Much Will Be Required

1 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.Amos 3:1-2 ESV

God has decreed his pending judgment upon Israel’s Gentile neighbors. He has called out the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites for their many transgressions. But He has also leveled serious charges against the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet He seems to have reserved His harshest words for the northern kingdom of Israel.  The ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom bore the name, Israel, which in Hebrew means “God prevails.” They were named after their patriarch, whose name God had changed from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had suffered with infertility and never been able to give her husband, Isaac, any children. But one day God informed her that she would give birth to twin sons. And He added that there would be something unique about these two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

When they were born, she named the first son, Esau, and the second one, Jacob, which means, “he deceives.” And Jacob lived up to his name, eventually managing to bargain his way into obtaining his brother’s birthright and deceiving his own father so that he might receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Yet, despite all these things, the descendants of Jacob (Israel) became the chosen people of God. Through them, Yahweh would partially fulfill the promise that He had made to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

God would take the descendants of Jacob and make of them a great nation, and he would do so in a particularly remarkable way. In the book of Genesis we have the account of a severe famine that struck the entire Middle East, eventually devastating the land of Canaan where Jacob lived with his sons and their families. In an effort to find grain to feed his family and flocks, Jacob sent his sons on a lengthy expedition to  Egypt because he had received news that they had grain available for purchase.

When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll die.” – Genesis 42:1-2 NLT

Little did Jacob know that one of his sons, whom he had believed to be dead, was actually alive and well and living in Egypt. Years earlier, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. And by the sovereign and providential hand of God, he had ended up as one of the powerful rulers in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph wisely used his position and influence to create a famine-relief program that assured the Egyptians would have enough grain to survive the coming drought.  And when the famine struck, Egypt was the only nation that had a surplus of grain. As a result, “…people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

When the sons of Jacob arrived in Egypt, they soon discovered that the brother whom they had sold into slavery was the second-most-powerful ruler in Egypt. But rather than seek revenge on his brothers, Joseph offered them prime real estate in Egypt on which to feed their flocks and raise their families. In time, Jacob (Israel) was reunited with his long-lost son,  But when he entered the land of Egypt, the size of Jacob’s family was small.

The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants who went with him to Egypt, not counting his sons’ wives, was sixty-six. In addition, Joseph had two sons who were born in Egypt. So altogether, there were seventy members of Jacob’s family in the land of Egypt. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT

Yet, some 400 years later, when the Israelites departed Egypt for Canaan, they probably numbered in the millions. They had expanded to such a degree that their very presence in the land of Egypt created fear and anxiety in the heart of Pharaoh. He saw the people of Israel as a growing threat.

“Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country. – Exodus 1:9-10 NLT

And, in an effort to demoralize the Israelites and diminish any potential threat they might pose, he began to brutally mistreat them.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labosetting them apart as His own and declaring them to be His chosen possession and the instrument through which He would bring a blessing to the nations of the earth. – Exodus 1:11 NLT

The descendants of Jacob suffered greatly, but God heard their cries and responded to their plight. He sent Moses to be their deliverer. And eventually, Moses would orchestrate the release of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and lead them to the land that God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier. And just prior to their entrance into the land of promise, Moses would remind them of their unique and undeserved status as God’s chosen people.

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

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

Now, hundreds of years after conquering and occupying the land of Canaan, the descendants of Jacob are receiving a powerful word of warning from the prophet Amos. He boldly and unapologetically relays God’s dissatisfaction with His chosen people. But he prefaces it with a reminder that they had enjoyed a truly unique status among all the nations of the earth. Unlike the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites, the Israelites had been allowed to have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And they were about to discover that the privilege of being God’s chosen people came with serious consequences. They were going to be held to a higher standard because they been allowed to have an intimate and undeserved relationship with the God of the universe.

Centuries later, Jesus would make the statement: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48 NLT). And that sentiment reflects the words of the prophet Micah.

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

The Israelites had treated their privileged position as God’s chosen people with disdain, and now they were going to pay for it.

“…therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.” – Amos 3:2 ESV

The one who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt was going to bring them down. He would no longer allow them to drag His holy name through the mud. He would no longer tolerate their rebellion and repeated refusals to repent. The people of God were going to experience the full wrath of God. And as God will make perfectly and painfully clear in the chapters ahead, He was intimately aware of every one of their sins.

“For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.” – Amos 5:12 NLT

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

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

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

Time Is On God’s Side

13 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
    that they might enlarge their border.
14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
15 and their king shall go into exile,
    he and his princes together,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:13-15 ESV

The next nation on Amos’ “naughty” list is Ammon, a relatively small country located north of Edom and east of the Jordan River. Like the Edomites, the Ammonites had blood ties to the Israelites. Their relationship goes back to the days of Abraham and Lot and is recorded in the book of Genesis. When Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland of Ur and go to Canaan, he brought his nephew, Lot, with him. During their time in Canaan, both men became “very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents” (Genesis 13:5 NLT). When Abraham offered his nephew the choice of land on which to settle, “Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram” (Genesis 13:10-11 NLT). It just so happened that this area included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, infamous for their immorality. And Lot settled his family, flocks, and herds within the vicinity of Sodom.

Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. – Genesis 13:12-13 NLT

As the story goes, Lot ended up actually moving into the city of Sodom, and later had to be rescued by two heavenly messengers. After narrowly escaping the city before God rained down judgment upon it, Lot found himself without a wife and caring for two adult daughters whose husbands had stayed behind and died in the destruction of the Sodom. Lot and his widowed daughters took up residence in a cave. But the story does not end there.

One day the older daughter said to her sister, “There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

It seems apparent that these two women had been negatively influenced by their time in Sodom. Their immoral plan provides ample evidence to that fact. And they carried it out. The result being that both daughters became pregnant by their own father. One gave birth to a son, Moab, who became the progenitor of the Moabite people. The other daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Ben-ammi (son of my kinsman). He would become the father of the Ammonites.

