The Living God Is Among You.

And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.Joshua 3:9-17 ESV

In every generation, one of the saddest realities of life is how often the people of God fail to recognize His presence among them. Those who claim to be followers of God and who express faith in His power end up wondering if He is really there. They read the Scriptures and hear stories about His faithfulness in the past, but they fail to see Him at work in and around their own lives. But, when it comes to our failure to see the handiwork of God, the problem lies with us, not God.

As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan, they must have been filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a bit of fear and trepidation. They had no idea what was going to happen next. They knew that God had promised to give them the land, but this day had been a long time in coming. And they knew that the land God had promised them was not uninhabited. It was filled with nations who would likely take strong exception to Israel’s claim to have a God-given right to the land. These nations would be sure to resist any attempts by the Israelites to walk in and take over their cities, fields, and homes. But Joshua gathered the people together and told them:

“Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” – Joshua 3:10 ESV

He was letting them know that this entire venture was going to be God-led and God-empowered. God had promised to do wonders, and now they were about to see the first of many wonders He would perform on their behalf. And, as a result, they would know that He was among them. This is an interesting statement, because God had been among them for generations – guiding, leading, protecting and delivering them. He had regularly displayed His glory in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. His divine presence had been visible, hovering over the tabernacle and leading them as they had made their way through the wilderness and to the shores of the Jordan. But Joshua seems to be telling them that this new phase of their journey was going to be marked by a new manifestation of God’s presence and power. This was not going to be another day of walking in the wilderness. This was to be the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of God, and it was going to require an extra measure of trust in God.

Joshua refers to God as “the Lord of all the earth” (Joshua 3:11 ESV). This is the very first time we hear this designation used, and it seems to be Joshua’s attempt to stress God’s sovereign control over the planet. The people were going to see just how truly powerful their God was. And it’s no coincidence that what God was about to do at the River Jordan was very similar to what He had done for the Israelites all the way back at the Red Sea when they had first left Egypt. That miraculous event had marked their exodus and escape from slavery and oppression. This event would mark their entrance into God’s promise of freedom, rest and blessing.

Joshua instructed each tribe to select a man as their representative. This 12 men were to accompany the priests who would carry the ark of the covenant. And Joshua tells the people that when the feet of the priests enter the waters of the Jordan, “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13 ESV). Just as the waters of the Red Sea had split apart and allowed the people of Israel to cross over on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan would be held back by the hand of God, providing a path leading from the wilderness to the promised land. Like a door swinging on a hinge, the waters would literally open up, providing a way for the people to enter the land. The Hebrew word used by the author is karath, and it means “to cut off.” But it is the same word used when speaking of cutting or making a covenant. When a covenant was made between two parties, an animal was sacrificed, then cut up or divided in two. The two covenanting parties would then walk the path between the divided sacrifice, signifying their commitment to keep the covenant or face a similar fate. As God “cut off” the waters of the Jordan, He was signifying His commitment to keep the covenant He had made to Abraham. And the people were entering into that covenant, passing over the path that God had provided for them.

It is also a picture of Christ, the one whom God provided to be the doorway or gate into His promise of eternal life and rest. Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7 NLT) and “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. ” (John 10:9 NLT). He also boldly claimed, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). That day, standing on the shores of the Jordan, the people of God were only going to be given a single, solitary path to take. It would be a God-given, divinely orchestrated path that was miraculous in nature and based solely on the grace of God. There was to be no other way. There was to be no workaround or alternative route. And the same is true when it comes to God’s path to salvation. There is no other way but Christ. There is no other door or gateway into God’s presence or a path by which men might find peace with God.

God did a miracle. He performed a wonder and displayed His power, proving to the people that He was not only with them, but for them. He was going ahead of them, leading the way into the land of promise. And just as the waters of the Jordan parted before them, the nations that occupied the land would melt away in front of them. Nothing would be too difficult for God. He would lead, but they would need to follow. He would provide a path, but they would have to walk along it in obedience and faith. And once they had crossed over, those very same waters would close behind them, signifying that there was no going back. They were in the land and the promise had been fulfilled. But now, they would have to occupy the land. They would have to take what God had given them and make it their own. The presence of enemies in no way negated the reality of the promise. The land was theirs. God had given it to them. But fully experiencing the promise of God was going to require their complete dependence upon the power of God. He was among them, but they would have to trust that He would go before them, each and every day they lived in the land.

 

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

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

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

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The Lord Will Do Wonders.

1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” – Joshua 3:1-8 ESV

The spies had returned and given their report. And Joshua, based on all that they had told him, had reached the conclusion that the time was right to advance, making their long-awaited entrance into the land of promise.

“Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” – Joshua 2:24 ESV

It is not difficult to notice that Joshua borrows from the words of Rahab when describing the emotional state of the inhabitants of the land. She had told the two spies that, upon hearing the reports of Israel’s defeats of the kings of the Amorites, “our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11 ESV). Joshua took this as a sign from God that the land and its people were theirs for the taking. The time had come for them to step out in faith and take God at His word. He had promised long ago to give them this land and now God was ready to turn that promise into a reality. But the crossing of the Jordan was going to be a watershed moment. The river acted as a barrier and a border. It was a natural marker, establishing the eastern border of the land of Canaan. Upon entering its waters and exiting out the other side, the people of Israel would be embarking on a new journey of faith. And Joshua, knowing that this day was significant, called the people to prepare themselves spiritually for what God was about to do. “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5 ESV).

