the plan of God

The Long Wait Begins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Curses, Foiled Again!

Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab. I will give her to you for a wife. Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord's battles.” For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” And David said to Saul, “Who am I, and who are my relatives, my father’s clan in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” But at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.

Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. And they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.” And Saul commanded his servants, “Speak to David in private and say, ‘Behold, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now then become the king's son-in-law.’” And Saul's servants spoke those words in the ears of David. And David said, “Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king's son-in-law, since I am a poor man and have no reputation?” And the servants of Saul told him, “Thus and so did David speak.” Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife. But when Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him, Saul was even more afraid of David. So Saul was David’s enemy continually.

Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle, and as often as they came out David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his name was highly esteemed. – 1 Samuel 18:17-30 ESV

In attempting to rid himself of David, Saul had tried the direct approach. On multiple occasions, in one of his fits of rage, he had unsuccessfully attempted to kill David with a spear. But his failures only fueled his desire to get rid of this threat to his reign as king. So he became more clandestine and creative in his efforts. He would develop plans by which he could expose David to life-threatening circumstances, while making it look like he was innocent and non-complicit.

For whatever reason, Saul had not yet kept his promise to reward the one who killed the Philistine champion, Goliath. He had promised to “enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25 ESV). And yet, David, the very one who had met the conditions to receive the reward, had not been given Saul’s daughter to marry. And when Saul finally decides to give David his eldest daughter, Merab, to marry, he adds conditions and exposes his expectations. David could marry Merab as long as he agreed to fight Israel’s enemies. And it was this added condition that revealed Saul’s true motivation. He cleverly disguised his intent by telling David, “Only be valiant for me and fight the Lord’s battles” (1 Samuel 18:17 ESV). He appealed to David’s sense of valor and his dedication to God. He was going to use David’s faithfulness to God and country as a means to have him eliminated.

For Saul thought, “Let not my hand be against him, but let the hand of the Philistines be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:17 ESV

But David, ignorant of Saul’s devices, simply turned down the king’s generous offer, because he did not see himself as worthy of the honor.

Because of David’s polite refusal to accept Merab’s hand in marriage, she was eventually given to another. But Saul would soon learn that his other daughter, Michal, loved David very much. It has already been revealed that David and Jonathan, Saul’s son, had developed a very close friendship. No doubt, David spent a great deal of time in Jonathan’s company and, as a result, had been able to get to know Michal well. Upon discovering his daughter’s affection for David, Saul saw another opportunity to rid himself of David once and for all.

Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” – 1 Samuel 18:21 ESV

He already had a plan. He would give Michal to David but on the condition that he pay a dowry that consisted of one hundred Philistine foreskins. Once again, Saul would appeal to David’s sense of duty. He knew full well that David came from a less-than-affluent family and would be unable to pay the customary dowry and one fit for the daughter of a king. So he would allow David to use his military skills and his hatred for the enemies of God, the Philistines, to come up with a somewhat unorthodox dowry payment. And in all of this, we are given a glimpse into David’s character. Saul sent his servants to prime the pump and to convince David to strongly consider Saul’s offer of Michal. But David simply responded, “How can a poor man from a humble family afford the bride price for the daughter of a king?” (1 Samuel 18:23 NLT). He knew he was out of his league. He was unworthy to be the son-in-law to the king. He didn’t have the financial means or the family heritage to warrant such a thing. But that was not going to deter Saul. He would actually use David’s financial condition to his advantage, replacing the customary dowry price with that of the 100 Philistine foreskins. He knew that David, being a man of integrity, would take him up on his offer. But he also knew that the risk involved in David accomplishing such a feat was going to be great, and the likelihood of David dying in the process was even greater.

Verse 27 matter-of-factly states: “David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife” (1 Samuel 18:27 ESV). Much to Saul’s chagrine, David took the king up on his offer and fulfilled the requirement to have Michal as his wife. He even doubled the number of foreskins, just to make sure that he didn’t underpay for the privilege of becoming the king’s son-in-law.

Saul’s plan had failed. His strategy to eliminate David had actually elevated him. Now David was a permanent member of his family. He was married to his daughter and would more than likely give him grandchildren and potential heirs to the throne. And not only that, Saul became increasingly aware that God was with David. Everything he did was successful. And with each successive blessing of God on David, Saul’s fear of him grew exponentially. “So Saul was David’s enemy continually” (1 Samuel 18:30 ESV). This last line is significant, because it reveals that the animosity between Saul and David was one-way. David had done nothing but honor Saul, serving him as his personal armor bearer, court musician, and military commander. While David’s reputation had grown, it never appears that David was out for fame and glory. He was not prideful or arrogant. There is never an indication that he had aspirations for the crown. It is still unclear whether David even knew that his earlier anointing by Samuel had been to make him the next king of Israel. No, David simply served, faithfully and unselfishly. At no time does he seem to see Saul as his enemy, even though the king had tried to kill him with his own hands. He never utters a bad word about the king. Saul’s hatred for David was one-directional. And his attempts to kill David would continue to prove unsuccessful, because God had a greater plan in place. David would be the next king, whether Saul like it or not, and regardless of whether Saul loved David or not. David’s fame would continue to grow. So would Saul’s hatred for David. But God was not yet done. His preparation of David for the throne was not yet complete. Things would get worse before they got better. The tension between David and Saul was about to reach a boiling point and the next phase of God’s king-creating curriculum was about to begin.

Called According To His Purpose.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 ESV

All things work together for good. That's a promise given to us by Paul, but provided through him by the very Spirit of God. So we have God's word of assurance that our circumstances will always, ultimately, work according to His divine plan for our lives. Paul writes, “all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV). You see, God has a purpose, a plan, and a program that He is bringing about. This is not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along affair. It may feel that way at times. We may wonder if God has a plan in place or whether that plan has somehow left us out. But God would have us remember that He is in control – at all times. The message of these two verses is plain. God did not look down the corridors of time and somehow see who it was who would accept His Son as their Savior. This isn't a case of God's foreknowledge of what we would do, but of what He would do for us. He predetermined or pre-ordained our salvation through His Son long before any of us were even born. Even before the universe had been spoken into existence. And the divine purpose of God was not just for our salvation, but our transformation. His plan was and is complete. It has a beginning and an end. He foreknew us. He predestined us. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. All of these words are in the past tense. They are as good as done. His plan is complete, even though His work is not yet done. As Paul has made clear, we do not yet have glorified, redeemed bodies. We still battle with our fallen flesh and our old sin nature. We endure suffering of all kinds in this life. But our ultimate outcome has been predetermined by God. We are being conformed to the image of His Son. “For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT). We have been justified, made right with God. While at one time we were sinners, condemned and destined to an eternity separated from God, we have been declared innocent, sinless and righteous by God. We stand before Him completely forgiven and entirely covered by the righteousness of Christ. And our future, glorified bodies are as good as ours – right here, right now. That is part of God's plan and God's plan for us is unstoppable and unchangeable.