With this as background, it’s easy to see how the relationship between the Israelites and Ammonites was going to end up strained. Fast-forward to the days of Moses, and you find the Israelites, Ammonites, and Moabites reunited after more than 400 years of separation. While the Israelites had been suffering in captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters had settled and been living in the land east of the Jordan River. When Moses attempted to lead the nation of Israel through the lands belonging to their distant relatives, they were met with resistance. As a result, God ordered Moses to ban them from ever reentering the assembly of Israel.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NLT

With the story of Lot and his daughters as a backdrop, it’s not difficult to understand how the Ammonites eventually became paganized by the culture around them. It seems that they were predisposed to immorality and apostasy, and they eventually embraced Milcom and Molech, the false gods of the Canaanites.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, the Ammonites would remain a constant source of trouble. God had forbidden the Israelites to intermarry with them and had declared, “As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites” (Deuteronomy 23:6 NLT). King Solomon would violate God’s command, marrying an Ammonite princess named Naamah. Her son, Rehoboam, would be the successor to Solomon’s throne. Under his leadership, “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT).

But whether from without or from within, the influence of the Ammonites was particularly devastating to the people of Israel. They were a prideful people who harbored jealousy for their more prosperous and populace relatives to the west. In an effort to expand their borders, the Ammonites would make raids into Israelite territory. But on one such raid, they overstepped their bounds, brutally butchering civilians, including pregnant women. And all for the sake of material gain, not self-preservation. This attack was unprovoked and unnecessarily violent. And God is unsparing in His judgment of the Ammonites because “they ripped open pregnant women with their swords” (Amos 1:13 NLT).

God would hold the Ammonites responsible for their actions, eventually sending judgment in the form of foreign armies who would destroy their cities and take their people captive. Even the king of the Ammonites would end up in exile, living as a slave to his enemies. And all of this would begin in 734 B.C. with the invasion of Ammon by Tiglath-Pileser III. But the final fulfillment of God’s prophetic word would take place nearly 150 years later when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded the region in 586 B.C.

Because He is eternal, God has time on His side. He is in no rush. He never has to hurry or respond in haste. For hundreds of years, the Ammonites had lived in the land of Canaan, worshiping their false gods and harassing the people of Israel. And whether they realized it or not, God had given them the land on which they lived. He had made that point perfectly clear to Moses when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

And for centuries, the Ammonites had enjoyed the benefits of living on the land provided to them by God. But when they arrogantly chose to slaughter innocent Israelites in a self-aggrandizing effort to expand their borders, God would not tolerate it. They would pay dearly for their mistake. And while it might take hundreds of years for their judgment to come, it was not because God was impotent or disinterested. It was simply because He had a plan and that plan had a timeline. God had no reason to hurry because He has all the time in the world. And while the centuries may pass, God’s plan is always accomplished – in His time and according to His will.

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

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

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

Family Matters

11 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Edom,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
    and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
    and he kept his wrath forever.
12 So I will send a fire upon Teman,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.” Amos 1:11-12 ESV

Amos now shifts his attention from the Phoenician coastline to the nation of Edom, located at the far southeastern corner of the land of Canaan. But this will prove to be far more than just a change in geographic location. Amos’ decrees of divine judgment are beginning to narrow in on the people of God. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, making them close relatives of the Israelites.

But these two people groups had a love-hate relationship that began hundreds of years earlier. When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, had been unable to bear him any children, he took the matter to God, pleading with Yahweh on her behalf.

The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins.  But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked. – Genesis 25:21-22 NLT

And God graciously responded to Rebekah, informing her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).

As divine providence would have it, when the two boys were born, Esau was the first to exit the womb, making him the legal firstborn. Yet, as the story goes, the day came when Esau willingly traded his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of stew. Driven by his physical appetites, Jacob treated his birthright with disdain and agreed to this ridiculously lopsided arrangement.

Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn. – Genesis 25:33-34 NLT

By essentially “selling” his birthright, Esau was forfeiting his rightful role as the next chief of the tribe and head of the family. At that moment, his present physical needs far outweighed any future promise of power and responsibility. And Esau would continue to live his life driven by his physical appetites. Eventually, he would disobey and disappoint his parents by choosing two wives from among the Hittites. These two women “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). But Esau would be in for a bitter shock of his own. Years later, as Isaac neared death, he called for Esau and made him a promise.

“Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.” – Genesis 27:4 NLT

But Rebekah overheard this conversation and devised a plan by which Jacob would deceive his nearly blind father by disguising himself as his Esau and stealing the birthright. Their plan worked and Isaac unwittingly passed on the blessing of the firstborn to Jacob.

“From the dew of heaven
    and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
    and bountiful new wine.
May many nations become your servants,
    and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
    and all who bless you will be blessed.” – Genesis 27:28-29 NLT

It seems unclear whether Isaac and Rebekah were aware of the stew-for-birthright trade made between the two brothers. That arrangement may have never been divulged by either Esau or Jacob. But by having sold his birthright, Esau had given up his right to inherit his father’s estate. He would not enjoy “head of household” status at the death of Isaac. Yet, despite his earlier show of contempt for his birthright, Esau still expected to receive the blessing of the firstborn. And when he found out that Jacob had tricked Isaac and stolen the blessing of the firstborn, he was furious. He demanded that Isaac bless him, but his cries were met with a disappointing response from his father.

“I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine—what is left for me to give you, my son?” – Genesis 27:37 NLT

Eventually, Isaac would pronounce a blessing on Esau, but it would far from encouraging or aspirational.

“You will live away from the richness of the earth,
    and away from the dew of the heaven above.
You will live by your sword,
    and you will serve your brother.
But when you decide to break free,
    you will shake his yoke from your neck.” – Genesis 27:39-40 NLT

It is easy to understand the animosity that Esau held for his brother, Jacob. He even thought seriously about killing him. But eventually, the wound between them was healed. Esau would later settle in the hill country of Seir or Edom (Joshua 24:4). And when the Israelites eventually made their way to the promised land, they had to pass through Edom. God warned Moses and the Israelites to treat the Edomites as brothers.