No doubt, Joshua recalled the words of God, spoken to Moses, when He had renewed His covenant with Israel.

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you. – Exodus 34:10 ESV

Joshua knew that this was no ordinary day. When the sun set that evening, they would find themselves no longer living as wanderers in the wilderness. They were about to enter the land promised by God to Abraham as his inheritance. And they were going to have the privilege and responsibility of seeing that the land was captured, its inhabitants conquered, and their occupation of it be marked by consecration to God. But Joshua also knew that all that was about to happen had little to do with them. It was going to be the work of God. And God had made it clear why He was providing them with this land.

Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. – Deuteronomy 9:3-6 NLT

The land was not a reward for their righteous behavior. God was not giving them the land because they were good. He was giving them the land because He was good, and holy, and just, and a God who keeps His promises. And God was going to lead them as He had for decades. He would go before them, His glory hovering over the Ark of the Covenant, just as it had ever since they had left Mount Sinai.

33 They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. 34 As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. 35 And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” 36 And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!” – Numbers 10:33-36 NLT

Joshua commanded the people to follow the ark of the covenant. It would be their guide, just as it had always been. This was a not-so-subtle reminder to the people that God was the one who was leading them. Joshua was simply his representative. But God provided Joshua with the assurance that He would confirm his role as the new leader of the nation of Israel.

“Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. – Joshua 3:7 ESV

Joshua’s standing among the people would be solidified because they would see God working through him. His position as their leader would be confirmed by God’s continued presence, power, and provision. The key to Joshua’s leadership success would be his ability to follow God. A godly leader is nothing more than a humble follower after God. And as long as that individual follows God, those who come behind him will find themselves walking in the will of God.

So, Joshua, as a godly leader, passed on the message he had heard to those who would be carrying the ark of the covenant: “When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan” (Joshua 3:8 ESV). That was all he knew. That was the extent of his understanding of God’s will. But he shared it and trusted in it. Joshua had no idea what was going to happen next, but he knew that, whatever happened, it would be the work and the will of God. And it would be a wonder to behold.

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

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

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

Dancing and Disdain.

And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.

And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. – 2 Samuel 6:12-23 ESV
 

When David’s first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem had ended with the untimely death of Uzzah, he had angrily ordered the ark to be left in the care of Obed-edom. But three months later, when he received word that the house of Obed-edom was being blessed because of the presence of the ark, he had second thoughts. He decided to try a second time to move the ark into his new capital. And this time he did it the right way – God’s way. The passage reads, “And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps” (2 Samuel 6:12 ESV). In other words, this time, there was no cart, no oxen, no alternative method of transport used. He moved the ark using God’s prescribed method. The book of First Chronicles gives us the details:
David built houses for himself in the city of David. And he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. Then David said that no one but the Levites may carry the ark of God, for the Lord had chosen them to carry the ark of the Lord and to minister to him forever. – 1 Chronicles 15:1-2 ESV
David told the Levites:
“You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule.” So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the Lord. – 1 Chronicles 15:12-15 ESV
But the book of First Chronicles also provides us with an interesting insight into what David had been doing in the three months prior to his second attempt to move the ark. David had been busy. We get a glimpse of his activities in verse 1 of 1 Chronicles 15: “David built houses for himself in the city of David.” But it is the previous chapter that gives us the details concerning David’s building efforts.

And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also masons and carpenters to build a house for him. And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel.

And David took more wives in Jerusalem, and David fathered more sons and daughters. These are the names of the children born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Elpelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Beeliada and Eliphelet. – 1 Chronicles 14:1-7 ESV

David had been busy building his house – in more ways than one. His efforts included construction and conception. He was building a palace and a legacy. But the second part of his building efforts was in direct violation of God’s commands concerning the king (Deuteronomy 17:17). As we have seen before, David had an inordinate attraction to women. Their presence would prove to be a distraction and a constant source of trouble in his life.

But the other interesting insight we glean from the Chronicles passage is that, while David was building a brick and mortar house for himself, he had simply “pitched a tent” for the Ark of the Covenant. He would later regret this oversight and voice his desire to build a great house for God (2 Samuel 7). But at this point in his reign, it would appear that David is busy establishing and solidifying his rule with all the trappings of kingly success. At least, according to the worldly standards of the day.

But back to the story. David led the procession of Levites, priests and musicians into the city of Jerusalem. He was wearing a simple linen gown, not his kingly robes. And he was dancing and celebrating all along the way. This was a joyous occasion. But not for Michal, the first wife of David and the daughter of Saul. We are told that she “looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16 ESV). We are not given the reason for her disdain for David. Was it the way he was dressed? Was it his dancing before the Lord? Maybe she was angry that he was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. We know from 1 Samuel 19:11-16, that Michal kept an idol to a false god in their home. She had used it in her efforts to help David escape from her father. So, it might be that Michal resented David bringing in what she believed to be an idol to his God, the ark. But we do know that she expressed her dissatisfaction to David, focusing on his behavior and dress.

