guilt

He Deserves Death!

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

Jesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one to sit on the throne of David were about to be dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was taken to see Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings were being conducted at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made that fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council. But they had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

But when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike in His encounter with Annas, Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Jesus. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

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

No one is righteous--not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for our sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make equital possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…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. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. So did all the men in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than see Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

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

Jesus, Our Refuge.

1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past. 6 And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.’”

7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. 9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:1-9 ESV

 

God had given His people the land He had promised them. But they were not free to live in the land according to their own standards or apart from His divine law. He had provided them with His law while they were still in the wilderness and He had intended for them to take the law with them into the promised land, where it would determine the nature of their relationship with Him and with one another. And God, knowing the reality of man’s sin nature, had made provision for the inevitable presence of sin among His people. The entire sacrificial system was designed to provide atonement for their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God. And because the sacrificial system could not remove sin, it would be a permanent part of their communal experience for generations to come.

One of the sad realities the law was forced to address was the human potential for murder. Even though the Israelites were united in their common bond as children of God, they were sinners who were fully capable of turning on one another out of jealousy or motivated by anger, and willfully taking the life of a brother or sister. So, God had made provision for such acts of violence, telling Moses, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:12 ESV). And God went on to clarify and qualify the conditions for putting a man to death for murder. His actions had to be premeditated.

“if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.” – Exodus 21:14 ESV

God knew that there would always be the potential for extenuating circumstances. In other words, there might be unforeseen issues at play that dictated whether the murder was willful or simply an accident. So, He had added an important addendum to His law, stating, “But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee” (Exodus 21:13 ESV). God had gone on to provide the people of Israel with detailed plans concerning this important aspect of His judicial system. 

9 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. 12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. 13 And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there. – Numbers 35:9-15 ESV

God had predetermined that the Israelites would designate six cities within the land of promise that would serve as places of refuge for anyone who committed murder. And these six cities, located strategically throughout the land, were intended to be easily reached by anyone who was guilty of murder. Within the confines of these cities, the guilty party was to be offered sanctuary and protection from anyone who might want to avenge the death of the victim. And it’s important to note that these six cities were among the 42 cities set aside for the tribe of Levi as their places of residence. 

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” – Numbers 35:6 ESV

The one who committed the act of murder was allowed to seek refuge in one of these Levitical cities. As long as he was in the city, he was to be provided protection, until such time as the residents of the city were able to ascertain whether his act was accidental or premeditated. If it was determined that he had committed murder willfully, he was to be turned over the the “avenger” in order that he might be put to death. If evidence was produced that proved the murder was accidental, the guilty party was confined to the city of refuge for life or until the death of the high priest, at which time the prisoner was to be set free and absolved of all guilt. The death of the high priest acted as an atonement for the sin of the guilty party. But if the manslayer willingly left the protective confines of the city of refuge at any time, he would be fair game for the avenger. He took his life into his own hands. But as long as the guilty party placed his life in the hands of the Levites, he was safe. If he chose to leave the city, he forfeited his right to life.

The cities of refuge are a picture of the role that Christ was to eventually play in the life of each and every guilty sinner. The book of Hebrews provides us with a comforting reminder that we, as guilty sinners, can seek refuge in Christ, our high priest.

18 Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:18-20 NLT

We can run to Christ and find safety and protection from the condemnation of sin and death. And Paul would have us remember that our condemnation has been removed because of Christ's death on our behalf.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Paul goes on to tell us that because we have sought refuge in Christ, we are freed from any and all accusations of guilt or any calls for our execution.

33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. – Romans 8:33-34 NLT

God knew His people were going to sin. That’s why He gave them His law and His sacrificial system. He also knew His people would commit murder, either willingly or accidentally. So, He provides cities of refuge. But notice that the only way the manslayer could be absolved of his guilt was through death. The high priest had to die. And the only way that sinners can be absolved of their guilt before God is through the death of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He gave His life so that we might have forgiveness of sin and be freed from condemnation. Jesus is our High Priest, in whom we find refuge. But we don’t just hide from our guilt and sin, we are completely freed from it because of what He has done on our behalf.

24 But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. 25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

26 He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. 27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. 28 The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. – Hebrews 7:24-28 NLT

Jesus Christ, our refuge. His death set us free from our guilt and condemnation. And there is no one who can accuse us anymore.


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

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

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

The Lord Responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he goes on to give us the good news:

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

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

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

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

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

God Takes Sin Seriously.

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king's heart went out to Absalom. And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. 3 Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.

When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and paid homage and said, “Save me, O king.” And the king said to her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. And your servant had two sons, and they quarreled with one another in the field. There was no one to separate them, and one struck the other and killed him. And now the whole clan has risen against your servant, and they say, ‘Give up the man who struck his brother, that we may put him to death for the life of his brother whom he killed.’ And so they would destroy the heir also. Thus they would quench my coal that is left and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.”

Then the king said to the woman, “Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.” And the woman of Tekoa said to the king, “On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.” The king said, “If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.” Then she said, “Please let the king invoke the Lord your God, that the avenger of blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.” He said, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”

Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.” And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast. Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid, and your servant thought, ‘I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant. For the king will hear and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would destroy me and my son together from the heritage of God.’ And your servant thought, ‘The word of my lord the king will set me at rest,’ for my lord the king is like the angel of God to discern good and evil. The Lord your God be with you!” – 2 Samuel 14:1-17 ESV

More than three years had passed since Absalom had arranged and carried out the murder of his half-brother, Amnon, as revenge for raping his sister, Tamar. Absalom had fled, knowing he was guilty and deserving of death. He had lived in exile in the land of Geshur the entire time and, while David thought about him every day, he did nothing to mete out justice for what his son had done. And this whole sordid affair would have been well known to all the people of Israel. It would have been common knowledge that one of the king’s sons had raped his half-sister and had then been murdered by her brother. They would have been well aware of Absalom’s exile and the rumor mills would have been busy with all kinds of gossip and speculation.

That’s when Joab, the king’s friend and military commander decided to take action. He determined that it would be in the best interest of the kingdom for David to allow Absalom to return. We are not told why Joab felt compelled to do this. But there is no indication that any of his efforts had the blessing of God. Nowhere in the passage do we hear of him seeking or receiving a word from God. This would appear to have been his own idea and the fruit it would eventually would seem to bear evidence that it was no within God’s will.

When Joab saw how much David longed for Absalom, he concocted a plan to try and convince David to forgive and forget. Perhaps remembering how Nathan the prophet had used a story to trick David into confessing his sin with Bathsheba, Joab came up with a similar strategy. He hired a woman to tell a completely fabricated story to David that entailed the murder of her son by his brother. Her clansmen wanted to put the second son to death for having murdered his brother, but she described herself to David as a widow with no other sons to protect or provide for her. The living son was her last hope. If he was put to death, she would be helpless and hopeless. Her story, while somewhat similar to that of Absalom and Amnon, had some glaring differences. Absalom’s murder of Amnon had not been in the heat of an argument and the result of uncontrolled passion. In other words, his was not a case of unpremeditated murder. He had planned it for over two years. His murder of Amnon had been calculated and carefully orchestrated. And the execution of Absalom for the murder of his brother would not have left David destitute and alone. He was the king. And technically, in spite of what Joab said, Absalom was not the heir to the throne. Amnon would have been, but he had been killed. Next in line would have been Chileab, David’s second-born son (2 Samuel 3:3). And little did Joab know that God had already made a determination to make Solomon the next king of Israel. But Joab did what he thought was best. He believed that by getting David to allow Absalom to return, things would get back to normal in the kingdom.

But the thing we must remember when reading this story is that God had already given His will concerning matters of this nature. In the book of Numbers we find His divine provision for those who commit murder by accident. God established six cities of refuge, designed as places where the guilty could go for safety until their case could be judged appropriately. But God had made it clear that acts of premeditated murder were not covered.