“You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. – Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV

Yet, over the years, the Edomites would become a constant source of irritation for the Israelites. During the reign of King Saul, there were many battles fought between these two nations. King David would eventually subjugate them, but they remained enemies and not allies. And Amos reveals that God will not let the Edomites go unpunished for their mistreatment of their Israelite brothers.

“They chased down their relatives, the Israelites, with swords,
    showing them no mercy.
In their rage, they slashed them continually
    and were unrelenting in their anger.– Amos 1:11 NLT

While Jacob and Esau had resolved their conflict, the animosity over the birthright and the blessing appears to have remained unabated and manifested itself in the lives of their descendants. As Isaac had predicted, the Edomites ended up serving the Israelites. The descendants of Jacob became the masters of their brothers. And it was all in keeping with the promise that God had made to Isaac.

“I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 26:4 ESV

Despite the deceit employed by Jacob and Rebekah and the contempt displayed by Esau, this had all been according to the will of God. The apostle Paul comments on this matter in his letter to the Romans.

When he [Isaac] married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.” – Romans 9:10-13 NLT

God had sovereignly chosen Jacob over Esau, and the older had ended up serving the younger. But, as always, there was resistance to the will of God. The Edomites would end up resenting the Israelites. And their ongoing efforts to make life miserable for their relatives would earn them the anger and judgment of God. Through His prophet, Amos, God decreed the nature of His divine retribution for their transgressions.

“So I will send down fire on Teman,
    and the fortresses of Bozrah will be destroyed.” – Amos 1:12 NLT

Underlying Edom’s sin was a heart of pride and arrogance. They had become full of themselves. And God delivered a stinging indictment against them through another one of His prophets.

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord. – Obadiah 2-4 NLT

The Edomites were boastful and proud. They had become arrogant and even apostate, choosing to worship false gods rather than serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God would punish them for the many transgressions.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.” – Obadiah 10-11 NLT

Despite being descendants of Isaac, the Edomites were seen by God as little more than godless foreigners. Just as Esau had sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, the Edomites had sold their birthright as children of Abraham by compromising with the pagan culture of Canaan. So, God warned them that their future would be filled with curses and not blessings.

“The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
As you have done to Israel,
    so it will be done to you.
All your evil deeds
    will fall back on your own heads. – Obadiah 15 NLT

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

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

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

A Spirit of Spiritual Syncretism

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:29-41 ESV

So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods.”

That phrase appears twice in the closing verses of chapter 17, and it aptly summarizes the spiritual state of the nation of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians. Many of its citizens had been captured and exiled to various locations in Assyria. Their vacancies were filled by people from other conquered nations who were forced to relocate to Israel and start new lives. This sudden influx of refugees from foreign countries turned Israel into a veritable melting pot and, ultimately, resulted in intermarriage between the Jews and their new neighbors.

These newly transplanted inhabitants found themselves living in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language or customs. They were strangers living in a strange land, but they found some comfort in the fact that many of their gods already had shrines dedicated to them in Israel. The ten northern tribes had been assimilating the gods of other nations for years. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, they had created their own gods, complete with temples and priesthood. Under Ahab and Jezebel, they had adopted and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. And along the way, other kings of Israel had been embracing the false gods of their foreign allies. So, the new arrivals to Israel found an atmosphere of religious tolerance and ecumenism.

If you recall, immediately after these foreign refugees had arrived in Israel and taken up residence in the abandoned cities of Samaria, they began worshiping their false gods. The land on which they lived belonged to Yahwah, and He took offense at their actions. They were living on land that He had set apart as holy and given to the descendants of Abraham as their inheritance. It was to have been a place where they lived in obedience to His will and where they worshiped Him alone. Their failure to do so had resulted in their defeat and deportation. But their departure had not changed the sanctity of the land or voided the covenant commitment God had made with His people. There was still a remnant of Jews living in the land of Israel and He expected them to keep their end of the agreement they had made with Him.

So, when these foreigners began to worship their false gods on land that belonged to the one true God, they found themselves experiencing divine judgment.

But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. – 2 Kings 17:25 NLT

As a result, the king of Assyria ordered that one of the exiled Israelite priests be sent back so that he might instruct the immigrants in the proper worship of Yahweh.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord. – 2 Kings 17:28 NLT

This highly pragmatic plan implemented by the king of Assyria was evidently successful. But while many of the new arrivals eagerly adopted Yahweh as their God, they simply added Him to their growing list of deities. He became just one more god to whom they offered their sacrifices in order to win favor and good fortune.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

With the sudden arrival of these various people groups, the religious landscape of Israel became ever more crowded and confused. Almost overnight, the idolatrous state of Israel exploded with new options and opportunities as the number of false gods continued to increase. The already tolerant and easily tempted Israelites found themselves surrounded by a virtual sea of new gods from which to chose.

Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. – 2 Kings 17:30-31 ESV

The worship of Yahweh became increasingly more diluted and defused as a spirit of syncretism and religious pluralism spread over the land. The fall of Israel did not result in a spirit of repentance and religious reform among God’s people. His judgment of them was met by indifference and continued apostasy.

They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. – 2 Kings 17:34 NLT

There appears to be no remorse or repentance on the part of God’s people. Their neighbors had been taken captive and exiled to Assyria, but they remain just as committed to living in disobedience to God’s laws. And it seems that those who found themselves living as captives in Assyria were no less stubborn and unwilling to return to Yahweh. And yet, when King Solomon had dedicated the newly constructed temple, he had asked God to show mercy on His disobedient people, should they find themselves in exile and call out for help.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

But they hadn’t turned and acknowledged God’s name. They had not prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness. Both those in exile and those living in the land of Israel had continued to disobey God’s commands and violate His covenant agreement. And the author makes it clear that God was serious about His commands and His covenant.

