rumor! Behold, it comes!—
    a great commotion out of the north country
to make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    a lair of jackals.

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
    that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
    not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
    and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
    they have devoured him and consumed him,
    and have laid waste his habitation. – Jeremiah 10:19-25 ESV

In the opening lines of this section of chapter 10, Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the people, expressing the dismay they will express at the coming destruction. He personifies the nation of Judah as a nomad whose tent has been torn down and his children, lost. He has no one to help him rebuild his home and he has no idea where his children might be. Understandably, he is distraught and filled with grief. But he realizes that there is nothing he can do about it. He must simply endure the pain.

But Jeremiah blames the religious and political leaders, those men who had been tasked with shepherding the people of Judah. He describes them as stupid and accuses them of refusing to seek the Lord. They led the people according to their own wisdom, rather than trusting and obeying the word of God. Their failure was imminent and they would be held responsible by God for the moral decay and inevitable destruction of His people. But that did not mean the people were guiltless and innocent before God. They had allowed themselves to be misled because they wanted to be. Their leaders were simply telling them what they wanted to hear and setting an example they were more than willing to follow. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul addressed the problem of allowing bad leadership to infect and influence the church.

Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all. – 1 Corinthians 15:33-34 NLT

There were evidently so-called leaders in the church in Corinth who were denying the doctrine of the resurrection. They were teaching that this life is all there is, and encouraged the people to “feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!” (1 Corinthians 15:32 NLT). In other words, there is not afterlife, so grab all the gusto you can in this one. That kind of message was popular because it appealed to man’s base desire for pleasure and self-gratification. But Paul warned the believers in Corinth to consider carefully before following the advice of these individuals. He wanted them to do what was right, not what was most appealing. Paul would also warn Timothy about this problem, telling his young protege, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT).

Telling people what they want to hear may make you popular, but it won’t win you any brownie points with God. Along with the crowds, you’ll end up attracting the judgment of God. And judgment was coming on the leaders and the people of Judah. The Babylonian invasion was looming. And this led Jeremiah to offer up to God a personal prayer of repentance. Even though he was God’s prophet and had faithfully fulfilled his duty to deliver God’s message to the people, he knew he was not without guilt. He was one of the people of Judah. They all shared in the responsibility of their corporate sins against God. So, Jeremiah pleaded with God to correct them, but not in anger. He didn’t ask God to refrain from bringing judgment, but begged Him to be gentle.

I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
    We are not able to plan our own course.
So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle.
    Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

But Jeremiah also asked God to judge the Babylonians. He fully understood that God was going to use this pagan nation to discipline the people of Judah, but Jeremiah wanted to know that God would also bring judgment upon them for what they were about to do to His people. As a citizen of Judah, Jeremiah was willing to accept the judgment of God and suffer the consequences for their unfaithfulness. He knew God would be just in His judgment and perfectly justified in bringing it. But He also appealed to God’s sense of justice when it came to those whom God would use to mete out His judgment. Jeremiah simply wanted to know that God would do the right and just thing when it came to the Babylonians. And near the end of the book that bears his name, Jeremiah receives a message from God letting him know that the Babylonians will one day face a judgment of their own.

This is what the Lord says:
“I will stir up a destroyer against Babylon
    and the people of Babylonia.
Foreigners will come and winnow her,
    blowing her away as chaff.
They will come from every side
    to rise against her in her day of trouble.” – Jeremiah 51:1-2 NLT

The Babylonians would be judged by God as well. God would eventually raise up the Medes, who would defeat the formally indestructable Babylonians. And God will remind Jeremiah:

“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has not abandoned Israel and Judah.
He is still their God,
    even though their land was filled with sin
    against the Holy One of Israel.” – Jeremiah 51:5 NLT

God can be counted on to do the just and right thing. He is always right in all His ways.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways… – Psalm 145:17 ESV

God's way is perfect. All the LORD's promises prove true. – Psalm 18:30 NLT

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

Therefore, the LORD has brought upon us the disaster he prepared. The LORD our God was right to do all of these things, for we did not obey him. – Daniel 9:14 NLT

Destruction was coming on Judah. They deserved it. The judgment of God was justified and He would be proven righteous in every action He took against Judah. He would also be just in His dealings with Babylon. While His ways may not seem to make sense to us or appeal to our sense of fairness, we have no right to question His motive or means. He is the sovereign God of the universe who not only has the right to deal with His creation as He sees fit, He is righteous in all that He does. He will not sin because He cannot sin. He is holy in all that He does. And His will for mankind is not based on a whim or subject to emotional instability on His part. He is not driven by His emotions or susceptible to sinful reactions. He can be trusted to do the right thing each and every time and in each and every circumstance.

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

Refined and Tested.

Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and test them,
    for what else can I do, because of my people?
Their tongue is a deadly arrow;
    it speaks deceitfully;
with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor,
    but in his heart he plans an ambush for him.
Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord,
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this?

“I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
    and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
    and the lowing of cattle is not heard;
both the birds of the air and the beasts
    have fled and are gone.
I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,
    a lair of jackals,
and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation,
    without inhabitant.”

Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the Lord spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the Lord says: “Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it, but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink. I will scatter them among the nations whom neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them.” – Jeremiah 9:7-16 ESV

There are those times in our lives when we find ourselves suffering as we go through unexpected difficulty, and we wonder why it is happening. As believers in God, we may question whether we have done something to make God angry with us. Yet, at other times, we might be unable to think of any logical reason for our suffering. We can come up with no sin or act of disobedience we have done that might have resulted in what we are experiencing. But the one thing we can always know is that God is in full control and can and does use all suffering as a means of perfecting us. He uses it to refine and purify us, creating within us a deeper and deeper dependency upon Him. Even if our suffering is the result of our own sin and divine discipline, God will use it to perfect us.

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? – Hebrews 12:5-7 NLT

Suffering is inevitable in this life. It comes with living in a sin-filled world full of sinful people. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, as God’s children, we must always see the pain and suffering we are called to endure as coming through the sovereign hand of God. And whether we realize it or recognize it at the time, we must constantly remind ourselves that God has something He wants to accomplish by allowing whatever difficulty we are experiencing. The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:23 NLT). There is no wasted suffering for the child of God. And while that fact may be hard to accept in the midst of a trial, it is important that we remind ourselves of its reality on a constant basis. The author of Hebrews went on to write: “God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT).

But what about the people of Judah? They were about to endure a refining and testing at the hands of God that was going to leave them wondering what in the world just happened. The extent of their destruction was going to be great and the pain and loss they would face would have them questioning the very existence of God. But God wanted them to know that He was very much still in existence. In fact, He wanted them to know that their coming destruction was going to be His doing. But it would be for the purpose of purification, not annihilation. God was out to discipline them, not destroy them. But their pain would be great. Their suffering would be intense. They had left God no other choice.

“Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord.
    “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?” – Jeremiah 9:9 NLT

God could not let their insubordination and rebellion just slip by unnoticed or unpunished. They were His children and they deserved discipline. To fail to discipline them would be to fail to love them. God, in His perfect holiness, could not allow His children to remain in a state of unholiness, profaning His name and bringing shame to His character. And God makes it perfectly clear that their fate is the result of their own sinfulness. Speaking in the past-tense, emphasizing the inevitable nature of what is coming, God says:

“This has happened because my people have abandoned my instructions; they have refused to obey what I said. Instead, they have stubbornly followed their own desires and worshiped the images of Baal, as their ancestors taught them.” – Jeremiah 9:13-14 NLT

He didn’t want there to be any questions in the minds of the people of Judah when they found themselves defeated at the hands of the Babylonians with their once great capital, Jerusalem, destroyed and the temple lying in ruins. It would be their unfaithfulness to God that would be their undoing. And as a not-so-subtle reminder of God’s loving provision for the people of Israel in the days of their wilderness wanderings, God tells the people of Judah, “I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them poisonous water to drink” (Jeremiah 9:15 ESV). Rather than manna, miraculously provided by God and that tasted like honey, the rebellious people of Judah would eat bitter food. The Hebrew word God used is la`anah and it refers to wormwood, a root that was poisonous if consumed and was associated with cursing. And God’s mention of poisonous water seems to be a direct reference to the time when the people of Israel found themselves three-days past their Red Sea experience where God had miraculously parted the waters and rescued them. They arrived at a place called Marah, in the Desert of Shur, where they discovered the only source of water was bitter and undrinkable. So, they responded by complaining to Moses.

He cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When Moses threw it into the water, the water became safe to drink. There the Lord made for them a binding ordinance, and there he tested them. He said, “If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 16:25-26 NLT

God had provided. They had no reason to worry. There was no legitimate cause for them to be concerned over their well-being as long as they placed their trust in God and obeyed His will for them. But the people of Judah were going to learn another invaluable lesson. They were going to discover what happens when you refuse to obey. This time, there would be no clean water to drink or sweet bread to eat. There would be no rescue. And God paints a very bleak picture of the outcome of their rebellion.

“I will make Jerusalem into a heap of ruins,” says the Lord.
    “It will be a place haunted by jackals.
The towns of Judah will be ghost towns,
    with no one living in them.” – Jeremiah 9:11 NLT

And God would weep. But not for the people.

“I will weep for the mountains
    and wail for the wilderness pastures.
For they are desolate and empty of life;
    the lowing of cattle is heard no more;
    the birds and wild animals have all fled.” – Jeremiah 9:10 NLT

The land itself would be devastated. Pastures would be emptied of cattle, taken as plunder by the Babylonians. The desolation would impact the wildlife. The sins of the people and the punishment their sins required would even influence creation. Paul speaks of creation’s suffering at the hands of mankind’s sin.

Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:20-23 NLT

Sin has devastating consequences. We see it all around us in the form of disease, famines, storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. God’s creation has been infected by man’s sin. And the sins of the people of Judah would leave the land of Judah in a state of devastation. The promised land would become a wasteland. The land God had once described as a land flowing with milk and honey, was going to be desolate and empty of life. God’s refining and testing of Judah was going to involve intense heat and the painful removal of the sin that had infected them. And even the land God had so graciously provided would suffer as a result.

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

Only Hurting Yourselves.

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. Is it I whom they provoke? declares the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.

“So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.

“‘Cut off your hair and cast it away;
    raise a lamentation on the bare heights,
for the Lord has rejected and forsaken
    the generation of his wrath.’” – Jeremiah 7:16-29 ESV

Don’t pray. Those words sound a bit strange coming from the lips of God. But that is exactly what He told Jeremiah. Things had gotten so bad in Judah that God commanded Jeremiah not to even waste his time praying for mercy for the people. They were not going to change. They would never repent. After all, God had sent them prophets all along the way. Jeremiah was far from the first. When God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt He had told them, “Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!” (Jeremiah 7:23 NLT). And that command had been given long before He gave them the law and the sacrificial system. And yet, here they were, going through the motions of sacrifice to God, while they were busy gathering wood, building fires, and baking cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. This is most likely a reference to the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess, Astarte or Ishtar. Worship of this god involved the baking of cakes that carried her image and were offered up along with drink offerings. And God says this kind of activity is widespread, taking place in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. Entire families were involved in this kind of idolatry. So, God tells Jeremiah to keep his prayers to himself. Whatever suffering the people of Judah will have to endure as a result of God’s judgment is their own fault. They have brought it on themselves. They weren’t hurting God. They were only hurting themselves. He was not suffering because of their unfaithfulness, but they soon would be.

God makes a stinging indictment about the people of Judah: “Truth has vanished from among them; it is no longer heard on their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28 NLT). This is far more than an accusation of lying. They had long ago forgotten the truth about God. His ways were not taught. His commands were not believed or obeyed. His judgment was not feared. His holiness was not revered or respected. But the Hebrew word translated as “truth” is 'emuwnah and it can also mean “faithfulness” or “moral fidelity.” Because God is truth, His word is truth. What He says is true. What He commands is true. And He expects faithfulness or moral fidelity among His people. God’s commands are not up for debate. When He had told the people of Israel, “Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!”, He had meant it. That was the truth and nothing but the truth. But God tells Jeremiah, “This is the nation whose people will not obey the Lord their God and who refuse to be taught” (Jeremiah 7:28 NLT). They have no intention of obeying God. They are not interested in the truth. Instead, they had been listening to the lies of the false prophets. They had been putting their hopes in the false gods of the nations around them. They had exchanged the truth of God for a lie. And God gives Jeremiah some less-than-encouraging news: “Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond” (Jeremiah 7:27 NLT).

All Judah had left to do was mourn over their fate. They might not believe the truth of God right now, but they would. When the Babylonians finally showed up and their doom was certain, the people would end up seeing the truth of God in a whole new light. They would discover the hard way that He had been telling the truth. He was really was the one true God. He really did expect obedience and faithfulness. Sin really did have consequences. And God gives Jeremiah a message to deliver to the people of Judah:

“Shave your head in mourning, and weep alone on the mountains. For the Lord has rejected and forsaken this generation that has provoked his fury.” – Jeremiah 7:29 NLT

Why is it that we take sin so lightly? When God tells us that He despises sin and is obligated by His holiness and justice to punish it, why do we not take Him seriously? We ignore His warnings. We disobey His commands. We justify our actions and we suffer the consequences. And we only end up hurting ourselves. He offers us blessings and we reject them, seeking instead the false promises of the gods of this world. We buy into the lies of the enemy. We worship at the altars of power, possessions, prominence, and pleasure. We offer our “cakes” to gods that are man-made and powerless to deliver anything of lasting value. We reject the truth of God for a lie. And, like the people of Judah, we end up guilty of moral infidelity and unfaithfulness. All of this, despite the fact that we have been introduced to the way, the truth and the life. We have come to know the truth and been set free by the truth. We have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior, but still find ourselves wandering away, drawn by the offers of the false gods of this age. And we end up living as if the truth of Jesus Christ and His offer of abundant life are nothing but lies. But God loves us too much to allow us to continue to hurt ourselves, so He disciplines us. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” – Hebrews 12:5-6 NLT

God was going to punish the people of Judah, because of their sin but, more importantly, because they were His children. He loved them too much to allow them to continue down the path they were going. His judgment would seem harsh and unloving. Their fate would appear cruel and uncaring. But again, the author of Hebrews provides us with some important insight into the ways of God.

“As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever?” – Hebrews 12:7-9 NLT

The people of Judah were only hurting themselves. They were bringing the judgment of God on themselves. But He was going to use that judgment for their own good. He would use their unfaithfulness as an opportunity to prove to them yet again His own faithfulness. Sin would bring pain. Disobedience would result in discipline. But God’s discipline produces righteousness.

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

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

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

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

True Repentance.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.

“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.” – Jeremiah 7:1-15 ESV

God sent Jeremiah to the temple. He was to stand at the gate to the temple and, as the people entered in to worship, he was to give them another word of warning. What an interesting juxtaposition this passage presents. The people were obviously still worshiping Yahweh by attending the temple and offering Him the appropriate sacrifices. For them, the temple was a sign of their place of honor as God’s people. It was His dwelling place and had been constructed by Solomon under the direct supervision of God Himself. And when Solomon had dedicated the temple to God, he had prayed:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.“ – 1 Kings 8:23-24 ESV

Solomon saw the temple as a place where God would dwell among His people and where the people could turn to Him in prayer, pleading for forgiveness when they had sinned against Him.

“May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:29-30 ESV

Solomon had gone on to provide God with a range of different scenarios in which the people might come to Him in need and offer prayers to Him at the temple. They included vindication for the innocent, military defeat, famine, drought, plague, disease, pestilence, and even captivity.

“When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to their enemies, who take them captive to their own lands, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their ancestors, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you; forgive all the offenses they have committed against you, and cause their captors to show them mercy; for they are your people and your inheritance, whom you brought out of Egypt, out of that iron-smelting furnace.” – 1 Kings 8:46-51 ESV

You can begin to see why the people felt like they were immune from complete destruction by God. Jerusalem was the city of God. The temple was the dwelling place of God. And as long as the people asked for forgiveness from Him, He was obligated to forgive them. Or so they thought. They were counting on the fact that God had made a promise to preserve Jerusalem forever.

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
    he has desired it for his dwelling place:
“This is my resting place forever;
    here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” –
Psalm 139:13-14 ESV

They were confident in their safety because God had also promised David that his kingdom would be established forever.

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

But God had not said that Jerusalem would not fall, the temple might not be destroyed or that the Davidic dynasty would be uninterrupted. In fact, after Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication at the opening of the temple, God had responded:

“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:6-9 ESV

And as Jeremiah stood at the gate of the temple that day, he made it painfully clear that the people had not kept their end of the covenant. They were placing all their hope in the presence of the temple, saying, “‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:4 ESV). In other words, they were counting on the fact that the temple was God’s dwelling place and He was not going to let anything happen to them. He would protect His house. But God had warned them that the temple would become a heap of rubble if they failed to live in obedience and faithfulness to Him. And He had meant far more than just refraining from idol worship. He has Jeremiah tell them, “I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols” (Jeremiah 7:5-6 ESV). They were guilty of far more than idol worship. They were disobeying the commandments of God. As far as they were concerned, His laws had become optional. They felt no compulsion to live according to His will. And God exposes the audacity of their actions and the absurdity of their thinking.

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’ —only to go right back to all those evils again?” – Jeremiah 7:8-10 NLT

God has Jeremiah remind the people of the fate of Shiloh, a site just 20 miles from Jerusalem. It lay in ruins. Why? Because of the disobedience of the people of Israel. Shiloh had been the place where the tabernacle of God was kept. But the people had proven unfaithful to God. And they were given over by God to defeat by the Philistines, who captured the Ark of the Covenant and, most likely, destroyed Shiloh.

But they put God to the test
    and rebelled against the Most High;
    they did not keep his statutes.
Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
    as unreliable as a faulty bow.
They angered him with their high places;
    they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
When God heard them, he was furious;
    he rejected Israel completely.
He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh,
    the tent he had set up among humans.
He sent the ark of his might into captivity,
    his splendor into the hands of the enemy.
He gave his people over to the sword;
    he was furious with his inheritance. – Psalm 78:56-62 ESV

God had done it once before and He warned that He would do it again. Unless His people repented. They must return to Him, but they would also be required to change their ways. It wouldn’t be enough to simply ask Him for forgiveness. Let’s look back at Solomon’s dedication of the temple. God had told the people what they would have to do to receive healing and help from Him.

“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

God was looking for repentance, but repentance must be accompanied by a determination to live in obedience to Him. Repentance involves a resolve to change the way you live. It is not just a sorrow over sin, it is a recognition that sin is an offense to God. And it is a desire to live differently, to change one’s actions and to live in keeping with God’s will.

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

“You Will Be Safe!”

Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
    cry aloud and say,
‘Assemble, and let us go
    into the fortified cities!’
Raise a standard toward Zion,
    flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
    and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket,
    a destroyer of nations has set out;
    he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
    your cities will be ruins
    without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth,
    lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the Lord
    has not turned back from us.”

“In that day, declares the Lord, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life.”

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A hot wind from the bare heights in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, a wind too full for this comes for me. Now it is I who speak in judgment upon them.” – Jeremiah 4:5-12 ESV

Back in chapter one, God gave Jeremiah a vision of a boiling cauldron that was spilling over. And He told Jeremiah:

“Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah.” – Jeremiah 1:14-15 ESV

Now God is going to give Jeremiah a much more detailed description of what is going to happen, and Jeremiah is to share this less-than-comforting news with the people of Judah. God tells Jeremiah to metaphorically “blow the trumpet.” He was to issue an alarm to the people, warning them to send signals to the entire nation to seek shelter in the fortified cities. Disaster was coming. A destroyer of nations was coming out of the north “to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 4:7 ESV). And all the people could do was wait for the inevitable and unavoidable outcome. All they could do was mourn their fate and regret the folly of their ways.

So put on sackcloth!
Mourn and wail, saying,
‘The fierce anger of the Lord
has not turned away from us!’” – Jeremiah 4:8 NET

But before we go on, let’s take a minute to consider something that is often overlooked. First of all, how do you think Jeremiah felt about having to deliver this message? Talk about being the bearer of bad news. What a difficult task it must have been for Jeremiah to obey God and speak these words to people he knew and loved. And how do you think Jeremiah was received? What kind of reception did the prophet encounter when he gave his message of doom and gloom to the people of Judah? He was ,undoubtedly, a very unpopular person. It is unlikely that he was invited to a lot of dinner parties. People probably avoided him on the street. No one wanted to be seen with Jeremiah. And no one wanted to be around when Jeremiah went on one of his rants.

We sometimes forget that the prophets of God were mere men. And yet, they had been called by God to deliver very difficult news to the people of God. They were human and had feelings just like anybody else. They didn’t enjoy being despised and rejected. But they put a higher priority on obedience to God’s will than they did on being liked by the people. God’s words were difficult to deliver, and even more difficult for the people to receive. But they knew God was speaking truth the people needed to hear. So they spoke – faithfully and fearlessly.

But back to God’s message. He also told Jeremiah to tell the people:

“When this happens,” says the Lord,
“the king and his officials will lose their courage.
The priests will be struck with horror,
and the prophets will be speechless in astonishment.” – Jeremiah 4:9 NET

The leadership of Judah would find themselves in a state of shock. Responsible for the well-being of the nation, they will be unprepared to deal with the enormity of the problem when it comes. The king and his court won’t know what to do. The priests won’t know where to turn. After all, they had a plethora of gods they worshiped, so they had do decide which one was going to help them? The false prophets, who had been predicting ongoing peace, would be tongue-tied, unable to explain how they had gotten it so wrong. And Jeremiah alludes to the deceptive message of these false prophets when he responds to God:

“Ah, Lord God, you have surely allowed the people of Judah and Jerusalem to be deceived by those who say, ‘You will be safe!’ But in fact a sword is already at our throats.” – Jeremiah 4:10 NET

While God had not raised up these false prophets, He had allowed them to present their deceptive messages promising safety and security. He had let the people be lulled into a false sense of comfort, all the while knowing that their unrepentant state was going to lead to their destruction. But the time had come for God to speak and to bring an end to Judah’s overconfident, unrepentant attitude.

“At that time the people of Judah and Jerusalem will be told,
‘A scorching wind will sweep down
from the hilltops in the desert on my dear people.
It will not be a gentle breeze
for winnowing the grain and blowing away the chaff.
No, a wind too strong for that will come at my bidding.
Yes, even now I, myself, am calling down judgment on them.’” – Jeremiah 4:11-12 NET

Judgement was coming. The party was over. The fake gods, false prophets, faithless priests, godless officials, and adulterous people were going to find themselves facing the wrath of the God they had taken for granted and treated with disdain. He would no longer tolerate their blatant disregard for His will and His ways. And He makes it clear that He will be the one who calls down judgment on them. This will not just be a case of fate. God will be the one who sends the Babylonians. This coming destruction will be the direct result of God’s sovereign will and providential plan.

There is a not-so-subtle message in these verses for those of us who consider themselves God’s chosen people in this day. We who claim to be Christ-followers and lovers of God must take heart God’s words of warning. While our sins are forgiven and our right standing with God has been fully taken care of by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we must not take our secure standing lightly or treat the glory of God flippantly. He is still a holy God who expects His people to live in accordance with His will. He not only expects us to be holy, He has given us His Spirit in order that we might BE holy. But the greatest danger we face is that of complacency and a false sense of comfort. Just because we know where we’re going when we die doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want while we’re alive. The fact that we have forgiveness available to us when we sin is not to be an incentive to continue to live in sin. And Paul makes the absurdity of this kind of thinking quite clear in his letter to the Romans.

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:1-4 NLT

God has called us to live new lives, and He has provided us with the power to make it possible. But how easy it is for us to reject God’s call to live holy lives and to choose to live slightly improved versions of our old selves. That is NOT what He has called us to. That is NOT what His Son died to make possible. We have been redeemed from captivity to sin and set free to live Spirit-empowered lives of holiness and spiritual wholesomeness. We are to be faithful to God and committed to His will and His ways. We are to be His representatives on this earth, providing living proof that His Son’s death truly does provide new life – both here and in the hereafter. We must never become complacent or overly comfortable with our status as God’s children. God will discipline us. Why? Because He loves us too much to allow us to continue to live in sin. But we must always remember that His love for us, even in the form of His discipline of us, will be for our good. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. – Hebrews 12:5-7 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

Good Looks and Bad Motives.

Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight. There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar. She was a beautiful woman.

So Absalom lived two full years in Jerusalem, without coming into the king’s presence. Then Absalom sent for Joab, to send him to the king, but Joab would not come to him. And he sent a second time, but Joab would not come. Then he said to his servants, “See, Joab’s field is next to mine, and he has barley there; go and set it on fire.” So Absalom’s servants set the field on fire. Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?” Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’” Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom. 2 Samuel 14:25-33 ESV

David had agreed to Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but had essentially placed him under house arrest and refusing to see him. After a three-year absence from the kingdom, Absalom found himself persona non grata, ignored by his own father and left to wonder why he had agreed to come home at all. And he would wait two full years, because David continued to rely upon his parenting style of inaction. There would be no punishment or pardon for the wrong committed. And all this time gave Absalom time to grow in his resentment for his father. He most likely recalled David’s unwillingness to take action against Amnon for raping his sister. David had done nothing. And, two years later, Absalom would get frustrated by David’s lack of decisive action, take matters into his own hands and have his brother, Amnon, murdered. This had led to his three-year exile. Now, he was home, but another two years had passed and he saw his father’s incapacity to deal with the issue at hand. Whatever respect he had once held for his father was gone. He viewed David as a man of weakness, plagued by indecisiveness.

It would be centuries later that the apostle Paul wrote the words:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4 NLT

David could have used this simple, yet profound advice. The Greek word Paul used is parorgizō and it is translated “provoke to anger”. But it can also mean “to exasperate”. To provoke someone to anger sounds like it refers to a deliberate attempt to purposefully annoy or deliberately try to rouse anger in another individual. And that most certainly can be true in many cases. But we can create anger in another human being by doing nothing. We can frustrate them by our lack of initiative or general apathy. David was provoking in Absalom an anger and resentment that was fed by his father’s lack of leadership. He was slowly beginning to view David as weak and incapable of leading decisively. And because Absalom viewed his father as being incompetent to lead his own family, he would soon reach the conclusion that he was unqualified to lead the nation of Israel.

We can see Absalom’s growing anger and frustration in how he handled Joab’s refusal to answer his requests for an audience with the king. Like his boss, Joab did nothing. And finally, Absalom snapped, taking matters into his own hands and commanding his servants to set fire to Joab’s barley crops. That got his attention. You can see Absalom’s growing exasperation with the whole situation. He had waited two years and simply wanted something to be done. He even told Joab, “I wanted you to ask the king why he brought me back from Geshur if he didn’t intend to see me. I might as well have stayed there. Let me see the king; if he finds me guilty of anything, then let him kill me” (2 Samuel 14:32 NLT). Absalom would rather face death than having to live in limbo, confined to his home. But there is almost an underlying sense that Absalom knew David would do nothing. He seems to know that his father would never sentence him to death for his murder of Amnon. So he was willing to force David’s hand, confident that his father would act true to form and do nothing. Which is exactly what happened. Joab went to David and convinced him to see Absalom, which David did. And from all appearances, it seems that David pardoned Absalom, kissing his son and restoring him to his former state. Absalom got what he wanted, but he would not be satisfied. He had had plenty of time to consider his future and plan his next moves. This would prove to be just the first step in his plan to take advantage of what he perceived as his father’s leadership flaws.

The text gives us an interesting, and somewhat out-of-context, description of Absalom’s appearance. It describes his good looks and goes into great detail about the thickness of his hair. All of this talk about Absalom’s appearance seems out of place and a bit odd. But it is designed to set up what is coming next. Absalom is handsome in appearance. In fact, “He was flawless from head to foot” (2 Samuel 14:25 NLT). And we are going to find out that he was also clever. He was a natural-born leader, who had good looks, charisma, charm and and powers of persuasion that would make any politician envious. Now that he was out from under any threat of punishment for his murder of Amnon, Absalom was going to use his good looks and natural leadership skills to plan his future, which would include his father’s downfall.

It is interesting to note that Paul gives another warning to fathers in his letter to the Colossians. He writes, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” (Colossians 3:21 NASB). David had frustrated his son. He had done nothing to bring justice to the cause of Tamar. He had left his own daughter in a state of mourning, having had her virginity taken from her by force. The law clearly stated what David should have done.

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ESV

According to the law, David should have forced Amnon to marry Tamar, and forbidden him from ever divorcing her. No longer a virgin, Tamar was left in a state where she would have been considered “damaged goods” by the men in her community. Her value as a potential wife had been irreparably damaged. All along the way, because of his indecisiveness, David had left a wake of disaster and damaged lives. His inaction had left Amnon unpunished and Tamar a humiliated and unwanted woman. His unwillingness to do the right thing had only resulted in a host of wrong outcomes. Absalom had killed Amnon and then spent three years in exile. Even when he was allowed to return home, Absalom found himself in a frustrating limbo, trapped by his father’s unwillingness to do his job as a father and his duties as a king. And all of this was going to lead to further resentment on Absalom’s part that would ultimately surface as rebellion.

 

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

Out of Sight. Out of Mind.

Then the king answered the woman, “Do not hide from me anything I ask you.” And the woman said, “Let my lord the king speak.” The king said, “Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?” The woman answered and said, “As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn to the right hand or to the left from anything that my lord the king has said. It was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words in the mouth of your servant. In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.”

Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.” And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.” So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem. And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king's presence. 2 Samuel 14:18-24 ESV

Back in verse 2, we are told that Joab had sent for a "wise" woman, and now we see just how wise she really was. The Hebrew word the author used is chakam and it can refer to someone who is crafty, shrewd or wily. While Joab had given this woman the story she told to David, her craftiness shows up in how she handled the situation once David saw through her little ploy. She was adept at thinking on her feet. So, once David guessed that it had all been the handiwork of Joab, she craftily responded, “Nobody can hide anything from you…” (2 Samuel 14:19 NLT). Most likely fearing David’s anger at having been tricked, she buttered him up by telling him, “you are as wise as an angel of God, and you understand everything that happens among us!” (2 Samuel 14:20 NLT). This woman was shrewd and we can see why Joab had sent for her. She was perfect for the task and knew just how to handle David.

But one of the most interesting things she said to David had required no deceit or flattery. She had simply told David the truth. “In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this” (2 Samuel 14:20a ESV). This statement is loaded with significance, and the full weight of its import will not be seen until the story unfolds. Joab had instigated this whole affair in order to get David to allow the return of Absalom from exile in Geshum. He wanted things back to the way they were before. He thought that his little plan was going to force a family reunion between David and his son, putting an end to David’s mourning and getting things in the kingdom back to the way there were before. But what seems to be missing in all of this is the will of God. What did He want? Had any of this been His desire? Had he given Joab instructions to orchestrate this little attempt to trick the king? Yes, God is ultimately in control and nothing happens without His knowledge, but that does not mean God approves of all that happens. The Bible tells us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

Joab had been out to “change the course of things”, but he was going to find out that the the purpose of the Lord was going to prevail, in spite of his plans and expectations. God had plans for Absalom. If David would not do what was just and right, God would. And we see that when David agreed to Joab’s plan and gave his permission for Joab to bring Absalom home, things did not improve. David instructed Joab, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence” (2 Samuel 14:24 ESV). In other words, David allowed Absalom to come home, but then placed him under house arrest. He refused to see his own son. The happy family reunion Joab had expected never took place. The prodigal returned, but not to the open arms of his father. Once again, David took the path of least resistance. He brought his son back, but he neither punished or pardoned him for his crime of murder. Perhaps David thought he had done Absalom a favor by allowing him to return. But David knew the law of God. He knew his God-given responsibility as the sovereign king of Israel and that his God demanded that justice be done. He son was guilty of murder. He deserved to die. But David could not bring himself to condemn his son to death. So, he did nothing. 

In the book of James we are given a sobering reminder of the seriousness of David’s inaction. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:4 ESV). David knew what he had to do, but he simply refused to do it. It was as if, as long as Absalom was out of sight, he was out of David’s mind. He didn’t have to think about it. When Absalom had been in Geshum, David had an excuse for doing nothing. His son was under the protection of another king (the father of Absalom’s mother). But now that Absalom was home, David kept him hidden from view so he wouldn’t have to think about him. David was committing a sin of omission. He knew the right thing to do, but he chose to do nothing. And in doing so, he sinned against God.

We can ignore sin or attempt to turn a blind eye to it, but it does not go away. We can refuse to deal with the sin in our life or within the body of Christ, but the danger remains. In allowing Absalom to return, David had allowed a cancer into his kingdom. He didn’t know it yet, but David was about to get a powerful and painful lesson on what happens when a child of God fails to do what God has called him to do. Yes, God is gracious, merciful and forgiving, but He is also just and righteous. Absalom had murdered his brother, and God’s law demanded that justice be done. Absalom deserved death. And as God’s king, David was obligated to carry out the justice of God. Refusing to do so was just another sin, complicating the matter even further. David could attempt to turn a blind eye to Absalom’s sin, but God couldn’t. His justice would not allow it. And David would learn that ignoring sin never makes it go away. Refusing to deal with it only aggravates it. Failure to confront sin in our life, or that of a brother or sister in Christ, is sin.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul had to deal with a problem he had been informed about. There was a man in their church who was having an ongoing affair with his own step-mother. And rather than dealing with this blatant case of immorality as sin, the church was actually approving of it. So Paul was forced to write them and warn them of the danger of their action (or inaction). “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7 NLT). Passivity toward sin creates a vulnerability toward further sin. Sin is infectious. It never remains static. David could sequester Absalom away, out of sight and out of mind, but the sin of Absalom was going to spread and have a deadly influence on David’s kingdom.

 

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

Turning A Blind Eye To Sin.

And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.

After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. And Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers. Please let the king and his servants go with your servant.” But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.

While they were on the way, news came to David, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” Then the king arose and tore his garments and lay on the earth. And all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon alone is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar. Now therefore let not my lord the king so take it to heart as to suppose that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon alone is dead.” – 2 Samuel 13:20-33 ESV

God had given instructions regarding incest:

If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. – Leviticus 20:17 ESV

The only thing unclear to us is the meaning of the phrase, “cut off”. The Hebrew word has a wide range of meanings and can be referring to everything from excommunication from the assembly or to actual execution. But there is little doubt that God expected action to be taken in the case of incest. And yet, as we read the story of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar, there is no action taken by David, his father and the king of Israel. Perhaps David was reluctant to deal with Amnon because his sin was quite similar to his own with Bathsheba. He too, had taken what was not his to have. It could also be the case that, as the eldest son, Amnon was considered the heir to David’s throne. But regardless of the reason or David’s rationale, he was wrong for not having taken the matter in hand.

The first place Tamar went after her humiliation by Amnon was to the house of her brother, Absalom. It is interesting to note that she did not go to her father. Was this because she believed she would get no sympathy or revenge from David?  We can only conjecture, but it does raise questions regarding David’s relationships with his children. The only thing we read of David’s emotions during this time is that he was angry. But his anger never took the form of action. In fact, two years would pass before anything happened to Amnon for his act of violating his sister, and David would play no part in it. Except for the fact, that his refusal to do the right thing had lead to another of his sons doing a very wrong thing.

Absalom had been planning and plotting. He hated Amnon for what he had done to Tamar. And we will learn later that Absalom also held a grudge with David for having done nothing to punish Amnon for his transgression. He lost respect for David as a father and as a king. And as we will see later in the story, he would eventually seize the throne from David.

But Absalom, tired of waiting for his father to do the right thing, took matters into his own hands and planned the death of Amnon. It was a well-thought-out plan that also used deception, just as Amnon had done to rape Tamar. Absalom lied to his father in order to get David to agree to send all of his sons to a join Absalom at Baal-hazor. Absalom’s servants would be shearing his sheep and he was going to treat his brothers to a feast in celebration of a bountiful harvest of wool. Initially, Absalom had invited David to come, but seemed to have known that David would decline the offer because of his duties as the king. And David was a little surprised that Absalom had asked specifically for Amnon to come. But under pressure from Absalom, David finally agreed and sent all his sons to Baal-hazor – a decision he would soon regret.

Absalom commanded his servants, “Wait until Amnon gets drunk; then at my signal, kill him! Don’t be afraid. I’m the one who has given the command. Take courage and do it!” (2 Samuel 13:28 NLT). These instruction should sound vaguely familiar. When David wanted to get rid of Uriah so he could marry Bathsheba, he had given Joab instructions: “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed” (2 Samuel 11:15 NLT). Then when the deed had been done, he followed up with a a second message to Joab: “‘Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,’ David said. ‘The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!’” (2 Samuel 11:25 NLT). Like his father, Absalom chose to use someone else to do his dirty work for him. He would not bloody his own hands, but was more than willing to take the responsibility for Amnon’s death. Both men show a flippancy and disturbing disregard for what they had done.

In all the confusion after Amnon’s death, news was taken to David that wrongly informed him that all of his sons had been killed. His immediate reaction was to tear his clothes and fall on the ground in grief. But once again, he took no action. And his servants followed his example. It was Jonadab, David’s nephew, who informed him of what had happened.

“No, don’t believe that all the king’s sons have been killed! It was only Amnon! Absalom has been plotting this ever since Amnon raped his sister Tamar.” – 2 Samuel 13:32 NLT

Jonadab had a reason to rat on Absalom. He was Amnon’s friend and the one who had given him the bright idea how to lure Tamar into his room so he could rape her. He most likely feared for his own life, believing that Absalom might come after him next. But once again, we see David take no action. And the very next verse reveals that Absalom got away – not only with the murder of his brother, but with his own life.

When David had been confronted by the prophet, Nathan, for his sin with Bathsheba, one of the things he said to him was, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10 ESV). This statement could be taken as a prophecy regarding the wars that David would fight all during his reign. But it would mean that his heirs would have the same problem. Yet, we know that Solomon ruled during a time of great peace and prosperity. So, it is likely that Nathan’s reference to the sword and David’s house, has to do with the battles that would take place within his own family. This would not be the last death of a family member that David would have to endure. He would live to see Absalom die. And at the end of Solomon’s reign, the kingdom would end up divided and the kings of Judah, David’s heirs to his throne, would spend years fighting with one another. There would be assassinations, deception, palace intrigue and a revolving door of kings. So, David’s sin and God’s punishment for that sin was going to have long-term implications both in David’s household and within his royal house.

What would have happened had David dealt with Amnon’s rape of Tamar? How could things have turned out differently had David stepped up and done what was right? Now, his heir to the throne was dead and another son was in exile. And David made no attempt to bring Absalom back and face the consequences for his actions. His inaction would lead to further trouble in his household and within his kingdom. Sin, left unattended and unconfessed is dangerous in the life of a believer. But it is just as dangerous to ignore the sin within the family of God. We may choose to tolerate it or sweep it under the carpet, but sin always has consequences. David was a father and the king. He had responsibilities to his family and his people. He answered to God for the health and well-being of both. And God is not one to tolerate sin or to take it lightly. Amnon paid for his sin. So would Absalom. But what might have happened had David done what he was supposed to do?

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

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

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