Do Not Be Afraid

1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the Lord has spoken.” Joel 3:1-8 ESV

As chapter three opens, Joel is continuing his description of “the day of the Lord,” providing further detail regarding the activities surrounding that future period of time. Not only will God bring undeserved restoration to His chosen people, in keeping with His covenant promises to them, but He will bring well-deserved judgment upon the nations – all those who remain unrepentant and unaccepting of His gracious offer of salvation through faith in His Son.

Joel delivers a two-part message from God Almighty, stating, “I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem“ and “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:1-2 ESV). And God makes it perfectly clear what He has in store for the nations: “I will enter into judgment with them there” (Joel 3:2 ESV). And the reason for His judgment is two-fold. It will be because these nations rejected Him as God, but also because they abused the people of God.

Back in the book of Genesis, we have recorded the covenant promise made by God to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). Now, centuries later, God is assuring the people of Judah that He is going to keep that promise and fully fulfill it during the day of the Lord. Even during Joel’s day,, there were nations that stood opposed to Judah. The Assyrians had invaded the northern kingdom of Israel, destroying their capital city of Samaria and taking thousands of their people captive. And the Assyrians had also invaded the land of Judah, conquering dozens of their cities and villages, while killing and enslaving thousands of their citizens as well. And God has already warned Judah that the Babylonians will be showing up at some point to destroy the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple to Yahweh. And the Babylonians will humiliate thousands of Jerusalem’s most prominent citizens by taking them back to Babylon as lowly slaves.

Yet, God assures the people of Judah that He will one day restore their fortunes and pay back all these nations for the way they treated His chosen people. And He doesn’t mince words or leave anything to the imagination when describing their crimes against his people.

“…they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” – Joel 3:2-3 ESV

Joel describes God’s future judgment against these guilty nations as taking place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. While there is no valley known by that name found in or around Jerusalem, it would seem that this is meant to be a reminder to an event that took place earlier in Judah’s history. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah, and he was considered a good king, “because he walked in the earlier ways of his father David. He did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and walked in his commandments, and not according to the practices of Israel” (2 Chronicles 17:3-4 ESV). He even instituted a series of religious reforms, removing the false gods and sending out men to teach the people of Judah the Law of God.

But Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, and agreed to go into battle alongside the Israelites against the Syrians. Even though a prophet of God warned that this battle would prove to be a total route, Jehoshaphat and Ahab went ahead with their plans and lost. Not only that, Ahab was killed. And Jehoshaphat received a rebuke from God.

“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord. Nevertheless, some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asheroth out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.” – 2 Chronicles 19:2-3 ESV

But not long after this, Jehoshaphat received news that an alliance of nations was preparing to come against them. Having heard this news, the king assembled the people and prayed to God for His help, and He responded by miraculously routing the enemies of Judah. The book of 2 Chronicles provides further insight into the activities of God surrounding that eventful day.

“Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV

God promised to fight for them. He would judge their enemies on their behalf, and the people of Judah would not have to lift a finger. In fact, they showed up the next day and found a valley filled with dead enemies and the spoil of battle.

When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. – 2 Chronicles 20:24-26 ESV

The word “Beracah” means blessing. From Judah’s perspective, this valley became a reminder of God’s grace, mercy and blessing. But the valley was a place of judgment for the enemies of Judah. Interestingly enough, the name “Jehoshaphat” means “God has judged.” So, the valley in which God brought about a victory over the enemies of Judah, became a place of both blessing and judgment.

This same scene is going to occur on the coming day of the Lord. God will once again judge and destroy Judah’s enemies, while at the same time blessing His chosen people.
And God addressed the Phoenicians and the Philistines, singling them out for their treatment of His people. But these two nations seem to be used as stand-ins for all the other nation of all time who have mistreated the people of God. And He warns that He is going to reward the people of Judah and Israel, but pay back their enemies for all that they have done.

As God promised the people of Judah in Jehoshaphat’s day, He will be with the people of Israel in that future day. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV). God will bless, and God will judge. And His people have no reason to fear.

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

 

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The Motivation to Give

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:14-23 ESV

Paul was grateful, and he expressed that gratitude to the Philippian church. They had lovingly and generously reached out to him in what they believed to be was his time of need. Paul didn’t want his admission that he had no needs to come across as ungratefulness or to offend his brothers and sisters in Christ. They had seen Paul in trouble and had reached out in love and concern.

And Paul wanted them to know that he was appreciative because not every church had been as kind and caring. Not only had some of the places in which he had preached failed to give toward his ministry, that had rejected his message. While Paul had been in Macedonia and Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians who had donated toward his ministry and provided for his needs.

Yet Paul, always trying to keep their minds focused on what is truly important, reminds them that their eternal reward is of far greater importance value than any temporal benefit he may have received from their gift. God was going to reward them for their generosity. He would bless them for their willingness to sacrifice on Paul’s behalf. The gift was not the important thing. It was the condition of hearts behind the gift.

The generosity of their gift had left Paul well-supplied and in need of nothing. But,  more importantly, their gift had been “a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18 NLT). Paul was blessed, God was pleased, and the Philippians were fruitful. What more could Paul ask for?

And Paul wanted the Philippians to know that the God who had met for his needs through them would be faithful to do the same for them.

“…this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:19 NLT

God loves a cheerful giver. And God expresses His love for that giver by generously meeting their needs. Paul expressed this very same idea to the church in Corinth.

Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NLT

Paul was not preaching a prosperity gospel. He wasn’t suggesting that we should give to get. Personal reward should not be the motivation behind our generosity. That is a totally self-centered and selfish approach that does not gel with Scripture. But it is important that we understand that gracious, selfless giving is proof of the Spirit’s work in our life. It reveals His presence and power.

But if the things we do are motivated out of a desire for reward and recognition, we will never enjoy the blessings of God. Jesus made this perfectly clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Paul expressed his thanks, but he didn’t want the Philippians to mistakenly assume that it was the nature of their gift that had earned them a reward from God. He didn’t want them to think that God was now somehow obligated to them or owed them a blessing. It was their love for Paul that was important. The gift was simply an expression of that love. We can all give, pray, and fast, expecting God to reward us for doing so. But if we don’t do it out of love, our giving, praying, and fasting have no value in God’s eyes.

Paul was able to declare that God had met each and every one of his needs. And Paul knew that God would continue to do so. God Almighty wasn’t reliant upon the Philippians to meet Paul’s needs. He could have sent an angel to minister to Paul. But God allowed the Philippians the joy of knowing what it is like to be used by Him. They got to experience the blessing of being His hands and feet. And their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, as evidenced by their gift to Paul, was meant to remind them that God was at work in them. And this brings us full-circle to a statement Paul had made earlier in his letter to them.

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:12-13 NLT

They were, and God was. Their gift blessed Paul, pleased God, and rewarded them.

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

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

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

Our Good God.

1 The allotment of the people of Joseph went from the Jordan by Jericho, east of the waters of Jericho, into the wilderness, going up from Jericho into the hill country to Bethel. Then going from Bethel to Luz, it passes along to Ataroth, the territory of the Archites. Then it goes down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of Lower Beth-horon, then to Gezer, and it ends at the sea.

The people of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance.

The territory of the people of Ephraim by their clans was as follows: the boundary of their inheritance on the east was Ataroth-addar as far as Upper Beth-horon, and the boundary goes from there to the sea. On the north is Michmethath. Then on the east the boundary turns around toward Taanath-shiloh and passes along beyond it on the east to Janoah, then it goes down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, and touches Jericho, ending at the Jordan. From Tappuah the boundary goes westward to the brook Kanah and ends at the sea. Such is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Ephraim by their clans, together with the towns that were set apart for the people of Ephraim within the inheritance of the Manassites, all those towns with their villages. 10 However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.

1 Then allotment was made to the people of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a man of war. And allotments were made to the rest of the people of Manasseh by their clans, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida. These were the male descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph, by their clans.Joshua 16:1-17:2 ESV

ad503-mapjos1617.jpgThe author now addresses the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. In spite of Joseph’s ill-treatment by his brothers, God blessed Joseph, sovereignly ordaining his rise to the second highest position of power in the land of Egypt. It would be Joseph who would be used by God to preserve the lives of his father and brothers when they were forced to turn to Egypt for aid when a famine struck the land of Canaan. When his brothers discovered that Joseph, who they had long considered as dead, was Pharaoh’s right-hand man, they were petrified. But Joseph had assured them that God had divinely orchestrated every event in his life for a much greater purpose.

7 “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:7-8 ESV

And later on, Joseph reconfirmed to his brothers his unwavering belief that God had been behind all that had taken place, so that each and every one of Jacob’s sons would remain alive.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. – Genesis 50:20 ESV

God had made a commitment to Jacob, the father of Joseph, that He would bless him and give him many descendants who would live in the land of promise. And, on his deathbed, Jacob confirmed his belief in God’s promise, choosing to bless the two sons of Joseph, born to him in Egypt. In essence, Jacob adopted his two grandsons making them his own and promising to give them a portion of the inheritance of the land.

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.’” – Genesis 48:1-6 ESV

More than four centuries later, the 12 tribes of Israel (the sons of Jacob) were in the land promised to Jacob by God. And Joshua was in the process of dividing the land between the tribes. And in keeping with Jacob’s promise to include Ephraim and Manasseh in the inheritance, Joshua awarded a large portion of the land to the descendants of these two men.

Throughout this story, the sovereign hand of God is clearly visible. Had not God prospered Joseph in the land of Egypt, miraculously orchestrating his rise to power, the remainder of his family would have died of starvation in Canaan. God’s original covenant, made to Abraham, was seemingly jeopardized by the sinful acts of Joseph’s brothers. They had sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him. They knew he was their father’s favorite son, and it didn’t help that Joseph had shared with them the content of several dreams he had experienced. In those dreams, Joseph had seen his father, mother and brothers bowing down to him. And Joseph’s disclosure of that news hadn’t won him any favors with his brothers. But the dreams were actually God-given visions of what was to come. His father, mother and brothers did eventually bow down before him, recognizing him as a powerful ruler in Egypt and the arbiter of their fate.

God had remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham. He had also kept the commitment He had made to Jacob, allowing he and his sons to find salvation from the famine in Canaan, by providing them with rest in the land of Egypt. And all of this was in fulfillment of the prophecy He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God had ordained the famine in the land. He had pre-planned Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. And He had orchestrated the 400-year period of exile in Egypt for the descendants of Jacob. Four generations of Israelites would live in the land of Egypt before God determined it was time for them to leave and inherit the land promised to Abraham. All of this was part of His divine plan. The timing was perfect. And it was all because God was willing to keep His covenant promises, in spite of the disobedience of His chosen people. The apostle Paul recognized the sovereign hand of God in his own life, and was able to see His will being accomplished through the ups and downs and the setbacks and seeming successes of life. Which is why he could write:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 ESV

The descendants of Joseph were provided with a place in the land of promise. They were given a portion of the inheritance among the brothers of Joseph who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy. What they had meant for evil, God had meant for good. What they had done in order to bring harm to their brother, God used to bring blessing to their brother’s sons and their descendants. God works all things together for good.

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

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

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

Powerless to Possess.

20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans. 21 The cities belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme south, toward the boundary of Edom, were Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur, 22 Kinah, Dimonah, Adadah, 23 Kedesh, Hazor, Ithnan, 24 Ziph, Telem, Bealoth, 25 Hazor-hadattah, Kerioth-hezron (that is, Hazor), 26 Amam, Shema, Moladah, 27 Hazar-gaddah, Heshmon, Beth-pelet, 28 Hazar-shual, Beersheba, Biziothiah, 29 Baalah, Iim, Ezem, 30 Eltolad, Chesil, Hormah, 31 Ziklag, Madmannah, Sansannah, 32 Lebaoth, Shilhim, Ain, and Rimmon: in all, twenty-nine cities with their villages.

33 And in the lowland, Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34 Zanoah, En-gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35 Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, 36 Shaaraim, Adithaim, Gederah, Gederothaim: fourteen cities with their villages.

37 Zenan, Hadashah, Migdal-gad, 38 Dilean, Mizpeh, Joktheel, 39 Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon, 40 Cabbon, Lahmam, Chitlish, 41 Gederoth, Beth-dagon, Naamah, and Makkedah: sixteen cities with their villages.

42 Libnah, Ether, Ashan, 43 Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, 44 Keilah, Achzib, and Mareshah: nine cities with their villages.

45 Ekron, with its towns and its villages; 46 from Ekron to the sea, all that were by the side of Ashdod, with their villages.

47 Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; to the Brook of Egypt, and the Great Sea with its coastline.

48 And in the hill country, Shamir, Jattir, Socoh, 49 Dannah, Kiriath-sannah (that is, Debir), 50 Anab, Eshtemoh, Anim, 51 Goshen, Holon, and Giloh: eleven cities with their villages.

52 Arab, Dumah, Eshan, 53 Janim, Beth-tappuah, Aphekah, 54 Humtah, Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), and Zior: nine cities with their villages.

55 Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Juttah, 56 Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah, 57 Kain, Gibeah, and Timnah: ten cities with their villages.

58 Halhul, Beth-zur, Gedor, 59 Maarath, Beth-anoth, and Eltekon: six cities with their villages.

60 Kiriath-baal (that is, Kiriath-jearim), and Rabbah: two cities with their villages.

61 In the wilderness, Beth-arabah, Middin, Secacah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt, and Engedi: six cities with their villages.

63 But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. Joshua 15:20-63 ESV

judahAccording to this passage, the tribe of Judah received well over 100 cities and their surrounding villages as part of their inheritance and allotment of the land. The large portion awarded to them was due to the size of their tribe and it covered four distinct regions: The Negev in the south, the lowland plains, the mountains or hill country and the desert. While their territory extended all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, much of this land was occupied by the Philistines, and they would prove to be quite resistant to any attempts by Judah to remove them from the land. The city of Jerusalem was located at the northern-most boundary of their allotment and it too would continue to harbor a contingent of Canaanite enemies. While Joshua and the armies of Israel had effectively conquered that region, they had failed to capture the city of Jerusalem. So, there remained in the land a variety of potential physical and spiritual threats to the tribe of Judah. The book of Judges records that it was not until after the death of Joshua that the tribe of Judah finally captured and occupied the city of Jerusalem.

And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. – Judges 1:8-10 ESV

The clans of Judah would continue to wage war against the remaining remnant of the Canaanites in their land, but like all the other tribes, they would prove to be unsuccessful in completely eradicating the pagan presence.

18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. 20 And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak. 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:18-21 ESV

While Judah eventually took possession of the land located along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, they did not completely eliminate the Philistines. And the Jebusites, who were the original occupants of Jerusalem, remained in the land, co-existing alongside the people of Benjamin for years to come. And the record of Judah’s land allotment ends with an almost toss-away reference to their failure to eliminate the Jebusites.

But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV

Why is this significant? Because it reflects a nagging tendency on the part of the people of Israel that will show up in the record of each of the tribes. In each and every case, the tribes would end up failing to completely cleanse their respective land allotments of any and all pagan people groups. And it is essential that we reflect on the possible cause of their failure. Notice what verse 63 says: “But the Jebusites…the people of Judah could not drive out.” Why? Was it because God was not strong enough? Was it because the Jebusites were too powerful? God had given the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and his forces, completely destroying the walls of their city by way of a miracle. God had assisted the people of Israel in destroying a five-nation federation that had come against them, by wiping out part of the enemy forces with hailstones. There is no reason to think that the Jebusites were somehow too great for God to do anything about them. This reflects a failure on the part of the people of Judah, not God. They did not trust in and rely upon God. Any failure to remove their enemies from the land was not due to a lack of power on God’s part. He had not abandoned them. He had not ceased to fight for them. But it reflects a tendency on their part to try and do God’s will without God’s help.

In the original Hebrew, the text tells us that Judah was yakol yarash – they were powerless to possess. They failed to take possession of what was rightfully theirs, that which had been given to them by God. And God had promised to fight alongside them, providing them with victory over their foes. So, if they were powerless to possess, it was because they were attempting to fight their battles in their own strength. And just as, years earlier, the people of Israel had attempted to attack the city of Ai and had failed, the tribe of Judah would find themselves either unable or simply unwilling to remove the Jebusites from their land. Perhaps it was just easier to compromise and let them remain. What harm could they possibly do? How dangerous could they be? So, concessions were made. Subtle compromises were put into effect. And, by doing so, the people of Judah were not only refusing to obey God’s command, they were rejecting the gift of His inheritance. The land He had provided was not fully theirs. The rest He had promised would not be fully experienced. By allowing their enemies to remain in the land, the tribe of Judah compromised their convictions and robbed themselves of the benefits of God’s promised blessings.

There should be an overwhelming desire in the heart of each and every child of God to have any remaining sin exposed and removed. The great king, David, prayed a powerful prayer to God, asking for His divine help in eradicating hidden sin from his own heart.

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

The tribe of Judah could have removed the Jebusites. All they needed to do was trust God. Had they simply acknowledged their sins of compromise and complacency, and turned to God for help, He would have given them victory over their enemies. The presence of the Jebusites was an offense to God. They were a constant reminder of Judah’s disobedience. And they would prove to be a roadblock, preventing the people of God from fully experiencing the blessings of God.

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

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

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

Worship God.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” Revelation 22:6-11 ESV

John’s vision, given to him on the island of Patmos, is quickly coming to a close. And as it does, he hears repeated some of the same words he heard when he began his incredible experience.

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. – Revelation 1:1-3 ESV

The angel reminds John that every word he has heard is trustworthy and true. They can be trusted for their veracity and accuracy. The visions he has been privileged to see and the words of prophecy he has been commanded to write down have been given to him by the God of the spirit of the prophets. This phrase is meant to qualify the content of John’s visions as having been God-breathed. The same God who spoke through Isaiah, Zechariah, Micah and a host of other Old Testament prophets, had just spoken to and would be passing His message through John. Peter reminds us that God is the one who gave the prophets the words they wrote in their books. He was the author behind their predictions, many of which find their fulfillment in the future events John has just witnessed and chronicled.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:21 ESV

At the birth of John the Baptist, the final prophet of God, who heralded the coming of Christ, his father spoke spoke these words:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us. – Luke 1:68-71 ESV

God, the author behind every word spoken by the prophets, has just spoken to John. And because God is trustworthy and true, His words can be relied upon.

And John is reminded once again that the things he has seen “must soon take place.” There is a degree of imminence to the angel’s words, but this does not necessarily mean immediacy. The Greek phrase John uses is en tachos, which means “with quickness or speed.” The angel is not saying that these things are about to happen, but that when they do, they will come in rapid succession. And there is another aspect to this warning that we are all to take to heart. None of us know the day of their coming. Jesus Himself told us, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). But we are to live as if they could happen at any minute. As believers, we are to conduct our lives with an expectation that Jesus Christ could return for His church at any moment. Paul told the Philippian believers, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). He encouraged the believers in Corinth to “eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7 NLT). He told the church in Rome to “wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us” (Romans 8:23 NLT). He complimented the Thessalonian believers for their reputation for “looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT).

So, there is a sense in which we are to eagerly look for the return of Jesus for His bride, the church, because it will usher in the period of the tribulation and inaugurate the final days of judgment. And John hears the voice of Jesus, assuring him that His return is indeed growing closer with each passing day.

“And behold, I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

When the time comes, Jesus will come quickly or without delay. Right now, He is in a holding pattern, waiting for the very moment in time when His heavenly Father commands Him to return for His church. But He is ready. And we should be as well.

And Jesus also reminds John that there is a blessing associated with the faithful reading and keeping of the contents of this book.

“Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” – Revelation 22:7 ESV

The Greek word John uses is tēreō, and it means “to attend to carefully, to take care of or guard.” The words contained in each and every prophecy given to John and recorded in his book are to be taken seriously and treated with reverence and awe. They are the words of God and, as such, come with a blessing. Knowing what God has planned for the future of the world should bring us hope and assurance. It should provide us with confidence and endurance. It should alleviate our fears and eliminate our uncertainties about the future. We don’t have to worry about which side wins. We don’t have to wonder if God has forgotten about us. There is a perfectly planned timeline in place and God will enact it at the very right moment. When He deems best. It has already been predetermined and its outcome preordained.

And in response to all that John had seen or heard during the course of his vision, John fell at the feet of the angel in worship. He couldn’t help but subjugate himself to the one who had provided him with such amazing news. But the angel refused John’s adoration, demanding that he worship God instead. And that is the point behind the entire book. What we read on its pages should drive us to our knees before God Almighty. It should remind us that our God is not only great, but good. He is just, holy, righteous, and in complete control of all things – in heaven and on earth.

And John is told to keep his book open. He was not to seal or close it, but to allow its content to be readily available for all to see, read, and heed. Because it is meant to be a constant reminder to the people of God that the events disclosed on its pages will happen before they know it – “for the time is near.” And then, Jesus utters some rather strange words that carry with them a certain degree of pre-determinism.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” – Revelation 22:11 ESV

The sad truth is that there are many who will never accept God’s free gift of salvation made available through His Son’s death on the cross. They will hear, but not heed. They will be offered salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, but refuse to accept this priceless gift. And Jesus is simply saying that they will continue to live as they always have, committed to a life marked by sin and open rebellion against God. And yet, there will be those who, in God’s plan, have heard and accepted God’s gracious gift, received forgiveness for their sins and been imputed the righteousness of Christ. And they are to live as who they are: Sons and daughters of God.

As John has seen and as his book reveals, there is an outcome in store for all. The righteous and the unrighteous have a future already reserved for them. Those who choose to reject God will receive the judgment they deserve. And as has been shown all throughout John’s vision, there will be many times within the seven years of the tribulation when people will be given ample evidence that God is bringing judgment upon sinful men, but they will refuse to repent, choosing instead to maintain their independent, autonomous lifestyle of self-determination. Even under the unrelenting, heavy hand of God, they will reject Him as God and choose instead to worship false gods, including the Antichrist himself. The evil will continue to do evil. Right to the bitter end.

 

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

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

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

 

The God of Eternity.

1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 ESV

There seems to be little doubt that Solomon believed in the sovereignty of God. He sincerely believed that the lives of all men were in the hands of God, whether they were righteous or wicked, good or bad. His view was that God acted as the divine arbiter over the fate of all, including their lives and inevitable deaths, leaving man no option but to make the most out of the days he had allotted to him by God. But this view of God’s sovereignty has a feel of resignation and resentment to it. He clearly states that “the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God”, but he doesn’t come across as all that pleased about it. In fact, he views this sovereignty as some kind of divine whim, where God metes out love and hate as He sees fit. Solomon almost paints it as some kind of arbitrary decision on God’s part, lacking any kind of reasoned explanation. He puts it this way:  “Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him” (Ecclesiastes 9:1 ESV). In other words, from man’s earth-bound perspective, he can never know if God is going to show him favor or disfavor. If good things happen, it is the will of God. If bad things happen, it is the will of God. That appears to be his somewhat pessimistic conclusion regarding God’s sovereignty.

As far as Solomon can tell, all people share the same fate. They all die. And even while they remain alive, they all experience their fair share of ups and downs, blessings and curses, successes and failures. And he points out that it really doesn’t seem to matter how you live your life. He compares the righteous with the wicked, the good with those who commit evil, the ceremonially clean with the ceremonially impure, and finally, the one who offers sacrifices to God with the one who does not. The individuals represented by these polarized comparisons all face death at the end of their lives, and the sole factor determining the day of their death is God. And Solomon expresses his opinion about the matter, concluding, “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Solomon saw death as some kind of divine exclamation point at the end of man’s life sentence, ending any hope of experiencing joy and fulfillment. And it was that belief that led him to write: “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4 ESV). From his perspective, it was better to remain alive, even if you had to struggle with the apparent injustices of life. Solomon clearly saw life as preferable to death.

Solomon has made it clear that this life can be difficult and meaningless. Here, he states, “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live” (Ecclesiastes 9:3 ESV). Men do evil things. They commit acts of violence against one another. They oppress and abuse one another. And yet, Solomon would prefer to put up with all that than face the final day of death. Because, as far as he can see, that day has a finality to it. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 ESV). Do you see how he views death? He sees it as an end, almost as a form of divine penalty doled out by God on all who have ever lived. It’s as if he’s saying that life is this hit or miss, futility filled existence, completely dictated by God, and then it suddenly comes to a screeching, abrupt end – all based on God’s divine determination. It’s no wonder he preferred life over death. For him, whatever existed beyond the grave was unattractive and undesirable. As far as he could tell, the destiny that awaits us on the other side of death was unknowable and, therefore, unwelcome. Concerning those who die: “Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6 ESV).

Those are the words of a man who sees this life as the only source of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. In fact, Solomon seemed to believe that the only way God could bless human beings was through the physical pleasures associated with life on this planet. He saw man’s identity completely tied to his earthly existence. All rewards were relegated to this life and this plane of existence. There was nothing beyond the grave. And it is that world view that dictates the decision-making of just about every person who occupies this planet – unless they have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, there are other religions that teach an afterlife where there are rewards. But Christianity is particularly future-oriented, placing the real emphasis of mankind’s existence not on this world, but on the one to come. Our reward awaits us in eternity, not on this earth. That does not mean God withholds blessings from His children while they remain alive, but that His greatest reward is yet to come. The words of Jesus, spoken in His sermon on the mount, confirm this.

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

The apostle Paul had a future-oriented mindset. He had his eyes set on his future reward, his glorification that was tied to the return of Christ.

13 …but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 NLT

The author of Hebrews also provides us with powerful words of encouragement, using Jesus as an example of the way in which we should live while we exist on this earth.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Jesus suffered. He knew what it was like to endure rejection and ridicule, injustice and oppression. He even endured the pain of the cross, knowing that it was all part of God’s divine will for His life. It was a necessary part of the redemptive plan God had put in place before the foundation of the world. Jesus ran His life’s race with endurance, keeping His eyes focused on the will of God and the future reward of God. And now He sits in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

And the apostle Paul would have us remember that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we face a similar reward.

1 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT

Regardless of what Solomon believed, there is something beyond the grave. Not only does an afterlife exist, it holds blessings beyond anything we can imagine. The pain, suffering, oppression, and injustice in this life that Solomon has so eloquently described, will not exist in the next one. For those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, eternity awaits and a life free from pain, suffering, sin, sorrow, and the looming threat of death. John writes of this wonderful reality in his letter to the seven churches.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” – Revelation 21:3-4 NLT

Solomon was a wise man, but he reveals his inability to comprehend the ways of God. Over the years, he had developed an earth-based, temporal perspective that limited the sovereignty of God to the here and now. He saw life as an end all, which explains his obsession with experiencing all that life had to offer. And when he couldn’t find what he was looking for in this life, he deemed it all meaningless, like chasing the wind. But he failed to see that God had much more in store. The best was yet to come.

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

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

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

You Can’t Take It With You.

12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 ESV

I’m sure there was a day when Solomon was fun to be around, but at this point in his life, he comes across as a pessimistic, old curmudgeon who has long lost the capacity to smile. He isn’t even a glass-half-empty kind of guy. His glass is bone dry and his temperament is dark and depressing. But he still has his wisdom and the ability to see things that many of us tend to miss. He also recognized his responsibility as the “preacher” or speaker in the assembly, to share his somewhat somber life lessons with others. Which is the whole reason he took the time to write this book.

Solomon seemed to believe that his role as king, equipped with virtually unlimited resources, unbridled autonomy, and unparalleled wisdom, placed him in a unique position to investigate the true meaning of life. So, he did. And he did so with all his heart, expending a great deal of time, money and energy in his pursuit. In fact, Solomon will repeatedly refer to his heart throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. He mentions it no less than eight times in this chapter alone.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” – vs 1

I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom – vs 3

I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. – vs 10

Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. – vs 15

So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun – vs 20

For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. – vs 23

While Solomon talks a great deal about the pursuit of pleasure, the accumulation of possessions, and his many accomplishments and acquisitions, the real focus of his attention is his own heart. Everything he did in life was meant to fill the void in his heart. He focused on external remedies in an attempt to address an internal problem. But he discovered that they were all like mist, fleeting and ephemeral. They brought temporary relief and short-lived satisfaction, but could never address his real problem: The state of his own heart.

Solomon even viewed his own wisdom, given to him by God, as an insufficient and inadequate resource for addressing his heart problem. As far as he could see, he could spend a lifetime using his wisdom to accomplish great good and for achieving noble goals, but when he died, he would leave it all behind, never knowing if his successor would be wise or a fool.

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 ESV

All his accomplishments, regardless of how significant or praise-worthy, would be left for someone else to do with as he wished. His wealth, possessions, palace, even his concubines, would become the possession of someone else.

20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. – Ecclesiastes 2:20-21 ESV

And Solomon’s conclusion was, “This also is vanity and a great evil.” Now, what we must realize is that Solomon is not downplaying the significance of hard work or achievement. He is not suggesting that we simply avoid work altogether, refusing to waste our limited time on this earth in a vain pursuit of material things we will simply be forced to leave behind. Solomon seems to be addressing the need to live life with a recognition that our time on this earth is limited and we have little to no control over our own destiny. That is why he spent such a great deal of time in chapter one focusing on the inevitability of life lived under the sun. Generation after generation comes and goes, and the only thing that remains is the earth itself. The sun rises and sets, in a never-ending cycle, and man disappears from the face of the earth in a similar manner, but never to be seen again.

All of this led Solomon to conclude: “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NLT). Again, we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning behind Solomon’s words. They can come across as defeatist in tone. He sounds like a man who has thrown up his hands in despair and resigned himself to simply endure life until he dies. But notice what he says: “I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 NLT). This is one of the few times Solomon has mentioned God up to this point. He recognizes that the joy and pleasures of life are a gift from God, to be enjoyed and appreciated. Solomon is not a fatalist, proposing that we simply give up and fill up our lives with the mindless pursuit of pleasure. He is a realist, who is attempting to share his painful life lessons with others, preaching the message of finding enjoyment in the things God has graciously given to mankind. We are to enjoy them, but not worship them. We are to experience pleasure from them, but not make them the source of our pleasure. 

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. – James 1:17 NLT

In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner shares a powerful insight into Solomon’s message, revealing that the danger we all face is the temptation to worship the gifts more than the Giver, to seek satisfaction from the things of life, instead of the Creator of life.

“. . . in themselves, and rightly used, the basic things of life are sweet and good. Food, drink and work are samples of them, and Qoheleth will remind us of others [cf. 9:7-10; 11:7-10]. What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give; a symptom of the longing which differentiates us from the beasts, but whose misdirection is the underlying theme of this book.” – Derek Kidner, The Message of Ecclesiastes: A Time to Mourn, and a Time to Dance

Solomon ends this chapter with what he believes to be an insight into the ways of God.

26 God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:26 NLT

Solomon believed that God was a rewarder of those who pleased Him. He shared the commonly held view of his day that God blessed those who were faithful to Him, even taking what belonged to the wicked and giving it to the godly. According to this way of thinking, all the rewards of a life lived well were to be enjoyed in this life. We get our rewards now. And for Solomon, this came across as just another example of the futility of life. If you work hard, it really didn’t matter, because God could simply take what was yours and give it to someone else He deemed more worthy. But Solomon failed to recognize what the author of Hebrews made clear in his letter.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 NLT

Yes, God rewards those who believe in Him and who seek to draw near to Him. But that reward has little to do with this life. It involves the life to come. While God may bless us in this life, and allow us to enjoy all the pleasures that come with life, our greatest reward lies in the distant future. Solomon had lost sight of that fact, and had immersed himself in a never-ending pursuit of significance and satisfaction in this life. And his sad and misguided conclusion was “This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

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

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

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

Bless Like It.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV

Peter continues his address about attitudes and relationships. Keep in mind, he is still talking to those who are in Christ and attempting to get them to see that their new relationship with God as their Father should produce a change in their behavior. He started by addressing one of the most difficult relationships, the one between a slave and his master. Then, Peter turned his attention to husbands and wives, and, more specifically, the relationship between a believing and non-believing spouse. These kinds of relationship are going to make it difficult to live out your faith consistently and without falling back into your old sinful habits. Peter made this quite clear in the opening section of his letter.