But if someone strikes and kills another person with a piece of iron, it is murder, and the murderer must be executed. Or if someone with a stone in his hand strikes and kills another person, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death. Or if someone strikes and kills another person with a wooden object, it is murder, and the murderer must be put to death. The victim’s nearest relative is responsible for putting the murderer to death. When they meet, the avenger must put the murderer to death. So if someone hates another person and pushes him or throws a dangerous object at him and he dies, it is murder. Or if someone hates another person and hits him with a fist and he dies, it is murder. In such cases, the avenger must put the murderer to death when they meet. – Numbers 35:16-21 NLT

Absalom deserved death, but Joab was determined to get the king to grant him a pardon. And his reasoning, passed on to David by the woman, would be that this would be best for the kingdom. He even suggests that it would be what God would want. “Certainly we must die, and are like water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered up again. But God does not take away life; instead he devises ways for the banished to be restored.” (2 Samuel 14:14 NET). She appealed to God’s mercy and love. She emphasized His forgiveness. But in doing so, she painted a one-dimensional view of God, conveniently leaving out His justice and holiness. God cannot overlook sin. He cannot turn a blind eye to the sins of men and simply pardon them without doing something about them. There would be a day coming when God would provide permanent forgiveness for sins of all kinds. But it would be at the cost of His own Son’s life. Payment had to be made. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT).

Joab wanted everything back to the way it was. He was willing to overlook the sins of Absalom, if it would get David back to being his old self. This whole scene was the brain child of Joab, and was intended to get David to overlook the guilt of his son and allow him to return home with no justice having been served. David, seemingly susceptible to a good story, would give in to the woman’s tale and her plea for David to allow Absalom to be restored. This decision, like so many of David’s, would come back to haunt him. He did not seek God’s will in the matter, but went with his gut. It seems that the woman, armed with the words of Joab, knew exactly what was needed to get to David’s heart. He longed for Absalom and was just looking for an excuse to bring him home. He didn’t want to mete out justice, which is why he had left Absalom living in the land of his maternal grandfather for three years. Now, David seemed to have a viable reason for doing what he had wanted to do all along – absolve Absalom of guilt. But God had not forgotten what Absalom had done. And contrary to the wise woman’s words, God does take away life. He had taken the life of David’s newborn son because of his sin with Bathsheba. God had taken the life of Achan and his entire family for bringing sin into the camp (Joshua 7). God is a just and holy god. He is righteous and always does what is right. David could forgive and forget Absalom’s sin, but God could not and would not.

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

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

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

The Long Wait Begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don't Fear. He Hears.

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

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

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

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

Surrounded by God.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? – Psalm 139:4-7 ESV

Psalm 139

As far as David was concerned, God knew everything about him. He was acquainted with all his ways. God knew when he was lying down, sitting up, walking around, and even what he was thinking about. Not only that, according to David, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord” (Psalm 139:4 NLT). Now, that's a scary thought. God not only knows what we're thinking, He knows what we're going to think. He not only knows what we say, He knows what we're going to say before we do. That is the incredible nature of God's omniscience. He is truly all-knowing. And David's response to this fact is rather unique. He tells God, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5 ESV). The word David uses is an unusual one, because it has a predominately negative connotation. It is the Hebrew word, tsuwr and its primary meaning is to “bind, besiege, confine, cramp” (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). It can also mean “to show hostility to, be an adversary, treat as foe.” It is the same word God used when He spoke the following promise to the people of Israel: “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Exodus 23:22 ESV). Even modern translators have wrestled with what David meant. The NET Bible (NET) translated verse 5 this way: “You squeeze me in from behind and in front; you place your hand on me.” The Bible In Basic English (BBE) translates it as, “I am shut in by you on every side.” Other translations take a more positive tone. The New Living Translation (NLT) reads, “You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” The New American Standard Bible (NASB) says, “You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me.” One of the reasons for the more positive nature of some of these translations is the less common meaning of the word used by David. It can sometimes be used to mean, “to form, fashion, delineate.”

So the question becomes, is David feeling hemmed in by God, a little bit hampered and hindered by the thought that God has him surrounded? Or does he find this idea comforting and reassuring? In a way, I think it is both. There are times when we feel like we can't escape the gaze of God, that no matter what we do or where we go, He is there. When we are living in a way that is displeasing to Him, that awareness manifests itself in guilt and regret. It has a negative connotation. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he knew that God knew. David fully realized that God was aware of every sordid and intimate second of his affair and every thought that went through his mind – all the way up to the plan for her husband's murder. It is at those times that God's omniscience and omnipresence feel overwhelming and less-than-encouraging. But there are also those moments when we feel all alone and in great need. It is on those occasions that we need to remember that God is there. He knows and He cares. He has us hemmed in “before and behind.” His hand is on us. He is watching over us. He has us surrounded.

My conclusion is that David was using this word to convey the undeniable nature of God's presence in his life. There were times when it felt overwhelming and probably a bit oppressive. But those times were related to David's sin. But when David was in trouble, he found great comfort in knowing that his God was all around him. The Old Testament refers to the hand of God often. “The Lord’s right hand gives victory, the Lord’s right hand conquers” (Psalm 118:16 NET). “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power,your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy” (Exodus 15:6 ESV). “Let your hand be ready to help me,for I have chosen your precepts” (Psalm 119:173 ESV). Overall, I think David found the nature of God's pervading, inescapable presence reassuring. That's why he said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” It was all too much for him to take in and comprehend. A bit overwhelming and intimidating at times? Yes. But also reassuring and incredibly comforting. There had been times David had wanted to run away and hide from God. But he knew he couldn't. There were other times when he felt like God had abandoned him. But He hadn't. God was always there. He had David surrounded at all times. And that is as true for us as Christ-followers as it was for David. Our God is everywhere. He knows and sees everything. When we are sinning, that is an intimidating thing to consider. But when we are in trouble or need, it should bring us great hope and comfort. You are never out of God's sight, apart from His presence, out of His thoughts, or devoid of His love. He is always there. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” (Psalm 139:6 NLT).

No Lesson Learned.

As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Therefore the Lord has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly. – Daniel 9:13-16 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

The people of Judah had deserved just what they had gotten. God had been righteous in all of His actions. That was the stance of Daniel. He was not angry with God. He did not shake his fist in God's face, demanding an explanation for the last 70 years of exile. He knew exactly why the people of Judah were living in Babylon instead of the land of promise. Moses had warned them of the consequences of living in disobedience to God. “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV). And he had been very specific. “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” (Deuteronomy 28:36 ESV). The amazing thing to Daniel was not what had happened to them, but that they had learned to lessons from their experience. He openly confessed, “Every curse written against us in the Law of Moses has come true. Yet we have refused to seek mercy from the Lord our God by turning from our sins and recognizing his truth” (Daniel 9:13 NLT). For seven decades the people of Judah had continued to live in stubborn and open rebellion against God. Their punishment had not produced any remorse or caused them to run to God in repentance. As God had predicted through Moses, they had simply acclimated themselves to their new surroundings and begun to “serve other gods of wood and stone.”

It is amazing how easily we can find ourselves under the loving discipline of God, but fail to see it for what it is. When we get into trouble, we tend to blame God, rather then consider what we might have done to deserve our fate. Sometimes we are suffering as a result of our own stupidity. We make decisions without consulting God. We live out from under the guiding and protecting influence of the Holy Spirit. And we end up reaping the negative consequences of our own sinful self-wills. It is at those times we need to humbly seek God and ask Him to reveal to us any sin that may have played a role in our suffering. We need to be willing to ask Him to use the circumstances of our lives to teach us more about ourselves and reveal to us more about Him. David prayed a prayer that should be a model for every believer who is serious about growing in his relationship with God. It is a dangerous and difficult prayer to pray. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). David is asking God to shine His examination light into the deepest recesses of his life and show him what he cannot see. David realized that there were things in his own heart to which he was oblivious. There were sins lurking in his life to which he was blind. And he was asking God to point them all out to him.