For the Lord had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. You must worship only the Lord your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” – 2 Kings 17:35-39 NLT

They had no excuse. The remnant of Israelites still living in the land knew exactly what God expected of them, but they continued to reject His word and refused to repent. And while the new residents were given instruction in the proper worship of Yahweh, they simply added Him to their long and growing list of god options.

So while these new residents worshiped the Lord, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. – 2 Kings 17:41 NLT

This last verse is meant to convey a sense of inevitability and determinism. Nothing was going to change. They were fully committed to doing things their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. And we know that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the long-term implications of this syncretistic and overly tolerant religious mindset had resulted in the division between the Jews and the Samaritans. The foreigners who were transplanted into Israel by the king of Assyria, ended up intermarrying with the remaining Jewish population. These mixed marriages brought about an assimilation of cultures and religions that produced a population that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds by the Jews of Jesus’ day and were treated as second-class citizens. They practiced a religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with aspects of paganism and idolatry. As the Samaritan confessed to Jesus, they even had their own place of worship, outside the confines of Jerusalem (John 4:20).

Chapter 17 of 2 Kings brings the story of the northern kingdom to a dramatic and somber close. Part of the nation is living in exile in Assyria. The rest remain in the land but are marked by a spirit of spiritual syncretism and moral compromise. There will be no more kings to rule over the ten tribes. They will remain under God’s judgment and experience the curses He had warned would come should they choose to disobey. But now, the author turns his attention back to the southern kingdom Judah. As of now, they remain free to follow the commands of God. But will they? The author provides a not-so-subtle hint as to what lies in store of the people of Judah.

Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

The Lord Will Provide

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:29-34 ESV

John the apostle is providing a chronological outline of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, the Word of God, and the light of the world. He is using John the Baptist as a witness to the unique nature of Jesus’ deity and humanity. There had been some speculation among the Jewish religious leaders that John the Baptist might be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, but he put that rumor to rest when he told them, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20 ESV). He declared himself to be the precursor, sent to prepare the way for someone greater, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27 ESV). 

Now, John fast-forwards to the very next day, when Jesus arrived on the scene in the Judean wilderness. This was likely not the first time that Jesus and John the Baptist had met. In fact, there is a good chance that they had met long before because they were relatives. The Gospel of Luke records the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary, when he announced to her that she would conceive and give birth to a child.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” – Luke 1:35-36 ESV

Mary and Elizabeth were relatives, which means there is a good chance that Jesus and John the Baptist knew one another during their childhood and early adulthood. Extended family relationships were important in Jewish life and it only makes sense that the families of Jesus and John the Baptist had spent time together over the years.

Luke provides an important insight into John the Baptist’s background. His father, Zechariah, was a priest. His mother, Elizabeth, was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. And when the angel had visited Zechariah to announce that his barren wife was going to give birth, he provided insight into his son’s future role.

“…for he will be great before the Lord.… And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:15-17 ESV

Now, three decades later, the time had come for the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth to fulfill the role he had been destined to play. From this day forward, his relationship with Jesus would be forever changed. No longer would they interact as family members, but John the Baptist would now recognize Jesus as His Messiah and Lord.

When Jesus appeared at the shores of the Jordan River that day, John the Baptist immediately identified Him, not as his relative, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). It would appear that John, the author of this gospel account, has compressed the timeline, leaving out some of the details provided in the synoptic gospels. At this point in the story, Jesus had already been baptized by John. Matthew records that encounter. 

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:13-15 ESV

And Matthew goes on to describe the scene that took place as John baptized his relative, Jesus.

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17 ESV

This must have been when the light went on and John the Baptist fully recognized the identity of Jesus. He even confessed, “I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31 NLT). John had been following his divinely ordained instructions, proclaiming the coming kingdom and baptizing all those who would repent of their sins. And while doing God’s will, God’s Son had shown up. But this was something John had been expecting to happen. God had told him, “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33 NLT).

It is unlikely that John fully understood what this message meant, but he had proclaimed it to all those who would listen.

“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!” – Mark 1:8 NLT

So, when Jesus showed up asking to be baptized, John had obliged Him, and immediately, the confirmation God had promised occurred. And John the Baptist gives his personal testimony as to what happened.

“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. – John 1:32 ESV

He had been an eye-witness to a miracle. He had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove, just as God had promised. But not only that, he had heard the voice of God, audibly confirming the identity of Jesus.

“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” – Matthew 3:17 NLT

The witness was fully convinced. From that moment forward, John the Baptist harbored no doubts as to the true identity of Jesus. He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The image of the sacrificial lamb was a vital part of the Jewish way of life. The offering on an unblemished lamb was and had been an instrumental feature of the Jewish sacrificial system and the means by which they could receive atonement for their sins. John’s statement, “Behold, the Lamb of God” recalls the story of Abraham and Isaac, recorded in the book of Genesis.

God had given Abraham a difficult assignment, designed to test his faith and to teach an invaluable lesson about God’s provision.

“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:2 ESV

Isaac was the son Abraham and Sarah had waited years to receive from God. And now, God was asking Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice. As Abraham and his unsuspecting son made their way to the land of Moriah, Isaac innocently asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV). And Abraham had responded, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). It is doubtful that Abraham was expressing a belief that God would provide a substitute lamb to take the place of his son. He was simply acknowledging that God had been the one who had made possible the miraculous birth of Isaac to an elderly man and his barren wife.

That Moses believed his son to be the “lamb” God had provided for the sacrifice is made clear by the fact that he bound his son, laid him on the altar, and prepared to follow through with the command. But God intervened. He sent an angel to stay Abraham’s hand and to declare that he had passed the test.

“Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” – Genesis 22:12 ESV

And then, suddenly, God revealed to Abraham the answer to Isaac’s question.