This whole process of our salvation is the work of God. He is the one who foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. This was His plan, from beginning to end. And because it is His plan and not ours, it is without error and totally independent of our effort or input. That is why ALL THINGS work together for our good. His plan cannot be stopped, altered or ignored. He WILL conform us to the image of His Son. He will do for us all that He predetermined to do. He has an end in mind and He will not stop until His plan is completely fulfilled. That is why we must learn to look past our circumstances and focus our attention on the future promises of God. Paul tells us, “So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT).

We must never forget that we have been called according to His purpose, not ours. He is out to accomplish His will for us, not ours. While we may suffer from tunnel-sightedness at times, we must constantly remind ourselves to see our circumstances through the lens of God's full redemptive plan. He IS conforming us, whether we see it or not. He IS glorifying us, whether we feel like it or not. “And the Lord--who is the Spirit--makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). From “one degree of glory to another” as the English Standard Version translates it. God didn't simply save us and leave us to somehow make it on our own. He didn't redeem us and then leave us to fend for ourselves. His plan included sending His Son to die for our sins, as well as providing His Spirit to comfort, guide and empower us while we live out our days on this planet. Then one day He is going to send His Son again. He will complete the work His Father gave Him and finalize the plan of God. God promised it and we can count on it. 

God Has A Purpose.

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. – Psalm 57:2 ESV

David is hiding in a cave. He is running from a madman who also happens to be the king of Israel. Saul has an unhealthy dislike for David, fueled by jealousy and fear. As a result, he has placed a bounty on David's head, sending 3,000 mercenaries to hunt him down and bring him back dead or alive.

That's the scenario in which we find David as he writes this Psalm and expresses his desire for God to show him mercy. This had to have been a confusing time for David. He had been anointed by the prophet Nathan and told he would be the next king of Israel. But instead of sitting on a throne in Jerusalem, he was hiding in a cave in the wilderness of Judea, running for his life from the very man he was supposed to be replacing. Yet David knew that God had a plan for his life and while his circumstances were less than ideal and didn't exactly make sense, he was going to trust God. So he cried out, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High…” (1 Samuel 57:1-2 ESV). And why did he cry out to God? Because he knew that, ultimately, God would fulfill His purpose for him. He would be king one day – according to God's plan and in keeping with God's divine schedule. In the meantime, he was going to have to trust God to keep him alive. If God had promised to make him king, then he was going to take God at His word and wait for Him to fulfill His promise according to His schedule.

David was confident in God, which is why he could say, “He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (1 Samuel 57:3 ESV). While waiting on God's fulfillment of His promise, David was content to enjoy God's love and faithfulness. Becoming king was the ultimate outcome of God's word to David, but any delay in that happening was NOT to be viewed as an indication of a lack of love on God's part. The fact that David was having to run for his life, suffer the anxiety of knowing he was a wanted man, and never knowing when God would fulfill His promise, was NOT to be seen as a lack of God's faithfulness. But isn't that where we go when things don't go our way? Don't we naturally assume God has fallen out of love with us when times get tough? Aren't we prone to doubt God's faithfulness when our circumstances take a turn for the worse? Yet David was willing to wait and trust. He was content to rest in the love and faithfulness of God and see any delays as just a part of God's divine plan for fulfilling the purpose for his life.

Twice in this psalm David praises God by saying, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:5 ESV). While his situation was anything but ideal, he knew that God was still in control. He was in heaven. He was in charge. He knew what He was doing. And God could be trusted no matter what David might see going around him. Which is why he could say, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!” (Psalm 57:7 ESV). It was the exalted nature of God that gave David confidence and steadfastness in the midst of difficulty. His God was bigger than his problems. His God was more powerful than his enemies. His God was able to fulfill His promise regardless of the dire nature of David's circumstances.

God has a purpose for my life. He has a purpose for your life. We can't judge what God is doing based on what we see happening around us. Difficulty in our lives is not necessarily an indication of God's disfavor or it should never be viewed as a sign of God's unfaithfulness. He knows how the story ends. We don't. He has a purpose that He is fulfilling according to His will and perfect keeping with His agenda. We can trust Him. Our greatest desire should be that He be exalted in and through our lives. We should want to see Him lifted up as He reaches down and fulfills His purpose for us right on schedule and according to plan. And in the meantime, we should put our trust in Him. We can look up, cry out to and wait on Him, because He will fulfill His purpose for us.

Our Blessed Redeemer.

Isaiah 47-48, Revelation 7

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. Revelation 7:12 ESV

Israel got exactly what they deserved: defeat at the hands of their enemies and a humiliating deportation and exile in the land of Babylon. God had warned them repeatedly. He had told them what was going to happen if they continued to rebel against Him and refuse to obey His commands. He would send His prophets with words of warning and calls to repentance, but the Israelites would remain obstinate and refuse to listen. So God did what He had to do. He punished them, but not without purpose or for a good reason. “For my name's sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction” (Isaiah 48:9-10 ESV). God would protect the integrity of His name. He would not allow His character to be defamed by those who were called by His name. Their actions reflected poorly on God, but if God were to destroy them completely, His reputation would be damaged. He had made promises to Israel and He would not and could not fail to keep those promises. The Israelites did not deserve God's redemption, but they would receive it nonetheless. “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’” (Isaiah 48:17 ESV). They would once again experience the redemptive work of God in their lives. They would learn the reality of His power revealed in their deliverance. They would come to appreciate His wisdom revealed in His sovereign plan. They would eventually express gratitude to Him for their restoration to the land and the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. But because their deliverance was temporal and not eternal, they would find themselves falling back into old habits, and giving in to their sinful natures.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is the creator of the universe. He made all that we can see and all that remains unseen to the human eye. And when He had made it all, He declared it good – including man. But sin marred His creation. What God had created as good became stained by sin. The peace or shalom which originally marked His creation was shattered and the result was that sin spread like a cancer through the land, infecting man and the world in which he lived. But God, because of His character, was not willing to leave His creation in a less-than-perfect state. So God has had a plan in place, developed before He even made the first star or formed the first blade of grass. He has had a divine strategy to deal with man's sin and its devastating aftermath. He was not surprised by man's fall, but already knew what He was going to do in order to reestablish order and redeem His creation. All that we see taking place in the Old Testament between God and His people Israel is simply a foreshadowing of what is to come. His patience and persistent determination to keep His covenant provides us with a glimpse into His character and a reassuring confirmation of just how faithful our God is. God's choosing of Israel as His people was so that He could one day bring about the redemption of all men through a solitary descendant of Abraham, the father of the people of Israel. God was going to use this obscure nation to accomplish His redemptive plan for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Israel deserved God's punishment for their sins, but they did NOT deserve His selection of them as His people. God made that perfectly clear to them. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8 ESV). God didn't choose Israel because they deserved it. He chose them because He had a greater purpose in mind. He was interested in more than just the redemption and restoration of a single people group. He has always had the complete restoration and redemption of His creation in mind. God is a loving, covenant-keeping God. He is faithful, holy and righteous in all that He does. He always deals rightly and justly, even when He has to punish those He loves. God's anger is never unjustified or without purpose. He uses it to teach and refine those He loves. The people of Israel loved their unique position as God's chosen ones. They put high stock in their one-of-a-kind status as God's people. But their relationship with Him was strained and marked by lip-service, rather than true devotion. “Listen to me, O family of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and born into the family of Judah. Listen, you who take oaths in the name of the Lord and call on the God of Israel. You don’t keep your promises, even though you call yourself the holy city and talk about depending on the God of Israel, whose name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Isaiah 48:1-2 NLT). They were unreliable, undependable, unfaithful, and for the most part, unrepentant. But God would still redeem them.