Daniel was shocked that the people of Judah had not done the same thing. They had not run to God and asked Him to expose their sin so that they could repent of it. Instead, they had spent nearly 70 years learning to live with their sins and passively accepting the painful consequences. Most of them had long forgotten about the land of promise. Thousands of children had been born who knew nothing about Jerusalem or the great temple of Solomon. They had grown up worshiping false gods instead of the one true God. They saw no repentance in the lives of their parents. No one wanted to accept responsibility for their predicament. But Daniel knew better. He confessed. He entreated God's favor. He knew that God had been righteous in all He had done regarding Israel. It wasn't God who was in the wrong, but the people who had been set apart by Him as His chosen possession. Even in the midst of their punishment, they had remained stubborn and rebellious. In another one of his prayers to God, David had admitted, “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT). Even on the good days, we should long for God to mercifully and lovingly reveal any hidden sins in our lives. We should want Him to expose those things to which we are blind. Knowing we have a problem is the first step toward healing. It is difficult to confess sins we can't even see. And so many times our sins are hidden from view – even our own. They remain in the dark recesses of our lives, until we allow God to expose them to us, so that we might confess them and receive His forgiveness. The people of God in Daniel's day had not learned their lesson. They had not seen their circumstances as having come from God's loving hand. So rather than return and repent, they had continued to live under God's discipline. But Daniel wanted God's blessing. He was willing to humbly confess and receive God's mercy and forgiveness.

Something You Can Count On.

To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. – Daniel 9:8-10 ESV Daniel 9:4-19

It's clear from reading his prayer, that Daniel was well aware of Judah's guilt and culpability. He knew there very presence in the land of Babylon was evidence of their own sin and rebellion against God. And they needed to own their shame. They had brought it on themselves. In allowing the Babylonians to defeat them and take them into exile, God had simply fulfilled all that He had warned would happen if they failed to return to Him. He had given them ample warning and more than enough time to change their minds (repent) and avoid the coming judgment that Jeremiah and so many other prophets of God had warned was coming. But as Daniel confessed to God, “We have sinned against you.” He openly admitted that “we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” No excuses. Any shame they were experiencing belonged to them. It was their own fault.

But then Daniel says something that illustrates a remarkably stark contrast between mankind and God. “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.” They are His because they are an expression of His very nature. Shame, guilt and sin belong to man because they are expressions of his nature. You can count on it. These characteristics always show up eventually. Why? Because man can't help it. As Paul so painfully reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Solomon echoed that sentiment when he wrote, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). In His prayer at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon had asked God, “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near…if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (1 Kings 8:46, 48-50 ESV). Solomon's request had foreshadowed the very circumstance in which the nation of Judah found itself. They had sinned. God had given them over to their enemy. He had sent them into exile. But He was also about to show them His undeserved mercy and shower them with His forgiveness – in spite of them. There was no indication that the people had “with all their mind and with all their heart” as Solomon had prayed. They had not pleaded with God in the land of their captors. The only one praying seemed to be Daniel. And yet God heard his prayer. And because mercy and forgiveness belong to God, He is free to give them whether they are deserved or not. As Paul so aptly puts it, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18 ESV). We can't earn His mercy and forgiveness. We are incapable of doing anything that will force Him to give us what we so desperately need. But He gives mercy and forgiveness because He chooses to do so. That is the very hope of the gospel. Sin belongs to mankind. Mercy and forgiveness belong to God. Our sin can only produce death. God's mercy and forgiveness result in life. And nowhere is that more evident than in the greatest expression of God's mercy and forgiveness: His Son Jesus Christ. Paul states that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Christ's death was the ultimate act of God's mercy. He died in our place. He took on our sin and suffered our punishment, so that we might receive God's judicial pardon and be released from all condemnation. He died so that we might live. And all of this in spite of the fact that mankind had proven itself completely incapable of faithfulness to God. In fact, Paul says, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20 ESV). The worse sin got, the greater God's grace became. God paid the ultimate price for the sin and rebellion of men. He gave His own Son as the sinless sacrifice required to satisfy His own just judgment of sin. He paid the debt we owed with the blood of His own Son. Mercy and forgiveness belonged to Him and He expressed it through Jesus. And while God could never count on us to remain faithful, we can always count on Him. “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV). Mercy and forgiveness belong to God, and He shared both with mankind through the loving sacrifice of His own Son. Rather than give us what we deserved: death, He gave us what we could have never earned: Life. The story of the Bible is summed up in the words of Paul to Timothy. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (2 Timothy 2:13 NLT).

Righteous In All His Ways.

We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. – Daniel 9:6-7 ESV Daniel 9:4-19

Along with the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel would have surely been familiar with the psalms of David. In more than one of his psalms David wrote of the righteousness of God. “The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness” (Psalm 145:17 NLT). “God's way is perfect. All the LORD's promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” (Psalm 18:30 NLT). He would have also known the words of Moses regarding the righteousness of God. “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). As a young Jew growing up in Judah, Daniel would have been well-schooled in the righteousness of God. And as an old man living in exile in Babylon, he was still holding on to what he knew and believed about God. As he continued his prayer of confession and contrition on behalf of the people of Judah, he openly and humbly admitted their full responsibility for their predicament and God's right and responsibility to have dealt with them as He had. God had warned, but they had not listened. God had given His call to repentance to every king, prince, father and child in Judah, so that no one could have claimed ignorance. Their sin against Him had been knowingly and willful. As a result, Daniel confesses that their humiliation was well-deserved and should have been fully expected. Not only for those living in exile in Babylon, but for every Jew wherever they might be living.

How easy it is to snub our nose at God and then shake our finger in His face when things don't turn out quite the way we expected. How many times had the people of Israel refused to listen to God and then attempted to blame Him for the consequences of their own rebellion? It would have seemed logical and only natural to question why God had abandoned them as a nation and allowed them to be defeated at the hands of their enemies. But the truth was that they had abandoned God. They had forsaken Him and refused to live according to His commands. And God had repeatedly warned them what would happen if they continued their pattern of ignoring His calls to repentance. So Daniel knew that God was in the right. He had kept His word and done exactly what He had said He would do. Because He is righteous. But God is far more than just a letter-of-the-law god. His righteousness has a purpose behind it. As David had said, “The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness.” Even in His punishment, He expresses love. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Solomon 3:11-12 ESV). “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5 ESV).

Daniel had had 70 years to consider why the people of Judah were living in the land of Babylon as exiles. He had had ample time to think about their circumstances and reach the conclusion that their situation was a result of their own sin and God's righteous, yet loving discipline. Which is why he concluded that God had “driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed.” They were wrong. God was right. They had been unfaithful, but God had remained faithful. In fact, God had not only told Jeremiah what would happen if the people of Judah refused to repent, He had told him what He would do even after they stubbornly forced His hand. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV). God would be righteous and loving, just and gracious, holy and merciful. He is always righteous and forever loving. He is always firm in His discipline and yet forever faithful in showing kindness. Daniel knew he had no right to point his finger at God. He had no cause to blame God for the less-than-ideal circumstances of the people of Judah. They had gotten what they deserved. But God was about to give them what they didn't deserve – His grace and kindness expressed in His miraculous restoration of them to the land He had given them. They deserved exile. They didn't deserve restoration. God had righteously punished them, but was also going to lovingly forgive them. What a picture of the grace and mercy He poured out through Jesus Christ on the cross. The very death we deserved He asked His own Son to bear, so that we might receive pardon and enjoy restoration to a right relationship with God. And all we must do to enjoy this amazing grace is acknowledge our sin and admit our complete inability to save ourselves. We must believe that His Son is the only payment righteous enough and valuable enough to settle the debt we owed. Our death sentence was well-deserved. His grace and love, as revealed through the gift of His Son, was not. He is righteous in all His ways. He is loving beyond belief.

Reason To Praise.

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

Psalm 51

David was guilty of murder. He had arranged for the death of an innocent man, all in order to justify his taking of that man's wife. What started out as an act of adultery ended up leading to murder. And David was fully aware of his guiltiness before God. But because he knew of God's unfailing love and mercy, he asked God to deliver him from the very guilt he deserved. The Hebrew word David uses is natsal and it literally means, “to snatch away.” David was asking God to reach down and rescue him out of the predicament in which he found himself. Like someone who finds himself drowning in a river, David desperately called out to God for deliverance. He couldn't save himself. David could confess his sin, but he couldn't do a thing about his guilt. He needed salvation. He required God's divine intervention and deliverance.