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. – Genesis 22:13 ESV

God provided the sacrifice. He offered up a substitute for the life of Isaac. And the momentous nature of this divine act did not escape Abraham. He named the place Jehovah Jireh – “The Lord will provide” (Genesis 22:14 ESV). God had graciously spared the life of Isaac by providing a stand-in or substitute in his place.

And centuries later, John the Baptist recognized that God had sent another substitute, an unblemished Lamb, who would take away the sins of the world. Jehovah had provided a Savior – His own sinless Son.

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

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

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

Who Is A God Like You?

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old. Micah 7:18-20 ESV

It was Warren Wiersbe who wrote, “Few passages in Scripture contain so much ‘distilled theology’ as Micah 7:18-20” (Warren Wiersbe, “Micah,” The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets). And his assessment could not be more accurate. These four verses are absolutely brimming with theological insights into the character and nature of God. And this amazing thing is that they come at the end of a book that warns of God’s coming judgment against a sinful and rebellious people.

This is the same man who opened chapter 7 with the statement, “Woe is me!” He was living during a time of great turmoil and stress and having to deal with the pending fall of his nation’s capital and the utter devastation of his own people. And yet, in the midst of it all, Micah is able to praise God, the very one who was bringing judgment against Israel and Judah.

While he was sadly confident that God would fulfill His promise to punish His disobedient children, Micah was also completely convinced of God’s plans to restore them. He saw no conflict or contradiction between these two aspects of God’s divine plan for His people. They had sinned against God and deserved His discipline. God was simply doing what any human father would do who loves his children but in perfect righteousness and justice.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

Yet Micah also knew that God was committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had made a covenant to these men, guaranteeing to make of them a great nation, and promising to provide shower their descendants with His blessings.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] and said, …“Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” – Genesis 26:2-4 ESV

And behold, the Lord stood above it and said [to Jacob], “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

God had made a commitment to remain faithful to HIs chosen people and Micah was willing to take God at His word. He opens this prayer of praise by asking the rhetorical question: “Who is a God like you?” Micah wasn’t expecting a response from God, because he already knew the answer. This “question-as-a-statement” device is found throughout Scripture and is intended to declare the greatness and transcendence of God. Moses declared:

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
    Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
    awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? – Exodus 15:11 ESV

David wrote:

“O Lord, who is like you,
delivering the poor
    from him who is too strong for him,
    the poor and needy from him who robs him?” – Psalm 35:10 ESV

And another unknown psalmist adds:

“Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?” – Psalm 113:5-6 ESV

Micah’s own name meant, “Who is like Yahweh?” His parents had given him a name that would constantly remind him of the unique nature of his God. And Micah believed it. But the one aspect of his incomparable God that Micah focused on was His willingness to forgive. What Micah couldn’t stop thinking about that his God “pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people” (Micah 7:18 NLT). The false gods of the pagan nations were not known for their forgiving spirits. They were harsh, vindictive, and quick to mete out judgment, and yet, the people of Israel had made a habit of worshiping these gods in place of the one true God.

The problem with false gods is that they are nothing more than the creations of men. They don’t actually exist. And because they are the creations of men’s imaginations, they are little more than humans with supernatural powers. These gods bear a striking resemblance to fallen mankind, manifesting the same capacity to display uncontrolled anger, greed, vengeance, lust, and a blatant disregard for humanity.

But Micah’s God was different. Yes, He was going to judge His people for their sins, but His judgment would be followed by compassion, love, and forgiveness.

You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love. – Micah 7:18 NLT

Micah would have been very familiar with the story of when God had descended upon Mount Sinai and had declared to Moses:

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
    I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—
    even children in the third and fourth generations.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

The God of Moses was the God of Micah. And he rested in the knowledge that what God had declared to Moses hundreds of years earlier was still true because his God never changes. He never goes back on His Word. He is faithful to keep all His promises and commitments “to a thousand generations.”

And Moses declared his trust in God’s word by stating, “you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” (Micah 7:19 NLT). The great king, David, had written a psalm that echoed this same sentiment, declaring the unprecedented character of Yahweh.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:9-12 ESV

And Micah placed his hope and trust in the very same God that David worshiped and adored. This prophet of God, who had spent years delivering a call of repentance to his disobedient countrymen, was placing his confidence in what he knew about Yahweh. The days ahead were filled with destruction and devastation, but Micah rested in the word of God. He was a loving, compassionate, and forgiving God. He was a covenant-keeping God.

God had promised to bless the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Micah was fully convinced that He would. God had declared that those very same people would be a blessing to the nations of the world, and Micah was confident that, one day, they would be. He rested his hopes in the character of his God. He placed his confidence in the integrity, righteousness, and holiness of Him who was like no other.

Micah began this prayer of praise with the question: Who is a God like you? And he answered his own question by declaring the unparalleled mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness of his God. There was and never will be anyone like God.

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

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

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

An Unfinished Story

1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple.
For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains will melt under him,
    and the valleys will split open,
like wax before the fire,
    like waters poured down a steep place.
All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
    Is it not Samaria?
And what is the high place of Judah?
    Is it not Jerusalem?
Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country,
    a place for planting vineyards,
and I will pour down her stones into the valley
    and uncover her foundations.
All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces,
    all her wages shall be burned with fire,
    and all her idols I will lay waste,
for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them,
    and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return. Micah 1:1-7 ESV

One of the amazing things about Scripture is its ability to transport the reader back through history, providing candid “snapshots” that capture moments in time just as they happened. And since the Bible covers the history of the nation of Israel, much of its pages are filled with glimpses into its colorful, but not always flattering past. The historic record of the Israelites is a volatile one, that includes its humble beginnings at the birth of Isaac and its eventual transformation into a formidable nation without a homeland. And all of this is chronicled within the pages of Scripture.

God had called Abram out of Ur, promising to relocate him to a new land to make of him a great nations.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Abram’s obedience to God’s call required that he follow God’s directions which eventually led him to the land of Canaan.