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

The beauty of studying the Old and New Testaments together is that it presents us with the bigger storyline of God's redemptive plan. God's choosing of Israel had a much greater purpose than just the temporal blessing of a particular people group for a specific time period. God had a much greater, richer, and far more comprehensive plan in mind. His strategy has always been the ultimate redemption of mankind and the complete restoration of His creation. He was not interested in a temporal or partial fix, but a permanent one. And in the book of Revelation we are given a vision of just what that is going to look like. John is allowed to see what God has in store for the future. And the amazing thing is that God is not done with His people Israel. While His eternal plan involves far more than just the nation of Israel, it does not leave them out of the storyline. They will continue to play a significant role in God's redemptive plan, even during the time of the great tribulation that marks the end of the age. God will miraculously redeem 144,000 Jews and bring them to a saving knowledge of His Son during one of the most difficult times of persecution and trial that has ever faced mankind. Those 144,000 Jews will then become His witnesses on the earth, leading “a great multitude that no one could number” (Revelation 7:9 ESV) to faith in Christ. They will evangelize throughout the world, resulting in the conversion of people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9 ESV). But all of this will be the work of God. It will be part of His grand plan, as He faithfully and methodically brings about the final chapter in His story of man's redemption and His creation's restoration. God will redeem 144,000 from the nation of Israel. He will redeem countless more from every tribe, nation and tongue. Not because they deserve it, but because it is part of His unstoppable, irreversible plan for the world He created. Which is why we should say, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12 ESV).

Father, it is so easy to lose sight of Your bigger plan of redemption. You didn't choose Israel and stop there. You fully intended to make Your grace, love and mercy available to men from every tribe, nation and tongue. You didn't relegate Your plan of redemption to just one nation, but intended to make it available to all. Your plan is greater than my own salvation and bigger than my ongoing sanctification. You have something far greater in store for me and for all mankind that just a slightly better life on this earth. You have eternal life waiting for us. Your salvation ends with our glorification and the complete restoration of Your creation. May you bring Your divine plan to a close soon. Amen

The Danger of Forgetfulness.

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge… Isaiah 17:10 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel had made an alliance with Syria in order to come against the southern kingdom of Judah. Not only were they planning an attack on their own brothers, they were turning to a foreign nation to help them do it. They were placing their trust in men rather than God. And at the heart of their decision to place their trust and hope in men was a failure to remember that God was the source of their salvation. As a result, their efforts to sow seeds of faith in pagan idols would prove unfruitful. Their alliances with other nations were just not diplomatic and military in nature, but they also formed spiritual alliances, turning to the false gods of those nations as a source of help and hope. But God warned them, “In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense” (Isaiah 17:7-8 ESV). A day of judgment was coming. At that time, the people of Israel would learn to turn to their God and to abandon their false gods, made with their own hands. They would receive a powerful reminder of the danger of forgetting God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Isaiah 17-18, 2 Peter 3

Ultimately, God is in control. Mankind may forget or even ignore Him, but He does not go away. He does not cease to be God. Our refusal to acknowledge Him does not alter His reality or diminish His capacity to rule and reign. God is sovereign over all. Repeatedly in these chapters, we see the words “in that day” and “at that time.” There is a day of judgment coming. God has planned a time of payback, when He will deal righteously and justly with the sins of mankind. We can read in the Old Testament the countless times in which God fulfilled His warnings of coming judgment on the people of Israel and Judah. He had warned about the coming of the Assyrians against the northern kingdom and it took place. He later warned the people of Judah that the Babylonians would come, and they did. He has provided ample warning of yet-future judgments to come that will involve the entire world. And those days will come just as He has said they will. “For the Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27 ESV). God will do all that He has planned to do, and no one can stand in His way. It doesn't matter whether we believe it or not. It doesn't make any difference if we agree with it or not. God's will will be done.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There will always be scoffers. Peter reminded his readers of that reality. “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’” (2 Peter 3:1-4 ESV). There were those in Peter's day who were denying the return of Jesus. They scoffed at the idea. Warren Wiersbe describes a scoffer as “someone who treats lightly that which ought to be taken seriously.” These individuals took a look at the world around them and concluded, “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:4 NLT). In other words, they believed that the world would simply continue to go along just as it always had, because God was not involved. Jesus was not coming back. There was no need to concern yourself with right moral standards or holy living. But Paul reminded his readers that these scoffers “deliberately overlook this fact” (2 Peter 3:5 ESV). They choose to ignore the reality that God has intervened in the affairs of the world on a variety of occasions, including at creation and during the world-wide flood in the days of Noah. God is not aloof and distant, simply watching the world from afar. He is intimately involved and has a divine plan for its ultimate redemption and restoration. Peter assured his readers that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Peter 3:9 ESV). It will come unexpectedly and suddenly, catching everyone unawares and unprepared. But he encouraged his audience to be ready – to not forget the God of their salvation and their rock of refuge. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13 ESV).

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

God wants us to be ready. He wants us to live as if we truly believe in the return of His Son. We are to live in anticipation of “day of the Lord” as if it could be any day. We should desire to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). There will be those around us who scoff at His return and live as if it isn't even going to happen. They will refuse to live their lives in preparation for His coming. But we must be ready and “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). The longer He delays, the more people have the opportunity to accept the gift of salvation made available through His Son. While we should long for and pray for His return, we should also see each passing day that God delays that event as a sign of His grace and mercy on mankind. And in the meantime, we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter3:18 ESV). Rather than forget Him, we are to grow in our knowledge of Him.

Father, You are our Savior. You are our rock of refuge. Never let me forget that. It is so easy to turn to someone or something else other than You. But those things always prove insufficient and incapable of delivering what they offer. Only You can rescue and redeem. Only You can save and sanctify. You are in complete control and Your plan is unstoppable. No matter what I see taking place around me, I can know that You are intimately involved in the affairs of men and diligently working Your plan to perfection. Amen

God's Good Work.

1 Chronicles 7-8, Philippians 1

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6 ESV

Tola, Puah, Uzzi, Rephaiah, Isshiah, Becher, Jediael, Asriel, Machir, Sheresh, Mahiah, Shuthelah, Huram …

The list of names goes on and on and we know virtually nothing about the vast majority of the individuals listed. Each of their lives and all that they did are contained in a single name written on the pages of Scripture. But they each represent generations of Israelites who lived and walked on this earth, marrying, bearing sons and daughters, contributing to their communities, growing old and, eventually, dying. Obviously this list contains the names of some who remained faithful to God, but also the names of those who walked away from Him, serving the false gods of the Canaanites and Ammonites. In the list of names found in chapter 8, we see the influence of these false gods over the people of Israel, as they evidently named their children after the pagan god, Baal. In the genealogy of Benjamin are found the names of Baal, Eshbaal, and Merib-baal. Even Jonathan, the son of King Saul and the friend of David, had named one of his sons Merib-baal, known elsewhere by his Hebrew name of Mephibosheth.

These lists span the time from the arrival of the people of Israel to the Promised Land all the way to their return after their exile in Babylon. Generation after generation of Israelites are contained in these chapters, all compressed into a shortened list in order to remind the people of Israel of their heritage. The chronicler wants them to know their roots. He wants to assure them that they are still God's people and can trace their roots all the way back to Adam. While much has happened over the generations, and the people of God have suffered much for their spiritual infidelity, God is not yet done with them. He has promises yet to be fulfilled. The original readers of 1 Chronicles would have been living back in the land, having returned from exile in the land of Babylon. They would have found themselves living in relative poverty, having returned with nothing to a land that had been taken occupied by their enemies in their absence. They had no king, no army, no power, and no reason for national pride. They would have been a weakened, feint shadow of their former selves. But God was not done with them yet!

What does this passage reveal about God?

The apostle Paul, writing to the believers living in Philippi, also encourages them to consider that God is not done with them yet. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). As with the Israelites who had returned to the land of promise only to find that things were not quite what they had hoped or expected, the Philippian believers found themselves having to live out their faith in Christ in difficult surroundings. So Paul encourages them to keep on loving, to be pure and blameless in their conduct, and to be filled with the fruit of righteousness – waiting for the day of Christ. Paul knew that God's plan was not yet complete. He understood that there was more to come and that present circumstances were a poor criteria for judging the faithfulness of God. Paul himself wrote this letter while sitting in prison, most likely in Rome. He viewed his own situation from a divine perspective, describing it in extremely positive terms: “ I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13 ESV). He saw God's hands all over his circumstances, and even knew that others had “become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment” (Philippians 1:14 ESV). Paul knew that God was not done yet. He fully believed that there was a perfectly good reason for his imprisonment and he took full advantage of it to write his letter to the Philippians and to share the gospel. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest” (Philippians 1:12-13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

To often, we view our circumstances from a limited, earthly perspective. We fail to see God's hand in it or understand God's purpose behind it. The Jews who found themselves living back in the land of promise felt that the future was anything but promising. They were weak, powerless, confused, and without a king to lead them. They failed to recognize that God was in their midst. He had returned them to the land – miraculously. He had kept them alive – mercifully. He had overlooked their sins – patiently. And He would eventually send His own Son in fulfillment to His promise to David. He would send them their Messiah, the descendant of David, who would someday sit on his throne in Jerusalem. But the time was not yet right. God's plan was not yet ready to unveil. And so it was easy for them to focus on their circumstances and lose hope. It was natural for them to question the goodness of God and wonder about the validity of His promises. And we can find ourselves struggling with the same thing today. Which is why Paul's words are so powerful and appropriate. “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents” (Philippians 1:27-28 ESV).

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

The plan of God is far bigger than my current circumstances. My problems and perceived struggles are lousy indicators of God's sovereign will. Just because things get difficult does not mean God is out of control or has fallen out of love with me. He is working behind the scenes in ways I will never fully understand. Paul's imprisonment was anything but easy. He faced a possible death sentence. And while he hoped for his eventual deliverance and freedom, he was willing to accept death if that was God's will – “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21 ESV). His desire was to honor Christ, “whether by life or by death.” In fact, he was torn between the two options of living and continuing his work of spreading the gospel and dying and going to be with the Lord. “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:23-24 ESV). What a unique, refreshing perspective. Paul truly wanted to honor Christ with his life – whether that meant a continuation of his work or his own death – and he was willing to trust God for the outcome. He was willing to see God's hand in the midst of it all.

Father, You are not done yet. Your work on this earth is not yet completed. And Your work in my life continues as well. You are still transforming and perfecting me, through the power of Your Spirit and with the help of Your Word. Help me see You in the midst of all the circumstances of my life – the good and the bad. Give me a heavenly perspective and an eternal focus. Don't let me get wrapped up in the everyday affairs of this life and forget that Your plan is far greater and much bigger in scope. Amen

God's Mysterious Plan.