“How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!” – 2 Samuel 6:20 NLT

While David had been dancing before the Lord, she became disgusted with what was to her an embarrassing lack of decorum. I think there is far more behind her anger and resentment toward David than just his choice of attire and dancing skills. There was a pent-up anger for David. Keep in mind, he had replaced her father as king. Not only that, she had remarried and had been taken from her husband by force and returned to David – only to find out that he had been busy, having acquired many other wives. And we know from the text, that those women had born David many children. But evidently, Michal was childless – not a very attractive proposition for any woman in those days, but especially for the wife of the king. And the text tells us that Michal would remain childless, and I don’t believe this was the result of a divine decree of barrenness, the result of her anger that day. I simply believe David lost all affection for Michal at that moment and never had intimate relations with her again. Their marriage was essentially over at that point. She would remain one of his queens, but would enjoy his favor or bear him a son.

It is impossible to read this story and not see the stark contrast of celebration and disintegration. David is building his kingdom while at the same time watching his relationship with Michal fall apart. He is building a palace in which to rule and reign, and yet he is also adding wives, in direct violation of God’s commands, who will bring disorder and future destruction to his kingdom. David exhibits a strange mix of humility and pride. He is all about establishing his image as a king, but also willing to humble himself before the God who had anointed him king. In David’s response to Michal, you get a subtle sense of his pride mixed with humility.

“I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!” – 2 Samuel 6:21-22 NLT

David knew that it had been God who had made him king. But he also enjoyed the fact that he was the king. He displays a subtle sense of superiority and pride in his statement. He had been chosen by God. He was the king. And while he was willing to humble himself before God, he was also counting on the fact that God was going to distinguish him as a king. Dancing and disdain. Pride and humility. Celebration and disintegration. Palaces and tents. Worship and wives. Blessings and barrenness. Burnt offerings and burned relationships. This is a passage of contrasts. And David’s reign would be one of contradictions and conflicts. There would be times of great blessing and significance, but there would also be times of pain, sorrow, and disobedience. David was going to continue to learn the truth found in the words of Samuel, spoken to the former king of Israel:

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 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

Being Zealous Can Be Dangerous.

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.

And David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” So David was not willing to take the ark of the Lord into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household. – 2 Samuel 6:1-11 ESV

David had a heart for God. He was anxious to serve God well and rule according to the will of God. As we saw in the last chapter, David sought God’s counsel before doing battle with the Philistines and the result was a stunning and decisive victory. And as David began to plan and prepare for his future kingdom, including the creation of his new capital in Jerusalem, he was motivated by a strong desire to acknowledge God in all that he did. And one of the first decisions he made was to relocate the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Kiriath-jearim to the city of Jerusalem. The ark was an important part of the history of the Jews. It was their link all the way back to the days of Moses and the period of the exodus. The book of Hebrews provides us with some details regarding this holy and revered object: “the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:4 ESV). The cover of the ark was called the Mercy Seat and it was there that God’s presence dwelt. Exodus records God’s commands concerning the Mercy Seat:

“You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony…” – Exodus 25:17-22 ESV
The Mercy Seat was especially significant to the Jewish people because it was there, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, that the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of a bull and a goat as an offering to God for the sins of the people. So you can see why David was anxious to have the Ark of the Covenant relocated into his newly chosen capital. But in his zeal to do the right thing, David ended up doing the wrong thing. He got in a hurry and failed to do his homework, and his actions would result in the unnecessary death of Uzzah.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses the problem of zeal without knowledge.
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. – Romans 10:1-3 ESV
Paul was talking about his fellow Jews who had refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. In their zeal for God, they had failed to recognize the very one sent to them by God. Instead, they continued to seek a right standing with God through the keeping of the Law. They were zealous for God, but were refusing to do things God’s way.
And that was David’s problem. God had given very clear instructions regarding the Ark and how it was to be transported.
And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:15 ESV
The Ark was designed by God in a very specific manner and it had two long poles with which it was to be carried and only by the sons of Kohath. Because of the holiness of the Ark, it was forbidden for anyone to touch it. If they did, they would die. No one was to look inside the Ark (1 Samuel 6:19). Again, if they did, they would die. So, when David got ready to move the Ark, he made a major mistake. Rather than doing things God’s way, he followed the lead of the Philistines. In other words, he did it the world’s way. Earlier on in the history of Israel, there had been an occasion when the Ark had been captured by the Philistines after a battle with the Israelites. How did this happen? The Philistines had defeated the Israelites in a battle and, as a result, the elders of Israel resorted to sending for the Ark and attempted to use it as some kind of good luck token. “And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies” (1 Samuel 4:3 ESV). But rather than bringing the Israelites victory, the Ark was captured by the Philistines. And when the discovered that having the Ark of God around proved to be deadly, they decided to return it to the Israelites. And, not knowing the law of God, they did so according to their own methodology.
Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off and let it go its way – 1 Samuel 6:7-8 ESV
So, when David got ready to transport the Ark into Jerusalem, rather than doing so according to God’s prescribed methods, he followed the lead of the Philistines. The passage clearly states:
And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. – 2 Samuel 6:3-4 ESV
And when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled, as the Ark began to fall, Uzzah reached out and tried to steady it with his hand. He touched the Ark. And he died. In fact, the passage tells us, “And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7 ESV). This might appear to us as a gross overreaction on the part of God. How could He be so angry against Uzzah for simply attempting to keep the Ark from falling? But God’s anger is always a righteous and just anger. It is never capricious or without warrant. Uzzah had broken the law of God and, as a result, the righteous, just anger of God was the result. Had God not punished Uzzah for his sin, God would have failed to be God. He would have been unjust. Had Got not responded in anger toward the violation of His just law, He would have been an unjust God. This is why God gave clear conditions and commands regarding his people and their interactions with Him. Had David done things according to God’s plan, this would not have happened. Uzzah would not have died. And while his sin was not motivated by a heart of rebellion, it was rebellion nonetheless. And the outcome was death.
And David’s reaction to this event was much like ours would be. He became angry. He was frustrated. Then his anger turned to fear and that fear ended up paralyzing him into inaction. Rather than taking the time to determine what it was that he had done wrong, he simply left the Ark where it was. His intentions had been proper and right. But when he suffered for doing God’s will in the wrong way, David just gave up. So the Ark sat in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months. David returned to Jerusalem angry at God and without the presence of the Ark in his new capital. But while David pouted, God was busy blessing Obed-edom. And news of this would reach David, motivating him into action.
The problem was not David’s zeal. It was his methodology. It was also his lack of knowledge regarding the will of God. He attempted to do the right thing in the wrong way. He acted with sincerity, but in ignorance. He had celebrated, danced and sang as he led the procession with the Ark toward Jerusalem. He had been enthusiastic and excited about having the Ark in his new capital. But he had left out one important part: Obedience. As Samuel had told King Saul years earlier, God prefers obedience to enthusiastic sacrifice any day of the week.
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 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


Our Uncontainable God.

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! – 1 Kings 8:27 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

As Solomon prepared to dedicate the temple he had just constructed, he offered a prayer of consecration to God. He was setting apart this very special building as the dwelling place of God. But even as he prayed, he realized the futility and extreme absurdity of what they were doing. They very idea of men trying to create a structure adequate or large enough to contain the God of the universe was absurd. Solomon’s prayer reveals his understanding of God’s immensity and transcendence. While the false gods worshiped by other nations could easily be contained in temples and shrines, the God of Israel was far too great and omnipresent to be contained in a single structure, regardless of how beautiful or large it might be. God Himself had said, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV).

So was all the effort and expense Solomon had put into building the temple nothing but a waste of time? No. God had given Solomon permission to build the temple for which his father David had long dreamed. Solomon was well aware of the history of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the stories regarding the tabernacle. It was within the Holy of Holies that God’s shekinah glory rested. God had ordained the construction of the tabernacle and had agreed to meet with His people there. Within the tabernacle, hidden from the view of men, the glory of God hovered over the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It was there, once a year, that the high priest sprinkled the blood of a spotless animal in order to atone for the sins of the people. It was David’s original intent to create a new dwelling place for the Ark. Ever since the people had lived within the land of Canaan, the Ark had been without a proper resting place. So David had dreamed of creating a house in which to keep the Ark. “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent’” (2 Samuel 7:1-2 ESV). God had approved of David’s plan, but it was Solomon who was allowed to bring it to fruition. The marvelous structure Solomon had constructed was not intended to contain or house God. That would have been impossible. It was created to provide a proper home for the Ark and allow for the continued atonement for the sins of the people of God. But the sacrifices made each year within the temple had to be more than just religious rituals performed out of some sense of duty. God expected the sacrifices to be accompanied by repentance and a sense of contrition. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would write, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). Isaiah would also end up warning the people regarding their casual use of the temple and their contemptuous regard for the sacrificial system. Speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah wrote: “‘What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me!’” (Isaiah 1:11-13 NLT).

The temple could not contain God. And the sacrifices of men could not obligate God to forgive them for their disregard and disrespect for His holiness. As God had said, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” God didn’t live in the temple. He lived within the hearts of those who loved Him and recognized their need for Him. Our God is uncontainable and uncontrollable. We can’t manipulate Him or make Him do what we want. We can’t live our lives according to our own standards and then expect Him to bless us just because we go to church, periodically read our Bibles, or offer up the occasional prayer. As those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, we are the dwelling place of the most High God. We are His temple. He lives within us. Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV). “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord’” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV). What an amazing reality. The uncontainable, uncontrollable God of the universe has chosen to dwell among us. He has determined to live within us. We don’t need a building. All we need is belief in the redemptive work of His Son Jesus Christ and hearts that are willing to repent of our love affair with sin and self. Then God Himself takes up residence within us. Paul writes, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8 NLT). The undeserving contains the uncontainable. The unremarkable contains the uncontrollable.

 

 

2 Chronicles 5-6, 2 Thessalonians 2

A Timely Reminder.

2 Chronicles 5-6, 2 Thessalonians 2

O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart. – 2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV

Most scholars believe the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are post-exhilic in nature. In other words, they were written some time after the people of Judah had returned from captivity in Babylon and after Jerusalem had been restored and the temple rebuilt. In spite of their rebellion against God, He had miraculously arranged for them to be restored to the land. He had made it possible for them to rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple, both of which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. But things were not like they had been. The city of Jerusalem was a shadow of its former self. The temple was smaller and much less grand than the one Solomon had built. The people were poor, defenseless, with no standing army and no king to lead them. So in recounting this story to his readers, the chronicler is reminding them of their heritage, their nation’s former glory, and their unique relationship with God. Solomon’s prayer of dedication contains a series of if…then statements, asking God to intervene in certain cases involving the sins of the people and their ultimate repentance.

This entire section would have been a sobering reminder of just how wonderful things had been for the people of God before their sins had led to God’s discipline and their deportation. But it would have also reminded them of what was required of them to enjoy God’s forgiveness and restoration.

What does this passage reveal about God?

One particular part of Solomon’s prayer would have struck a chord with those reading this book in their post-exhilic environment. Solomon had pleaded with God, saying, “If your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to them and to their fathers” (2 Chronicles 6:24-25 ESV). There is no indication that the people of Israel, while in exile in Babylon, had ever really repented of their sins and turned back to God. Yet God had been faithful and returned them to the land – in spite of them. Earlier in his prayer, Solomon had stated, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV). But those who were reading this historical narrative after having been returned from exile in Babylon, this was a sobering reminder that God had been faithful even though they had never really repented. God was keeping His promises made to Abraham and David. He would continue to make of Israel a great nation. He would keep His promise to place a descendant of David on the throne of Israel – forever. The real emphasis of this passage seems to be on God’s faithfulness and man’s inherent unfaithfulness. It recounts God’s decision to dwell among the people of Israel, displaying His shekinah glory, in the form of a pillar of cloud, within the Holy of Holies – “the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The temple and the Ark of the Covenant were symbols of God’s abiding presence, but also of His holiness and willingness to forgive the sins of those who rebel against His righteous commands. The temple without the Ark would have been just another building. The Ark without the Mercy Seat, would have been nothing more than a constant reminder of God’s Law and man’s inability to live up to it. The Ark contained the two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments, provided to Moses by God Himself. These tablets represented God’s righteous, unwavering expectations regarding man’s conduct. But because of man’s sin nature, living up to God’s righteous requirements was impossible. Which is why God had provided the sacrificial system and the Mercy Seat, which covered the Ark of the Covenant. It was on this Mercy Seat that blood was sprinkled once a year on the Day of Atonement, in order to provide forgiveness for the sins the people had committed that previous year. Solomon knew that he and the people of Israel were nothing without God’s presence. But he also knew that they were nothing without God’s forgiveness. “…listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:21 ESV). Solomon fully understood that forgiveness was going to be non-negotiable necessity in order for the people of God to retain a right standing before God. Even though Solomon repeatedly said, “If a man sins…”, “If your people are defeated…because they have sinned”, and “when heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned…”, he knew that these were not potential scenarios, but inevitable ones. They were going to sin and they were going to need God’s forgiveness. But forgiveness required repentance. And while the original readers of this book found themselves restored to the land and worshiping once again in the temple, they were going to need to repent if they wanted to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

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

It’s interesting to note that while the temple had been restored and the sacrificial system had been reinstated, the Ark of the Covenant was missing. It had likely been destroyed during the fall of Jerusalem. The audience reading this passage in a post-exhilic Jerusalem would have recognized that the Ark of the Covenant was no longer sitting within the Holy of Holies. And without the Ark, there was no Mercy Seat. Without the Mercy Seat, there was not place to atone for the sins of the people. And yet, I am reminded that God has provided mercifully, graciously provided a means of atonement through His own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ was offered as the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind. “… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11 ESV). Paul goes on to remind us, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV). In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul warned them of the “coming of the lawless one” – the Antichrist – who in the time of the tribulation, will deceive “those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). There will be those who believe his lies and suffer condemnation, because they “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). But God had made known to me the truth regarding His Son. He has made it clear to me that my salvation is based solely on His Son’s work on the cross, not any good works on my part. The Israelites were the undeserving recipients of God’s grace and mercy. So am I. God has chosen me, along with all other believers, “as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). We are to live in the wonder of His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Father, nothing we receive from You is deserved, except perhaps, Your loving discipline. But Your grace is always a free gift, provided out of Your abundant love and mercy. Thank You for making it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You through the death of Your Son. Thank You for providing mercy and grace, when what I deserved was death. I am reminded that I owe to You a great debt, which I could never repay. But I can give You my worship, praise, love and life. May I live in such a way that the world around me knows I belong to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Chronicles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Something Missing.

2 Chronciles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. – 2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV

Four years into his reign as king, Solomon finally began the building of the long-awaited house of the Lord – the temple. Construction commenced on top of Mount Moriah, at the site of the former threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, purchased by David for this very purpose. Chapters three and four give us details concerning the construction of various aspects of the temple and its contents. We are given specifics concerning the two massive cherubim that occupied the Most Holy Place. We have descriptions of the altar of bronze, the sea of cast metal, the wash basins, tables golden lampstands and the court of the priests. But there is one thing missing, and it’s absence is significant. In spite of all the painstaking planning and meticulous care that went into the construction of the temple, there was one item that would ensure that this structure would be the dwelling place of God and not just another beautiful man-made building. The missing element was the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon had not forgotten about it. He had every intention of bringing the Ark into the temple upon completion of the construction process, and that significant event is covered in chapter five. But it is important to notice that the building alone, adorned with all its gold, silver, bronze, and cypress; filled with all its handcrafted basins, lampstands and tables; would be nothing without Ark. The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God’s presence. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses and on which were written the Law of God. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year on the Day of Atonement, “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The Ark of the Covenant was central to the worship of Yahweh. Without it, the people could not have their sins atoned for. A temple without the ark would be just another building, no matter how beautiful it was. A temple without the presence of God would be nothing more than an expensive warehouse, devoid of power and worthless as a place of worship. The Ark of the Covenant was to be a reminder of God’s holiness as revealed in His Law. It was to provide atonement for sin and a means by which to enjoy God’s mercy and forgiveness, so that men might experience His ongoing presence. The temple, while built by the hands of ordinary men, could never provide atonement. It could never forgive sin. The Ark was essential to the ongoing health and well-being of the people of God. Men could construct buildings, but only God can forgive sins. Men can build a temple intended as a dwelling place for God, but only God can provide a means by which sinful men can dwell in His holy presence. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the things that is easy to overlook in reading about the beautiful trappings of the temple is that its existence would reveal two aspects regarding God. First, it was a visible reminder of God’s presence and power. It would be a constant physical symbol of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. But there is a second, sometimes overlooked aspect of the temple that the Israelites would sometimes forget. It was a symbol of God’s judgment. Inside the Ark were the tablets of stone on which were written the Law of God – His holy commands outlining the non-negotiable code of conduct for His people. Those laws were to be obeyed. Not to do so would carry dire consequences. To break God’s laws would bring God’s judgment. Which is why God provided the Mercy Seat. He knew that men would sin. He was fully aware that His people could not keep His holy laws. So He provided a means by which they could have their sins atoned for and His righteous judgment satisfied. The judgment lies at the heart of it all. If there was no pending judgment, there would be no need for mercy or atonement. If there were no sins, there would be no need for forgiveness. The judgment of God is a reality. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “ the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Man stands condemned. He is under the judgment of a holy God and is deserving of His sentence of death. 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV). God, in His mercy, provides salvation. But it does not negate His judgment. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonian believers that God’s judgment was still a reality. While they were suffering for their faith and enduring abuse at the hands of their non-believing peers, Paul made it clear that their suffering was “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). They were suffering for the present time, but they were not to lose sight of the fact that a day was coming when God would right all wrongs and set straight all injustices. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV). Paul went on to tell them, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).

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

The temple without the Ark was worthless. The people of Israel, without a means of receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God, would find themselves standing under the judgment of God. My life without the atoning work of Jesus Christ would be just as worthless and my fate, just as hopeless. Had the Ark only contained the copies of the Law, but no mercy seat, the people of God would have been under judgment and worthy of death. But God provided a means of atonement. He made possible forgiveness for sins that was undeserved and unmerited. He has done the same thing for me. And when I find myself suffering in this life and enduring difficulties and trials as a follower of Jesus Christ, I must remind myself that my reward is out ahead of me. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and the righteous judgment of God will be fully enacted once and for all, “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). How grateful I should be that I will not have to undergo that judgment. How thankful I should be that I will be spared God’s wrath and be able to enjoy His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. May I never take for granted the incredible gift I have received. May I never neglect the reality of God’s judgment and the unbelievable gift of His mercy made possible through Jesus Christ.

Father, Your judgment is real and just. Your anger against man is justified. And I know that I was fully deserving of your condemnation and punishment. But You extended to me mercy. You made possible my forgiveness. You did for me what I could have never done for myself. Help me to never forget the reality of Your judgment, so that I never take for granted the wonder of Your grace. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Chronicles 15-16, Colossians 1

God of Our Salvation.

1 Chronicles 15-16, Colossians 1

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

In his second attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, David determined to do things God’s way. He had learned a difficult, but invaluable lesson. Rather than obey God’s written commands regarding the transport of the Ark, David had decided to do things his way and the results were disastrous. But he learned from his mistake and developed a deeper reverence for God and His law. This time, David used the Levites to carry the Ark, just as God had prescribed. He treated the Ark with the dignity and honor it deserved because it was a representation of the glory, splendor and presence of God Himself. David brought the Ark into Jerusalem with much pomp and pageantry, with music and praise, dancing and singing. There were offerings and sacrifices made to God. They sang a song of thanksgiving especially written for the occasion. The significance of this event was not lost on David or the people. For the first time in a long time, they were able to receive forgiveness for their sins. The Ark of the Covenant, upon which sat the Mercy Seat of God, was not only a representation of God’s presence, but the means of propitiating or satisfying the wrath of a holy God against their sins. The Ark was the place of propitiation. It had been provided by God Himself for the people so that they could come into His presence, in spite of their sinfulness. The blood of an unblemished animal was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat to atone for the sins of the people, and to turn away the wrath of God. On the annual Day of Atonement, propitiation was made by means of a substitutionary sacrifice. The sins committed by the people that year were atoned for, and the wrath of God was turned away. The significance of this annual sacrifice and the Ark’s role in it did not escape David, which is why his song of thanksgiving expressed such powerful praise to God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

David knew that the existence of Israel as a nation was due to God alone. Their presence in the land of Canaan was His doing. They had been the undeserving recipients of His covenant. They had enjoyed His protection and provision over the years. They had experienced “His salvation from day to day” (1 Chronicles 16:23 ESV). As a result, God deserved their praise, awe, reverence, allegiance, and unwavering fidelity. David knew that, without God, the nation of Israel would have been nothing. His kingdom would be non-existent. And without God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness made available through the place of propitiation – the Mercy Seat – their sinfulness would have made it impossible for them to stand before His presence. David recognized God’s unbelievable love, expressed through His provision of the sacrificial system and, most specifically, through the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat itself. That is why David would write, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (1 Chronicles 16:29-30 ESV). “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV). God was worthy of worship, deserving of praise, and fully owed the thanksgiving and honor of His people for all that He had done for them. Not least of which was His provision for their forgiveness through the sacrificial system and the Day of Atonement.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While we may find it easy to stand in awe of God for His power or His creative ability expressed through nature, we tend to take for granted the provision of salvation made possible through His Son, Jesus Christ. The whole reason David was having to bring the Ark of the Covenant back was because years earlier, the people of Israel had attempted to use it as some kind of talisman or good luck charm. They were facing the Philistines in battle and decided to send for the Ark and bring it to the sight of the battle in the hopes that it would provide them with some kind of supernatural advantage over their enemies. The Ark of the Covenant was meant to be the place of propitiation. It wasn’t designed to turn away earthly enemies, but to turn away the wrath of God. The Israelites didn’t appreciate the significance of this holy symbol of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness. And because they failed to treat it with the awe, glory and honor it deserved, they not only lost their battle with the Philistines, but they had the Ark taken captive by their enemies. They lost their means of propitiation. With the loss of the Ark, they would experience the loss of their only means of turning away the wrath of God against their sins. They had taken lightly God’s means of propitiation and would suffer the consequences.

Over in the book of Colossians, Paul reminded his readers that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). He is the creator of all things “in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16 ESV). In fact, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19 ESV). But more importantly, He is the means of propitiation for the sins of man. His death satisfied the just demands of a righteous God. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV). God, through Jesus, has reconciled or made right “to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20 ESV).

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

Over in the book of Hebrews, we read these encouraging words: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26 ESV). God provided His Son as a propitiation for our sins. He became the Mercy Seat upon which His own sinless blood was sprinkled so that the justice of God might be satisfied and the wrath of God might be turned away. I stand in a right relationship with God due to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. I must never take His death lightly. I must never treat His sacrifice flippantly. I must always remember the holiness, majesty and righteousness of God. I must never forget my own sinfulness and hopelessness apart from the mercy made available to me through Jesus Christ. I must “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name” (1 Chronicles 16:28-29 ESV). I should “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV). He has done for me what I could never have done for myself. He has provided a means by which my sins could be atoned for and my alienation from His holy presence resolved. “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV).

Father, thank You Father for providing Your Son as the once-for-all sacrifice for my sins. Never let me take His sacrifice for granted. You have made me right with Yourself through the death of Your own Son. You expressed Your great love for me by offering Your Son on my behalf. And that incredible gift should result in my ongoing, unwavering love, adoration, worship and praise. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 109 – Mark 13

False Idols.

Matthew 24

Jesus replied, “Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:44 NLT

Chapter 13 of Mark parallels chapter 24 of Matthew, which I covered in yesterday’s blog. So today I want to concentrate on the brief exchange between Jesus and the disciples that set up the whole end times teaching by Jesus. As they were leaving the Temple grounds, the disciples comment on the beautiful buildings. “Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the imprestemple_1355295isive stones in the walls” (Mark 13:1 NLT). They were obviously impressed by the architectural wonder of the Temple. Watch the following video from the History Channel for a little bit better idea of the magnitude and magnificence of the Temple and its courtyards.

http://www.history.com/videos/harold-the-great-builds-the-temple-mount

The structure about which the disciples were commenting was actually the third Temple. The original one, built by Solomon, the son of David, was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians as part of God’s judgment for the unfaithfulness of the people of Judah. Prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, God had warned the people that He was going to judge them. “The Lord said to Jeremiah: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s temple and proclaim this message: “Listen, all you people of Judah who have passed through these gates to worship the Lord. Hear what the Lord has to say. The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says: Change the way you have been living and do what is right. If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land. Stop putting your confidence in the false belief that says, ‘We are safe! The temple of the Lord is here! The temple of the Lord is here! The temple of the Lord is here!’ You must change the way you have been living and do what is right. You must treat one another fairly. Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop paying allegiance to other gods. That will only bring about your ruin. If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession”’” (Jeremiah 7:1-7 NLT). God was calling for a change of heart. He was calling the people of God to repentance, much like Jesus had been doing in His day. Yet, they believed they were exempt from judgment because they had the Temple of the Lord. In other words, as long as the Temple was around, so was God. After all, it was His earthly dwelling place. The Temple had become their guarantee of God’s abiding presence. But God warned them to change their ways. They were unfaithful, unrighteous, dishonest, corrupt, and an embarrassment to the name of God. They had made an idol out of the Temple and worshiped it more than they did the God who they believed dwelt within it. It reminds me of the story of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant recorded in 1 Samuel 4. The Israelites had no king at this time. They were surrounded by various groups of people who constantly harassed the attacked them. One of their greatest enemies during those days were the Philistines. On this particular occasion, the Philistines attacked the Israelites and killed 4,000 of their men. After regrouping from their defeat, the Israelites come up with the idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh were it was kept in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. The top of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat, and it was here that the presence of God dwelt within the Tabernacle. This was long before the construction of the Temple by Solomon. The Ark was never to leave the Holy of Holies, but the Israelites disregarded this fact and brought it to the battleground, in the hopes that it would bring them victory. When all the Israelites saw the Ark arrive in their camp, they shouted for joy. Even the Philistines heard all the commotion and became fearful. But when the battle took place, the Israelites were defeated again, this time losing 30,000 men. Not only that, the Ark was captured by the Philistines.

In both of these stories, we see a people who had made false gods out of the Temple and the Ark. These two things were never intended to be worshiped or idolized. They were never meant to replace having awe for God and obedience to His commands. They were no guarantee of His presence or His pleasure. God allowed the Ark to be captured and the Temple to be destroyed. He would later arrange for the recapture of the Ark and the rebuilding of the Temple, but the people would continue to live in disobedience and unfaithfulness. By Jesus day, with a relatively new Temple provided by Herod, the Israelites were feeling pretty good about themselves once again. It was a beautiful structure that was a drastic improvement on the second Temple built after the return of the people from exile. It was a magnificent structure and was the pride of the Hebrew people. But Jesus warns the disciples that this building would be destroyed just like the first Temple. Why? Because nothing had changed. The people of God were still unfaithful. They were religiously zealous, but failed to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. They fully believed that their attempts at keeping the law, coupled with their special designation as God’s chosen people and the presence of the Temple, would protect them. But Jesus told them, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation” (Luke 19:42-44 NLT).

destruction-of-Jerusalem-4In 70 A.D. the words of Jesus would be fulfilled as Titus marched against Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple. More than 6,000 Jews lost their lives and the once beautiful Temple would be leveled and left as a pile of rubble.

For the disciples, this news would have been disturbing and unbelievable. How could God allow His Temple and the city of David to be destroyed? Even they failed to remember that this had all happened before. They didn’t recognize the similarities between ancient Israel and their own generation. They were convinced that the Temple was a sign of God’s favor. It had become an idol in their lives, replacing reverence for and obedience to God. They believed their keeping of the Law and their adherence to the sacrificial requirements were all that they needed to keep on good terms with God. But on more than one occasion, God had warned the people of Israel that it wasn’t sacrifices that He wanted.

“I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting — even your most pious meetings — are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them!” – Isaiah 1:11-14 NLT

But God would also make it clear what He really wanted from them.

“Wash! Cleanse yourselves! Remove your sinful deeds from my sight. Stop sinning!Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord. “Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become white like wool.” – Isaiah 1:16-18 NET

Heart change. That was what God wanted. And it is still what He wants from us. It is what Jesus was teaching to His disciples. He had come to make a new covenant with the people of God. A covenant that would not be based on the law. Jesus had come to set us free from the keeping of the law. Paul reminds us, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law” (Galatians 5:1 NLT). He goes on to say, “For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace” (Galatians 5:5 NLT). Jesus came to provide another way, a better way, to be made right with God. But the people of His day could not stop worshiping their religion and rituals. They were obsessed with earning favor with God. It was all up to them. It was all tied up in the Temple and with the sacrificial system. But with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system would be eliminated. There would no longer be a Temple or a Holy of Holies. There would be no altar on which to sacrifice unblemished lambs for the forgiveness of their sins. But God had provided an alternative.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christcame into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin.Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—as is written about me in the Scriptures’” – Hebrews 10:1-7 NLT

The Temple would be destroyed, but it would not eliminate man’s access to God. The sacrificial system would cease to exist, but a final sacrifice had been made. God had provided a way for men to be made right with Him through the death of His own Son. His own body would be destroyed, but God would raise it up again three days later, defeating sin and death once and for all. In just a matter of days, the disciples would witness all of this. And their lives would be transformed forever by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their message would no longer contain praise for the Temple and admiration for the sacrificial system. They would preach Christ crucified and glorified. They would tell of salvation by faith through Christ alone. They would spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the known world. And we are the beneficiaries of their efforts.

Father, thank You that we don’t have to try to earn our favor with You. That we don’t have to go through some kind of overwhelming impossible religious rituals to gain access into Your presence. We don’t need a Temple or a priesthood. We have full access to You because of what Jesus has done for us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org