When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:5-7 ESV

At this point in the story, Abram and his wife, Sarai, were childless. And the circumstances were complicated by the fact that they were both advanced in years and Sarai was barren. And yet, God had predicated His call of Abram on His ability to bless this childless man through an abundance of descendants.

Yet, while God had told Abram what He was going to do, He had not yet shared the how. This elderly couple remained childless and everything about their circumstances made any likelihood of God’s promises coming to fruition not only improbable but impossible. And almost as if to make matters worse, God predicted that Abram’s nonexistent offspring would end up in captivity for 400 years.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Then, on his 90th-birthday, Abram received a visit from God who reiterated His covenant commitment to him.

No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 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 17:5-8 ESV

What is so important to understand is that at this point in the story, Abraham is still without an heir. As far as Abraham could tell, all of these wonderful promises from God had no basis in reality. There was no son. There had been no seed given and, therefore, there was no means by which God could fulfill a single one of His promises. And Abraham had shared his reservations with God.

“O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” – Genesis 15:2-3 NLT

But Abraham was operating with a limited perspective. He was bound by time and space, and incapable of grasping the future plans God had in store for him. He looked at his wife and saw a barren woman. He probably caught his own reflection in a pool of water and saw an old man, well past his prime and in no condition to father a son. It all looked so bleak and unpromising. But God was involved. And that is what sets the story of Israel apart from all others. This nation had been handpicked by God. Even before Abraham’s first descendant was even born, God had promised, “to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7 ESV). And He had promised to give them a land as their inheritance.

“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 17:8 ESV

And the rest of the Old Testament provides a detailed account of how God kept His word and fulfilled His promises to Abraham. Which brings us to the book of Micah. In this small, but powerful book, we have a record of God’s communication to the descendants of Abraham, the men and women who eventually became the mighty nation God had promised to make. They had become the recipients of all the blessings God had outlined to Abraham generations earlier. God had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. He had blessed then with kings and had provided them with victories over their enemies. They had enjoyed tremendous success. But they had also experienced their fair share of failures. Because they had chosen to be unfaithful to God. As a result, He had brought judgment upon them.

As we make our way through this book, we will unpack the circumstances that had led to the current conditions in Judah. To do so, we will revisit the timeline that had preceded their current predicament. How did they get to this point? What had precipitated their fall? How had they gone from being the offspring of Abraham, blessed by God, to those who found themselves under the full wrath of God?  It is a fascinating story and one that demands our attention. Because it provides a glimpse into the nature of our God and opens our eyes to the pervasive presence of sin – even among those deemed the children of God.

The story picks up during “the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Micah 1:1 ESV). And the author is someone called Micah, who provides us with that “which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1 ESV). And the message Micah has to deliver is directly from the throne of God.

Hear, you peoples, all of you;
    pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it,
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
    the Lord from his holy temple. – Micah 1:2 ESV

What follows is a message of coming destruction. God is leaving His throne in heaven and making a personal trip to the land of Canaan in order to deliver His judgment personally and powerfully.

For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place,
    and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. – Micah 1:3 ESV

And just so there is no doubt as to why God has chosen to leave heaven and come to earth, Micah provides the answer.

All this is for the transgression of Jacob
    and for the sins of the house of Israel. – Micah 1:5 ESV

God is angry with His people and, as we will see, His anger is justifiable. They deserve what they are about to receive. But how did it get this way? How did the nation which God had formed from an elderly man and his barren wife end up under His wrath? What was it they had done to make God so angry that He was threatening to leave His royal residence in heaven and make a personal trip to earth to mete out His divine judgment? The answers to these questions will be found in the pages of the book of Micah and the rest of the pages of God’s Word. And they will provide us with a much-needed grasp of God’s glory and greatness when faced with man’s ingratitude and unfaithfulness.

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

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

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

Just Say, “Yes!”

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

Immediately after delivering a blistering indictment against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, Jesus turns His attention to God. While His audience wrestled with the weight of His previous words of condemnation, Jesus spoke words of adoration and gratitude to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who just happened to be His Father. This last designation would have seemed odd to the Jews in Jesus’ audience. This overly intimate appellation used by Jesus was not common among the Jews when referencing God. They viewed Abraham as their father and God as their sovereign Lord and ruler. Yet, Jesus blended the two titles together, declaring Himself to be the Son of the God who is Lord of heaven and earth. And Jesus made the nature of this Father/Son relationship quite clear in verse 27.

“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” – Matthew 11:27 NLT

Jesus did not refer to God as “the” Father, but as “my” father. And the close relationship between the two of them was like none other on earth. Remember, Jesus had just condemned the three Galilean cities for their rejection of His as the Messiah. They had been eyewitnesses to His miracles and had heard the message of repentance, but had refused to accept Him as who He claimed to be. And yet, here is Jesus declaring that He has had divine authority granted to Him as the one and only Son of God.

The inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum stood condemned for having failed to recognize and receive Jesus as God’s Son and their own Savior. He had come to release them from their captivity to sin by paying the penalty of death that hung over each and every one of them. But they saw no need for what Jesus was offering, which is why He refers to them as “the wise and understanding” (Matthew 11:25 ESV). In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and already enjoyed a privileged relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth.

In fact, at a later point in His ministry, Jesus would confront the Jews regarding their false and highly flawed understanding of their relationship with God. The apostle John records that Jesus declared that those who were His true disciples would listen to His words and keep them. And Jesus promised His disciples, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT).

But the Jews, offended by Jesus’ words, had responded, “But we are descendants of Abraham. We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” (John 8:33 NLT).