 2 Kings 25, Ephesians 3

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6 ESV

Things could not have looked bleaker. The destiny of Israel could not have appeared any darker. The Babylonian army had laid siege to the city of Jerusalem for months, resulting in a famine inside its wall. Eventually, the city fell and the temple was ransacked, burned and destroyed. The priests were killed and the people were taken captive to Babylon. Zedekiah, the king, was captured and forced to watch as his sons were executed before his eyes. Then he had his own eyes gouged out. The once glorious city of Jerusalem lie in ruins and the people of Israel were prisoners in a foreign land. And amazingly, this was all part of God's plan. He had predicted that all of this would happen. “Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it;  Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye.  And he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, declares the Lord. Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed” (Jeremiah 32:3-5 ESV). Israel was facing the consequences for its disobedience and unfaithfulness. God had warned them that disobedience would bring curses. He had been very specific. But God would not fully abandon His people. As bad as things appeared, God had not fully forsaken them. King Jehoiachin, who had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar years earlier, and had been living in exile in Babylon for 37 years, would find himself freed by Evil-merodach, Nebuchadnezzar's son and successor to the throne. God was keeping the line of David intact. He was keeping His promise to David. “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). David was destined to have a descendant who would once again sit on his throne in Jerusalem. God had ordained it and He would one day fulfill it.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the midst of all the darkness surrounding the people of Israel, there exists a feint glimmer of hope. Yes, the temple had been destroyed and the city burned to the ground. The once formidable walls of Jerusalem were shattered and lie in ruins. But God was still there. He had not disappeared from the scene. He was allowing His people to learn a painful, yet invaluable lesson. But He would be with them all along the way, sending His prophets to minister to them even while they lived in exile. He would continue to tolerate their disobedience and unfaithfulness all during their seven decades of imprisonment in Babylon. But He had promised to return them to the land and He would fulfill that promise. But God's ultimate plan was not just to restore them to the land, but to restore all mankind to a right relationship with Himself. The people of Israel had shown that, even though they had been handpicked by God, they were incapable of living in obedience to His commands or of loving Him faithfully and exclusively. God used a pagan, Gentile nation to punish His people. And the day was coming when He would include pagan, Gentile people into His family. This is one of the great mysteries of the Bible – the mystery of Christ. God would use a descendant of David to provide reconciliation for not only the Jews, but for all mankind. Paul writes, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). This mystery “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:5 ESV). Jehoiachin didn't know about this plan. Nebuchadnezzar wasn't aware of it. Zedekiah (excuse the pun) was blind to it. Even David himself was kept in the dark regarding it. The day was coming when God allow Paul to “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:8-9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man can't maintain a right relationship with God. Living up to God's holy, righteous standards has always been impossible for any man to accomplish – except one. Only Jesus was capable of living a perfectly obedient life, in keeping with God's laws and in submission to His will. He lived a sinless life, which made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. He was able to offer Himself as our sinless, blameless substitute, dying the death we deserved in our place and satisfying the just demands of a holy God. The books of 1 and 2 Kings reveal just how sinful man can be. The history of the Israelites reveals just how disobedient and unfaithful even the people of God can be. Sin is inevitable and unavoidable for mankind. We can't help it. We can't keep from doing it. But God had a solution to our problem. He had a plan that would provide restoration and reconciliation when all our efforts produced nothing more than rebellion and rejection. The fall of Jerusalem was not the end. The exile of the people of God was not the final chapter in their story. God would eventually restore them to their own land. But it would not be until "the fulness of time" that He would send His Son to provide a once-and-for-all solution for the sin problem of mankind. Through the sacrificial death of His own Son, God would join together Jew and Gentile, making them “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV).

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

The Bible is the story of God's redemption of mankind. It is not a collection of isolated stories, but a clear and concise compilation of God's ongoing relationship with His creation. It is a unified picture of His unfailing love for mankind and His divine plan to restore what sin had attempted to destroy. As bleak as Israel's exile appears, it is just a chapter in a much larger story of God's redemption and reconciliation of mankind. Today, we get to see firsthand the manifold, multifaceted wisdom of God revealed through the multi-ethnic, multicultural and multifaceted makeup of the body of Christ. Jews, Gentiles, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, slave, free, white collar, blue collar – every imaginable combination of people – revealing “the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11 ESV). I am reminded that God has always been working His plan. But I am also reminded that God has not yet completed that plan. There is more yet to come, and I can trust Him to finish what He has begun. He will one day send His Son again to bring His great and glorious plan to its final conclusion, bringing an end to sin and death, and reconciling and restoring His creation once and for all.

Father, thank You for Your mysterious, unstoppable, perfect plan. Thank You for sending Your Son to do what none of us could have done on our own. You have provided a solution for sin and a means by which we might have a right relationship with You, once and for all. Amen

The Plan of God.

Joshua 15-16, Acts 13

And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. ­– Acts 13:19 ESV

It would take almost 450 years, but the people of Israel would eventually find themselves the inhabitants of the land promised by God to Abraham. He would fully fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. God would do His part, but the people of Israel never fully complied with His command to destroy all the nations dwelling in the land. He would prove faithful, but they would not. Yet, the occupation of the land and their unfaithfulness while living in it were all part of His divine plan. This was not a surprise to God. He was not caught off guard or panicked by their lack of faithfulness. In fact, Paul makes it clear that all of this was part of a well-conceived of plan devised by God long before He ever called Abram out of Ur. The people of Israel would be used by God to accomplish His will for the entire world. They would not only be the recipients of His grace, they would end up being the conduit of His grace and mercy to the entire world.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Speaking at the synagogue at Perga, Paul addressed a crowd made up of Jews and those who “feared God” – Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. He recounted God's choosing of Israel and His blessing of them while they lived in the land of Egypt. He reminded them how God had rescued them from their eventual slavery under the Egyptians and led them for 40 years in the wilderness as they made their way to the land He had promised to give them. Eventually they conquered that land, but it would take them 450 years to do so. And they would never fully follow God's command to eliminate all the nations that had occupied the land. This would end up in their worship of the gods of the very nations they refused to remove from their midst. Which Paul reminds them, is what led to God having to send judges. These men and women would “saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (Judges 2:16 ESV). The period of the judges marked a repetitive cycle of the people sinning against God by turning to other gods, then God having to bring judgment in the form of defeat at the hands of their enemies. This would eventually result in the people crying out to God for help, and His sending of a judge to rescue them. Then the cycle would repeat itself. In time, the people of Israel determined they wanted a king, just like all the other nations had. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their true King. But this was all part of God's plan as well. After giving the people Saul, a king just like all the other nations, God would place His king, David, on the throne – “a man after my heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22 ESV). From the lineage of David would came Jesus, the Savior of the world and the legitimate heir to the throne of David. But the Jews would reject Him as their King and Lord. They would refuse to recognize Him as their Messiah, instead demanding that Pilate put Him to death. Which he did. But this was all part of God's plan. The death of Jesus was not unexpected or surprising to God. It was all in fulfillment of a long-standing plan for the redemption of mankind. Jesus had to die. But His death was followed by resurrection. He did not remain in the grave. God destroyed death's strangle hold on mankind by raising Jesus back to life. Elsewhere Paul reminds us, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11 ESV). Jesus' restoration to life from death is proof of God's promise to give men eternal life. Paul told his audience that day, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The plans of men pale in comparison to the plan of God. The unfaithfulness of men cannot thwart or stop the faithfulness of God. The people of Israel never lived up to God's expectations for them. But He wasn't surprised. He knew they could never fully keep His commands or live up to His holy standards. His law was intended to reveal the depth of their sin and depravity. It made the reality of man's sin visible and undeniable. It also proved that no man could earn favor with God through his own efforts – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). All men, both Jews and Gentiles, find themselves in the same dilemma – under the curse of the law and condemned to death for their sins. But God's plan was to send His Son as the payment for man's sin. His death was intended to satisfy the just and righteous demands of God, acting as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. But as in Paul's day, there are those who refuse to accept God's Son as the payment for their sins. They refuse to believe their need for a Savior. There will always be those who reject Jesus as Savior and Lord. But God's plan will accomplish its appointed goal: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 ESV). Many will reject God's offer of forgiveness of sin and salvation made available through Jesus Christ. But others will believe. Because it is all part of God's incredible, unstoppable plan.

