The Reward of Righteousness

20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’” – Deuteronomy 6:20-25 ESV

Every aspect of the story of the Hebrew nation is filled with the grace of God. From the day He called Abraham out of Haran and promised to make of him a great nation, God had been extending His unmerited favor to this man and his descendants. Every chapter of Israel’s long and storied history is filled with examples of God’s graciousness and faithfulness to them and, in almost every case, in spite of them. They had done nothing to earn God’s favor. Even before He rescued them out of their captivity in Egypt, they had acclimated to their surroundings, even worshiping the false gods of the Egyptian.

When Moses had appeared on the scene and announced God’s plan to set them free from their slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel had responded enthusiastically.

Then Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt and called all the elders of Israel together. Aaron told them everything the Lord had told Moses, and Moses performed the miraculous signs as they watched. Then the people of Israel were convinced that the Lord had sent Moses and Aaron. When they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. – Exodus 4:29-31 NLT

But their enthusiasm didn’t last. When Moses had approached Pharaoh and asked that he allow the Jews to leave Egypt, the Pharoah had responded by dramatically increasing the workload of the people. And they blamed it all on Moses

“May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” – Exodus 5:21 NLT

One of the things the people of Israel were going to have to learn was to trust God. His grace and mercy, while not always immediately visible or comprehendible, must be accompanied by faith. After four centuries of living in Egypt, the people of Israel had long forgotten about their God and, as a result, they no longer had faith in Him. He had been out of sight and out of mind for more than 400 years. Their deliverance by God, as described to them by Moses, sounded good, but it got off to a rocky start.

The rest of the book of Exodus contains the story of God’s deliverance of His people and their ongoing struggle with believing that He was who He claimed to be and was going to do what He promised to do. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). 

He goes on to say that, without faith, “it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT). In other words, faith is an essential and non-negotiable part of a vibrant relationship with God. And the author of Hebrews expands on that thought when he writes.  “Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT).

Saving faith begins with a belief in God’s existence. It all starts there. If the Israelites couldn’t bring themselves to believe in the reality of the God Moses claimed was going to deliver them, they would never follow Him. That’s why God gave Moses signs and wonders to perform in front of them, and told him, “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you” (Exodus 4:5 ESV). God graciously supplied them with proof of His presence and power so that they might believe in Him.

But the author of Hebrews describes a second essential requirement for saving faith. They must believe that God “rewards those who sincerely seek him.” That part is huge and plays a major role in the story of the Hebrew people, all the way up to the point where Moses is preparing them to enter the land of promise. Notice what Moses says to them:

“The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 6:22-23 NLT

He reminds them of all that God had done for their ancestors 40 years earlier. But he ties it in with what God intends to do for them. God had delivered them from Egypt but was preparing to deliver then into Canaan. He was going to “reward” them with all that He had promised to give them.

At this point in the story, the people of Israel no longer doubted the reality of God. They knew He existed. But they were going to struggle with the idea that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. And the second half of that phrase carries massive implications. God desired that His people sincerely seek Him. The Greek word used by the author of Hebrews is ekzēteō, and it conveys the idea of seeking for something diligently and carefully. It was used to describe an irresistible craving for something. God wanted His people to long for Him more than anything else. Believing that God exists is one thing. But craving a relationship with Him is something different altogether.

In the letter that carries his name, James attempted to describe a faith that was missing this second aspect of longing for God. He wrote, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror” (James 2:19 NLT).

Demons know that God exists, but they want nothing to do with Him. There is a story recorded in Mark’s Gospel that describes an encounter between Jesus and a man possessed by demons. Upon seeing Jesus, the demons shouted, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24 ESV).

They believed in the existence of Jesus. And they knew exactly who He was. But they also knew that He was not out to reward them, because they did not sincerely seek Him. And Jesus rebuked the demons and them out of the man.

But what does all this have to do with Moses and the people of Israel? Why is any of this significant to their particular circumstance as they stood ready to enter the land of promise? It’s because God was still looking for a people who would place their faith in Him. He wanted them to believe in His existence, but to also understand that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.

Moses reminded the people of all that God had done for them. He had more than adequately proven His existence. And now, He was preparing to fulfill all His promises concerning the land. But there was the small matter of the law.

“And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day.” – Deuteronomy 6:24 NLT

The law was intended to be a means by which the people displayed their commitment to sincerely seek God. It was a tangible way in which they could demonstrate their desire for Him and their willingness to trust His will for them. The rules themselves were not the point. It was the God behind the rules. They were going to have to trust that all these decrees were given by God for a good reason. And, while their human natures were going to want to rebel against all of God’s commands, it was important that they obey from the heart, not just the head.

Hundreds of years later, God would issue a stinging indictment against the people of Israel. It would come long after they had conquered the land and had enjoyed the many blessings of God. They would spend generations attempting to keep the law and follow through with their commitment to do all that God had commanded them to do. But something was missing.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

They had replaced a sincere seeking of God with an insincere keeping of rules. And God was not pleased. It had never been about the rules. It had been about faith in the God who stood behind the rules. And Moses sums up chapter six of Deuteronomy with an interesting and enlightening statement: “For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands the Lord our God has given us” (Deuteronomy 6:25 NLT).

This phrase is reminiscent of another verse found in the book of Genesis. God had just rejected Abraham’s suggestion that his man-servant, Eliazer, be his heir. Abraham and Sarah were old, and she was barren. And Abraham was having a hard time believing that God was going to have a difficult time fulfilling His promise to make of him a great nation. So, he had offered God an alternative plan. But God took Abraham outside and told him, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6 NLT).

What God was looking for from Abraham was belief, not obedience. It’s not that God was not going to require obedience from Abraham, but He wanted it to flow from a heart of belief. He was much more interested in having Abraham sincerely seek Him than having Abraham insincerely obey Him. And the same thing was true concerning the people of Israel. God would count them righteous, not if they obeyed all His laws, but if they faithfully believed in the Giver of the laws. He wanted their obedience to flow from their faith in Him, not just their fear of Him. Abraham was declared righteous by God because He believed. And the Israelites would be declared righteous by God for the very same reason. Obedience without belief can only produce self-righteousness. And self-righteousness cannot save anyone. As Paul pointed out to the believers in Galatia, “no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Galatians 3:11 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

 

 

 

Advertisements

That You Might Know

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:32-40 ESV

Ever since the day God had appeared to Abraham and called him to leave his ancestral homeland and travel to the land of Canaan, God has been revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham. Time and time again, the invisible God made Himself known in miraculous ways. It was while Abraham was in Haran, that God spoke audibly to him and said, “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” (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV).