And this is where Jesus dropped a bombshell of His predominantly Jewish audience, exploding their preconceived notions of ethnic privilege and religious piety.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message. I am telling you what I saw when I was with my Father. But you are following the advice of your father.” – John 8:34-38 NLT

Here, as in Matthew’s account, Jesus is declaring Himself to be the Son of God and fully authorized to offer them freedom from enslavement to sin and its accompanying penalty of death. He fully acknowledges that they are descendants of Abraham, but that will not be enough to save them from the divine punishment awaiting them for their rebellion against God. Jesus infers that their rejection of Him and the determination of the religious leaders to kill Him comes from Satan, not God. But they boldly claim, “Our father is Abraham!” (John 8:39 NLT).

But Jesus contradicts their assertion.

“No,” Jesus replied, “for if you were really the children of Abraham, you would follow his example. Instead, you are trying to kill me because I told you the truth, which I heard from God. Abraham never did such a thing. No, you are imitating your real father.” – John 8:40-41 NLT

They were blind to the truth. And the apostle Paul explains why.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

They were blind to the truth that could set them free. And oddly, Jesus thanks His Father “for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike” (Matthew 11:25 NLT). The self-righteous and self-confident were unable to grasp the truth concerning what Jesus had come to do. But the childlike; those who were needy, dependent, and lacking any pretense of self-achieved righteousness, were able to recognize and receive the great gift being offered to them by Jesus.

There is an aspect to Jesus’ words that makes many of us uncomfortable. He seems to indicate that not all who hear His words will accept them. In fact, He clearly states, “no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27 NLT). He is presenting Himself as the sole point of access to God. And He later reinforced the exclusivity of His role when He stated: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).

Knowledge about God was not going to be enough. Jesus came to offer a restored relationship with God. The Jews had failed to worship God faithfully. Their entire history is riddled with stories of spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness. And Jesus will later indict them once again for their misplaced confidence in their position as God’s treasured possession.

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Jesus knew that the Jews in His audience were putting all their hope in their identity rather than His. Their self-righteousness would prove insufficient. Their over-confident trust in their status as descendants of Abraham would leave them disappointed and undeserving of God’s grace. They were going to have to come to a place of need and dependence. They would have to recognize their own insufficiency and their need for a Savior other than self.

And Jesus offers an invitation to any and all who will hear. He provides a clear and compelling call to those who will admit their weariness with a religion based on works, and righteousness dependent upon self-effort.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Jesus wasn’t interested in what they could do. He wasn’t demanding that they keep a rigid list of dos and don’ts. He offered rest from all the weariness that is the inevitable result of trying to earn favor with God through self-effort. He presented Himself as the solution to their problem. He offered to be their teacher and guide, providing gentle instructions for life and a clear path to a right relationship with God. And all they had to do was accept His gracious invitation.

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

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

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

The Christ

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Matthew, as one of the original disciples of Jesus, was out to present a first-hand account of His life and ministry. But Matthew’s Gospel was intended to be much more than a historical record of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the heart of his Gospel is his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. To establish that claim, Matthew opened up his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, and, unlike Luke’s version, Matthew began with Abraham, not Adam.

Establishing the Jewishness of Jesus was essential to Matthew’s account. So, he tied Jesus to the patriarchy and the monarchy of the Jewish people. Matthew describes Jesus as the son of Abraham and the son of David. And, as we saw in yesterday’s post, Matthew considered Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made by God to both of these men.

By highlighting these two great legends of the Hebrews, Matthew was tying Jesus to God’s promise to bless the nations of the world through the seed of Abraham, and His promise to establish a permanent kingdom ruled by a descendant of David. Jesus was the fulfillment of both promises. And Matthew provides this truncated genealogy as a way to prove that Jesus was a descendant of both men and, therefore, was the only person who could legally and credibly claim to be the Messiah.

For generations, the Jewish people had anticipated the coming of their long-awaited Messiah. They were familiar with the Old Testament promises concerning his coming and were eager for him to appear. But when Jesus had arrived on the scene, He was not what they were expecting. The Jewish perception of the Messiah was that of a warrior-king, someone like King David, who would reestablish Israel as a major force in the region and remove the yoke of Roman oppression under which the nation struggled.

But Jesus had been born in relative obscurity and under questionable circumstances in the backwater town of Bethlehem. He had grown up in Nazareth, the son of a common carpenter and with no apparent pedigree that would warrant His consideration as the Messiah. After all, Jesus had been little more than a peasant. And even when He began His earthly ministry and began calling His disciples, at least one of them expressed reservations about His less-than-impressive upbringing.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 ESV

But Matthew goes out of his way to trace Jesus’ roots all the way back to King David. And he divides the genealogy of Jesus into three concise sections, each comprised of 14 generations and culminating on the arrival of “the Christ.”

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:17 ESV

The term, “the Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. Matthew is insisting that Jesus was the one for whom the Jews had been waiting. He was the Messiah. And yet, John records in his Gospel that the Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

From all outward appearances, Jesus appeared to be anything but the fulfillment of God’s promises. He was not kingly in appearance. He had not shown up riding a white horse or leading a massive army. He lacked the trappings of royalty and the obvious signs of success. In fact, long before Jesus showed up, the prophet Isaiah had predicted the unexpected and unimpressive nature of His arrival.

…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV

The Jews were looking for a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They were expecting and demanding a contemporary version of David the king not David the shepherd boy. They were seeking liberation from Roman rule, not deliverance from the tyranny of sin and death. But little did they know that the one they rejected and scorned as an imposter, was actually their long-awaited Messiah.