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

It is so important that I view life from God's perspective and not from my own, limited viewpoint. I must constantly learn to see the world from a big-picture perspective. While the people of Israel were integral to God's plan, they were not the focus. Their inability to understand and embrace God's big-picture perspective prevented them from enjoying His blessings. They were short-term in their outlook, only thinking about the immediate impact on their personal lives. They didn't live for the future. They lived in the here and now, fulfilling their own personal desires and viewing themselves as the sole focus of God's attention. But God had bigger plans. He had a much larger outcome in mind. And while God still has His hand on the people of Israel and will fulfill every promise He has made to them, His real goal was to provide redemption and restoration to men of every tribe, tongue and nation. God's plan is not yet complete. I must remember that there is far more to this story than my own personal chapter. God is working a much greater storyline and, while it includes me, it does not focus on me. I am not the point. He is.

Father, thank You for the reminder and reassurance that Your plan is in place and You are working it to perfection. There is nothing that I need to worry about, because You are in full control. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. Show me how to view all the circumstances of life as part of Your overall plan for the redemption and restoration of mankind to a right relationship with You. Amen

Chosen by God.

Deuteronomy 25-26, Acts 1

You have declared today that the Lord is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. And the Lord has declared today that you are a people for his treasured possession, as he has promised you, and that you are to keep all his commandments, and that he will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made, and that you shall be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised. ­– Deuteronomy 26:17-19 ESV

The Jews were God's chosen people. They were the descendants of Abraham, the very offspring God had promised to give him after having called him out of Ur. Now they stood on the edge of the very land God had promised to give Abraham as his inheritance. God's original promise to Abraham had contained three parts: A land, a seed, and a blessing. The land was almost theirs. All they had to do was go in and conquer it according to God's plan. Obviously, God had given Abraham many descendants or seed, because by this time the Jews were large in number. But as Paul reminds us in the book of Galatians, God's promise regarding the seed was not just referring to the fact that Abraham would have many descendants. He would have a very specific descendant, through whom God would bless all the people of the earth. “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:16 NASB). God had something far greater in store for the people of Israel than simply their occupation of a particular plot of land somewhere in the Middle East. He had a more important reason for choosing them than just the pouring out of His divine grace, favor and mercy on them alone. God had set them apart in order that through them He might bring about the birth of His Son. The people of Israel were integral to God's plan for redeeming mankind. To them alone He had revealed His divine will and given His holy commandments. They experienced His divine presence. They enjoyed the benefits of His immense power and immeasurable grace. They were a people holy to the Lord, a conduit through which He would bring His Son into the world in order that He might bless the world.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God never does anything without a reason. His actions are always purposeful and meaningful. And while we might not always understand His ways, they are always righteous and just. God Himself tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 44:8-9 ESV). God had His reasons for choosing Abraham. He had a plan in mind when He made the people of Israel His prized possession. He had a purpose behind the giving of His commandments to a people who could never keep them. There was a reasonable explanation to His making of a covenant with a nation who could never uphold their end of the agreement. A cursory study of the history of the people of Israel, as revealed in the Old Testament, would seem to reveal that they were a failed experiment that didn't quite turn out as planned. But the New Testament reveals that God's their seeming failure was actually preparation for the second part of His divine plan. While they would fail to be the blessing to the nations He had commanded them to be, He would still bless the nations through them. He would send His own Son as a descendant of Abraham. Jesus would be born a Jew, in fulfillment of God's promise to give the people of Israel a permanent King from the house and lineage of King David. Jesus appeared on the scene during a time in which the nation of Israel was struggling under the heavy hand of Rome. They were once again subject to the humiliating domination of a foreign power. They lacked a king, an army, and a national identity. They were weak, powerless, and hopeless, left to wonder where their long-awaited Messiah might be and when God was going to restore them to His divine favor. But when Jesus came, He declared a kingdom of a different sort than they were expecting. He came to offer a release from captivity to something other than Roman rule. His was a spiritual kingdom offering freedom from the bondage of sin and the inevitable condemnation of death that a sinful life deserved. Jesus did not show up on earth to rule and reign, but to suffer and die. It was all a part of God's plan.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God's plan for mankind is sometimes hard for us to comprehend. Even the disciples were confused when Jesus' life ended with His tragic and unexpected death by crucifixion. That was not what they had expected. It caught them off guard and left them demoralized and defeated. They went into mourning and hiding. As far as they were concerned, with the death of Jesus, their dreams were shattered. Their Messiah was dead, and so was any hope of Him setting up His kingdom on earth. But little did they know that this was all part of God's plan. Jesus had come to suffer and die, not conquer and rule. He came to provide release from captivity to sin, not from subjugation to Rome. Jesus died, but He rose again, and He revealed Himself to those very same disciples who had given up hope and hidden themselves behind locked doors. Luke tells us, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3 ESV). Then “he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4 ESV). There was more to God's plan. The Holy Spirit had to come, just as Jesus had predicted. God was going to transform a ragtag group of cowering, hopeless disciples into a powerful force that would literally rock the world. These simple Jewish men and women would end up being the catalyst for a major religious upheaval that would leave the world changed forever. None of them knew what was going to happen, even though Jesus had told them in advance. They were oblivious was to what God was going to do to them and through them in the days ahead. But God had chosen them for a reason. The disciples had thought their role as followers of Jesus was to be His assistants and co-rulers when He set up His kingdom on earth. Little did they know that they were going to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). God had great things in store for them.

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

God has a plan that is far greater than anything I could have ever imagined. His choosing of me has far greater ramifications than just my own personal salvation and escape from the consequences of my own sin. God didn't choose me just to save me. He wants to use me. Just like the disciples, I am to be a witness for Him on this earth. I am to be His ambassador, spreading the good news of His Kingdom wherever I go. I have been chosen so that I might witness to His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. I have received the “promise of the Father” in the form of the Holy Spirit, so that I might have the power necessary to accomplish all that God has for me to do on this earth during my lifetime. It isn't about me. It is about God's Kingdom and the fulfillment of His plan for all of mankind. The disciples had thought it was all over. But little did they know that it was all just beginning. Their greatest days were ahead of them, not behind them. God was going to use them in incredible ways to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation to the ends of the earth. And we are still part of that ongoing process. I must be about the work of the Kingdom. I must see my role here as an extension of what was begun by the first disciples of Christ all those years ago. God's plan is not yet finished. His redemption of mankind is not yet complete. His Son has not yet returned. So until He does, we have work to do. It was for this task that we were chosen.

Father, keep me focused on Your plan, not my own. Use me to accomplish Your will, rather than my own. I want to live with Kingdom purpose and a future focus. Your plan is still being unfolded, day by day. I want to be part of that plan. Never let me forget that You chose me for a purpose – not just to take me to heaven some day – but to make a difference on this earth as one of Your chosen ones. Amen

The Blessing of Israel.

Numbers 23-24, John 3

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17 ESV

Balaam, a pagan seer or diviner, had been hired by Balak to curse Israel. He had been offered riches and honor in exchange for his services. But no matter how much Balaam might have wanted to earn his wages, God would not allow him to bring a curse on Israel. On three different occasions, Balaam and Balak built altars and offered sacrifices in order to ascertain God's will regarding Israel's future. But each time God reconfirmed His commitment to and covenant with Israel. The amazing thing is that, in spite of Israel's track record of complaining, stubbornness, faithlessness and even rebellion, God remained faithful to them. God would not allow Balaam to curse them. But why? Because God had greater plans for Israel than simply the possession of the land. God's divine strategy went well beyond the conquering of the land of Canaan and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by earthly kings. Three different times and much to the chagrin of Balak, Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel. And each time he opens his mouth, Balaam is given a word from God that reconfirms the original promise He made to Abraham concerning a land, a seed and a blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10 ESV). God had promised to make Abraham's descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore or the stars in the heavens, and He had brought it about. Balaam predicts that Israel will be successful in battle, “As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24 ESV). God was going to give them victory over their enemies and reward them with the land He had promised them. Finally, Balaam warned Balak that to attempt to curse Israel was not a wise thing to do. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 23:9 ESV). God had promised to bless the nations through Israel. God had set them apart for that purpose. No one was going to be able to stand against them. God had a purpose for them that could not be stopped by man.

What does this passage reveal about God?

There is something going on behind the scenes in the story of the people of Israel. We tend to read the Old Testament as ancient history, and attempt to find life lessons we can apply from these sometimes confusing accounts of God's interactions with the Israelites. But while the stories of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquering of the land, and the rise of the kingdom of Israel can make fascinating reading, there is far more to the story than we sometimes understand. Balak's attempt to curse Israel was ill-fated from the beginning, because God was with them. Even Balaam saw the futility in what Balak was trying to do. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8 ESV). As long as God had a plan and a purpose for the people of Israel, no one would be able to curse them or eliminate them. Many have tried over the centuries. And while Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies, God has continued to keep His hand on them. Because God is not done with them yet. Even after Israel conquered the land of Canaan and began to grow, their own sinfulness and rebellion would eventually cause God to punish them by allowing them to be defeated and deported into exile in a foreign land. But God would remain faithful. He would eventually return them to the land. He would restore them to favor and reconfirm His covenant with them. In time, Jerusalem, the city of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the people of God. The Temple of God would be reconstructed and the sacrificial system reinstituted. And then would come the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel. Even Balaam unknowingly spoke of His coming. “I see him, but not now; I behold him but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). God's purpose for the people of Israel was ultimately to provide a Savior from among them. God was preserving Israel because He had a plan to provide salvation for the world through Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). From the moment He called Abram out of Ur, God had a long-term strategy to accomplish His divine will concerning all of mankind. He chose to do it through a particular man, using rather peculiar methods, and in a highly persistent manner.

What does this passage reveal about man?

All throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see individuals who are constantly attempting to thwart God's plan. Balak would fail in his bid to curse Israel. The Pharisees would fail in their attempts to trick Jesus. Yes, they would eventually succeed in having Him crucified, but what they didn't know was that His death was always part of the plan. They were simply pawns in God's divine strategy to bring salvation to mankind. Most men are blind to what God is doing. Even Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God. He made this point clear in several of his prophetic oracles. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes covered” (Numbers 24:3-4 ESV). God gave Balaam the capacity to see His divine will. He was able to recognize that the people of Israel were not just some rag-tag group of nomadic desert dwellers. They were God's instrument destined to accomplish God's will. But even today, so many fail to see what God is doing. They fail to recognize that Jesus was God's chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will regarding the salvation of man. John tells us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for the world, but He was rejected by most – even His own people. The people loved the darkness rather than the light. They preferred the ways of this world over the will of God. And as long as we remain blind to God's greater plan, we will tend to view this world from a limited perspective, believing that the real point of life is all wrapped up in the hear and now.

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

There is always a temptation to live with my eyes focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. I can get so wrapped up in this life, that I can lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to provide me with eternal life. As the old hymn so clearly states, “This world is not my home, I'm just a-passin‘ through.” As I study and read the Scriptures, I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater purpose in mind. He blessed Israel because He wanted to be a blessing through Israel. And God is not done with Israel. He has more that He is going to accomplish through the people of Israel before all is said and done. Because He has a bigger plan and a higher purpose than any of us will ever fully realize – until He is done. Then we will know. Then we will see clearly. It will all make sense to us. But in the meantime, we must constantly remind ourselves that God's plan is bigger than we realize. We must focus on the bigger picture, not just the little chapter in the story we call our life. God's plan included Israel, but it was about far more than just Israel. God's plan includes me, but it is about far more than just me. God is blessing me so that I might be a blessing to others. God has saved me so that I might spread the news of His gift of salvation to others. I am a part of God's grand plan of redemption for mankind. May I never forget that He is the center of the story, not me.

Father, never let me forget that Your plan is greater and grander than I could ever imagine. Keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture of Your redemptive plan for mankind. When Israel made it all about them, they lost focus. They became arrogant and self-centered, and mistakenly viewed You as existing for their glory, rather than the other way around. Don't let me make that same mistake. Your plan is bigger than me. Your story includes me, but is not all about me. Amen

A Kingdom To Come.

Genesis 49-50, Matthew 25

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. – Matthew 25:31 ESV

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, and the lives of Jacob and Joseph come to an end, the story is far from over. In fact, in many ways it is just beginning. Genesis is the book of beginnings. It tells how the story starts, but it does not reveal its ending. Only God knows the content of the final chapter in the story of mankind. We get glimpses of what is to come along the way. In Jacob's blessing of Judah we see a foreshadowing of future events. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (Genesis 49:10 ESV). Not only is this a reference to the coming kingdoms of David and Solomon, but to the yet future kingdom of Jesus Christ. His kingdom will be an earthly kingdom, where he will rule in Jerusalem just as his forefathers did. That kingdom has not yet been established. His reign has not yet begun. But the day is coming "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne."

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is amazing to watch how God works in the lives of men, accomplishing His will and orchestrating His divine plan. We read these stories and can't help but see the complex nature of the interactions of each individual's life with all those around him. The actions of Joseph's brothers against him were nothing short of evil. In fact, Joseph clearly told the, "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:20 ESV). God was at work behind the scenes, using their sinful actions to accomplish His righteous will. I am reminded of the life of Jesus, and His less-than-warm welcome at the hands of the people of Israel. He too was despised and treated harshly. He was the favored Son of His Father, but His brothers refused to accept Him for who He was. Instead, they had Him put to death. But it was all part of God's plan. God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. That is the story of the Bible. That is the story of the redemption of mankind. And the day is coming when the story will come to an end. God's plan will be fully fulfilled and Christ's kingdom will be established. "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 25:24 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The world is full of all kinds of people. There are those who are good, moral and right. There are others who are wicked, evil and unrighteous. Then there are those who are somewhere in the middle. And we all live on this planet together, constantly interacting with one another in a complex and sometimes confusing interplay of ideas and ideals. There is conflict and confrontation. There are battles, both literal and metaphorical. Men take advantage of one another, harm each other, mistreat one another, and yet sometimes reveal the amazing capacity to extend grace to one another. Left to our own devices, we would eventually self-destruct and destroy all that we know. But thankfully, God is in charge. He is the sovereign ruler over the universe, including the lives of all men. Joseph's brothers were just as integral to the story as he was. Had they not sold him into slavery, he would never have ended up as the second most highest ruler in the land of Egypt. And while their actions were clearly evil, God used it for good.