The penalty for David's two sins of adultery and murder was severe. At best, he deserved alienation from God. At worst, he deserved death. But here he was, begging God for mercy and forgiveness. He was asking God to forgive and deliver him from his well-deserved guilt. In essence, David was asking God to commute his death sentence. The seriousness of David's situation sometimes escapes us. We are so used to reading this Psalm and so accustomed to viewing God as merciful, loving and always forgiving, that we fail to recognize what David did – that God is holy and obligated by His nature to deal with sin in a just and righteous manner. He cannot ignore or overlook it. To do so would make Him an unjust judge. He also cannot be impartial, treating David differently just because he was a man after His own heart. God loved David, but He was not going to disregard David's sin. David's sin deserved death. And while God would spare David's life, the baby born as a result of David's adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. The prophet, Nathan, shared with David the judgment of God. “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14 ESV). Not only that, Nathan warned David that one of his own sons would end up doing to him what he had done to Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV). David would escape death, but he would not escape the discipline of God.

It is most likely that David wrote this psalm after he had received this bad news from Nathan. He knew punishment was coming. He would mourn the death of his young son. But he would also praise God for His loving deliverance of his life. David had deserved death, but he had been allowed to live. He had been allowed to continue serving God as king of Israel. While his actions had forfeited him that right, God had shown him mercy, rescuing him from his guilt and shame. And David would go on to praise God for all He had done. David had promised God that he would “sing aloud of your righteousness” and “declare your praise.” And David would do just that. He would write many more psalms declaring the greatness, goodness, graciousness and glory of God. He would spend years singing of God's mighty deeds and shouting about God's unfailing love. David's life would not be easy. He would see one of his own sons rape his half-sister. He would watch as one of his other sons took revenge by murdering the brother who had committed this act. David's sin would have long-lasting implications. He would experience God's forgiveness and deliverance, but he would not escape the consequences of his actions. Our sins, while forgiven by God, still have consequences. Our actions have implications. David was graciously forgiven by God and allowed to live, rather than die as he deserved. But David's sin would have a ripple effect that impacted the lives of his children. David would have to watch as his infant son died. But immediately after David received the news of his death, the Scriptures tell us, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20 ESV). David praised God. He knew that God had been just in all that He had done. David didn't rail against God. He didn't become angry and bitter. He knew that God had saved him. He realized that God had delivered him from the guilt of his sin and provided him with life when what he had deserved was death. He had reason to praise God, so he did. He had motivation to be grateful, so he was. In spite of David's sin, God had been loving, gracious, kind and forgiving. And David was forever grateful.

Sinners by Nature.

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

Psalm 51

David was well aware of the seriousness of what he had done and he knew that he had sinned against God. Whatever punishment God might bring his way was well-deserved and completely justified, which is why all David could do is appeal to God's mercy. And even if David had never committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the death of her husband, he would have still been just as guilty before God. Why? Because his sin and guilt were inherited by him and inherent in him. He had been born a sinner. From God's perspective, every man and woman ever born came into this world having inherited the sin nature of Adam. Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 ESV). Even David's own son would confess, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And Paul would conclude that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Adam's “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV)

So David knew that his guilt before God was not simply tied to his affair with Bathsheba. He wasn't a sinner because he had sinned. He had sinned because he was a sinner. That is a hard concept for most of us to accept, because we want to believe that we are somehow good at heart. We want to think that we are born with a clean moral slate, free from sin and capable of doing good. But the Scriptures paint a much more bleak picture. Adam's rebellious heart was passed down to each and every one of his descendants. And it doesn't take long to see that even young children have an innate capacity to reveal their sin natures at very early ages. Lying, deception, selfishness, and manipulation all come naturally to children. They don't have to be taught. Which is why David knew that he stood before God as guilty, because he had been that way from the very moment of conception. David was in no way minimizing what he had done or blaming his actions on Adam. He was simply admitting that his actions stemmed from his sinful heart – his sin nature. And Paul warns us about our sin nature. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).

David's dilemma was that he had been born with a sin nature and was prone to sin, yet God expected more. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6 ESV). God wanted David to be honest about his sin. He wanted David to confess his guilt and allow God to do some serious rehabilitation on him at the heart level. Simply confessing his sin would not have been enough. Making sacrifices for his sin, without having a broken and contrite heart would have accomplished nothing. Later on in this same prayer David will say, “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17 NLT). God mends broken hearts. He takes our brokenness and guilt and lovingly restores our wholeness and gives us the joy of His forgiveness. David knew that God delighted in truth in the inner being. God has high standards. But God also lovingly teaches those who come to him in brokenness and humility. God wants nothing more from us that our humble dependence upon Him. We are incapable of nothing but sin. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). But the amazing thing is that God offers us a way to be made right with Him. He has provided a means by which we can be forgiven, not just of the sins we commit, but of our very sin natures. “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17 NLT). Just as David had to come to God with his brokenness and humility, aware of his sinfulness and completely dependent upon God's mercy, so do we. God's free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ is available to all who will believe that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Paul makes the process quite clear for us. “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood” (Romans 3:23-25 NLT). Guilty sinners can become forgiven saints. Enemies of God can become His children. The condemned can become the redeemed. But it all begins with the acknowledgement of our sin and our desperate need for a Savior.

Have mercy!

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:1-2

Psalm 51

David found himself in a very difficult spot. As the king of Israel, he was held to a higher standard by God. Yet David had not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, but when he discovered that his illicit affair had resulted in her pregnancy, he had her husband, Uriah, killed in order that he might marry her. And it had taken the bold confrontation of the prophet, Nathan, to convict David of his sin and bring him to a point of repentance. This psalm or song, is in the form of a prayer. It reflects David's heart as he considers the gravity of what he has done and comes before God in repentance and in need of forgiveness.

David begins his prayer with a cry for mercy. He knew that he could never make up for what he had done. Even a radical change in behavior would not wipe out what he had done. He stood before God as guilty and worthy of divine punishment for his sin. David had violated any of a number of God's commandments. He had coveted another man's wife and then followed through on his desires. He had stolen another man's wife. He had committed adultery. His initial attempt to cover up what he had done was a lie. And then he had arranged for the murder of Uriah to pave the way for his “legal” marriage to Bathsheba. So when David came before God, he did so completely dependent upon the mercy of God. He was guilty and unworthy to stand in the presence of a holy, righteous God. So he appealed to God's mercy and love. He knew that he did not deserve God's forgiveness and that there was nothing he could do to earn it. He stood before God as condemned and worthy of divine discipline for his actions. David appealed to God's mercy. He was asking God to not give him what he deserved, but to give him what he did not deserve: Grace. David knew the character of God. He knew that without God's mercy and grace, he was in trouble. He also knew that it all began with confession and repentance. He had to own up to what he had done. His guilt was undeniable. His punishment was unavoidable, unless God chose to extend mercy and show grace. God knew the full extent of David's sin. He also knew the dark depths of David's heart which had led to his sin. So there was no sense in David trying to cover up, deny, or hide what he had done.

David's cry for mercy was an admission of his guilt and an expression of his understanding of God's right and responsibility to punish him. He didn't attempt to rationalize his sin away. He didn't try to minimize or dismiss it. He didn't justify or pass blame. He was guilty and he knew it. He was worthy of punishment and he confessed it, placing himself on God's mercy. He asked God to blot out his transgressions. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “blot out the stain of my sins.” David was fully aware that there was nothing he could do to remedy his problem. He could not fix what he had done. In essence, he was covered with the blood of Uriah, the man he had had murdered. The stains were obvious, point to his guilt and reminding him of his well-deserved condemnation. So he asks God to remove the stains. This was a cry for forgiveness. He needed God to do for him what he could not do for himself. In another one of his psalms, David wrote: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 1-3:8-12 NLT). David knew from experience that God was merciful, loving, gracious, kind, patient, and forgiving. And when God forgave sin, it was as if He blotted it out of our lives forever. That is why David prayed, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” He didn't just want forgiveness, he wanted complete absolution. David wanted to be free from blame or guilt, to be released from the consequences, obligations, and penalties of his sin. And only God could make that possible.

We must never forget that our sin is serious. God does not take it lightly. He is holy and just, and obligated by His very character to deal with sin righteously. He cannot overlook it or ignore it. He cannot turn a blind eye or act as if it never happened. David would learn that his sin had consequences. The child that Bathsheba had as a result of her affair with David would die. David's sin would not go unpunished, but God would also extend to David His unfailing love and mercy. He would restore David to a right relationship with Himself. He would allow David to remain as His chosen king. And He would continue to bless him. But it all began with David's willing confession of his guilt and his humble submission to God's mercy and love. David's brokenness would lead to blessing. His repentance would result in restoration.

If we say…

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. – 1 John 1:6 ESV

Talk is cheap. Or so the saying goes. In this section – 1 John 1:5-2:2 – John starts out by writing, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you…” (1 John 1:5 ESV). In other words, he says that what he is writing was given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. The same Jesus Christ who “was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1 ESV), who was “the word of life” (1 John 1:1 ESV), “the eternal life” (1 John 1:2 ESV), and “was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2 ESV). This same Jesus, the Son of God, gave to John the message contained in his gospel and in his three letters. And as a good disciple or student of Jesus, John was passing on what had been taught to him. This was exactly what Jesus had told him to do as part of His great commission. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT). 

And yet, while John was busy proclaiming or declaring the message of Jesus, there were other voices communicating ideas that were contradictory and confusing. The early church was being bombarded by a cacophony of mixed messages – many of which sounded reasonable and logical. There were opinions being shared and options being offered concerning everything from sin to salvation and even the nature of Jesus Himself. The apostle Paul had repeatedly run into the same thing and was forced to confront the believers in Corinth about this problem. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). As far as John, Paul and the other apostles were concerned, the content of the gospel was not open to options or other opinions. And a big part of the gospel message was the recognition of man's sinfulness. It was the very presence of sin in the lives of men and the reality of God's judgment against it that made it necessary that God provide a Savior. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV). In spite of this, there were those who were claiming to have fellowship or an intimate relationship with God while walking in darkness. They boasted of having a right standing with God, but their behavior didn't reflect it. Their lives were a lie, a walking contradiction of the truth and the transformative power of the gospel. There where others who said, “We have no sin” (1 John 1:8 ESV). In other words, they were denying the reality of their own sin nature. Those who believe themselves to be sinless have no need of a Savior. Jesus addressed this misconception when He was confronted by the Pharisees who demanded to know why He associated with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus simply responded, “Healthy people don't need a doctor – sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This was not a declaration of the Pharisees' righteousness, but of their refusal to admit their own sin and their need for a Savior. Recognition of our sin and guilt is the first step in receiving the free gift of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. There was yet another group that John had to address. They were saying, “We have NOT sinned” (1 John 1:10 ESV). Their boastful claim was a direct rejection of the assessment of God Himself. Throughout the Scriptures, God's declaration of man's sinfulness had been made clear. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). To reject God's declaration of our sin is to call Him a liar. Paul summarizes the condition of all men soberly and succinctly. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT). But Paul, like John, knew the good news that followed the bad news. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT). John wanted his readers to know that acknowledgement of sin through confession (agreement with God about it) was the key to finding forgiveness and cleansing. Recognition of our sin leads us to seek a Savior – Jesus Christ the righteous – the propitiation for our sins. What we say about ourselves carries little weight with God. What He says about us is what matters. He says we are sinners in need of a Savior. He says we are sick and in need of a physician. He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). And Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV).

God's Provision.

Nehemiah 7-8, Hebrews 9

And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:16 ESV

The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt – in just 52 days. The temple had already been restored under the leadership of Ezra. But the city was a virtual ghost town. The majority of the people who had returned to the land were living in the towns outside the walls of the city. But Nehemiah knew that his work was incomplete. While he had done what he had set out to do, the rebuilding of the walls, he chose not to return to Susa. He stayed because he knew that rebuilt walls did not make a city. It had to be repopulated. And the people who would repopulate that city would have to be made right with God. So he assembled the congregation of Judah and arranged for Ezra to read from the book of the law. This could have been the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, or it could have been just the book of Deuteronomy along with portions of Leviticus. But whatever it was that Ezra read, it took hours for him to do so, and the people stood the entire time. The law was read and it was explained in detail so that the people could understand it. And the result was that the people were convicted of their sins. They wept and mourned as they heard how they had violated the commands of God. But Nehemiah told them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep” (Nehemiah 8:9 ESV). He encouraged them focus their attention on God. While the law had reminded them of their sin, he wanted them to remember their gracious, merciful God. It was time to celebrate because God was their strength. He had provided a means for them to receive forgiveness for their sins. All of this would have taken place in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. Part of what was read to them out of the law was the command to keep the festivals of God. They were to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Booths and the Day of Atonement. These festivals were designed to remind them of all that God had done for them in the past. And they were to culminate with the once-a-year sacrifice made on their behalf by the high priest, when he entered into the Holy of Holies and made atonement for the unintentional sins they had committed that year. This was to be a celebration. While they stood guilty before God, He had provided a means of receiving forgiveness and pardon.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God had given the people of Israel His plans for the tabernacle and His commands for observing the sacrificial system, it was all a foreshadowing of things to come. It was an earthly picture of a heavenly reality. It was designed to be temporary and incomplete. The author of Hebrews says, “They serve as a copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The law, associated with the Old Covenant, was not intended to be lasting. It was not a permanent fix to man's persistent sin problem. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7 ESV). God had told the people of Israel, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8 ESV). He had a plan for a new and improved covenant that would be permanent and complete. Everything that the people of Israel had done in association with the tabernacle and later, with the temple, had been intended to point toward something greater to come. One of the key elements involved in man's atonement under the law was the shedding of blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could intercede for the people. Why? Because he was a sinner just like to whom he ministered. Then he had to offer a sacrifice and take the blood, mixed with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkle it on the book of the law and the people, declaring, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you” (Hebrews 9:20 ESV). At that moment, the covenant between God and His people was ratified and renewed. But again, it was just a foreshadowing of things to come. Because that event had to take place every single year, because their atonement was only temporary. It was incomplete. In the next chapter, we will read, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). Complete, permanent forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of bulls and goats could never happen. But God had a better solution.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Our sin is an ever-present reality. It follows us wherever we go. It is a permanent part of our experience as we live on this planet. When we read God's Word, we are reminded of our sin. It convicts us of sin and reveals to us our unfaithfulness and consistent rebellion against a faithful, loving God. But rather than weep and mourn over our sin, we must learn to rejoice in our Savior. God has provided a solution to our sin problem. And this solution is far better than the one the Israelites had. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24 ESV). Christ didn't enter into an earthly tabernacle or temple. As our high priest, He took His sacrifice right into the presence of God the Father. And the sacrifice he made was once and for all. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrew 9:26 ESV). He gave His life as a sacrifice for our sins and, unlike the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, His sacrifice was a permanent solution to man's sin problem. His death provided complete atonement for man's sins – past, present and future. He has secured an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12 ESV).

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

So what should our reaction be to this news? We should rejoice and celebrate. We should recognize that the joy of the Lord is our strength. He has provided for our salvation. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him that is not based on human effort. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). That is cause for celebration. That is reason for rejoicing. Our God is great. His love is unimaginable and His grace is immeasurable. Yes, our sin is real. But so is our salvation. Those of us who have placed our faith and hope in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can celebrate because our redemption is eternal, our atonement is complete. And the truly great news is, “so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 NLT). Now that's cause for celebration.

Father, never let me lose sight of the staggering implications of the salvation that You have provided through Your Son. Rather than wallow in my sins, let me rejoice in the fact that my sins are forgiven, my future is secure, and Your Son is some day coming back for me. Thank You for the new covenant made available through the death, burial and resurrection of Your Son. He died, but He rose again. He left, but He is coming again. I have plenty to rejoice about. Amen

The Power of Intercession.

Ezra 9-10, Hebrews 5

O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.  Ezra 9:6 NLT

We live in the age of the individual. Even as believers, we tend to view our lives independently from those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We focus on our own personal walk with Christ. We worry about our relationship with God and how well we are living the Christian life as individuals. But throughout the Scriptures, the emphasis is always on the corporate body of believers. God sees us as His people and views us collectively. God does care for each of us as individuals and loves us for who we are, but He also sees us as part of His family, as members of the body of Christ. We must always understand that our sin, while committed as individuals, always impacts the entire body. Individual sin has corporate consequences. Like a cancer, it can spread throughout the body, infecting and influencing others, and causing a sense of corporate culpability. Ezra understand this truth. When it came to his attention that there were many living in the land of Judah who had violated God's commands and had intermarried with the various people groups surrounding them, he realized that God viewed their guilt from a corporate perspective. Ezra had not sinned, but he immediately went into mourning. He fell upon his knees and spread out his hands to God. While innocent of any wrong-doing, he included himself in the sins of the people. “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads” (Ezra 9:6 ESV). He refers to “our iniquities” and “our guilt.” Ezra alone goes before God and confesses the corporate sin and guilt of the people of God. “Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Ezra makes it clear that God is totally just in all His actions toward the people of Judah. If God chooses to punish them for their sin, He will be justified and right. He is holy, just, and righteous. They are guilty as charged and deserving of any punishment He should choose to mete out. But Ezra also knows that God is merciful, gracious and a God who shows favor when none is deserved. The very fact that they were back in the land at all was the result of God's mercy and grace. “But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery” (Ezra 9:8 ESV). God had returned them to the land, not because they deserved it, but because He chose to shower them with His undeserved favor. And yet, they had responded with continued disobedience to His revealed will. Ezra knows what they deserve. But he appeals to God's love and mercy. He asks God to forgive them yet again.       

What does this passage reveal about man?

The truly amazing thing about this passage is the impact that one man could have on the entire nation of Judah. Just as the sin of one infects the whole, the prayers of one can have a cleansing influence over the entire group. Rather than sit back and smugly gloat over his own sinlessness, Ezra chose to include himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God viewed them as a whole. Their corporate sinfulness would bring corporate punishment. They were to have remained pure as a nation. They were His people collectively, not just individually. Ezra knew this well, and so he did what no one else seemed willing to do – he went to the Lord in prayer and interceded on behalf of the nation. He mourned, fasted, confessed and called out to God. And his actions not only got God's attention, but that of the people as well. “While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly” (Ezra 10:1 ESV). One man had a powerful influence over the nation. His willingness to intercede on their behalf led to corporate confession. Ezra’s actions led others to step up and speak out. Shecaniah, convicted by Ezra's prayers, came up with the plan to put away all the foreign wives they had married. In other words, he knew that confession was going to have to be accompanied by a course correction in terms of their behavior. They were going to have to do something about their sin and repent of it. And that change was going to come at a high cost. They were going to have to remove the negative influence from their lives, even thought it was going to hurt. Confession must always be accompanied by concrete steps of action. “Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11 ESV). Sin always has consequences. And true confession always has next steps.

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

None of this would have taken place had not Ezra been willing to intercede on behalf of the people. He alone was struck by the severe nature of their predicament. He recognized the danger they were in and knew that God would be completely justified in punishing them for their sins. So he stepped in and called out to God on behalf of the entire nation. We need more men and women with the spirit of Ezra today. The church of Jesus Christ is wracked by sin. We have “intermarried” with this world. We have compromised our convictions and cozied up with the world, allowing it to diminish our influence and dim our light. The church has become complacent and allowed the love of the world to infect itself. We are weak and ineffective. We have lost our influence. But just as in the days of Ezra, all it takes is one man or woman to step in, stand up, and speak out. We must be willing to come before the Lord and intercede on behalf of the body of Christ. We must be willing to say what no one else is willing to say. We must recognize that our sense of corporate culpability. I am reminded of the words of the Lord found in the book of Revelation. To the church in Ephesus, He said, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4 ESV). To the church in Laodidea, he said, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15 ESV). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we have a High Priest in Jesus, who is interceding on our behalf. He knows our weaknesses. He understands our struggle with sin. Which is why He left us His Spirit to assist us as we live in this world. But we must also intercede for one another, confessing our sins, admitting our guilt, and calling on God to extend mercy and grace in our time of need. James would remind us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV).

Father, Your Church is in need of healing. We are weakened by compromise and complacency. We have fallen in love with the world and allowed it to distract us from our true calling as Your children. Lord, give me a sense of corporate responsibility. The sins of the one affect the many. But the prayers of the one can go a long way in bringing about corporate confession and healing. May I be an intercessor in this day. Amen

City of Refuge.

Numbers 35-36, John 9

“You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” – Numbers 35:34 ESV

God dwelt among His people, and His very presence demanded that they live set-apart lives. His holiness and righteousness required that they live differently and distinctively, abiding by a stringent set of rules and regulations that governed their behavior and interactions with one another. And yet God knew their weaknesses and fully understood their incapacity to live up to His exacting standards. The entire sacrificial system was designed to deal with their ongoing struggle with sin. He even provided them with six cities of refuge, Levitical cities where someone guilty of unpremeditated murder could run for protection. There was no police force in those days, and it was the responsibility of the next of kin of anyone who had been murdered to bring about justice by executing the one guilty of murder. But God's holiness required that only those who were guilty of premeditated murder could be executed. To unjustly execute the innocent would have been as evil in God’s sight as to excuse the guilty. So He provided those who had committed murder accidently or impulsively a means of finding justice. They could run to one of the cities of refuge and receive a fair and unbiased trial. If they were deemed innocent of having committed premeditated murder, they could live in the city of refuge and enjoy permanent protection from the “blood avenger.” They were still guilty of murder, but their lives were spared. The city of refuge became their prison until the day that the high priest died. Then his death would serve as an atonement for their sin, providing them with release from their guilt and the right to live among their kinsmen again – innocent and free.

The ongoing presence of God was constantly in jeopardy due to the sinfulness of men. Yet He provided them with countless means by which they could receive restoration and assure His continued existence among them. It was God who set them apart. Without them, they would have been nothing. His presence provided them their distinctiveness. And it was their sin that threatened their uniqueness as His chosen people.

What does this passage reveal about God?

From the day that Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God has been actively and aggressively seeking to restore order to the chaos created by their actions. Their sin brought disorder, disobedience and, ultimately, death into the world. It wasn't long after Eve listened to the lies of the enemy and convinced her husband to join her in rejecting God's word, that murder showed up on the scene. One of Eve's own sons would kill his brother. Death entered the scene. And disease would not be far behind it. Their bodies would undergo the inevitable effects of aging. Sin would increase. Rebellion against God would run rampant. And yet God continued to reach out to mankind, offering a form of refuge from the consequences of sin. In a real sense, God's choosing of Abraham made he and his descendants a “city of refuge” for mankind. The people of Israel would become a single source for God's abiding presence and divine protection from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It was among the children of God that men could find access to God. It was through the law of God that men could learn of the divine requirements and expectations of a holy God. It was through the sacrificial system instituted by God that men could find atonement for their sins and freedom from the penalty of death they so justly deserved. God had provided a city of refuge among the sons of men. And eventually, God would send His own Son as the ultimate and final means of refuge and escape from sin's destructive power and God's righteous judgment.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Scriptures make it painfully clear that all men are guilty of sin. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9 ESV). “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The law of God was given to show men their sin. Like a speed limit sign on the side of the freeway, the law was a constant reminder of man's proclivity toward disobedience and rebellion. Our guilt is unquestionable and undeniable. Every individual who has ever lived has stood condemned before a holy and righteous God due to the sinful nature passed down to them from Adam and Eve, which has been evidenced by their own sinful behavior. We are all guilty. We all stand condemned. And the very presence of disease and death in our world is an outward reminder of the reality of sin's devastating consequences.

In the gospels we read of Jesus' constant encounters with those who suffered from diseases and disorders of all kinds. In John 9, He meets a man who had been blind since birth. This man lived in a constant state of darkness. The disciples, like most of their fellow Jews, believed that this man's malady was due to either his own sin or the sins of his parents. They were partially right. His blindness was a result of sin entering the world and bringing with it disease and physical disorders. Like so many others, this man was suffering from the lingering effects of sin on God's creation. Jesus cleared up the confusion by declaring, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV). Jesus would prove to be a city of refuge for this man, providing him with a way of escape from the devastating consequences of sin's presence in our world. This man lived in darkness, but Jesus declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5 ESV). Jesus restored his sight. He freed him from darkness. He opened his eyes so that he might physically see, but even more so, that he might spiritually see. Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35 ESV) and the man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” (John 9:36 ESV). Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you” (John 9:37 ESV). And the man believed.

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

At this point in the story, Jesus made an interesting comment. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see many become blind” (John 9:39 ESV). This man had been given the ability by God to see the Son of God. He had been provided with the capacity to physically see so that he might spiritually see. And as a result, he found refuge from his guilt in the Savior. But there would be those who remained blind and ignorant of God's gift of salvation and healing through His Son. It is probably safe to assume that not everyone who was guilty of murder took advantage of the cities of refuge. They may have taken their chances on their own, assuming they could escape judgment and avoid the wrath of the blood avenger. But it was those who fled to the cities of refuge who found safety and protection. Not everyone who saw Jesus believed in Him. He makes it clear that there were those who remained blind and spiritually sightless, incapable of seeing that He was their only means of escape and their only source of refuge from the devastating consequences of sin. It is to Jesus that I must turn as my city of refuge in this sin-soaked, death-marked world. He alone can provide me with protection from sin's condemnation and provide me with an assurance of God's acceptance of my life and His ongoing presence in my life. He is my refuge.

Father, You have provided me with a refuge from the devastating consequences of sin in the world and in my life. You opened my eyes that I might see Your Son as my Savior. You gave me sight. You provided me with a place to run and find protection, forgiveness and, ultimately, atonement for my sins. Thank You. Amen

Rebellion Against God.

Numbers 15-16, Luke 23

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. – Numbers 16:31-33 ESV

Yesterday we talked about the ever-present danger of doubt in the life of the follower of God. Doubt has a way of turning into disobedience, and disobedience against God is nothing more than rebellion against His Word and His will. In chapter eight of Numbers we see this pattern lived out in the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On. These men were descendants of Levi and, as such, they were responsible for the care and upkeep of the Tabernacle of God. God had set them apart as His servants and their jobs were essential to the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel. But they were dissatisfied with things as God had planned them. They wanted more responsibility. They wanted a greater role. They doubted God's order of things and demanded a restructuring of responsibilities and duties. The pointed their fingers at Aaron and Moses, exlaming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Like Miriam in chapter 12, these men expressed their doubt in God's preordained order and it led to their open disobedience and rebellion.

Moses is surprised and shocked. He asks them, “ is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together” (Numbers 16:9-11 ESV). Moses makes it clear that their beef was with God, not Aaron. Their rebellion was God-directed. They didn't like things the way God had set them up.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was incensed. As a holy, righteous King, He was unwilling to tolerate the open rebellion of these men, so He warned Moses, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:21 ESV). God was so angry. And His anger was so great that He was willing to wipe out not only these men but the entire congregation as well. While the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram was more pronounced and obvious, the reality was that the entire congregation was guilty of rebellion against God. But Moses and Aaron interceded and begged God to spare the congregation and punish the ring leaders. So God allowed Moses to warn the people and have them separate themselves from Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Then His judgment fell, with the ground itself opening up and literally swallowing the men and their entire families. Not only that, the fire of the Lord wiped out the 250 men who had aligned themselves with Korah, Dathan and Abiram and sided against Aaron and Moses. God would not tolerate rebellion among His people. He knew it to be like a cancer that, if left unchecked, would spread among the people. So He eradicated it in a powerful way.

What does this passage reveal about man?

And yet, amazingly, we read, “on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord’” (Numbers 16:41 ESV). Once again, the disbelieve that what had happened was God's will. And they openly rebel against God's representatives. So as before, God warned Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people because He was about to destroy them. But Moses intercedes yet again, telling Aaron to take his censer and "carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun" (Numbers 16:36 ESV). God was bringing judgment on the people, and Moses' quick thinking and Aarons' immediate response spared the lives of many. In spite of their efforts, 14,700 people died that day – at the hand of God. There would have been even more, had not Moses and Aaron acted. Their rebellion was a sin against God, and only the atoning work of Aaron, the high priest, was able to satisfy the righteous judgment of God against them. Doubt is inevitable and, if left unchecked, it will always result in disobedience and rebellion against God. Mankind is prone to unfaithfulness, even those who call themselves followers of God. Disobedience is in our nature. The risk of rebellion is a constant reality for each of us.

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

In the gospel of Luke we see the people of God once again rebelling against the will of God. He had sent His Son as the Savior of the world. But Jesus didn't come as they had anticipated He would. He failed to meet their expectations. Rather than a conquering king on a white horse, followed by a powerful army, He was a carpenter from the small hamlet of Nazareth and accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples. Rather than revere Jesus, the religious leaders found Him revolting. They longed to rid themselves of His presence. They arrested Him and dragged Him before Pilate, the governor, for trial and, ultimately, execution. Even Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of any wrong doing. He tried repeatedly to release Him, but the people demanded His crucifixion. And they got their wish. Their rebellion against God's resulted in the death of the One whom God had sent. They doubted God's Word and rejected His will. Writing more than 750 years before the events of the crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “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” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). God sent His Son to deal with our rebellion. But rather than snuff us out, He provided a means by which we could be healed and made whole. He payed the debt we owed, He suffered the death that was meant for us. He took on the penalty for our rebellion against God.

Father, prior to Christ coming into my life, I was a rebel against You. I was a law breaker and fully deserving of death. But rather than wipe me out like You did Korah, You gave me a way out through Jesus Christ. He died in my place. He suffered for my rebellion. My sins nailed Him to the cross. My bore my guilt and took on the penalty for my sins. And I can never thank You enough. Amen

Forgiveness and Cleansing From sin.

Leviticus 7-8, Luke 5

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home." – Luke 5:24 ESV

Reading through the book of Leviticus, one can't help but recognize the emphasis on sin, guilt, impurity and uncleanness. But there is also an emphasis on holiness, consecration, purity, and forgiveness. It is perfectly and painfully clear that the sin of man was a problem. It was a pervasive and inescapable reality – even among the people of God. The psalmist reminds us, "They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3 ESV). That sobering assessment refers to mankind in general, but most certainly includes the Israelites. They had proven themselves to be fully capable of turning aside from God and, therefore, had become corrupted by their own sinful hearts. But God had a solution. He provided a means by which they could find forgiveness for their sins and freedom from their guilt and condemnation. It would be costly. It would require a great deal of sacrifice on their part. It would be a perpetual, never-ending necessity in their lives if they wanted to continue to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The sheer number and variety of sacrifices required by God are staggering. In chapter seven alone we read of the guilt offering, peace offering, wave offering, ordination offering, grain offering, and sin offering. The various requirements associated with each can be overwhelming to keep up with. The amount of details that had to be considered, remembered and followed to the smallest detail are hard to read, let alone to obey. But it shows us the seriousness of sin and the price required for sin to be dealt with effectively. God's desire was that His people understand and appreciate their role as His chosen ones. He had personally handpicked them and set them apart as His own. And elsewhere in Scripture, God makes it clear that His choosing of them was based on one thing alone. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 ESV). God loved them. And all the demands He was placing on them were a reflection of that love. He wanted to cleanse them and forgive them of their sins. He wanted to remove their guilt. But He also wanted them to appreciate all that He had done for them. He wanted a people who would express love for Him in return and show their faith in Him through obedience to Him.

As His chosen ones there were going to be requirements placed on them by God. There were demands, regulations, rules, rituals and rites. They were going to have to listen to God and obey what He told them to do. Not because God was demanding and severe, but because His holiness required that sin be dealt with. His very character required that He justly and rightly deal with sin. He could not tolerate it, overlook it, or ignore it. To do so would have made Him less than God. But God is love. He wanted to express His love to His chosen people. To do so, He had to provide them with a way to satisfy His holy requirement to punish sin. That is what the entire sacrificial system is all about. And it was designed by God to provide forgiveness and cleansing from sin. It was onerous and difficult because sin was dangerous and deadly. God could not take sin lightly and He wanted His people to understand that they could not afford to do so either.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the prophetic book of Malachi, we read a prediction made by God concerning the people of Israel. It provides a glimpse into Israel's future, long after they had arrived in the land of promise. It tells of a time that will take place after the building of the Temple and the nation of Israel has enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity in the land God had promised them. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi says:

"A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord Almighty. "It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

But you ask, 'How have we shown contempt for your name?'

"By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 1:6-8 ESV).

The day was coming when the people would disregard God's requirements and, instead of offering the best of the best, they would offer the lame and the sick. In doing so, they would show contempt for the name of God. They would defile His altar. They would treat the sacrifices ordained by God with contempt. They would bring "injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices" (Malachi 1:13 ESV), treating His means of forgiveness with ingratitude and disrespect.

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

In the book of Luke, we see the coming of the Son of God to earth. In the early chapters of Luke's gospel, we read of the coming of Jesus and the beginning stages of His ministry. While we read of His miracles and His choosing of the twelves disciples, we must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to forgive sins. He came to pay the penalty required by His Father for the sins of mankind. Jesus' miracles were simply a proof of His authority as the Son of God. He could heal the sick, calm the sea, cast out demons and even raise the dead. When accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy for telling a man his sins were forgiven, Jesus responded, "Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?" (Luke 5:22-23 ESV). Proving a person's sins had been forgiven would be impossible. But proving a lame man was healed would be easily verifiable. So Jesus healed the man. His power to heal was a demonstration of His power as God to forgive sins. His mission was to go to the cross. His assignment was to offer His life as a payment for the sins of all mankind. Once again, God had provided a means by which men could receive forgiveness for and cleaning from sin. Why? Because He loved us. Paul makes this perfectly clear when he writes, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's condemnation" (Romans 5:8-9 NLT).

God loved me so much that He sent His Son to die in my place. And my response to that incredible love should be to do what Paul encourages us to do in Romans 12:1: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Father, from the very beginning, You have had a plan for dealing with the sins of man. You knew that man was incapable of solving the sin problem. Once it began, it was like a cancer that spread throughout Your creation, infecting everyone and everything. The only solution was for the penalty for sin to be paid for. Thank You for the permanent solution provided by Your Son's death. Thank You that we are no longer under the temporary means of the Old Testament law. I am so grateful for the reality of my forgiveness and right standing with You. I don't ever want to take it for granted. I don't ever want to take sin lightly or treat Your gift of grace and forgiveness with contempt. Amen

Recognition of Guilt.

Leviticus 5-6, Luke 4

If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord's commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. – Leviticus 5:17 ESV

There is a pattern here:

…and he realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:2

…when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:3

…when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these… – Leviticus 5:4

…though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt… – Leviticus 5:17

…if he has sinned and has realized his guilt… – Leviticus 6:4

While the various kinds of offerings mentioned in these chapters can get a bit confusing, it is perfectly clear that they are associated with the sins of men and their guilt for having committed them. Yet, it is important to recognize that their guilt was a reality, whether they knew about it or ever acknowledged it. Their punishment was assured because their sin was readily apparent in God's eyes. But should they come to recognize their guilt and the sin that caused it, they had an opportunity to do something about it. God provided a means by which they could deal with their guilt and receive forgiveness. Guilt alone is not enough. To recognize your guilt, but have no way to effectively deal with it, would lead to hopelessness and despair. Guiltiness is a state of being, not a state of mind. A person who exceeds the speed limit unknowingly is just as guilty as the person who does so willingly and purposefully. Guilt is the condition in which sin leaves us. We stand as guilty, whether we realize what we have done or not. That is why the book of Leviticus seems to put so much emphasis on inadvertent sins, or sins committed in ignorance. Guiltiness is our standing before a holy God, whether we recognize our condition or not. Sin is sin, regardless of whether it is intentional or unintentional.

It is interesting that the emphasis seems to be on recognition of guilt, not recognition of sin. The fact is, all men are sinful. We sin daily, through acts of commission (those things we do that violate God's law) and omission (those things we fail to do in keeping with God's law). The New Testament makes it clear that we are to confess our sins. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 ESV). But what we sometimes fail to understand is that confession of sin includes the idea that we understand that we stand as guilty before God because of our sin. We are sinners and we are guilty. But we must recognize that fact.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God seems to want mankind to understand the true nature of their condition. Sin has permeated our ranks. It has infected each and every one of us. Our condition before Him is as a criminal standing before a judge. He is fully guilty and worthy of the judgment, whether he acknowledges his guilt or not. But our incredible God has provided a way by which we can enter our guilty plea before and place ourselves at His mercy. In the Old Testament, they were able to bring sacrifices before God. In essence, they recognized their guilt, confessed it through the act of bringing their sacrifice, then received God's forgiveness. "And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). God forgave not just their sin, but their guilt. The sacrificial animal gave its life so that they might live. Rather than standing before God as guilty of sin and condemned to death, they were able to stand before Him as forgiven, their sins having been atoned or paid for.

When Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth and was asked to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, the passage he read included the words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19 ESV). This Old Testament prophecy was speaking of Jesus Himself. He was the one who had come to set free those who were captive to sin, living in spiritual blindness, and suffering the oppression of a life lived attempting to make themselves right with God through their own human effort. Jesus offered a new way, a better way, the only way to get right with God. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28 ESV). He offered rest from the wearisome burden of attempting to please God through acts of self-righteousness.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The life of the average Israelite was one filled with a constant realization that they couldn't measure up to God's righteous demands. They were always guilty, because they were always sinning. Theirs was a life of perpetual guilt, requiring constant confession, the costly need for sacrifice, and the never-ending need for God's forgiveness. And while that description may sound depressing and a bit unfair, it was all simply designed to teach man that his sins were serious and his guilty standing before God was inescapable and irreparable without God's mercy and grace.

The same is true today. We all stand guilty before God, whether we recognize it or ever acknowledge it. The guilt of mankind is a non-negotiable reality. And all men are in the same boat, needing some means for having their guilty verdict irreversibly wiped away. But God could not just ignore man's guilt, He had to pay for it. The penalty had to be paid. The sentence of punishment had to be meted out. To someone. So just as the case of the animals used in Old Testament sacrifices, God sent His Son to take man's place. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).

Jesus' role as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of man was so important that Satan attempted to stop Him before He ever got started. The book of Luke records the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, and Satan's three-pronged attack on the Savior, designed to invalidate His role as the sinless, obedient Son of God. He tried to get Jesus to replace God's will with His own. He wanted Jesus to disobey His Father and, therefore, discredit Himself as the sinless sacrifice. But his attempts failed. Jesus remained faithful and obedient to His Father's will. And as a result, mankind was given a means by which their guilt might be eliminated once and for all. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 ESV).

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

I am no longer guilty of sin. My sins have been forgiven. But I must never forget the to recognize that apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross, I would be as guilty as the greatest sinner. I would still be deserving of death and stuck in a never-ending treadmill attempting to satisfy a holy God through my sin-stained efforts. My former status as guilty before God makes my current status of forgiven, accepted and righteous all that much more remarkable and hard to believe. He has set me free from sin, guilt, condemnation and the ultimate penalty of death. "And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 5:10 ESV). That is exactly what Jesus did for me.

Father, never let me forget to recognize the reality of my guilt before You prior to Christ's death on my behalf. I don't ever want to take for granted my salvation and my standing before You as righteous. Thank You for the remarkable gift of Your Son. Amen