Even the disciples whom Jesus chose would wrestle with their understanding of who He was and what He had come to do. Later on in his Gospel, Matthew records an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John. She approached Jesus and delivered the following demand: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). She was thinking of an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one. Reflecting the understanding of her own two sons, she saw Jesus as the Messiah, but was hoping and counting on Him setting up His kingdom on earth, by releasing the Jews from their Roman oppressors and reestablishing the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

But Jesus had a different agenda. He had come to do the will of His Father in heaven. And while a kingdom was part of God’s future plans for His Son, Jesus was going to suffer humiliation and execution long before He experienced glorification and exaltation. And Matthew records that immediately after the mother of James and John shared his maternally-driven request with Jesus, He had responded:

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

The genealogy found in the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to prove the claim of the early Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. And the rest of his Gospel will chronicle the somewhat surprising and unexpected record of Jesus’ life. What Matthew describes in his account will contradict every expectation the Jews had regarding the Messiah. His life will not seem to match His lineage. His actions will not track with their assumptions. But Matthew wanted his readers to know from the start, that the one He was about to describe was the one for whom they longed. Jesus was the son of David and the son of Abraham. He was the God-ordained fulfillment of the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants. And while the Jews had failed to recognize Jesus as such, it did not change the fact that the Messiah had come. Jesus was who He had claimed to be. And the details of His life, while not what the Jews expected, would provide proof that Jesus was and is the Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus Was Born

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Today, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. This book is part of what is often referred to as the synoptic gospels, which also includes the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry compiled by Mark and Luke. The term “synoptic” is derived from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, which, when combined, provide the meaning, “to see together.” These three Gospels share a great many similarities but also provide us with distinctively different perspectives on the life of Jesus, as seen from the vantage points of the three authors. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, were disciples of Jesus; while Luke was a friend of the apostle Paul, who compiled his Gospel account for the benefit of an individual named Theophilus. In the opening paragraphs of his Gospel, Luke provides the purpose behind his compilation.

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” – Luke 1:3 ESV

Each of these men brought their own distinct personalities and insights to bear when writing their account of the life of Jesus. But each was also inspired by the Holy Spirit, who utilized their individual identities and skill sets to compile three contrasting, yet complementary portraits of the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew, as its name suggests, was written by the man who held the distinction of being one of the disciples of Jesus as well as one of the original 12 apostles. Some of the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book begin with the words, “kate Matthaion” which means “according to Matthew.”

The list of early church fathers who believed  Matthew to be the author of this book includes Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Because of Matthew’s close relationship with Jesus, this book carried significant weight among the members of the early church. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector would have ensured that he was able to read and write. And the book of Matthew contains more references to money and finances than any of the other Gospel accounts.

Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus is short and sweet, providing little in the way of details. Written in the third-person, Matthew described his initial meeting with Jesus in a rather pedestrian manner.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

After making the decision to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Matthew decided to return the favor by extending an invitation to Jesus and His other disciples to have dinner in his home.  And Matthew reveals some interesting insights into his own life when he records the details surrounding this rather eclectic dinner party.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

As a tax collector, Matthew would have been considered persona non grata by his fellow Jews. As evidenced by the response of the Pharisees in Matthew’s story, a tax collector was considered the lowest of the low, comparable to the most disreputable sinner. To the Jews, a tax collector was little more than a stooge for the Roman government, collecting exorbitant taxes from his own people and lining his own by adding fees that amounted to little more than extortion. Matthew was likely a well-to-do individual who, though viewed as a pariah by his own people, was well-liked by the less religious and socially unacceptable. Which makes Jesus’ selection of Matthew that much more significant.

And when Jesus heard the judging comment from the lips of the Pharisees, He had responded by saying: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This somewhat cryptic-sounding statement from Jesus was not as veiled as it may first appear. He was accusing the self-righteous Pharisees of misunderstanding the true state of their own hearts. They viewed themselves as spiritually superior to such people as the sinners who had gathered to dine at the home of a common tax collector. And, the believed, Jesus and His disciples had defiled themselves by choosing to associate with such scum. But as Jesus pointed out, He had come to save the spiritually sick, not those who viewed themselves as perfect specimens of righteousness.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew opens up his Gospel account with the genealogy of Jesus, in which he describes Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These are distinctively Jewish titles that link Jesus to the nation of Israel. Matthew is claiming Jesus to be a descendant of David and, therefore, a legal heir to the throne of Israel. But he also describes Jesus as the Son of Abraham, who was the patriarch of the Hebrew people.

In a sense, Matthew is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of two promises made by God that are directly tied to the Jewish people. The first was made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and that he would make him a blessing.

“…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

Somehow God would bless all the nations through the offspring or seed of this one man, Abraham. And the apostle Paul provides us with Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise meant.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Old Testament promise to Abraham. And, when Matthew declared Jesus to be the Son of David, he was letting his readers know that Jesus fulfilled the promise God had made to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” – 2 Samuel 7:12 ESV

While this promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the son of David, it had a future aspect to it that would not be completed until the coming of Jesus. God went on to tell David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). But the day came when there were no more kings in Israel. The nation would go without a king for hundreds of years. And yet, God had told Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 ESV).

A major part behind Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel was to reveal Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and the God-ordained fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth. Both Gentiles and Jews would benefit from the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Unlike Luke, Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus with Abraham rather than Adam. He was interested in establishing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. The entire book of Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor to it. IT is not so much that Matthew was writing with a Jewish audience in mind, as much as he was trying to establish Jesus’ credentials to serve as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and as the Savior of the world.

It is interesting to note that Matthew closes out his genealogy by referring to Jesus as “the Christ,” the Greek word used to translate the Jewish word for Messiah, which means “anointed one.” This Greek appellation carries the full weight of the original Hebrew title of Messiah.

The Messiah is the same person as “the seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), “the seed of Abraham” (Genesis 22:18), the “Prophet like unto Moses” (Deuteronomy 18:15), “the priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalms 110:4), “the rod out of the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10), the “Immanuel,” the virgin’s son (Isaiah 7:14), “the branch of Jehovah” (Isaiah 4:2), and “the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). This is he “of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.” – M. G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson. 1897. Public Domain. copy freely

As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this genealogy was intended to illustrate and accentuate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of the Jewish people and their rightful king. But, even more importantly, He was the God-appointed Savior of the world. In sending His Son in human flesh, God was revealing His divine plan to redeem and restore that which was damaged by the fall. So, Matthew reminds his readers: “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson