punishment

Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

23 And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, 25 Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, 26 “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:23-29 ESV

The commissioning of Joshua by God seems a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? It takes just one verse to record the whole affair. There were no animals sacrificed, no anointing oil poured over the head of Joshua. A comparison between his commissioning and that of Aaron reveals some remarkable and glaring contrasts.

And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:6-9 ESV

And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:12-13 ESV

Yet, all Joshua got as a word of encouragement from God: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23 ESV).

But even these words of encouragement and affirmation had to come across as a little underwhelming to Joshua. After all, he had just heard God say that the people of Israel would prove to be rebellious and unrepentant, earning them the full weight of the curses Moses had warned them about. So, while God provided Joshua with the assurance that he would be successful in his new role as leader of the people of Israel, it had to have been bitter-sweet news to his ears. Yes, Joshua would accomplish his God-given assignment and lead the people into the land of Canaan, but how could he forget the fact that they would not be allowed to stay there. The day would come when they would be destroyed by their enemies and taken as captives to foreign lands.

And even after his rather abrupt and abbreviated commissioning, Joshua had to hear Moses repeat the warning God had delivered to them in the tent of meeting.

“I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!” – Deuteronomy 31:27 ESV

Put yourself in Joshua’s sandals. He has just been commissioned the new leader of the people of Israel and yet when he and Moses step out of the tent of meeting, he doesn’t even get an introduction. There is no official announcement of the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. It’s almost as if Joshua simply stood in the background, eyes wide with shock and surprise. He had just seen the Shekinah glory of God, heard the voice of God, and was still digesting the devastating news from God that the nation of Israel would end up back in captivity one day. And just as he is about to take over the reins of leadership, he has to sit back and hear Moses accuse the people of being rebellious and stubborn.

And Moses wasn’t done. He had one more punch to the gut he wanted to deliver.

“I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

I can’t help but imagine how Joshua felt as all this transpired. Here he was getting ready to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, not exactly an easy task, and Moses was busy stirring up and offending them. On top of that, Joshua had just been informed that, while the whole conquest-of-the-land initiative would be a success, it would prove to be shortlived and irrelevant. 

This is probably not the way Joshua had envisioned his tenure as the shepherd of Israel beginning. This entire section of the book of Deuteronomy is weighted with a dark sense of foreboding. This should have been one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Israel’s long and storied history as they prepared to cross over the border and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God centuries earlier. But rather than joy and celebration, the occasion was marked by sadness and disappointment. The party balloons had popped. The candles on the cake had blown out.

And Moses told the people that the law itself would bear witness against them. He instructed the Levites to “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26 ESV). His handwritten copy of God’s commandments would be a constant presence among the people, practically screaming out its judgments against them every time they violated its contents.

Moses assembles all the elders and officers of the 12 tribes and calls heaven and earth to witness against them. But what does this mean? How do the heavens and the earth bear witness against the nation of Israel? Well, in the opening stanza of the song that God gave Moses, we read these words: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth” (Deuteronomy 32:1 ESV).

Moses was going to sing the words of God’s song to the people, and the first words would be addressed to the heavens and the earth. It is as if God is saying, “If you won’t listen, creation will.” The rest of the creative order will hear the commands of God and bear witness against the Israelites for their stubborn refusal to do as He has said.

In a sense, Moses is saying that the heavens and earth will still remain, even after the Israelites are long gone. The sun, moon, and stars will still be in the sky long after Israel is exiled from the land of promise. They will look up from their new home in Babylon and see the same unchanging scene in the heavens, but they will be in captivity. The land of Canaan will remain right where it was when they left. Nothing will change about it except the identity of those who occupy it. The earth will keep spinning. The sun, moon, and stars will keep shining. Canaan will remain a land flowing with milk and honey. But the fate of the Israelites will be markedly different than it had been.

“…in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

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

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

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

How Low Can You Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book of Lamentations predicts this same implausible outcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bad to Worse

25 “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed. 28 The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, 29 and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you. 30 You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat any of it. Your donkey shall be seized before your face, but shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, but there shall be no one to help you. 32 Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. 33 A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually, 34 so that you are driven mad by the sights that your eyes see. 35 The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head.” Deuteronomy 28:25-35 ESV

Let’s face it, bad things happen. Calamity comes to everyone because it is no respecter of persons. And while God had promised that obedience to His law would bring blessings, He had never said that their lives would be trouble-free, disease-resistant, peace-filled, or painless. There would still be plenty of difficulties because they lived in a fallen world. They would still be required to offer sacrifices because they would continue to sin and need atonement.

So, when Moses discusses the curses that will come upon the people of Israel for what appears to be their stubborn and ongoing disobedience to God’s law, he makes sure they understand that this will be difficulties and trials on steroids. These will not be your everyday, run-of-the-mill troubles that are a normal part of everyday life on this planet. No, they will be extreme, and like nothing they have ever experienced before. There will be no relief or escape. They will feature the worst kind of suffering one can image and then take that suffering one step further.

Look closely at how each curse is described. God was going to personally see to it that Israel lost battles against their enemies. That was nothing new for Israel because they had already been defeated at Ai. But Moses describes a demoralizing rout that has the Israelites scattering in seven different directions in an attempt to save their lives. And the failure of the Israelite army will be so catastrophic that it will leave other nations in terror. The fall of Israel at the hands of their enemy will create a sense of fear among the other nations of the region, as they anticipate their own defeat against the same foe. History records that, eventually, Israel was roundly defeated by the Assyrians and Judah fell to the Babylonians. And both of these nations left a wake of destruction in their path, as they ransacked kingdom after kingdom, sending shockwaves of terror among the nations that remained.

And Moses lets the Israelites know that their defeat will be complete, with no one escaping. Their bodies will lie scattered on the ground and become “food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:26 ESV). No burials or memorials and no one to mourn their deaths. In fact, there will be no one left to scare off the carrion or scavenging dogs. This defeat will not only be demoralizing, but it will also be devasting and irreversible.

Next, Moses reveals that the Israelites will suffer from boils and tumors, just like the ones that God brought upon the Egyptians as part of the ten plagues. God will use the very same diseases that forced the Egyptians to release His people from captivity as a form of punishment for their disobedience. And, once again, Moses takes the suffering a step further, stating that there will be no healing from the pain and itching. These diseases will be permanent and untreatable, with no hope of relief or chance of restoration. And, perhaps as a result of the unrelenting agony caused by the boils and tumors, the people of Israel will suffer from madness, loss of sight, and confusion of mind. Their diminished mental capacity and blindness will leave them incapable of living normal lives, which will result in financial ruin. And, as before, Moses takes his message of doom to another level by warning them, “you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you” (Deuteronomy 28:29 ESV). Just when they think it can’t get any worse, it will.

Next, Moses uses a series of short scenarios to further illustrate the devastating consequences of disobedience to God’s law. He begins with a case of betrothal. A man who experiences the joy of finding a woman to whom he becomes engaged will end up watching another man sleep with her. He will never have the privilege of consummating his own marriage. This most likely describes the grim reality of war. This man will have to watch as his betrothed is raped by an enemy soldier. And as if that was not enough, he and his future wife will never know the joy of living in the house he built for them. They will never enjoy the fruit of the vineyard he planted. And the ox he used to till his fields will be slaughtered and eaten by his enemies. His donkeys and sheep will become plunder, and his children will be taken as slaves. But it will get worse. This man will be left longing for his family but will find no one to help him. His loss will be great, and there will be no relief in sight.

All of these things will come upon the Israelites at the hands of a single nation that will leave them “only oppressed and crushed continually” (Deuteronomy 28:33 ESV). God will use this nation to bring about His judgment upon His own people. But it will be their own fault. Their decision to disobey God’s commands will result in their own destruction. And the books of the prophets of God are filled with calls for the people of Israel to repent and return to Him. God will repeatedly issue His compassionate offer of restitution if His people will only repent of their ways. But they won’t, and all that Moses describes in these verses will take place.

These curses are not a form of hyperbole or exaggeration on Moses’ part. They are prophetic pronouncements concerning God’s judgment. So, when Moses says, “he Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head” (Deuteronomy 28:35 ESV), he is not issuing idol threats. He means it. And, as before, this warning of grievous boils will be far worse than they can imagine. They will cover the Israelites from head to foot, and they will not respond to any form of treatment or remedy. Repeated disobedience to God’s commands will bring devastating and debilitating consequences that will leave the people of Israel without hope and devoid of help. And Moses is just getting started.

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 Just Judgment of God

4 Their appearance is like the appearance of horses,
    and like war horses they run.
5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
    they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
    devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
    drawn up for battle.

6 Before them peoples are in anguish;
    all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge;
    like soldiers they scale the wall.
They march each on his way;
    they do not swerve from their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another;
    each marches in his path;
they burst through the weapons
    and are not halted.
9 They leap upon the city,
    they run upon the walls,
they climb up into the houses,
    they enter through the windows like a thief.

10 The earth quakes before them;
    the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
    before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
    he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
    who can endure it? – Joel 2:4-11 ESV

In these verses, Joel provides additional details concerning the coming day of the Lord. It will feature another invasion of alien forces, but this time it will not be locusts, but a foreign army. Yet, Joel uses imagery to describe this invading force that sounds eerily similar to the locust infestation the people of Judah had just endured. You can almost imagine the locusts “devouring the stubble” (Joel 2:5 ESV). His description of the enemy soldiers climbing “up into the houses” and entering “through the windows like a thief” must have brought back unsettling memories of the millions of disgusting locusts invading their villages and homes.

But this time, the enemy was going to be made up of men armed with swords, marching in endless columns, and riding in chariots of iron. And, like the locusts, they would be driven by a primal urge to devour and destroy everything in their path. And there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. Which is why Joel describes the people as being in a state of anguish with their faces white with fear. The armies of Judah will prove inadequate against this massive enemy onslaught. Any attempt to defend the city of Jerusalem will fail, as “they burst through the weapons and are not halted” (Joel 2:8 ESV). 