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

There is a comfort in knowing that God is in control. It reminds me to not view life from my limited perspective. I don't know why certain events take place and why certain individuals do what they do. I can't explain the actions of others or comprehend the pain that men inflict on one another. I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater plan than I can see. And that plan, while invisible to me, is also invincible. It is unstoppable and unavoidable. His will will be done. I can rest in that fact. The dreams of Joseph were going to be fulfilled, in spite of his brothers' intentions. The promises of God to Abraham would come to pass, in spite of the actions of Jacob. The brief sojourn in Egypt on the part of the descendants of Abraham was not an unexpected detour, but simply a part of God's plan. And I must learn to view the unexpected events of my own life as just as clearly well within God's plan for my life. He is sovereign over all events, not just the ones I deem good and pleasant. I must learn to see the bigger picture of God's plan. It includes me, but does not revolve around me. I must learn to live with the greater goal in mind. There is a day coming when Christ will establish His Kingdom on earth, fulfilling the blessing of Jacob to his son, Judah, and fulfilling the promise God had made to Abraham to bless all the nations of the earth through him. That is the point of the story. That is the last chapter in the book. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13 ESV). So I am to live in a constant state of readiness and anticipation, eagerly awaiting the end of the story, and not getting distracted by the subplots along the way.

Father, give me a growing peace with Your sovereignty. You are in control. You are fully in power and in completely in charge of all that goes on in this world. You are never caught off guard or surprised by the actions of men. You cannot be stopped and Your plan cannot be altered in any way. There is not reason for me to worry or fret. There is no cause for me to fear. You know exactly what You are doing, whether I can see it or understand it. Amen.

The End In Mind.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. – Matthew 24:14 ESV

It is so easy to see the Bible as 66 isolated and independent books written by a variety of authors and covering a timeline thousands of years in length. But it is important to remember that the Bible is the revelation of God, not a record of historical events written down by men. It is, in essence, one book written by one author and dealing a single storyline: the redemption of mankind by God. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are essential to the overall plot of the book, but are not to be confused with the central theme and the primary character: God Himself. One of the benefits of reading the Old and New Testaments simultaneously is that it provides a constant reminder that there is really a single story going on. It's a story with a beginning and an end. The death of Jacob does not end the story. The arrival of the people of Israel in Egypt is not the climax of the plot. The rise of Joseph to power in Egypt and his wise handling of the famine is simply just another plot twist in the bigger story of God's plan for the restoration of mankind to a right relationship with Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Jacob, near death, reminded his long-lost son, Joseph, about the promise of God. "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession'" (Genesis 48:3-4 ESV). This was a long-standing promise originally made to Abraham and confirmed over and over again by God to each of Abraham's descendants. "I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:6-8 ESV). Once again, we see the promise being passed down to each successive generation. Even though he was close to death, Jacob knew that God was not done yet. His passing would not negate the fulfillment of the promise, because its impact was to be cross-generational and international in scope. Even before Abraham had ever set eyes on the land of Canaan, God had told him, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3 ESV). The story wasn't going to just be about Abraham and his descendants. It wasn't going to be limited to the people of Israel. God's story was about the fate of mankind and His plan to deal with the sins of mankind in a just, holy, and righteous way. God's story includes the creation, the fall, and, ultimately, the redemption of man through the coming of Jesus Christ. Everything points to that moment and God's Word must be read with that end in mind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Every man who has ever lived has had a plan for his own life. There is a natural bent in each of us to see our lives as central to the storyline. We view our moment in the spotlight as paramount. We want to be significant. We want to have an influence. There is a natural tendency to focus on self and to see the world from our limited and somewhat selfish perspective. But when reading the stories of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, we see that each of these men, while important, were not indispensable. They were not the point of the story. Each of them played a limited part, but there was a much greater story going on behind the scenes to which they were, for the most part, oblivious. To each, the blessing was important. Which is why they were so adamant to make sure that they or their children received the blessing. Joseph was upset when Jacob laid his hands on the wrong sons, saying, "Not this way, my father, since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head" (Genesis 48:18 ESV). Joseph had a plan and it included his firstborn son, Manasseh. But God had a bigger plan. He was operating with a far greater plot in mind than simply the blessing of a single son or a solitary generation. Our greatest problem is that we too often think the story revolves around us. We see ourselves as the main characters in the plot and view God as a glorified screenwriter whose job it is to craft our story according to our own self-centered, self-satisfying notions.

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

But God is doing something far greater than any of us can even imagine. Abraham had no idea just how big God's plan was. Isaac was oblivious as to the magnitude of the storyline God was writing. Jacob and Joseph were unaware of the incredible nature of what God was doing behind the scenes. Men would come and go. Generations would pass from existence. And yet God was still at work implementing His plan for mankind. No one individual or nation would be more important than any other. Kings and slaves, Jews and Gentiles, men and women … they all would be used to accomplish God's divine plan for the future. His mind was focused on the end. He knew what had to be done for mankind to be restored to a right relationship with Him. He knew the blessing was about more than promised land and progeny. It was about salvation and redemption from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that every man was under. I need to have that same mindset. It isn't all about me. The world doesn't revolve around me and my desires. I don't exist for my own satisfaction and I should not live to seek my own limited will. I exist for God's glory and am part of a long-standing line of men and women whom God has used to accomplish His greater plan for the good of mankind. I am to live with the end in mind. I am to focus on the reality that my life and my short time on this planet are not the point of the story. I am to live faithfully focused on the end. Jesus told His disciples, "Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44 ESV). Interestingly enough, not one of those men lived to see the second coming of Christ. And yet they were told to live with that event in mind. They were to be ready. And so should we be. We are to live with the end in mind – not our end, but the one God has planned for all mankind. It is the end of the story, the culmination and conclusion of His plan.

Father, keep me focused on Your plan and not my own. Constantly remind me that there is something far more important than my own selfish, self-centered satisfaction and comfort. I want to be a faithful servant who is found doing what You have called me to do when Your Son returns. I may not live to see that day, but I want to conduct my life as if I will. I want my greatest desire to be Christ's return and the conclusion of Your planHelp me to live with the end in mind. Amen.