And while Abraham was never given the privilege of seeing God with his own eyes, he would regularly hear God’s voice and even receive visions from the Almighty. And through it all, Abraham was learning to trust in God’s invisible, yet unmistakable presence and power. His repeated encounters with God ended up solidifying his trust in and reliance upon God. So much so, that when God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.…So shall your offspring be,” that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV).

Abraham believed God, even though his wife was barren and the two of them were  well-advanced in years. He believed God because he had seen God – not with his eyes, but as he watched God work in and around his life in countless, miraculous ways. And the same would be true for Isaac and Jacob. These men would also have personal encounters with the invisible God. They would never look upon Him with their eyes, but they would experience His presence and power as God manifested Himself in a variety of miraculous and inexplicable ways.

This pattern of God revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham would continue throughout the years. And God would eventually show up in the land of Midian, in the form of a burning bush, in order to issue His call to Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This amazing scene is recorded for us in the book of Exodus.

Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:2-6 NLT

This would be the first of many extraordinary encounters between Moses and God. And each of them were intended to prove the reality and reliability of God. Moses was learning the invaluable lesson that, while God could not be seen, He could be known.

And when God informed Moses of His plan to release the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He revealed one of the important outcomes:

When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

The ten plagues that God would command Moses to bring upon the people of Egypt would eventually leave them fully convinced that the god of the Israelites was not a figment of their corporate imagination. He was real and very powerful. And He was greater than every one of the false gods they worshiped.

But from the day the Israelites had walked out of Egypt and crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground, God had been revealing Himself in countless ways. He had been demonstrating His power and presence, appearing in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had shown up on Mount Sinai, accompanied by smoke, fire, thunder, and lightning. And Moses reminded the people of Israel of their unique status as the only nation privileged to experience God’s presence in such spectacular fashion.

“Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.” – Deuteronomy 4:33-34 NLT

And Moses made it painfully clear why God had chosen to reveal Himself to His chosen people.

“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35 NLT

These miraculous displays of His power were intended to convince the people of Israel that their God was real and fully reliable. He may have been unseen, but He was far from nonexistent. They didn’t need an idol or some kind of man-made representation of God to prove that He existed. He had proven His reality “by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts.”

By this time in their faith journey, the people of Israel should have had more than enough proof that their God was real and reliable. He had proven Himself so, time and time again. And yet, Moses felt compelled to tell them, “So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:37 NLT).

As they prepared to enter the land of Canaan, they needed to be convinced of God’s pervasive presence and power. The days ahead were going to be filled with countless obstacles. The enemies in the land were real and formidable. The temptations to doubt God’s presence and question His power were going to be constant. So, they were going to have to place their faith in their invisible, but highly powerful God.

The author of Hebrews, discussing the faith of the Hebrew patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, wrote: “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT).

One of the greatest dangers the Israelites faced as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan was not the enemy forces that occupied the land. It was the temptation to lose faith in God. Moses knew that the first time the Israelites encountered a circumstance where the odds were stacked against them, they would assume that God was not with them. As soon as they found themselves in a situation that appeared hopeless, they would be tempted to see themselves as helpless and their God as powerless.

But they had no reason to doubt God. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy. He had displayed His power in countless ways. And all God asked in return was that they believe He exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him and faithfully serve Him. Which is why Moses challenged them:

“If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:40 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

 

 

 

You Did Not Believe

19 “Then we set out from Horeb and went through all that great and terrifying wilderness that you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us. And we came to Kadesh-barnea. 20 And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ 22 Then all of you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities into which we shall come.’ 23 The thing seemed good to me, and I took twelve men from you, one man from each tribe. 24 And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the Valley of Eshcol and spied it out. 25 And they took in their hands some of the fruit of the land and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, ‘It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.’

26 “Yet you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. 27 And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the Lord hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ 29 Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, 33 who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” – Deuteronomy 1:19-33 ESV

Moses continues his recitation of Israel’s history in an attempt to remind the next generation of their heritage of sin and rebellion against God. He wanted this younger group of Israelites to understand that the reason they were the newly designated conquerors of the land of Canaan was because their mothers and fathers had refused to do what God had commanded them to do. If the previous generation had done what they were supposed to do, these young people would have grown up in the land of Canaan rather than wandering around the wilderness. They would have enjoyed all the blessings and benefits that God had promised. But their parents had disobeyed God. And Moses makes it very clear that their disobedience was a byproduce of their disbelief. They didn’t believe God.

When the 12 men who had been sent to spy out the land had returned, they had good news and bad news. They unanimously agreed that the land was rich and bountiful, just as God had said. They had even brought back samples of the fruit as proof and declared, “It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us” (Deuteronomy 1:25 ESV). But there was a second part to their report. The land was filled with fruit, but it was also overflowing with enemies, a fact the spies made painfully clear.

“The people of the land are taller and more powerful than we are, and their towns are large, with walls rising high into the sky! We even saw giants there—the descendants of Anak!” – Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV

The spies provided physical proof of the land’s fruitfulness, but they also shared personal testimony as its inherent dangers. There were giants in the land! And the fortified cities had walls that reached to the sky! Now, it’s easy for us to write this off as a case of obvious hyperbole, but that’s not how the Israelites viewed it. They were terrified by what they heard. They believed the words of the spies and it produced a growing sense of panic.

“The Lord must hate us. That’s why he has brought us here from Egypt—to hand us over to the Amorites to be slaughtered. Where can we go?” – Deuteronomy 1:27-28 NLT

God had set them free from their captivity in Egypt, miraculously bringing a series of judgments against the Egyptians in the form of ten devastating plagues. The final plague, the death of the firstborns, had caused Pharaoh to release the Israelites, but he quickly changed his mind and sent his troops to recapture them and bring them back. But God had defeated the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea. Then God had led the people of Israel through the wilderness, caring for their every need and providing them with His law. But when they had come to the edge of the long-awaited promised land, they too had a change of heart. The news of well-armed giants and skyscraper-like fortifications caused them to disbelieve the promise of God. God had clearly told them that He would assist them in capturing the land. It would be His doing.

“See, I am going to make a covenant before all your people. I will do wonders such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation. All the people among whom you live will see the work of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am doing with you.

“Obey what I am commanding you this day. I am going to drive out before you the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” – Exodus 34:10-11 NLT

He had promised to fight for them and alongside them. Notice that God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land. He never said they would just walk into the land without a fight. He promised victory, not a lack of opposition. But rather than take God at His word, they listened to the majority opinion of the spies. Which had caused Moses to plead with them to remember the promise of God and reconsider their decision.

“Don’t be shocked or afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 1:29-30 NLT

This scene brings to mind another encounter recorded on the pages of Scripture, where God’s people found themselves dealing with fruit and an enemy. All the way back in the beginning, as described in the book of Genesis, we see Adam and Eve faced with a decision to believe God or to listen to an opposing view that contradicted the command of God. On this occasion, the enemy took the form of a serpent, not an army filled with giants. And rather than a cluster of grapes from the land of Canaan, Adam and Eve were presented with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it was obviously tempting, because the Genesis account records that Eve saw and she ate.

When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

But it wasn’t just the tempting nature of the fruit that caused Eve to eat. It was the lies of the enemy. And he began by causing Eve to doubt to doubt the word of God by subtly twisting what God had said.

“Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” – Genesis 3:1 NLT

When the woman had attempted to correct the enemy’s words, clearly relating that God had promised death as a punishment for disobedience, Satan essentially called God a liar and a deceiver.

“Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

He caused Eve to doubt the word of God, which led to disbelief in the promise that God had made. And the disbelief eventually manifested itself in disobedience.

…she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. – Genesis 3:6 NLT

The decision of Adam and Eve to doubt God led to their disobedience of God. And their disobedience led to their banishment from the presence of God. They had started life in the garden, but found themselves on the outside looking in. The Israelites had been standing on the outside looking into the promised land, but God had promised that it was theirs for the taking, if they would only take Him at His word and enter in.

But, like Eve, the Israelites refused to believe what God had said. God had not promised a lack of enemies in the land or a conflict-free conquest of the land. He had promised to go before them and to fight for them. He had assured them of victory, not a lack of war.

From the minute they had left Egypt, God had proven Himself faithful and more than capable of caring for them. He had gone before them, fought on behalf of them, and provided food and clothing for them. And yet, Moses points out, that despite all of God’s loving care and concern, they doubted Him, which caused them to disbelieve Him, and eventually to disobey Him.

“But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. – Deuteronomy 1:32-33 NLT

They had “rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to go in” (Deuteronomy 1:26 NLT). And now, 40 years later, Moses was watching a new generation facing the very same circumstance and wondering how they would respond. Would they believe and obey?  Or, like their parents, would they allow their circumstances to doubt the word of God, disbelieve the promises of God, and disobey the command of God?

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

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

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

 

 

 

The New Has Come

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-17 ESV

4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4 ESV

22 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV

Paul emphatically claims that those who are in Christ are new creations. Their old way of life, what Paul refers to as the life “according to the flesh” is gone, having been crucified with Christ on the cross. And, according to Paul, this former life of the flesh was marked by a focus on self, but the new life, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection, is to be focused on His glory.

But what does all this really mean? What’s the practical reality of all this talk of new creations, new life, and the new self? Because as good as it sounds, the fact is, every Christian still wrestles daily with the very real presence of their old self. Paul even commands us to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Yet, he told the Corinthian believers that “the old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). Which is it? Is the old self gone or do I have to put it off? If my old self died with Christ on the cross, why does it seem so very much alive and active in my life?

We tend to read passages like this with a black-and-white, either-or mindset. We hear Paul saying we are new creations and we expect to be able to live like it. When he tells us that the old is gone, we take him at his word and then wonder why it doesn’t seem to be true in our own lives. Which leads us to either question the reliability of Paul’s words or the veracity of our own salvation.

But there’s an important distinction that Paul makes in his letter to the Corinthians. In verse 16 he states, “we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). The Net Bible translates that verse this way: “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.”

Much of what Paul is saying in these verses has to do with our perspective, the way we view things. As Christians, we are to view life through a different lens than we did before. We have a new, Spirit-enabled way of looking at life, because we have had our spiritual eyes opened to the truth. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, each of us suffered from spiritual blindness, and were incapable of seeing things from a spiritual perspective. Back in chapter four, Paul described the sad state of those outside of Christ.

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

Not only are they unable to see the glorious light of the Good News, they can’t see the reality of their own spiritual darkness. They are stuck on a physical plane where all their attention becomes focused on what they can see with their physical eyes. They are relegated to judging life and one another by external criteria alone. But when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of the believer, it’s as if he or she receives the spiritual equivalent of Lasik surgery. Paul describes this spiritual eye surgery this way:

…people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT

The Spirit of God allows us to see life the way God does, and God sees us as new creations, because we have been born again. This is the gist of the conversation that took place between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee. Jesus dropped the somewhat cryptic bombshell on Nicodemus: “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). And when Nicodemus expressed his confusion over Jesus’s words, Jesus responded, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:6-7 NLT).

Being born again is another way of expressing the new life to which Paul refers. With the new birth comes a new nature that allows a Christ-follower to see life with eyes wide open. No more blindness. No spiritual cataracts blurring our vision and giving us a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. The Spirit of God gives us new eyes and a capacity to see things the way God does. That is why Paul says, “from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view.” We aren’t deceived or distracted by the outer manifestations of religious behavior or self-manufactured displays of righteousness – in ourselves or others. We aren’t impressed by the superficial signs of religious achievement that are really nothing more than dirty rags in the eyes of God. Instead, we see ourselves as God does: As new creatures. Like Paul, we are able to say, “The old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NET).

That doesn’t mean our old nature is dead and gone. But it does mean that it no longer holds sway over us. We are no longer slaves to our old way of living. And we are no longer blind to worthless nature of that old nature. It has no value. It brings nothing good to the table. And Paul is stressing that by focusing on our new nature – who we are in Christ – we’re able to treat our old nature with the disdain it deserves.

We’re able to recognize and believe that walking in newness of life is not only possible, but unavoidable. But we have to constantly remind ourselves that we are new creatures. We have new natures. We have a new power within us that makes a new way of living possible for us. Paul encourages us to remember that our new self has been “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness{ (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). That is the essence of our new nature. 

You are not a slightly new-and-improved version of the old you. Becoming a believer wasn’t a case of God whitewashing over your old sinful nature. No, He put that old nature to death on the cross. And Paul describes that unbelievable reality in very powerful terms.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatains 2:20 NLT

A big part of understanding what Paul is saying comes with a change in our perspective. We have been trained to think of ourselves as works in process. We are always viewing ourselves as unfinished and incomplete. Most of us have grown up on a steady diet of achievement-based messaging. We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough, athletic enough, rich enough, popular enough, or even spiritual enough. So, we do more. We study harder. We exercise more often. We eat less. We attend more Bible studies.

But Paul would have us think before we act. He would encourage us to see ourselves as God sees us. We are new creations. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

…we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

This is not about us doing everything in our power to become what God desires for us to be. It is about us accepting the reality of who He has already made us in Christ. He has already created us anew. We are already new creations. We are not flawed creatures trying to improve ourselves so God will accept us. We are children of God, fully acceptable to God because of what Jesus Christ had done for us. He “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

His death made our new life possible. We live new lives, not so we can be accepted by God, but because we have been accepted by God. As Paul put it, the life we live, we live by faith in the Son of God. Living according to our new nature begins with believing that we really do have new natures. It is resting in the knowledge that newness of life is not some kind of unachievable goal to be pursued, but a status to be embraced and believed.

That is why Paul so strongly emphasizes our relationship with Christ. It is not about us and all that we have to do. It is about Him and all that He has done on our behalf.

…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:4 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

 

Faith and Love

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you — for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ESV

In time, Timothy had returned from his assignment in Thessalonica, where he had been sent by Paul to establish and exhort the believers in their faith. At his reunion with Paul, Timothy provided a report concerning the state of the churches in Thessalonica, and Paul deemed what he heard as “good news.” Timothy shared details regarding their faith and love – pistis and agapē – two characteristics that Paul deemed indispensable to the Christian life. The writer of Hebrews stressed that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT). Faith begins the Christian’s spiritual journey, but it does not end there. Faith is to be a permanent fixture of the believer’s life from the moment of conversion to the future day of glorification. Paul himself wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). And in the original Greek, that phrase actually reads, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.” Faith is the fuel of the Christian life. It provides new life in Christ and makes possible the abundant life that He promised.

As the author of Hebrews makes clear, faith is a belief in the existence of God. But there’s more. It is a belief that this existent God is a rewarder of those who sincerely seek Him. In other words, those who sincerely seek Him and Him alone will be rewarded with the joy of finding Him. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:20 NLT

While God has revealed His invisible attributes through all that He has made, most men have chosen to worship chosen the creation rather than the creator. They had an awareness of God’s presence, but rather than seeking Him, they turned their attention to things made by Him. And the apostle John reminds us that “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB). And Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV), who made God not only knowable but approachable. And yet, Paul also reveals that many who have heard about Jesus, still refuse to believe in Jesus. And their disbelief results in a spiritual blindness to the reality of who He is and what He has come to offer.

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 don’t believe. The Greek word is apistos and it means “not belief.” It is a lack of faith and trust in who Jesus is and the salvation He came to offer.

But for those who do believe in the salvation offered by God through His Son, forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with God are the reward. But God expects that belief to last well beyond the point of conversion. Placing your faith in Christ is not a singular event, but a lifelong experience. The Christian life is a journey on which the believer’s faith will be tested all along the way. And when Paul heard that the believers in Thessalonica were exhibiting faith amid difficulty, he was encouraged. Their faith was a living faith. They were exhibiting a belief in the promises of God that did not waver in the face of difficulties. They were not allowing the presence of trials to diminish their trust in God. Their perseverance in the face of difficulties made Paul proud because it reflected their adherence to his teachings.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

They fully believed that they were loved by God and didn’t allow their less-than-ideal circumstances to diminish that belief. And their unwavering belief in God’s love for them manifested itself in a selfless love for others. That was the second characteristic Timothy highlighted. He reported to Paul that the Thessalonian believers loved well. But the text is very specific as to what kind of love they exhibited. The Greek word is agapē, and it refers to a specific kind of love. Timothy could have used the Greek word philadelphia, which refers to a love between brothers or friends. No, he specifically used agapē, which carried a much more powerful connotation. Within Christianity, it came to be associated with the love of Christ. It was a selfless, sacrificial kind of love that exhibited a lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of quality that demanded nothing in return. This kind of love is unconditional and not reciprocal. It doesn’t require the one who is loved to return the favor. It doesn’t demand that the one to be loved be lovely or loveable. In fact, Paul tells us that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). And the apostle John would have us remember that this kind of sacrificial and undeserved love is exactly what we received from God.

This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:10 NLT

The Thessalonian believers loved in the same way they had been loved by God: Sacrificially and selflessly. And this brought Paul great joy. It provided him with comfort as he faced his own set of trials and troubles. News of their faith and love was exactly what he needed to hear. And he responded to this encouraging report by telling them, “It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT).  News of their faith and love was like a tonic for Paul. It made all his hard work well worth the effort. For Paul, there was nothing more revitalizing to his own faith than to hear that his spiritual children were growing in godliness. And the two characteristics that best illustrated their growth were persevering faith and selfless love.

Yet, in spite of the good news delivered by Timothy, Paul longed to see his brothers and sisters in Christ again. And he assured them, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). Notice the motivation behind Paul’s desire to return. He wants to fill in any gaps that might exist in their faith. For Paul, faith was dynamic, not static. It was to be living and ever-increasing. That is why James wrote, “faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17 NLT). Both Paul and James knew that true saving faith would result in true life change. And they also understood that faith would have a tendency to ebb and flow, based on the circumstances of life. There would be those days when a believer found holes in his faith – those gaps where the seed of doubt tends to take root and, in time, turns into full-grown disbelief. So, Paul wanted to fill in the gaps. He wanted to bring confident assurance to their faith, by increasing their knowledge of God and improving their understanding of and reliance upon His promises. And this desire by Paul to pour into the lives of believers is reflected in his prayer for the congregations in Colossae.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:9-11 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 Good and the Bad

The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-11 ESV

Paul has just reminded Titus of the core message of the gospel. Jesus Christ appeared in human form as a visible expression of God’s goodness and love. And Jesus proved the love of God by offering His own life as payment for the sins of humanity. His death made salvation possible, not based on mankind’s efforts to live righteous lives, but because of the mercy of God the Father. The death of Jesus on the cross provided a means for sinful man to be cleansed from his sins, and restored to a right relationship with God the Father. And with His resurrection and return to His Father’s side, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. The result was their “new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT). And the Holy Spirit’s presence within the life of each and every believer is a guarantee of the eternal life awaiting them.

And Paul tells Titus that this is a trustworthy saying. It is pistos logos. These are words that can be relied upon and believed in. They are true and worthy of our trust because they hold the key to our present effectiveness and our future hope. The reason Paul can place such high expectations upon the believers on Crete is because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death has made possible a life filled with a never-before-available power to live above and beyond the norms of everyday life. A Christian is a new creation whose purpose for life has been radically changed because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. And Paul expects Titus to hold the believers on Crete to the higher standard that comes with their newfound status as God’s children. Jesus died in order that sinful men might be saved but also transformed. He didn’t just provide us with a clean slate, wiped free from the sin debt we owed. He made it possible for us to live righteous lives, and Titus was to “insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8 NLT).

The good news regarding Jesus Christ is not just about gaining entrance into heaven some day. It’s about the daily manifestation of our faith through tangible works that reveal the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul told the believers in Ephesus:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

Paul insists that every believer is the handiwork of God. The Greek word he used is poiēma, and it refers to “the thing that is made.” Each and every believer is the work of God. No one saves themselves. No one becomes a Christian. The work of salvation is entirely up to God, from beginning to end, just as Jesus told the believers in Rome.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul was consistently emphatic concerning the non-role man’s efforts play in salvation. “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 NLT). The believer owes his salvation entirely to God.

because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV

But while man’s works cannot make him a Christian, they can certainly provide evidence that he is one. Which is the point of Paul’s letter to Titus. He wanted the believers on Crete to live their lives in the power of the Spirit, fulfilling His preordained plans He had in place for them. There was work to be done. There were lost individuals who needed to hear the gospel message. There was a divine strategy in place that called for all believers to live in obedience to God’s will and in total submission to His Spirit.

All that Paul has been sharing with Titus was to be considered good and beneficial. This wasn’t pie-in-the-sky-sometime kind of stuff. Christianity wasn’t to be viewed as some future escape plan from eternal torment. It was to be the key to abundant life in the present. And Paul lived his life that way, which is why he could so boldly states: “I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). Paul fully believed that his old self was crucified alongside Christ, “so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless” (Romans 6:6 BSB). In his own life, he had experienced the reality of his own teaching.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. – Galatians 5:24 NLT

And if those old passions and desires have been nailed to the cross, it is essential that they be replaced with new passions and desires. The believer’s new nature in Christ should come to the fore, giving evidence of the power of God’s Spirit residing in him. So, all that Paul has instructed Titus to teach the believers on Crete is tied to the good works God has created them to accomplish. That includes submission, self-control, love, patience, temperance, kindness, sacrifice, and a host of other qualities that are in short supply in this world. Paul wanted the behavior of the believers on Crete to reflect what they said they believed.

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

Paul expected them to live new lives that reflected their new status as God’s adopted sons and daughters. From God’s perspective, they were new creations, so why would they continue to live as they once did? God had new things for them to do. He had a new way of living in store for them that was intended to prove the reality of their new identities.

Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy. – Ephesians 4:24 NLT

The sad reality was that the local congregations on the island of Crete were struggling. There were those who had shown up in their assemblies who were causing dissension by teaching unadulterated lies. Arguments were breaking out within their gatherings. Sides were being taken, damaging the unity of the church. And Paul makes it brutally clear what Titus was to do with those who caused divisions within the local church.

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him – Titus 3:10 ESV

Remember, the point of Paul’s letter is godly behavior. He is calling all professing Christians to live as who they are: The sons and daughters of God. They are to reflect the character of Christ. They are to devote themselves to good works. Anything that distracts from the objective is to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who distorts or takes away from that goal is to be rejected as being warped, sinful, and self-condemning. These people were guilty of twisting or perverting the trustworthy word of the gospel, and their actions condemned them. As a result, they were to avoided like a plague. The spiritual well-being of the body of Christ was at risk and believers on Crete would find it nearly impossible to accomplish the good works God had for them to do as long as these individuals were allowed to remain in their midst.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. – Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

Paul had no tolerance for false teachers and neither should they. Right living becomes next to impossible when wrong doctrine is allowed to exist. Accomplishing good works is difficult when bad teaching is left unchallenged in the church.

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

Disbelief Can Be Deadly

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. – Jude 1:5-8 ESV

Jude wastes no time getting to the point of his letter. He has already made it clear that he is writing in regards to a group of individuals who are having a negative impact on the local body of believers. And he describes them as “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4 ESV). Jude isn’t interested in making friends with these people. He is out to expose them for what they were: A danger to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ. In fact, Jude flatly states that they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Those are serious words that clearly reveal Jude’s disdain for these people and the perverted message they were preaching.

And, having exposed the perpetrators of the false doctrine that had infiltrated the church, Jude provides a wake-up call to all those within the church. He wanted them to understand the gravity of the situation and to recognize their need to resist falsehood at all costs. For Jude, this was all about the issue of belief. Were they going to believe God and take Him at His word, or listen to the lies of those who were preaching and teaching heretical and dangerous half-truths?

To drive home the gravity of the situation, Jude used a well-known historic event: The exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. But what is interesting is that Jude places Jesus in the midst of that Old Testament context, claiming, “Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5 NLT). Revealing his belief in the deity and divinity of Jesus, Jude stresses that it was He who rescued the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. But it was also Jesus who destroyed an entire generation of Israelites because they failed to believe the promises of God. Rather than entering into and taking possession of the land of Canaan promised by God to Abraham, the Israelites let their fear of the occupants of the land to replace their faith in God. The chose to disbelieve God and, as a result, that generation died in the wilderness.

Next, Jude brings up the story of the angels who chose to side with Satan in his attempt to make himself god. The book of Isaiah records this event:

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

In his attempted rebellion, Satan was accompanied by angels, who were later cast out of heaven by God. Jude states that God’s fate concerning these rebellious angels was they be “kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6 ESV). Many of these fallen angels were placed in confinement in a place called the Pit or the Abyss. And, as Jude alludes to, the day is coming when they will be released. The book of Revelation associates this event with the 5th trumpet judgment.

He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. – Revelation 9:2-3 ESV

These fallen angels or demons will wreak havoc on the earth, tormenting mankind for five months during the period of time called the Great Tribulation. But Jude’s emphasis is on their current state of incarceration in the pit, because they refused to believe God. Rather than believe in and trust God, they had sided with Satan in an ill-fated attempt be overthrow God. They failed to believe in the power and sovereignty of God. They failed to believe in the judgment of God against all who rebel against Him. And, as a result, they found themselves living in exile from God.

Next, Jude brings up the infamous Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had become icons for sin and rebellion. They had also become the symbols of God’s wrath against sin. He completely destroyed them and they remain unoccupied to this day. Jude reminds his audience that the occupants of these two large cosmopolitan enclaves had “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 1:13 ESV). They were wicked beyond belief. Their sin was so eggregious, that God decided to wipe them off the face of the earth. One of the angels who visited Lot in order to rescue he and his family from the cities before their destruction told him, “we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13 ESV). Once again, the issue was one of belief. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah did not believe in or worship God. And so, God destroyed them. But Peter tells us that God “rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT).

Jude is attempting to drive home the danger of disbelief. Failing to take God at His word can have devastating, even deadly, consequences. The disbelieving Israelites died in the wilderness. The disbelieving angels were locked away for all time, until God chooses to release them during the Tribulation. And the people of Sodom and Gomorrah disbelieved that God hated their sin, and they died as result.

When Jude addresses the topic of belief and disbelief, he is not necessarily talking about salvation. The Israelites who died in the wilderness believed in the existence of God, but they failed to believe the expressed word of God. And it would seem that Jude is attempting to stress the disbelief of these “ungodly” people. He is addressing their actions, not making a sweeping judgment about their salvation. They were guilty of teaching doctrine that was in conflict with the expressed word of God. As we will see, they were guilty of adding to the gospel, something to which Jude and the apostle Paul were vehemently opposed.

This little history lesson by Jude is intended to set the stage for his attack against these false teachers who were negatively impacting the faith of the church. Jude accuses them of “relying on their dreams,” a direct attack on the veracity of their teaching. These men were not teaching the Word of God, but the thoughts of man. Jesus had some strong words for those in His day who did the same thing:

“Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:9 NLT

As a result of their twisting of and adding to the Word of God, the individuals of whom Jude spoke ended up defiling the flesh, rejecting authority, and blaspheming the glorious ones. While all of this has an ominous tone about it, Jude doesn’t clarify what he means by these things. But he 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

Think On These Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:8-9 ESV

Paul has challenged the Philippian congregation to make their unity a high priority. He has pleaded with them to see that their behavior lines up with their belief so that the way they live their lives fully complements their calling in Christ. That will require them to work out their salvation, or to put it another way, to put in the necessary effort so that their faith in Christ bears tangible fruit. He has encouraged them to stand firm in the faith – as expressed in the gospel message and made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ. They were to have the same attitude that Christ had, choosing to follow His example of humility, selflessness, obedience, and sacrifice. And, like Paul, they were to find reason to rejoice, even in the face of opposition and oppression. And if they did these things, Paul knew they would shine like bright lights in the darkness surrounding them in Philippi.

But before Paul closes out his letter, he offers one more word of wisdom. As if returning to his earlier admonition that they have the mind of Christ, Paul tells them to “think about these things.” The Greek word he uses is logizomai, and it means “to consider” or “to meditate” on something. But Paul leaves no uncertainty as to what kinds of “things” they are to consider or concentrate their minds upon. He provides them with a very specific list of subjects with which to fill their minds and on which to focus their thoughts and attentions.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. – Philippians 4:8 NLT

The first item on his list is truth. They were to fill their minds with whatever is true and, therefore, trustworthy. Because Satan is the father of lies, we must constantly be on guard for the subtle falsehoods and deceptive half-truths he attempts to use against us. And since there is no greater truth than the gospel message, Christ-followers must constantly focus their minds on the reality that they were once condemned sinners in need of a Savior. At one time, they had been in debt to God and completely incapable of satisfying His just and holy demands, but He sent His Son to die in their place. And now they stood before Him as pure and holy, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Paul was constantly reminding those under his care to consider the remarkable truth regarding their restored relationship with God.

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. – Ephesians 2:1-2 NLT

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

Paul adds “whatever is honorable” to the list. That word has to do with anything worthy of veneration because of its character. In a sense, this is truth lived out. It is Christlikeness that shows up in trustworthy conduct.

Next, Paul encourages them to fill their minds with whatever is “right” or just. This has to do with righteousness, but according to God’s terms, not man’s. It carries the idea of living your life so that your way of thinking, feeling, and acting is fully conformed to the will of God.

It makes sense that Paul would follow “right” thoughts with right behavior in the form of moral purity. Sexual sin is fully outside the revealed will of God. And it’s not just the actual act that can get us into trouble. Even our thoughts can leave us impure and guilty before God. It was Jesus who said, “anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NLT). Which is why Paul told the Corinthians:

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Purity is a high priority for God. He not only expects it, He demands it. He has called us to be holy, just as He is holy. And we must fill our minds with those kinds of things that are pure and undefiled, not contaminated and contrary to His will for us.

The next word on Paul’s list is “lovely.” It is purity lived out so that our conduct remains pleasing and acceptable to God. It was Peter who wrote, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12 ESV). When believers think about the things that bring pleasure to God, they tend to make those things a priority. And, when they do, the world takes notice.

Which brings us to the word, “admirable.” We are to fill our minds with those kinds of things that are worthy of praise. Not self-centered, ego-boosting praise, but praise that reflects on God and His power to transform our lives for the better. So much of what we spend our time thinking about is unworthy of praise. It has no redeeming value or worth. We can end up admiring the wrong people, showering praise on the wrong kind of conduct, and speaking highly of those kinds of things that God finds unworthy.

Throughout his letter, Paul has blended the ideas of belief and behavior. He was overjoyed with the thought of their newfound faith in Christ. But he knew that their spiritual journey was far from over. Which is why he had opened his letter with the words, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). They needed to be in it for the long haul. Their walk with Christ was going to require effort on their part and a commitment to live out their faith in practical, visible ways. They could not afford to stand pat, biding their time until the Lord returned. They had work to do. And they were going to have to work together in order to survive and thrive in the hostile environment in which they found themselves.

The Christian life was not going to be easy. But that didn’t mean it was going to be impossible. They had the gospel message, the resurrection power of the Spirit of God, and one another. They also had the teaching of Paul on which to rely. And he encouraged them to take what he had taught and put it into practice. He challenged them to look at his life and follow his example.

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:9 NLT

Paul’s challenge to “think on these things” was more than a mind game. He wasn’t suggesting that they practice some form of positive motivational thinking. He was encouraging them to fill their minds, to concentrate their thoughts on the kinds of things that truly matter. Our thoughts cannot be separated from our actions. We must desire what God desires. We must fill our minds with those things that God finds true, pure, right, just, and worthy of praise. And one of the best ways to do that is by submitting ourselves to the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. In order to have the mind of Christ and to be able to think as He does, we must rely on the Spirit he has placed within us. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:16-17 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

Behavior and Belief

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
    and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:1-8 ESV

Belief and behavior. Confession and conduct. However you choose to describe them, there are two unseperable parts to man’s relationship with God. The vast majority of the content of the book of Isaiah has been a stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their failure to live as who they claimed to be: The children of God. They were proud of their heritage and quick to brag about their status as the descendants of Abraham. They knew they were God’s chosen people and never tired of letting others know about their preferred status with the Almighty. But the problem was that they didn’t live like it. Their conduct didn’t reflect their confession. And God has already condemned them for their contradictory lifestyle.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah put it in even more stark terms:

Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:2 NLT

Now, in chapter 56, God calls on the people of Judah to dramatically alter the way they behave.

Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.– Isaiah 56:1 ESV

This sounds very similar to the words written by the prophet Micah.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

But how were they supposed to pull this off? They had a lousy track record of keeping justice and doing righteousness and God has made that fact painfully clear. So, what was going to be different? What had changed? Notice what God tells them: “for soon my salvation will come.” He has spent several chapters telling His people that He would one day redeem and restore them. Yes, they were going to suffer because of their sin and rebellion.  They would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would eventually return them to the land of promise. And, beyond that, God would one day send His servant, the Messiah, to restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

The prophet Ezekiel recorded the promise of God concerning that day:

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:24-28 ESV

So, what was to motivate their change in behavior? God’s promise of future redemption. Having been told that God had incredible plans in store for them, they were expected to live out their lives in such a way that it reflected their gratitude  for His grace and mercy. The apostle Peter spoke of this very same thing when he wrote:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:1-16 NLT

The people of God, while waiting on the final fulfillment of the promises of God, are to live their lives in keeping with the commands of God. And they are guaranteed to receive a blessing from God when they do so.

“Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest
    and keep themselves from doing wrong.” – Isaiah 56:2NLT

Obedience brings blessing. But notice that obedience does not bring salvation. God is not telling the people of Judah that He will redeem and restore them if they they “keep justice and do righteousness.” Their efforts at producing holy behavior are not what will bring God’s salvation. In fact, God will end up saving them in spite of them. But with His promise of their future salvation made known to them, they were to respond in grateful appreciation by willingly pursuing those things that bring glory and honor to God. They were to return the promise of His unmerited favor and their undeserved salvation with an unwavering commitment to do what pleases Him.

And God provides His people with some practical examples of what keeping justice and doing righteousness should look like in their everyday lives. He uses two distinct groups of individuals to drive home His point: Foreigners and eunuchs. In both cases, God seems to be referring to those within these two groups who have aligned themselves with the people of God and become worshipers of Yahweh. But, while these individuals could become followers of Yahweh, they were never really treated as genuine members of the family of God. They were still considered outsiders. A eunuch was not allowed to enter the Temple because He had violated God’s laws as outlined in Deuteronomy 23:1-8. But the Jews had taken things too far and were guilty of treating these two groups of people harshly and unjustly. They ostracized them and looked down on them. Rather than treating them as fellow worshipers of Yahweh, they looked own on them as damaged goods. But God wants His people to see things from His perspective. These foreigners or Gentiles, who sought to worship and honor Him, by obeying His laws and keeping His Sabbath, were to be made welcome in His family.

The day is coming, God reminds His people, when both Jews and Gentiles will worship Him in spirit and truth. The faithful and obedient Gentile will enjoy the same eternal blessings as the faithful and obedient Jew.

“I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem
    and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. ” – Isaiah 56:7 NLT

But again, it will not be their faithfulness and obedience that brings about God’s favor and future blessings. It will be the result of God’s gracious favor. Paul makes it clear that the future salvation to which God is referring in these verses will be based on the saving grace of God, as made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile. – Romans 1:16 NLT

God’s redemptive plan is all-inclusive. It will include His chosen people, the Jews, but also the Gentiles. It will include eunuchs, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, farmers, governors, and former Pharisees.

For the Sovereign Lord,
    who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says:
I will bring others, too,
    besides my people Israel. – Isaiah 56:8 NLT

So, if God is going to graciously include all in His plan of redemption and future restoration, how much more so should we embrace all those He brings into our lives as our spiritual brothers and sisters? Based on  God’s promise of future salvation, we are to live our lives in such a way that our conduct reflects our convictions. Our behavior should let the world know that we believe all that God has promised to do for us. So, as a result, we willingly and gladly obey His call to “Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”

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

I Do Not Forsake Them

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the end of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it,
    the coastlands and their inhabitants.
11 Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice,
    the villages that Kedar inhabits;
let the habitants of Sela sing for joy,
    let them shout from the top of the mountains.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord,
    and declare his praise in the coastlands.
13 The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.

14 For a long time I have held my peace;
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor;
    I will gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste mountains and hills,
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
    and dry up the pools.
16 And I will lead the blind
    in a way that they do not know,
in paths that they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I do,
    and I do not forsake them.
17 They are turned back and utterly put to shame,
    who trust in carved idols,
who say to metal images,
    “You are our gods.” –
Isaiah 42:10-17 ESV

At hearing the news of the coming of God’s Servant, Isaiah can’t contain his excitement and breaks out into song. Verses 10-13 contain a joyous hymn of praise to Yahweh for His goodness and greatness. God’s Servant, the Messiah, was going to bring redemption to the people of God. He will bring justice to the nations and be a demonstration of God’s righteousness on earth. God had made it clear that His Servant would “be a light to guide the nations.” He would “open the eyes of the blind” and “free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons” (Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT). And Isaiah saw this as ample reason to praise God.

But Isaiah’s song was also a call for others to join him in singing the praises of God. He addresses those who sail the seas and those who live in the deserts. From the farthest coastal towns to villages in the mountains, all the inhabitants of the earth were to recognize and respond to the unequaled power of God. As far as Isaiah was concerned, this was to be a global celebration of the one true God

Let the whole world glorify the Lord;
    let it sing his praise.
– Isaiah 42:12 NLT

And the reason behind Isaiah’s enthusiastic call for universal praise of God was quite simple.

The Lord goes out like a mighty man,
    like a man of war he stirs up his zeal;
he cries out, he shouts aloud,
    he shows himself mighty against his foes.
– Isaiah 42:13 ESV

It is important to recall that, at the time Isaiah is singing this son, the situation in Judah remained unchanged. There was still the looming threat of invasion. God had already told Isaiah and King Hezekiah that the nation of Judah would fall to the Babylonians. And yet, here is Isaiah singing about God marching forth like a mighty hero and crushing all his enemies, as if it had already happened.

For Isaiah, the word of God was all he needed. If God said it, Isaiah believed it. He had learned to take God at His word and to trust Him to do what He had promised. God had said He would send His Servant and that was enough for Isaiah. He would put his trust in God.

And God would eventually prove Himself trustworthy – yet again. The day would come when He would use King Cyrus to decree the return of the people from captivity in Babylon. This Persian king would even help fund the return of the remnant to Jerusalem and help defray the cost of rebuilding the city and the temple of God. Yahweh, the very one who brought judgment on the people of Judah for their rebellion against Him, would be the one to restore them to the land.

And one day, God would send His Son to earth, in the form of an innocent baby, in order to bring salvation to the people of God. Born a Jew, Jesus would bring His message of the Kingdom to His own people, calling them to repentance and offering them a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Yahweh. But sadly, as the apostle John records, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:11 NLT). The Servant of God was sent by God to sacrificially serve the people of God. Mark tells us, He “came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT). But Jesus’ offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone was rejected by the majority of His own people. They refused His gracious offer of redemption.

And yet, there is a another day coming when Jesus will return to earth again. The Servant/Savior will come a second time, and He will bring redemption to the people of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel wrote about this coming day.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:22-24 NLT

There is a sense in which this prophecy was fulfilled when the people were given permission to return to the land of Judah by King Cyrus. But if we continue to read God’s words, as recorded by Ezekiel, we will see that there is an as-yet-unfulfilled aspect to this prophecy.

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

God will accomplish all this through His Son, the Servant and Savior of Israel. God will use Jesus, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had been unable and unwilling to do for themselves. God will transform them into the faithful, obedient, children He had called them to be.

And, suddenly, God interrupts Isaiah’s song of praise with an announcement that is intended to bring assurance to Isaiah and the people of Judah. God admits that, from a human perspective, He has appeared to be silent and inactive. All kinds of things have happened around the people of Judah. There have been alliances made between nations, with the intent to defeat Judah. The Assyrians have plundered and pillaged their way through the land of Judah, leaving a wake of devastation in their path. They have even set up camp outside the walls of Jerusalem, threatening the city with destruction if the inhabitants refuse to surrender.

But all that was about to change. God describes Himself as a woman about to give birth. He is on the verge of delivery, not of a baby, but of salvation for His people. And while this imagery conveys a certain sense of immediacy, it does not mean that God’s salvation is right around the corner. It is meant to convey the idea of inevitability and certainty. Once a woman goes into labor, the baby is going to come, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. God is letting Isaiah and the people of Judah know that when the time comes for Him to act, He will do so. And He emphasizes the inevitability of it all by stating what He will do when the time comes.

I will level the mountains and hills
    and blight all their greenery.
I will turn the rivers into dry land
    and will dry up all the pools.
I will lead blind Israel down a new path,
    guiding them
along an unfamiliar way.
I will brighten the darkness before them
    and smooth out the road ahead of them.
Yes,
I will indeed do these things;
    
I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:15-16 NLT

He will do all that He has promised to do. And the greatest challenge the people of Judah faced was taking God at His word. They were going to face some significant setbacks in the days ahead. There were going to be plenty of moments when God’s presence and power were difficult to comprehend. They would find themselves facing all kinds of difficulties that seemed to contradict the promises of God. But circumstances are always a lousy litmus test of God’s power and presence. Just because we can’t see God doesn’t mean He is not there. Too often, we allow the presence of trials to cause us to conclude that God is inactive or indifferent to our situation. We may even assume He lacks the power to do anything about our problem.

But this passage is meant to encourage faith in God, regardless of the circumstances. It is easy to praise God after the fact. It takes very little faith to sing His praises when the victory has been accomplished and we are on the winning side of the battle. But to praise Him based on nothing more than His word – that take real faith. That requires true trust. When God says, “I will,” He expects His child to respond, “I believe.” It’s all about trust. And God makes it clear that those who refuse to place their trust in anything or anyone but Him, will be disappointed.

“But those who trust in idols,
    who say, ‘You are our gods,’
    will be turned away in shame.”
– Isaiah 42:17 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