Joel is describing a scene that is meant to instill fear in the hearts of the people. And he purposefully uses language that is intended to remind his audience of all that they have just endured. But this judgment will be far greater in intensity, and the damage will far exceed the loss of grain and grapes. When the locusts had finally disappeared, they left behind a land devoid of crops. But when the invading army that shows up on the day of the Lord is finished, the land of Judah will be like a ghost town, free of human life. Those who are not slain by the sword will be taken captive.

And Joel wants his audience to know that this invasion will be God’s doing. The army that shows up will be His army, and they will be accomplishing His divine will.

The Lord is at the head of the column.
    He leads them with a shout.
This is his mighty army,
    and they follow his orders. - Joel 2:11 NLT

God had used similar language when addressing the people of Judah through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah.

“…behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.” – Jeremiah 25:9 ESV

God is sovereign over all. And He is fully capable of using anything He has created to accomplish His will, including pagan armies and foreign dignitaries. In fact, the prophet Isaiah provides another message from God, where He warns Babylon of their coming destruction at the hands of yet another foreign power.

“Raise a signal flag on a bare hilltop.
    Call up an army against Babylon.
Wave your hand to encourage them
    as they march into the palaces of the high and mighty.
I, the Lord, have dedicated these soldiers for this task.
    Yes, I have called mighty warriors to express my anger,
    and they will rejoice when I am exalted.” – Isaiah 13:2-3 NLT

The sovereign God of the universe has the entire world at His disposal. He can accomplish His will by any means He deems necessary. And His use of unrighteous kings and ungodly armies does not make God unholy. His ways are always right, and His judgments are blameless. Even Daniel, one of the Jews who found himself living in exile in Babylon after the fall of the city of Jerusalem, commented on the righteousness of God in light of Judah’s rebellion against Him.

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 9:7 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provides further insight into Judah’s treachery and God’s righteous response to it.

For they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies;
    they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
That is why the Lord’s anger burns against his people,
    and why he has raised his fist to crush them.
The mountains tremble,
    and the corpses of his people litter the streets like garbage.
But even then the Lord’s anger is not satisfied.
    His fist is still poised to strike! – Isaiah 5:24-25 NLT

And Isaiah goes on to describe how the Lord will mete out His anger against His rebellious children.

He will send a signal to distant nations far away
    and whistle to those at the ends of the earth.
    They will come racing toward Jerusalem.
They will not get tired or stumble.
    They will not stop for rest or sleep.
Not a belt will be loose,
    not a sandal strap broken.
Their arrows will be sharp
    and their bows ready for battle.
Sparks will fly from their horses’ hooves,
    and the wheels of their chariots will spin like a whirlwind.
They will roar like lions,
    like the strongest of lions.
Growling, they will pounce on their victims and carry them off,
    and no one will be there to rescue them.
They will roar over their victims on that day of destruction
    like the roaring of the sea.
If someone looks across the land,
    only darkness and distress will be seen;
    even the light will be darkened by clouds. – Isaiah 5:26-30 NLT

Because of their unholy behavior, God will use Judah’s unholy enemies to punish them. Like Adam and Eve banned from the garden due to their rejection of God’s word, the people of Judah would be expelled from the land of promise because they had rejected His law. He had set them apart as His own possession and had called them to live holy lives.

You must be holy because I, the LORD, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own. – Leviticus 20:26 NLT

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

But rather than living in a way that illustrated their status as God’s chosen people, they had chosen to assimilate with and follow the example of the pagan nations around them. They fell in love with the world. And their love affair with the world led them to conduct themselves like an unfaithful wife, giving their affection and attention to false gods.

So, God warns them of coming judgment. And it will come in two phases. There will be a more immediate judgment that shows up in the form of the Babylonian army. But there is another judgment that lies in the distant future and will take place at the end of the age. God knows His people. And as the sovereign God of the universe, He is well aware that they will continue to be unfaithful to Him. Which is why He has a future day of restoration planned for them. 

But in the meantime, He is going to call them to repentance. He is going to offer them a second chance.

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

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

 

Have I No Power to Deliver?

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce,
    with which I sent her away?
Or which of my creditors is it
    to whom I have sold you?
Behold, for your iniquities you were sold,
    and for your transgressions your mother was sent away.
2 Why, when I came, was there no man;
    why, when I called, was there no one to answer?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
    Or have I no power to deliver?
Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea,
    I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water
    and die of thirst.
3 I clothe the heavens with blackness
    and make sackcloth their covering.” –
Isaiah 50:1-3 ESV

The first three verses of chapter 50 continue the theme established in the preceding chapter. God knows that when the people of Judah find themselves in captivity in Babylon, they will accuse Him of abandonment. He addresses His children, the people of Judah, as if they are already in exile, and He defends Himself against their charges of forsaking their mother, Israel. He had not divorced her and sent her away – even though He had every right to do so. She had been unfaithful to Him. She had committed spiritual adultery against Him, not once, but repeatedly. And He had not sold her into slavery in order to pay a debt. God owes no man anything. He is obligated to no one.

This was not a case of God having grown discontent with His wife, Israel, and jettisoning her for a younger, more loving spouse. He makes it very clear to His children that their captivity was their own fault. It was their sins that had caused God to do what He had done.

“No, you were sold because of your sins.
    And your mother, too, was taken because of your sins.” – Isaiah 50:1 NLT

When the inevitable consequences of their repeated sins against God finally came to fruition, the people of Judah would be quick to blame God. They would see themselves as the innocent victims, having been abandoned by their heavenly Father. But God would have none of it. He would not allow them to deny their own guilt and cast dispersions on His character and integrity.

And what makes Judah’s sin so egregious is that they had been warned by God, repeatedly. He had sent His prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah to call them to repentance. And they had the northern kingdom of Israel as living proof of what happens when God’s people remain stubbornly unwilling to heed His warnings and return to Him. The northern tribes of Israel had rejected God’s calls to repent and had suffered the consequences.

When Josiah was king of Judah, the Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, you have no doubt seen what wayward Israel has done. You have seen how she went up to every high hill and under every green tree to give herself like a prostitute to other gods. Yet even after she had done all that, I thought that she might come back to me. But she did not. Her sister, unfaithful Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. Because she took her prostitution so lightly, she defiled the land through her adulterous worship of gods made of wood and stone. In spite of all this, Israel’s sister, unfaithful Judah, has not turned back to me with any sincerity; she has only pretended to do so,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 3:8-10 NLT

Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, had its capital city of Samaria plundered, and its people taken as captives to Nineveh. And the people of Judah had watched all this happen, but had remained unmoved and unimpressed by God’s judgment against their brothers and sisters. They continued to forsake God and pursue false gods. And al the while, they attempted to fool God into believing that they remained faithful by going through the motions of religious ritual and outward law keeping. But it was all a facade, intended to deceive God into believing that they remained devoted and sincere.

And God accuses them of ignoring His many calls to repent.

“Why was no one there when I came?
    Why didn’t anyone answer when I called?” – Isaiah 50:2 NLT

Isn’t it interesting how, when we find ourselves in trouble, we immediately call out to God for rescue. Yet, when we are living in sin and enjoying the temporal pleasures that sin offers, He calls out to us, and we ignore Him. He pleads with us to repent and return to Him, but we are too enamored with the false sense of joy and contentment that a lifestyle of sin provides.

That God did not prevent the fall of Judah had nothing to do with a lack of power on His part. He could have, but He chose not to. And He reminds them that His power is unlimited.

“For I can speak to the sea and make it dry up!
    I can turn rivers into deserts covered with dying fish.
I dress the skies in darkness,
    covering them with clothes of mourning.” – Isaiah 50:3 NLT

All of this is reminiscent of the story of Job, the man of God who found himself having lost everything – his children, his health and all his wealth. He was under intense emotional, physical and spiritual attack, wrestling with trying to understand the why behind his condition. And he stated:

“If only I knew where to find God,
    I would go to his court.
I would lay out my case
    and present my arguments.” – Job 23:3-4 NLT

Job was anxious for an opportunity to plead his case before God. All his friends had accused him of being a sinner suffering the obvious consequences of God’s anger. But Job had pleaded innocence, persistently claiming that he done nothing deserving of his fate. And he was convinced that, if he could just have a hearing before God, he would receive a fair trial and a just decision.

“Then I would listen to his reply
    and understand what he says to me.
Would he use his great power to argue with me?
    No, he would give me a fair hearing.
Honest people can reason with him,
    so I would be forever acquitted by my judge.” – Job 23:5-7 NLT

But Job felt like God was nowhere to be found. He claimed, “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him” (Job 23:8 NLT). God seemed hidden and concealed and yet, Job was able to say:

“But he knows where I am going.
    And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
For I have stayed on God’s paths;
    I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
I have not departed from his commands,
    but have treasured his words more than daily food.” – Job 23:10-12 NLT

The people of Judah could make no such claim. They were guilty as charged and fully deserved the punishment they had received. Job had suffered greatly, but had done nothing to deserve it. And yet, despite his innocence, he knew that casting blame on God was not the answer. In fact, he wrote, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 NLT).

Had the people of Judah only understood the reality of that thought. But they had no fear of God. In spite of what had happened to Israel, they continued to emulate the sins of Israel, forsaking God for lifeless idols made by human hands. They practiced deceit and lived a lie. They ignored God’s laws and violated His calls for justice and righteousness. They turned their backs on the very one who had the power to deliver them. And they would suffer the consequences for their sins.

But what about innocent Job? He had done nothing to deserve his sorrowful circumstances. What did God do for Him?

…the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. – Job 42:10-12 NLT

God blessed and restored him. And, amazingly, that was exactly what God planned to do for the rebellious nation of Judah. He would bless and restore them. Yes, they would suffer for their sins. They would pay the price for their disobedience. But God, the faithful, covenant-keeping God, would redeem them from their captivity and restore them to the land of promise. Despite the gravity of their circumstances, His hand was not shortened, and His power to redeem was not diminished in any way. And the day will  come when the people of Judah and Israel will acknowledge God just as Job did.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:5-6 NLT

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

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

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

No Peace For the Wicked

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
    they stand forth together.

14 “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
    Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him;
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16 Draw near to me, hear this:
    from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
    from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

17 Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
    who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
    and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
    or destroyed from before me.”

20 Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
    declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
    say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
    he made water flow for them from the rock;
    he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:12-22 ESV

That last line is a virtual promise from God and it is all-encompassing in its scope. As the book of Isaiah has made painfully clear, God was going to deal with the wickedness of His chosen people. He would no longer tolerate their blatant acts of spiritual infidelity and moral compromise. They had sinned against Him, and they were going to suffer the consequences. And God has revealed that His chosen method of punishment would be the Babylonians. Just as He had chosen Israel to be His prized possession, He had chosen Babylon to be His preferred means of punishment. He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to invade the land of Judah, destroying its cities and taking captive its people. Babylon’s victory over the people of Judah would be according to the will of God. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, God decreed that their rise to global dominance would be His doing.

“With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up.” – Jeremiah 27:5-7 NLT

But notice that God puts a time limit on Babylon’s rule. And it will be because they act wickedly, punishing the people of God disproportionately and wrongly taking credit for their success.

“I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” – Isaiah 47:6 ESV

They would let their many victories go to their heads and assume that they would remain in power forever. They would get cocky, claiming, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 48:8 ESV).

But as God has promised, “There is no peace for the wicked.” He would bring judgment against the Babylonians, and Jeremiah makes that fact plain.

“Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon.” – Jeremiah 27:7 NLT

And God has already decreed that His chosen instrument for bringing judgment on the Babylonians will be King Cyrus of the Persians.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me.” – Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5 ESV

God would punish wicked Judah by using the Babylonians. Then He would repay the Babylonians for the wickedness by using the Persians. And God would use Cyrus, the Persian king, to return the people of Judah to the land of promise.

And in verses 12-21 of Isaiah 48, God calls His people to recognize His hand in all of this. He has told them all that is going to happen, long before any of it has begun. He has predicted their fate, including their fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their eventual restoration to the land. And two times, God calls on the people of Judah to pay attention to what He is saying.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!” – Isaiah 48:12 ESV

“Assemble, all of you, and listen!” – Isaiah 48:14 ESV

“Draw near to me, hear this…” – Isaiah 48:16 ESV

But the people of Judah suffered from a severe hearing problem. God even laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…” (Isaiah 48:18 ESV). If they would have listened to what He had said, obeying His commands and living in keeping with His divine decrees, things would have been markedly different. But listening proved difficult for them. And, through His prophets, God had continually called to them, begging for them to heed what He had to say.

“Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence?” – Jeremiah 5:21-22 NLT

The root of their problem was rebellion, fueled by a lack of fear of God.

“But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God.’” – Jeremiah 5:23-24 NLT

And God reminds the people of Judah that He has been there from the beginning. The one who created the world, had called them and made them His own. He had been beside them all along the way. He had spoken to them, provided for them, and guided and protected them. They had no reason to doubt His goodness or question His word, and now He was telling them that King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were coming. But He was also letting them know that He had plans for the Babylonians as well.

“I have said it: I am calling Cyrus!
    I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed.” – Isaiah 48:15 ESV

God was going to punish Judah for their wickedness, but He was also going to redeem and restore them. And to make sure they understand the inevitability of His plan, He speaks of it in the past-tense, as if their exodus from Babylon has already taken place.

“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!
    Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message!
    Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants,
    the people of Israel.” – Isaiah 48:20 ESV

God’s word is irrefutable and unchangeable. His prophecies are not wishful thinking or some form of positive motivational, name-it-and-claim-it rhetoric. He is the God of the universe who is all-knowing and all-powerful. His word always comes to fruition. Which means, had the people of Judah done what He had said and lived in obedience to His commands, their “peace would have been like a river.” But, instead, they would learn the painful lesson that “there is no peace for the wicked.”

Taking God at His word is difficult. We are wired to doubt. Just as Eve allowed Satan to cast doubt on the word of God and cause her to disobey His command, we are prone to hear the promises of God and question their validity and credibility. Not only do we wonder whether God will do what He has said, we find ourselves questioning whether He can. And when we do, we fail to live in awe of the Lord our God.

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

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

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

God Is Not Done.

17 Is it not yet a very little while
    until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
18 In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
20 For the ruthless shall come to nothing
    and the scoffer cease,
    and all who watch to do evil shall be cut off,
21 who by a word make a man out to be an offender,
    and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate,
    and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right.

22 Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
23 For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:17-24 ESV

The people of Judah were under the delusion that they could somehow fool God into believing that they were faithfully keeping His commands. They were observing all the annual rituals and celebrating each of the prescribed festivals on schedule, just as God had commanded. But they were just going through the motions. And, all the while, they were worshiping false gods and failing to pursue justice and righteousness. So, God described their so-called worship of Him as nothing more than lip-service. It was all an act designed to trick God into believing they were faithful and true. And, in their arrogance, they dared to say, “The Lord can’t see us. He doesn’t know what’s going on!” (Isaiah 29:15 NLT). But they were wrong.

God was the potter, and they were the clay. He knew exactly what was happening. He could even see into the deep recesses of their hearts, where the root of their problem was contained. And, while God was going to bring judgment against His people for their disobedience and unfaithfulness, Isaiah reveals that God had other plans for them as well. Their immediate fortunes would involve defeat at the hands of their enemies, the destruction of their city and the desecration of the temple. But God had more in store. He had plans for them of which they were totally unaware.

In just a very short time Lebanon will turn into an orchard, and the orchard will be considered a forest. – Isaiah 29:17 NET 

This verse, while difficult for us to understand, would have been quite clear to Isaiah’s original audience. It speaks of a reversal of fortunes, a radical change in the status quo. In Isaiah’s day, Lebanon was renowned for its forests, but the day was coming when the trees once used for building ships, palaces, and siege engines would be replaced with fruit trees. The fame of Lebanon would no longer be its vast forests filled with stately cedar trees, but its orchards. A day was coming when things would be radically different.

Isaiah describes a day when the blind will see, and the deaf will hear. But there appears to be more to this than the restoration of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Notice that Isaiah states, “the deaf will hear words read from a book” (Isaiah 29:18 NLT). Just a few verses earlier, God had mentioned a sealed book that contained insights into future events.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

The people of Judah had been unable to see what God had in store for them. And, it was because God had blinded their eyes to the truth. Even their prophets and seers were incapable of seeing the future plans of God.

Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

But Isaiah informed them that a day was coming when God would open their eyes to see and their ears to hear. The unforeseen future would become a present reality. And the ones who will benefit from God’s goodness and graciousness on that day will be the lowly and humble.

The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:19 NLT

God has a particular disdain for the prideful and arrogant. There is no place in God’s kingdom for the self-made man, the individual who sees themselves as the master of their own fate. And the Scriptures are replete with God’s outlook on the proud.

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

Toward the scorners he is scornful,
    but to the humble he gives favor. – Proverbs 3:34 ESV

But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Matthew 23:12 NLT

The day is coming when there will be no place in God’s Kingdom for those whose lives are marked by scoffing, mocking, pride, and self-sufficiency. Like the cedars of Lebanon, they will be replaced with trees that produce fruit in keeping with God’s will. And when Isaiah shared this news, everyone in his audience knew the ones at whom his words were aimed.

The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent. – Isaiah 29:20-21 NLT

God was going to hold the leaders of Judah responsible. They had misled the people and caused them to stray away from Him. As Isaiah stated in the last chapter, these men were like drunks, intoxicated by their own self-worth, and staggering around under the influence of false gods and faulty counsel.

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

But, in spite of their lousy leadership, God was going to do something remarkable for His people.

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.” – Isaiah 29:22-24 NLT

In that future day, when God restores the fortunes of His people, they will see, they will recognize, the will stand in awe, they will gain understanding, and they will accept instruction. Things will be radically different. Not because they will have changed their minds, but because God will have changed their hearts. And the prophet Ezekiel records the words of God explaining just how He will accomplish this amazing transformation.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-28 NLT

You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to determine that this day has not yet arrived. The people of Judah and Israel have not yet experienced this amazing transformation. And while there are those who teach that this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus appeared the first time and the gospel was taken to the nations, it is hard to ignore that this promise was delivered to the people of Israel. Yes, those of us who have experienced the life-transformative power of the Gospel message are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot assume that God’s promises, made to the people of Judah and Israel have been transferred, wholesale, to the church.

Paul reminds us that we were grafted into the tree of Abraham.

So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree. – Romans 11:17 NLT

But we don’t replace the nation of Israel. We are simply grafted into the tree and are allowed to share in the promises God has made to them. And Paul goes on to explain that God has a future plan for His chosen people, Israel.

And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree. You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into his cultivated tree, he will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong. – Romans 11:23-24 NLT

Yes, there have been many Jews who have come to faith in Christ over the centuries. But that does not appear to be what Paul is talking about. Like Isaiah and Ezekiel, he seems to be referring to a future time when God will do something entirely new and unique for His chosen people. Why? Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God.

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

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

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

The Potter and the Clay.

9 Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
10 For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

11 And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” 12 And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

13 And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
14 therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? – Isaiah 29:9-16 ESV

The people of Judah were spiritually dull and complacent. Isaiah compares them to a man stumbling around under the influence of alcohol. But he makes it clear that their stupor and instability is spiritual in nature, and it has been brought on them by God.

For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:10 NLT

Part of the punishment He has brought against them is their inability to discern the right thing to do. In spite of all their pride and arrogance, they were incapable of understanding what it was that God was doing. The signs were obvious, but their eyes were blinded to the reality of what was going on around them and to them.

All the future events in this vision are like a sealed book to them. When you give it to those who can read, they will say, “We can’t read it because it is sealed.” When you give it to those who cannot read, they will say, “We don’t know how to read.” – Isaiah 29:11-12 NLT

Isaiah, as the prophet of God, had been pleading with them to trust God. He had exposed their misplaced trust in Egypt and other pagan nations. He had warned them of God’s pending judgment. And he had made it clear that repentance was the solution to their problem. But they had remained stubbornly unwilling to listen to a word he said. And he delivers a stinging indictment from God.

“These people say they are loyal to me;
they say wonderful things about me,
but they are not really loyal to me.
Their worship consists of
nothing but man-made ritual.” – Isaiah 29:13 NET

There were guilty of giving God lip-service. They claimed to be His loyal subjects, but they were simply going through the motions. Their words were not backed by appropriate actions. And what they alleged to be worship was nothing more than a set of man-made rules and rituals they performed by rote. Their hearts were not in it.

Not only that, they suffered from the mistaken impression that God Almighty was unable to see what it was that they were doing. In their warped and twisted minds, they fully believed that they could hide what it was they were doing from the penetrating gaze of God. And Isaiah gave verbal expression to their thoughts.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!” – Isaiah 29:15 NLT

And why did they have this remarkably naive outlook? Because they somehow believed that they had done a good job of hiding their actions from Yahweh. But Isaiah delivered the sobering news that their impressions were wrong. Deadly wrong.

What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
    who do their evil deeds in the dark!
– Isaiah 29:15 NLT

Of all people, the Jews should have known that their God was omniscient. Nothing was hidden from His sight. And their own Scriptures were filled with reminders of this very fact.

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,
    examining every path he takes. – Proverbs 5:21 NLT

“Doesn’t he see everything I do
    and every step I take?” – Job 31:4 NLT

The Lord is watching everywhere,
    keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

“I am watching them closely, and I see every sin. They cannot hope to hide from me.” – Jeremiah 16:17 NLT

And that same understanding of God’s all-knowing, all-seeing capacity is carried over into the New Testament. The author of Hebrews states:

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. – Hebrews 4:13 NLT

And yet, we seem to believe that we can hide our actions from God. Not only thought, we sometimes have the false impression that we can keep God from knowing what we are thinking. But David, the great king of Israel, throws a wet blanket on that perception.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

Think closely about that last line. God knows what you are going to say even before you say it. A thought, unexpressed, is not hidden from God. He knows our inner thoughts. He even knows the motivations that flow from the condition of our hearts. He can tell the difference between an act of charity done out of selflessness and kindness and one done for the self-centered reward of recognition.

But Isaiah exposes the lunacy behind their false perception of God.

“Your thinking is perverse!” – Isaiah 29:16 NET

The Hebrew word Isaiah used is hophek, and it literally means “to turn things upside down.” The people of God were guilty of twisting the truth and perverting the reality of God’s omniscience. In a sense, they were guilty of wishful thinking. They could only hope that God was blind to what they were doing. But He wasn’t. And to press home his point, Isaiah uses a metaphor that compares God to a potter and Judah to clay.

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

God wasn’t like a lifeless lump of clay. They were. The Creator-God who made each and every one of the people of Judah was not the one who was ignorant, blind and clueless. They were. And they had no right to question what God was doing around them or to them. They were like clay in the hands of the Potter, and He would do with them as He wished. Their compliance was not needed. Their submission was not necessary. And their denial of God’s omniscience or omnipotence did not diminish His knowledge or power one iota.

God had sent His prophet, Jeremiah, with a similar word of warning to the people of Israel. He too used the metaphor of the potter and the clay.

“O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. If I announce that a certain nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed, but then that nation renounces its evil ways, I will not destroy it as I had planned. And if I announce that I will plant and build up a certain nation or kingdom, but then that nation turns to evil and refuses to obey me, I will not bless it as I said I would.

“Therefore, Jeremiah, go and warn all Judah and Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am planning disaster for you instead of good. So turn from your evil ways, each of you, and do what is right.’” – Jeremiah 18:6-11 NLT

But the people of Israel suffered from the same problem as the people of Judah. They were too stubborn and incapable of grasping the significance of the prophet’s words. So, they responded:

“Don’t waste your breath. We will continue to live as we want to, stubbornly following our own evil desires.” – Jeremiah 18:12 NLT

How ridiculous their words sound. How arrogant and ignorant can they be? And yet, as the people of God, we far too often exhibit the same characteristics. We boldly reject the words of God, demanding that we be allowed to live our lives the way we want to. We stubbornly determine to do things our way, rather than obeying God’s will for our lives. And we ignorantly assume we can hide our thoughts and actions from God. But He knows. He sees. And, as the Potter, He does what He has to do to mold His children into the vessels of glory.

Centuries later, the apostle Paul picked up on Isaiah’s metaphor of the potter and the clay and used it to address to believers in Rome.

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use? – Romans 9:20-21 Berean Bible

God will do what He has to do to bring about the transformation He has planned. His will is never thwarted. His design is never altered. In our arrogance and pride, we may believe that are the ones in control. But Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul would have us understand that God alone controls our destinies. And it is far better to submit to His will than to resist it.

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

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

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

Valley of Vision.

1 The oracle concerning the valley of vision.

What do you mean that you have gone up,
    all of you, to the housetops,
2 you who are full of shoutings,
    tumultuous city, exultant town?
Your slain are not slain with the sword
    or dead in battle.
3 All your leaders have fled together;
    without the bow they were captured.
All of you who were found were captured,
    though they had fled far away.
4 Therefore I said:
“Look away from me;
    let me weep bitter tears;
do not labor to comfort me
    concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people.”

5 For the Lord God of hosts has a day
    of tumult and trampling and confusion
    in the valley of vision,
a battering down of walls
    and a shouting to the mountains.
6 And Elam bore the quiver
    with chariots and horsemen,
    and Kir uncovered the shield.
7 Your choicest valleys were full of chariots,
    and the horsemen took their stand at the gates.
8 He has taken away the covering of Judah.

In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, 9 and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, 10 and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. 11 You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.

12 In that day the Lord God of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
13 and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
14 The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears:
“Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,”
    says the Lord God of hosts. – Isaiah 22:1-14 ESV

God has spent a great deal of time addressing the nations surrounding Judah. Now, He turns His attention to His chosen people and, particularly, their capital city of Jerusalem. In this chapter, God delivers yet another oracle, this one aimed at the City of David, the place where Solomon’s Temple was located. This impressive structure poised prominently on the Temple Mount, was to have been the heart and soul of the nation. It was there that God had promised to meet with His people, providing them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving atonement for their sins. But when construction of the temple had been completed, and Solomon had dedicated it to the Lord, he had received a very pointed message from God.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’

“And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” – 1 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

But Solomon had failed to keep his part of the covenant. He had not walked with integrity and godliness. Instead, he had surrounded himself with countless foreign wives, in direct violation of God’s commands, and had ended up worshiping their false gods. As a result, God had divided his kingdom in half, allowing the ten northern tribes to form the nation of Israel. The tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, remained in the south as the nation of Judah.

And this oracle begins to address the coming destruction that God had promised would happen if His people abandoned Him and disobeyed His commands and decrees.

God opens the oracle by referring to Jerusalem as the “Valley of Vision.” This designation, while somewhat cryptic to our western ears, would have been very clear to Isaiah’s original audience. Jerusalem sat on what is known as Mount Zion. Zion was originally an ancient Jebusite fortress that David conquered and took possession of, eventually creating the city of Jerusalem. He constructed a royal palace there, and Zion/Jerusalem became the seat of power in Israel’s kingdom. In Psalm 2:6, God refers to Zion as His “holy hill.” Psalm 48 gives a further description of Zion’s status as God’s city.

How great is the Lord,
    how deserving of praise,
in the city of our God,
    which sits on his holy mountain!
It is high and magnificent;
    the whole earth rejoices to see it!
Mount Zion, the holy mountain,
    is the city of the great King!
God himself is in Jerusalem’s towers,
    revealing himself as its defender. – Psalm 48:1-3 NLT

And yet, in this oracle, God refers to Jerusalem, which sat on and was synonymous with Zion, as the “Valley of Vision.” The Hebrew word for “valley” is gay' and conjures up images of a low, flat region, just the opposite of how the psalmist describe it. No longer a “holy mountain,” Jerusalem is fated to become a valley – an image of its coming humiliation and degradation. It will be the place where God’s vision or prophetic pronouncements will be fulfilled. 

And the oracle describes the people of Jerusalem as running for their lives, in an attempt to escape the swords of their enemies. But while some will manage to escape, only to become fugitives living in foreign lands, many will find themselves captured. And there will be many who die, but not as a result of battle. They will die of starvation because of a long, drawn-out siege.

Isaiah describes his reaction to this future judgment on the city of Jerusalem.

“Leave me alone to weep;
    do not try to comfort me.
Let me cry for my people
    as I watch them being destroyed.” – Isaiah 22:4 NLT

As a prophet of God, he knows that this outcome, while inevitable and inescapable, is still avoidable – if only the people will repent and return to God. But the very fact that God is speaking this oracle against Jerusalem reveals that the people will not listen to Isaiah’s warnings. They will not give up their wicked and rebellious ways. And the oracle makes it clear that this future day of judgment will come at the hands of God Himself.

Oh, what a day of crushing defeat!
    What a day of confusion and terror
brought by the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
    upon the Valley of Vision!
The walls of Jerusalem have been broken,
    and cries of death echo from the mountainsides. – Isaiah 22:5 NLT

God describes a scene of chaos. The enemy’s chariots fill the valleys surrounding Jerusalem. They storm the gates and attempt to destroy the city’s fortifications. The people inside the walls busy themselves tearing down their own homes to repair the breaches made in the walls. They gather their weapons and attempt to ration their water supply, in hopes of surviving the siege. But Isaiah levels a serious charge against the people of Judah.

But you never ask for help from the One who did all this.
    You never considered the One who planned this long ago. – Isaiah 22:11 NLT

In the midst of all the suffering and threats of pending destruction, the people will party rather than repent. They will operate under the fatalistic assumption that all is lost and, rather than turn to God, they will turn to self-gratification.

…you dance and play;
    you slaughter cattle and kill sheep.
    You feast on meat and drink wine.

You say, “Let’s feast and drink,
    for tomorrow we die!” – Isaiah 22:13 NLT

Not exactly the reaction God was looking for.

At that time the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
    called you to weep and mourn.
He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins
   and to wear clothes of burlap to show your remorse. – Isaiah 22:12 NLT

God’s judgment was intended to bring repentance. It was meant as a wake-up call for His people, to jar them from their spiritual lethargy and moral stupor. But they would fail to listen. They would prefer to revel and die than repent and live. So, Isaiah delivers a powerful statement concerning the danger of unbelief.

“Till the day you die, you will never be forgiven for this sin.” That is the judgment of the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 22:14 NLT

Persistent refusal to believe and trust in God is deadly. It is the unforgivable sin. The people of Judah were faced with a decision, trust in themselves or trust in God. Turn to pagan nations for help or turn to God for salvation. But if they refused to repent and place their hope and trust in God Almighty, they would never experience His salvation.

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 Destruction of the Destroyer.

” – 5 Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
6 Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;
8 for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
9 Is not Calno like Carchemish?
    Is not Hamath like Arpad?
    Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
    whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
    as I have done to Samaria and her images?” 

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
    and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
    and plunder their treasures;
    like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
    the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
    so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
    or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
    or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
    or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
    will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
    like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
    the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
    and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
    that a child can write them down. – Isaiah 10:5-19 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. His actions are not always understandable by us. In fact, there are times when, from our vantage point, the ways of God appear unjust or unfair. We can read many of the accounts recorded in Scripture and wonder how a loving God can act so harshly, even to His own people. When confronted with stories like the flood that wiped out an entire generation of people, we can end up questioning His goodness. And, of course, His command to the people of Israel to eliminate all the nations occupying the land of Canaan is particularly difficult for us to reconcile with our belief in an all-loving and merciful God.

And, as today’s passage so clearly portrays, there were times when God used the pagan nations to punish His chosen people, then turned around and punished the very ones He used for their actions. It sounds so capricious and temperamental. God comes across more as a tyrant than a loving and gracious sovereign. But our perspective is limited by our vantage point. We see things only from our earth-bound and man-focused point of view. So, we must be careful in judging God or indicting Him based on limited understanding of His will or His ways. As Moses so eloquently and accurately stated:

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

In today’s passage, we find God describing the nation of Assyria as “the rod of my anger” and “a club to express my anger” (Isaiah 10:5 NLT). He will use them to punish Judah, His own chosen people, whom He describes as “a godless nation.” God will utilize Assyria like a workman uses a tool to accomplish a task. He will go on to compare Assyria to an ax or a saw, a rod or a wooden cane. These instruments are lifeless and incapable of accomplishing anything of significance apart from the one who picks them up and puts them to work according to his will.

But God makes it clear that the king of Assyria “will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way” (Isaiah 10:7 NLT). His own pride and arrogance will not allow him to see himself as an unwilling instrument in the hands of a sovereign God. From his perspective, his actions will be according to his own will. He will attack Judah because he wants to, not because God has sovereignly ordained it.

His plan is simply to destroy,
    to cut down nation after nation. – Isaiah 10:7 NLT

He will be doing what he wants to do, unaware that his actions are part of the sovereign will of God. In attacking Judah and Jerusalem, he will be doing what he has always done. He will be following a well-established strategy that had resulted in the defeats of other nations. He will not recognize the hand of God in this victory any more than he had in all the others. In fact, he arrogantly boasts:

So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
    just as we destroyed Samaria with hers. – Isaiah 10:11 NLT

Little did the king of Assyria know or understand that his coming victory over Judah would be God’s doing and not his own. His success would be God-ordained, not the result of his own strategic thinking or military might. But that will not be how he sees it.

“By my own powerful arm I have done this.
    With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
    and carried off their treasures.
    I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
I have robbed their nests of riches
    and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
    or utter a peep of protest.” – Isaiah 10:13-14 NLT

And yet, God makes it perfectly clear that, when the Assyrians have completed the task He has set out for them, He will turn His judgment against them. He will punish them for their role in the destruction of His people – even though He is the one who ordained it.

After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. – Isaiah 10:12 NLT

Yes, God would use Assyria to punish godless Judah, but their actions would not be against their will. The king of Assyria, like the people over whom he ruled, would be acting in keeping with his nature. He was proud and arrogant. He was power hungry and convinced of his own invincibility. And God would use the king of Assyria’s pride-filled ambition like a workman wielding a sharpened ax. But unlike a lifeless, inanimate ax, the king of Assyria would boast in his accomplishments, taking full credit for the destruction of Jerusalem. But God points out the absurdity of this kind of arrogance in the face of His sovereign will.

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it?
    Is the saw greater than the person who saws?
Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it?
    Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

And God goes on to describe the ramifications for Assyria’s part in the fall of Judah. God would punish them, not because they did exactly what He ordained them to do, but because they did it joyfully and with no recognition of His hand in it. They acted arrogantly and willingly in all that they did. So, He warns them that their punishment would be severe. He threatens them with a plague among their all-powerful troops. He predicts the destruction of their once-glorious army. As the Holy One and the Light of Israel, He would consume them as easily as fire destroys thorns and briers. The once great nation of Assyria would be destroyed in a single night. 

The Lord will consume Assyria’s glory
    like a fire consumes a forest in a fruitful land;
    it will waste away like sick people in a plague.
Of all that glorious forest, only a few trees will survive—
    so few that a child could count them! – Isaiah 10:18-19 NLT

This pattern is repeated all throughout the Scriptures – all the way to the book of Revelation. God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment on the world, then cast him into hell for his efforts. In the end, God will unleash demonic hordes on humanity to torment and kill them. But, after their work is done, God will cast them and Satan into hell for all eternity.

We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even like the ways of God. But as God will point out much later on in the book of Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

His ways are always right and just. His divine will is always perfect and His actions are never in error or motivated by injustice or unrighteousness. That may be difficult for us to comprehend, but our inability to understand God’s ways does not diminish God’s character. Our limited perspective may not allow us to fully grasp the ways of our unlimited, all-powerful God, but rather than question His goodness, we should find comfort in the fact that He is in complete control of any and all things.

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 Work of the Lord Our God.

Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer
    against Babylon,
    against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,
and I will send to Babylon winnowers,
    and they shall winnow her,
and they shall empty her land,
    when they come against her from every side
    on the day of trouble.
Let not the archer bend his bow,
    and let him not stand up in his armor.
Spare not her young men;
    devote to destruction all her army.
They shall fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans,
    and wounded in her streets.
For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken
    by their God, the Lord of hosts,
but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt
    against the Holy One of Israel.

“Flee from the midst of Babylon;
    let every one save his life!
Be not cut off in her punishment,
    for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance,
    the repayment he is rendering her.
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand,
    making all the earth drunken;
the nations drank of her wine;
    therefore the nations went mad.
Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken;
    wail for her!
Take balm for her pain;
    perhaps she may be healed.
We would have healed Babylon,
    but she was not healed.
Forsake her, and let us go
    each to his own country,
for her judgment has reached up to heaven
    and has been lifted up even to the skies.
The Lord has brought about our vindication;
    come, let us declare in Zion
    the work of the Lord our God.

“Sharpen the arrows!
    Take up the shields!

The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance for his temple.

“Set up a standard against the walls of Babylon;
    make the watch strong;
set up watchmen;
    prepare the ambushes;
for the Lord has both planned and done
    what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon.
O you who dwell by many waters,
    rich in treasures,
your end has come;
    the thread of your life is cut.
The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself:
Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
    and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” –
Jeremiah 51:1-14 ESV

God’s indictment of Babylon continues. He has already far exceeded the length of His other oracles concerning Egypt, Ammon, Moab and Edom. He obviously has much to say concerning the fate of the nation of Babylon. And His words concerning Babylon extend well beyond King Nebuchadnezzar and the nation as it was known in Jeremiah’s day. Babylon would become a byword and a standing symbol for all things anti-God. In fact, in the book of Revelation, John is given a vision by an angelic being concerning Babylon.

“Come with me,” he said, “and I will show you the judgment that is going to come on the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.”

So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement. – Revelation 17:1-6 NLT

Throughout the Scriptures, Babylon becomes the personification of spiritual adultery and immorality. She represents the world without God, full of pride, characterized by power and wealth, addicted to sexual immorality and drunk with the blood of God’s holy people. In a sense, Babylon is a picture of mankind apart from God, left to its own devices. Rather than seek God, man will always attempt to make himself god, creating false deities that are nothing more than a slightly more powerful version of himself. The apostle Paul provides us with a very dark description of mankind in rebellion against God.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

Babylon would become an enduring symbol of mankind’s stubborn resistance to God’s will and their ongoing rebellion against God’s rightful place as not only their creator, but their God. In this passage, God refers to Babylon as Leb-kamai, a code name for Chaldea, which literally means “heart of my adversaries.” They were His enemies. They stood in pride-filled opposition to Him. But their day of destruction was coming. Literal Babylon, the nation that had destroyed Judah, would fall at the hands of the Persians. But symbolic Babylon would also fall. But in the midst of all of this, God reminds His people that He is still watching over them and that the coming judgment on Babylon will be a sign of His love for them and His vengeance against all those who have opposed them and sought to eliminate them.

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

God will save His people, not because they deserve it, but because He had made a covenant with them. He will honor His commitment to preserve and protect them. He will keep His Word to restore them to a right relationship with Him. All because He is faithful, gracious, merciful and loving. And the day is coming when the people of Israel and Judah will be able to say:

“The Lord has vindicated us.
    Come, let us announce in Jerusalem
    everything the Lord our God has done.” – Jeremiah 51:10 NLT

It would have been so easy for the people of Judah to have seen their situation as helpless and hopeless. They had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken captive. Their nation was in a shambles, their capital city had been destroyed, and the temple of their God lay in ruins. They had no king. They no longer had an army. The glory days of David and Solomon were long gone. But God was far from finished with them. And God was not yet done with Babylon. He would raise up yet another conquering nation, Persia, which would defeat the once-great Babylonians. And then they too, would eventually fall. The Romans would rise to power and would rule the land during the days when God’s Son came to earth. But their days of power and prominence would also come to an end. Nations rise and fall. Kings come to power and then find themselves replaced by yet another individual with grandiose aspirations to rule and reign. But none of these kings, dictators, presidents, despots, or aspiring gods, will ever stand before God Almighty. Even the great Babylon, symbol of man’s immorality and desire for deity, will one day be destroyed.

After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting,

“Praise the Lord!
    Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.
His judgments are true and just.
    He has punished the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality.
    He has avenged the murder of his servants.” – Revelation 19:1-2 NLT

There is much about prophecy that we cannot understand. These matters are far beyond our reasoning capabilities and outside our human capacity to discern. But, in faith, we need to trust that “the Lord will fulfill all his plans against Babylon” (Jeremiah 51:12 NLT). We can rest in the confidence provided by God’s faithful pronouncement, “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has taken this vow and has sworn to it by his own name” (Jeremiah 51:14 NLT). The work of the Lord our God will be done. His plan will be fulfilled. His promises regarding this world and His people who live in it, will come about just as He has said it will. No matter what we see happening around us, we can know that God is greater than Babylon the great. He is more powerful than the mightiest nation. He is sovereign over all. And all those who stand opposed to Him and attempt to replace the one true God with themselves or an idol of their own choosing, will one day discover that they were living the delusion of Babylon. And all of those who have placed their faith in the one true God will be able to say, along with the redeemed of Israel and Judah, “The Lord has vindicated us.”

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

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

The Message (MSG)

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

Reprimanded, but Not Rejected.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow.
If I go out into the field,
    behold, those pierced by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
    behold, the diseases of famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land
    and have no knowledge.’”

Have you utterly rejected Judah?
    Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
    so that there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace, but no good came;
    for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
    and the iniquity of our fathers,
    for we have sinned against you.
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
    do not dishonor your glorious throne;
    remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
    Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O Lord our God?
    We set our hope on you,
    for you do all these things. – Jeremiah 14:17-22 ESV

Transparency is a difficult thing to pull off. It is not easy being vulnerable and allowing others to see the real you, sharing your true feelings and opening yourself up to possible rejection or misunderstanding. And yet, that is exactly what God commanded Jeremiah to do – and with the very people who had refused to listen to his message. Jeremiah was going to have to reveal his most intimate feelings to those who hated and despised him.

“You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
    and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
    with a very grievous blow.” – Jeremiah 14:17 ESV

God is not putting words in Jeremiah’s mouth. He is simple having the prophet share what his true feelings will be when he sees the devastation to come. The blow to Judah will be “grevious”. The Hebrew word, chalah refers to a state of sickness, weakness and weariness. The blow Judah will receive and the wound it causes will be deadly in nature. And God reveals the devastating nature of its impact through the eyes and emotions of Jeremiah.

“If I go out into the fields,
    I see the bodies of people slaughtered by the enemy.
If I walk the city streets,
    I see people who have died of starvation.” – Jeremiah 14:18 NLT

Jeremiah was to share with the people the very real nature of the coming destruction that will be perpetrated on them by the Babylonians. There will be bodies strewn everywhere outside the walls of Jerusalem, the victims of the swords of the enemy. And within the safety of Jerusalem’s walls, there will be the bodies of those who have died of starvation as a result of the siege. And these scenes of devastation and death will take their toll on Jeremiah. Even the prophets and priests will attempt to act as if nothing is happening, going about their daily duties, but totally ignorant as to what to do.

And Jeremiah, ever wrestling with his duty as a prophet of God and his extreme love and loyalty for his people, can’t resist the urge to ask God some very pointed questions.

Lord, have you completely rejected Judah?
    Do you really hate Jerusalem?
Why have you wounded us past all hope of healing? – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

The imagery God has given Jeremiah of complete devastation and destruction is hard for him to comprehend. It appears as if God is going to abandon Judah and Jerusalem altogether. Speaking in the plural personal pronoun “we”, Jeremiah includes himself as one of the people of Judah and expresses hope that God would spare them.

We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror. – Jeremiah 14:19 NLT

He even confesses on behalf of the people of Judah, something they had yet to do.

Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you. – Jeremiah 14:20 NLT

Although he had been faithful to God, Jeremiah includes himself as guilty, willingly placing himself under the wrath of God and totally dependent upon His mercy. He begs God to spare them for His name’s sake . It would be a terrible blow to God’s reputation if He failed to spare the people He had called by His name. Or so Jeremiah thought. He even begged God not to break His covenant with them, something God is incapable of doing because of His nature. The coming destruction was not a sign of God breaking His covenant, but of Him keeping it. He had warned the people of Judah that all these things would happen to them if they disobeyed Him. The covenant had been conditional. They are the ones who had broken their end of the agreement, which meant He had to bring the curses upon them just as He had promised He would.

Jeremiah makes one last desperate attempt to change God’s mind. He butters Him up, attempting to appeal to His ego, by ridiculing the absurd nature of lifeless idols and their inability to provide any kind of help. But God could. 

Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain?
    Does it fall from the sky by itself?
No, you are the one, O Lord our God!
    Only you can do such things.
    So we will wait for you to help us. – Jeremiah 14:22 NLT

Jeremiah was holding out hope that God would change His mind. He was still waiting on God to send rain and break the drought. He was also hoping that God would have second thoughts about sending the Babylonians. Jeremiah longed for God to spare the people of Judah. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of their destruction. What would the pagan nations think about a God who abandoned His own people? Why would the future generations of Hebrew children, forced to grow up in exile, worship a God who destroyed their homeland? But Jeremiah did not have the whole picture. He wasn’t aware of God’s full plan for His people. Like the rest of us, Jeremiah was human, and limited in his perspective. He trusted God, but was unable to fully understand what God was doing. And the only thing that made sense to Him was God relenting of His plan to punish Judah and restoring them to a right relationship with Him. But for that to happen, their sins had to be dealt with. God could not and would not overlook their rebellion against Him. Their hearts were wicked and their idolatry was proof.

God would punish them for their sins, but would also one day restore them. Jeremiah didn’t have the full picture. The people of Judah had to suffer for their sins and experience the humiliation that comes with willing rebellion against a holy God. But God, in His mercy and grace, would one day restore them, not because of them, but in spite of them. He would bring them out of captivity and place them back in the land of promise. He would allow them to rebuild the gates and walls of Jerusalem, and restore the temple and the sacrificial system. Not because they deserved it, but because He is a loving and faithful God who always keeps His covenant promises.

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

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

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

A Divine Perspective.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doom, But Not All Gloom.

My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
    Oh the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
    I cannot keep silent,
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
    the alarm of war.
Crash follows hard on crash;
    the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are laid waste,
    my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard
    and hear the sound of the trumpet?

“For my people are foolish;
    they know me not;
they are stupid children;
    they have no understanding.
They are ‘wise’—in doing evil!
    But how to do good they know not.”

I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
    and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
    and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
    and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
    and all its cities were laid in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.” – Jeremiah 4:19-27 ESV

As has been discussed before, the role of a prophet of God was far from easy. They were not automatons who mechanically went about their business. They were not heartless, unfeeling robots who simply mouthed the words given to them by God. They were flesh-and-blood human beings who were being required by God to deliver devastating news of pending destruction to their own people. In this section, we have the first of Jeremiah’s laments or confessions of anguish over what is about to happen to the people of Judah. He fully believed that what God said He was going to do, He would do; but he found no joy in that fact. He was emotionally distraught over the prospect of his people having to endure the suffering that was headed their way. His description of his physical condition speaks volumes concerning his mental and emotional state:

My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain!
    My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT

Whether God had given Jeremiah an actual vision of the coming invasion by the Babylonians is not clear. But Jeremiah describes those future events as if he has already witnessed them.

For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets
    and the roar of their battle cries. – Jeremiah 4:19 NLT

For Jeremiah, the future events that God has prescribed were unavoidable, but also unbearable. He was already tired of hearing about them and having to constantly describe them to the people. So, he calls out to God:

How long must I see the battle flags
    and hear the trumpets of war? – Jeremiah 4:21 NLT

It was all too much for him. But God reminds Jeremiah not to forget why he is having to suffer so much inner turmoil. There is a very good reason for his visions of destruction and his personal grief. Rather than point the finger at God, Jeremiah needed to recall the true cause of his unbearable sorrow. So, God tells him:

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

God speaks a powerful word of accusation over the people of Judah, claiming that they don’t even know Him. He describes them as ignorant and devoid of understanding. The only thing they know how to do well is sin. But they lacked the capacity to do what is right. This is a description of a people who had gone off the moral cliff and plunged themselves into a black hole of sin and immorality. They were not coming back. God knew that they were not going to repent of their sins and return to Him. Their destruction was not inevitable, it was unavoidable. As a righteous, holy and just God, He was obligated by His very nature to deal with their sins and keep the covenant He had made with them. He had told them that disobedience would bring curses upon them and He had been quite explicit in what those curses would entail.

“Because you have not served the Lord your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, instead in hunger, thirst, nakedness, and poverty you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you. They will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you. The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or pity for the young.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-50 NLT

God had done what He had promised to do. He had brought them into the land of promise. He had given them victories over their enemies. He had blessed them in innumerable ways, just as He had said He would do.

“The Lord will designate you as his holy people just as he promised you, if you keep his commandments and obey him. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you belong to the Lord, and they will respect you. The Lord will greatly multiply your children, the offspring of your livestock, and the produce of your soil in the land which he promised your ancestors he would give you. The Lord will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any.” – Deuteronomy 28:9-12 NLT

But the people of Judah and Israel had proven to be unfaithful and disobedient. They had not kept their side of the covenant. And so, God was bringing on them the very judgment He had said would come. He was keeping His word. And, evidently, God gave Jeremiah a look at the pre-release trailer of the coming destruction.

I looked at the earth, and it was empty and formless.
    I looked at the heavens, and there was no light.
I looked at the mountains and hills,
    and they trembled and shook.
I looked, and all the people were gone.
    All the birds of the sky had flown away.
I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness.
    The towns lay in ruins,
    crushed by the Lord’s fierce anger. – Jeremiah 4:23-26 NLT

This was not going to be a slap on the wrist. What Jeremiah saw was total and complete destruction. The Babylonians were going to leave behind when they were done was a barren wasteland that was full of destroyed cities, but void of life. This was going to be an apocalypse. The once-great city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, would have its walls completely destroyed. The city would be laid waste. Even the beautiful temple built by Solomon would be turned into a pile of rubble. Anything of value would be taken as booty by the Babylonians, and the people of Judah would be gathered up and marched off as slaves. And it would all be the result of God’s righteous anger. But the cause of His anger would be the sins of the people. This was not going to be some arbitrary, unprovoked outburst of uncontrollable anger from God. It was going to be His judgment against the open rebellion of the very people He had set apart as His own and blessed in unprecedented ways. The nuclear winter-like vision Jeremiah saw was the direct result of the sins of the people. They were getting what they deserved.

But wait. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud. God gives Jeremiah a glimpse of the good news that lay hidden in all the darkness.

This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
    but I will not destroy it completely.” – Jeremiah 4:27 NLT

It’s not much, but in this one verse lies a message of hope. As bad as things might have appeared in Jeremiah’s vision, there was a glimmer of light. God was not going to destroy the land completely. This was not going to be a complete destruction. While the people of Judah deserved nothing but total annihilation for their sins, God was going to show them mercy. He was going to extend them grace. A remnant would survive the coming holocaust. Not all would be killed or taken captive. God was still going to bless the people of Judah – in spite of them. His love for them would not fade. Yes, He was going to punish them for their sins, but He was not going to abandon them. He was not going to give up on them. Because He is faithful. And because He had a plan for the nation of Judah that was bigger than that one generation. He had a purpose for them as a nation for which they were unaware. He was going to raise up a king from the nation of Judah who would rule and reign in righteousness. God had made a covenant with King David, telling him:

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And that promise would eventually be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, as Gabriel made clear to Mary:

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

Judah would be preserved. Yes, they would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would one day restore them to the land. Why? Because He had made a promise and He was going to keep it. He had a much bigger plan in store for the world. He was going to bring a Savior into the world who would bring a solution to the very sin problem that got Judah in trouble in the first place. Through His Son, God was going to provide a means by which mankind might find release from their slavery to sin and death. So, while Jeremiah saw only doom and gloom, God wanted him to know that this story was going to have a very happy ending.

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

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

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

Familiarity Breeds Contempt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prone to Wander.

“How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
    I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
    know what you have done—
a restless young camel running here and there,
    a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
    Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
    in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
    and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
    for I have loved foreigners,
    and after them I will go.’

“As a thief is shamed when caught,
    so the house of Israel shall be shamed:
they, their kings, their officials,
    their priests, and their prophets,
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
    and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
For they have turned their back to me,
    and not their face.
But in the time of their trouble they say,
    ‘Arise and save us!’
But where are your gods
    that you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you,
    in your time of trouble;
for as many as your cities
    are your gods, O Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:23-28 ESV

God knew that the people of Judah would deny His accusations. When confronted by the prophet of God bearing the indictment of God against them, they would simply resort to a pitiful attempt at denial. They cry, “Not guilty!” But God says that there is plenty of proof to convict them. He tells them to take a look at the valley – probably a reference to the Hinnon Valley just south of Jerusalem. It was at this place they worshiped Baal and Molech, even sacrificing their children to these false gods.

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 ESV

When Jeremiah started his ministry, he did so under the reign of King Josiah. And we read in 2 Kings where he made many reforms, trying to correct the many misdeeds of the people of Judah. One of them involved the Hinnom Valley.

“he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” – 2 Kings 23:10 ESV

This chapter in 2 Kings validates God’s accusation, providing additional evidence of just how corrupt and immoral the people of God had become. Josiah found himself quite busy trying to remedy the spiritual problem that permeated every area of life in Judah.

…the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven – 2 Kings 23:4 ESV

And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:5 ESV

And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:7 ESV

And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the Lord… – 2 Kings 23:11 ESV

And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites… – 2 Kings 23:13 ESV

And the list goes on. And while Josiah was busy trying to clean up the mess left by ages of disobedience and disregard for God, the people never really changed. Their hearts remained stubborn and totally opposed to returning to God. In spite of his best efforts at reform, Josiah would not be able to reform the hearts of the people. That is why God was sending Jeremiah and why the author of 2 Kings went on to write:

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” – 2 Kings 23:26-27 ESV

They could deny their guilt, but the evidence was stacked against them. God even compares them to a wild donkey or camel in heat. They couldn’t resist their inner urges. They were driven by their own desires, like a female donkey that runs away from its master in order to satisfy its base desires. God had repeatedly called the people of Judah to repentance, begging them to return to Him. He loved them and would have accepted them and restored them to a right relationship with Him, but they responded, “Save your breath. I’m in love with these foreign gods, and I can’t stop loving them now!” (Jeremiah 2:25 NLT). They weren’t going to stop. They couldn’t. Their sin natures wouldn’t allow them to do so. What a great picture of man’s inability to seek and serve God faithfully. If left to ourselves, we will always choose sin over righteousness. We may mean well, but our natural predisposition is toward sin. We can’t help ourselves. That is why Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). The people of Judah were doing what came naturally. They were sinners in need of a Savior. They had been chosen by God and set apart by Him, but they still had hearts that were predisposed to sin. It was in their DNA, inherited from their ancestor, Adam. Paul reminds us of the terrible consequences of Adam’s original sin:

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

…by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners – Romans 5:19 ESV

And the people of Judah were living proof of this theological reality. They were sinners. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continued to follow their natural inclination to seek and serve other gods. But their passion for other gods was really based on a need for self-determination and autonomy. They wanted to be the arbiters of their own fate. They wanted to determine the kind of god they served. And this desire went all the way back to the garden of Eden. God had warned Adam:

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

It was Satan who came to them and subtly seduced them to disobey the command of God. He misconstrued the words of God and made it sound like God was denying Adam and Eve something they would really enjoy. He was attempting to keep them from being like Himself.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Satan was right. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They not only knew what evil was, they had an irrepressible desire for it. And driving their urges from that day forward would be their desire to be like God. They would want to be in control. They would want to determine their own future and live according to their own will. Man’s ongoing attempt to create his own gods is nothing more than his need to find value and meaning in something outside of himself. Our innate need for God gets satisfied by our own attempt to create our own gods, whether in the form of an idol or an ideology. Today, we worship science and politics, education and enlightenment. Our gods are more sophisticated, but are no less idols than a Buddha statue sitting on a table.

God points out the absurdity of man’s incurable desire to create his own god.

“To an image carved from a piece of wood they say,
    ‘You are my father.’
To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say,
    ‘You are my mother.’
They turn their backs on me,
    but in times of trouble they cry out to me,
    ‘Come and save us!’” – Jeremiah 2:27 NLT

We have this innate desire to worship anything and everything but God. Then, when things go south, we find ourselves turning back and crying out to God for help. Like the millions of people who flocked to and filled churches all across America after 9/11, we find ourselves falling back on God when our world falls in on us. But God would say to us as He did to Judah:

“But why not call on these gods you have made?
    When trouble comes, let them save you if they can!
For you have as many gods
    as there are towns in Judah.” – Jeremiah 2:28 NLT

Why not let science save you? Why not ask your politicians to come to your rescue? You’ve spent your life putting your trust in money, why not put your hope in it now? You’ve made pleasure your god, so why not let pleasure get you out of the fix you’re in? But false gods have no power to save. They are totally incapable of providing rescue from the effects of sin. Science can prolong life, but it can’t prevent death. Politicians can pass laws and legislate till their blue in the face, but they can’t prevent sin or promise eternal life. In fact, the gods we worship in place of the one true God, can only cause sin. They tempt us to turn from God. They cause us to misplace our trust and misdirect our affections. They produce sin, rather than prevent it.

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

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

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

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

The Child Died.

Then Nathan went to his house. And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 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. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:15-23 ESV

This is a difficult passage. It involves the death of an innocent child, apparently as the result of God’s direct intervention and discipline. The prophet, Nathan, had told David:

“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 NLT

Verse 15 seems to make quite clear God’s involvement in the situation.

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. – 2 Samuel 12:15 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “afflicted” is nagaph and it means “to inflict” (as in a disease). It’s the same word used in Exodus when God “struck” the firstborn of the Egyptians as part of the tenth plague.

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock.– Exodus 12:29 ESV

What are we supposed to do with this information? It raises all kinds of ethical and moral questions in our minds. Why would God punish an innocent child for the sins of his parents? What had the child done to deserve death? Is God a vindictive god who lashes out in anger, inflicting pain on the innocent in order to get the attention of the guilty? Why didn’t God kill David since he was the one who sinned and commissioned the murder of Uriah? These kinds of questions are legitimate and perfectly normal for us to consider as we deal with this passage. But it is essential that the conclusions we draw or the answers we walk away with are based on a biblically accurate understanding of God.

Let’s take a closer look at what is going on in this story. David, the king of Israel, was God’s appointed and Spirit-anointed leader. He represented God on behalf of the people. He was to rule and reign over them, but modeling his leadership on the shepherd model. He was to serve them. He was to care for them. But when David sinned with Bathsheba, he was not acting as a shepherd. He didn’t have the best interests of the flock at heart. In fact, the passage in 2 Samuel that chronicles David’s sin, tells us that when he was informed that Bathsheba was a married woman, the wife of Uriah, he, “sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her” (2 Samuel 11:4 ESV). The phrase “took her” is the Hebrew word laqach, which means “to seize, snatch or take away.” David stole another man’s wife. And this is made perfectly clear when we look at the story Nathan the prophet used to convict David. He made up a sad tale about a poor man who had a lamb that was like a household pet. One day, a rich man, who received a surprise visit from a friend, decided to take the poor man’s lamb in order to feed his guest. The text says, “but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him” (2 Samuel 12:4 ESV). Nathan used that same Hebrew word, laqach. The rich man snatched or stole the poor man’s lamb. He took advantage of the poor man, even when he had plenty of lambs of his own.

And it is interesting to note David’s righteous indignation when he heard this heart-wrenching story.

“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” – 2 Samuel 12:5-6 ESV

David had stolen Uriah’s “lamb”. He already had more wives than he needed and far more than God had commanded. But he used his divinely-ordained power to take advantage of his own flock. Not only that, David got Bathsheba pregnant. He took what was not his and he expected to receive blessings from his own disobedience. Despite his sin, he saw nothing wrong in having an heir who would be the fruit of his own immoral act. But as king, David was going to be held to a higher, more stringent standard.

We know David loved this child. He prayed to God desperately and intensely, asking that he might be spared. “David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground” (2 Samuel 12:16 ESV). For seven days, David fasted, wept and prayed, begging that God might show grace and allow his son to live. But God did not answer David’s prayer. At least not in the way David desired. His son died. It was a devastating blow to David. But even he seemed to understand that this judgment from the hand of God was deserved and anything but unfair. He doesn’t rail at God. He doesn’t shake his fist in indignation at God. In fact, the text tells us, “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).

But again, we are left with the question, “Why?” Why did God choose to allow the death of the child? As the king of Israel, David had broken his covenant with God and with his people. He had stolen what was not his. He had taken what had belonged to another and tried to garner blessings through his sin. The literal “fruit” of David’s sin with Bathsheba was their son. That son did not belong to David any more than Bathsheba did. He was a stolen blessing. It reminds me of the story of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Isaac. Esau was the older of the two, having come out of the womb first, with Jacob literally holding on to his heel as he made his way entry into the world. Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been barren and unable to have children, but in answer to Isaac’s prayer, God caused her to conceive. And he told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). But when the two boys became adults, Jacob, with the help of his mother, concocted a plan to steal from Esau, the birthright that rightfully belonged to him as the firstborn. Keep in mind, God had already promised that Jacob would rule over Esau. The older was going to serve the younger. But in an act of distrust and self-reliance, Rebekah and Jacob came up with a plan to trick the dim-sighted Isaac, and cause him to give the blessing that belonged to Esau to Jacob. And Esau, when he found out what had happened, was furious. He also called what they had done exactly what it was: Stealing, He said, “For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36 ESV). And he used the very same Hebrew word, laqach. Jacob snatched what did not belong to him. God was going to give it to him eventually, but he decided to take matters into his own hands. And his actions would result in punishment. He would end up having to fun for his life and would spend years in self-imposed exile. He had the birthright and the blessing, but no joy. He had the legal claim to inherit all that belonged to his father, but not the pleasure of getting to live with his family. 

Jacob would eventually be restored to a right relationship with Esau. It would be God’s doing. And David would eventually have another son by Bathsheba. It would be Solomon. He lost the first son, as punishment for his sin. But God would eventually bless with another son who would grow up to be the heir to the throne and man picked by God to build the temple. David sinned. The child died. And while the child’s death was clearly God’s doing, it was not God’s fault. He was justly meting out the punishment David deserved. David had killed Bathsheba’s husband. God had killed David’s son. The first was undeserved and unmerited. The second was earned, not by the child, but by the king whose immoral actions had brought about the child’s very existence. This story is not intended to be a model or illustration for how God deals with ALL sin. But it simply shows us how God chose to deal with the man He had anointed king over His people. David was being held to a higher standard. He should have known better. He should have lived differently. And he had no one to blame but himself.

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

Run, Don't Walk!

Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. – 1 Corinthians 10:7-14 ESV

To Paul, the Corinthians had a far too casual approach to sin. He has already chastised them for their laissez faire approach to the sexual sin taking place in their midst. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans” (1 Corinthians 5:1 ESV). They were overly tolerant and dangerously permissive when it came to sin. And they had developed an unhealthy arrogance regarding their own spirituality and standing before God. Which is what led to warn them, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). Paul has resorted to using the Israelites as an object lesson. Their status as God’s chosen people had not prevented them from sinning or protected them from God’s punishment. They had enjoyed all the privileges and blessings of God’s favor, but had proven to be unfaithful in the end. And Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were” (1 Corinthians 10:7a ESV). Like the Corinthians, the Israelites had been redeemed from a culture in which idol worship was commonplace. In Egypt, the Israelites had been surrounded by a plethora of false gods. It was toward many of these false gods that the ten plagues were directed. God had proven Himself superior to the false gods of Egypt, providing convincing evidence to the Israelites that He was the one true God. But in the end, they resorted back to the worship of idols. They went back to what they found familiar and comfortable. 

The Corinthians found themselves in similar circumstances. Most, if not all of them, had pagan backgrounds. They had been idol worshipers when Paul and others had brought the good news of Jesus Christ to their city. As a result of God’s grace, they had been redeemed from slavery to sin and delivered from their hopeless worship of false gods. And Paul wants them to have nothing to do with idolatry any more, which is why he tells them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14b ESV). They were not to dabble with it, cozy up to it, or have anything to do with it. That included attending any feasts associated with it. Paul knew the Corinthians had a problem with compromise. They had already compromised their moral convictions and it was not impossible to consider that they might compromise their worship of God by associating with idol worship and justifying their actions as harmless.

Again, Paul uses the Israelites as an example. “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (1 Corinthians 10:7 NLT). This refers to the time when Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God and, while he was gone, the Israelites forced Aaron to make them a golden calf to worship. Moses records the events of that infamous day:

So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:3-6 ESV

And God was angry. He told Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you” (Exodus 32:9-10 ESV). They were arrogant, prideful and lacking in fear of God. They didn’t honor and revere Him. Despite all He had done for them, they turned their backs on Him. And at the end of the day, that is what idolatry really is. It is turning to something other than God as our source of provision and power, significance and security. It doesn’t have to be a golden calf. We can end up worshiping our career, family, finances, talents, or even our status as God’s chosen people. In other words, we can easily resort to worshiping our salvation instead of our Savior. We can put our hope in out eternal security rather than in the one who secured our eternity for us. 

Paul is warning them and us against developing a casual attitude toward idolatry. Idol worship is nothing more than unfaithfulness to God. It is a form of spiritual adultery, making more of something or someone else other than God. Tim Keller gives a great definition of idolatry in his book, Counterfeit Gods.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

The Israelites were disciplined by God for their unfaithfulness. They put God to the test “and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” (1 Corinthians 10:8 ESV). And Paul warns us, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:9-10 ESV). Just because we are in Christ, doesn’t mean we have the right to insult Christ by giving our affections and attentions to something or someone other than Him. We are to flee from idolatry in all its forms. The Corinthians were worshiping their right to eat meat sacrificed to idols. It wasn’t that they were worshiping the idols, but they were elevating their freedom to enjoy the pleasures of this life over their submission to the will of God for their life. We cannot afford to get cocky or comfortable. Which is why Paul warns us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV). We each face the constant temptation to worship something other than God. But, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

A Global Blessing.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;  then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. – Psalm 51:18-19 ESV

Psalm 51

David had sinned against God. What he had done had been a personal affront to the sovereignty and holiness of God. David had disobeyed God's commands and he had come under the judgment of God for his actions. But as the king of Israel, David's sins had a far more global impact. As the nation's divinely appointed leader, his actions would have far-reaching ramifications. Not only would David lose the son born out of his illicit affair with Bathsheba, he would endure years of watching his family implode. The prophet, Nathan, had warned him. “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, ‘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’” (2 Samuel 12:10-11 ESV). And these intra-family disputes would end up having a dramatic influence on the entire nation of Israel, because they would lead to the eventual takeover of David's throne by one of his own sons. David's sin would end up negatively influencing the entire nation of Israel, and he knew it. So David closed his prayer with a request that God would “do good to Zion” and “build up the walls of Jerusalem.” He was asking God bless the nation and protect it. He knew that, in reality, it was God who had made Jerusalem great and had turned the people of Israel into a powerful nation. David's selfish, passion-driven sin with Bathsheba had put the entire nation at risk. As the king went, so went the nation. His leadership set an example for good or bad. We see over and over again in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, that when they served the Lord faithfully, the people followed their example. But when they rebelled against God, the nation did as well.

David's own son, Solomon, would prove to be a prime example of this truth. Late in his reign, in his old age, after having given in to his love affair for women and having amassed for himself 1,000 wives and concubines, he began to worship their false gods. Solomon had disobeyed God's explicit command forbidding the kings of Israel to marry multiple wives. He had also disobeyed God's command to not marry outside the nation of Israel. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:4-6 ESV). And the people would follow their king's example, worshiping false gods just as he had done. As a result, God split the kingdom of Israel in half. He divided the nation and a long line of kings would rule and reign over the divided kingdom, many leading the people into further sin and rebellion against God.

So David prayed. He begged God to bless the nation in spite of him. He realized that Israel's glory was the result of God's goodness, not his effectiveness as a king. Any blessings that Israel enjoyed were the result of God's goodness. Any military victories they had experienced had been God's doing, not his own. David knew that, without God's help, Israel was defenseless and his leadership as king was ultimately useless. They needed God. And David was not content to simply pray for himself. He felt a strong responsibility to lift up the entire nation and intercede for them before God. David knew that he had let his people down. He had failed to lead responsibly and had put the nation at risk with his actions. They needed a righteous ruler and a faithful sovereign, and David knew that God was the only one who fit that description. God's blessing of the nation would result in the people turning back to Him. They would recognize His sovereign, powerful hand and once again offer Him the sacrifices and offerings He demanded and deserved. David understood that if God could create a new heart for him and renew a right spirit within him, God could do the same for the nation of Israel. He was asking God to do what only God could do: Restore and renew the nation. He wanted God to bless and protect them. David may have failed, but he knew His God never would. David may have proved himself unfaithful, but he was counting on the fact that God never would.