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. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

And Peter has already provided them with more than enough motivation for their new actions and attitudes.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. – 1 Peter 1:22 NLT

So, now he addresses the larger pool of relationships to which his readers must turn their attention and apply his admonitions. But he focuses on the relationships they have with one another as believers. His interest at this point is on the way each Christian should treat his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. – 1 Peter 3:8 NLT

First, he tells them to be of one mind. The Greek word he uses is homophrōn, and it means “harmonious” or “like-minded”. It comes from two other words that mean “together” and “understanding”. They are to share a mutual understanding of one another as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. They share an inheritance as God’s children. They are brothers and sisters. And Peter gives them concrete examples of what this one-mindedness should look like. They should sympathize with one another. This carries the idea of compassion and understanding that shows up in the form of care and concern for those around you. Paul puts it this way:

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! – Romans 12:15-16 NLT

There is no place for individualism in the body of Christ. As Paul states in Galatians 6:2, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” True sympathy requires empathy, an ability to vicariously relate to the feelings of another – their pain, sorrow, hurts and heartaches. The apostle Paul, using the example of the human body to illustrate the unique union of believers within the body of Christ, states, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NLT). We are in this together. We are, as Peter put it earlier, sojourners and exiles, but we are not alone. We are joined together by God to all our other fellow exiles, and living our lives together in this inhospitable land. And Peter describes us as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT) – all stacked together by the Master Builder, in order to create a home for His Spirit.

Peter also tells his readers to love like brothers. He uses the Greek word, philadelphos, which refers to the love shared between two blood brothers. There is to be a closer connection between two siblings than between two strangers. There is a common bond between two brothers that is not present in any other relationship. And Peter is calling the believers to whom he is writing into a deeper relationship with the ones with whom they share a spiritual kinship with Christ. Because they have been cleansed from their sins by placing their faith in Christ, they were to “show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters”, and Peter had told them to  “Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22 NLT).

They were to have tender hearts. The Greek word Peter uses is a strange one. It literally means “good bowels.” Before you let your mind run to the races, keep in mind that the readers of Peter’s letter would have understood this word to refer to the seat of the emotions. It is a word that expresses compassion, sympathy, and tenderheartedness. Paul uses the same word in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

Too often, we have no feelings for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a coldness toward them, treating them more like strangers than as our spiritual relatives. James paints a vivid picture of what a lack of tenderheartedness looks like in the body of believers.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. – James 4:1-2 The Message

Finally, Peter tells his readers to have humble minds. This is a call to humility that shows up in a willingness to esteem others as more important than ourselves. Paul put it well.

Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

There is no place for pride within the body of Christ. There is no reason to think of ourselves as better than anyone else, because we were all sinners who were saved by the grace of God. None of us were chosen for our goodness or inherent righteousness. We are each recipients of God’s undeserved, unearned grace. So, there is no reason for us to see ourselves as somehow better or of greater worth than anyone else in the family of God.

The next thing Peter writes is even more difficult to accept.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

Our natural tendency is to seek revenge, to demand justice, and to get even. We are wired to lash out and to defend ourselves at all costs, whether the threat is to our physical well-being or to our reputation. But Peter tells us to bless instead of retaliate. We are to bless as we have been blessed. And Peter isn’t making this stuff up. He got it from a reliable source: Jesus Himself.

28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Luke 6:29-31 NLT

And Paul would also echo the words of Jesus, when he wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them” (Romans 12:14 NLT). And Paul wasn’t saying this in terms of our relationships with unbelievers. He was writing to Christians. Just a few verses earlier he wrote, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:9-10 NLT). That is exactly the message Peter is trying to convey. And to drive home his point, Peter follows up his words with a quote that comes from Psalm 34.

“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12 NLT

Notice the emphasis on the tongue. To bless literally means to speak well of someone. But they must be words that come from the heart. They are not to be hypocritical or fake. They are not to come out as some form of false flattery. It is one thing to keep your tongue from speaking evil, but it is another thing altogether to speak well and have it come from your heart. That is why Jesus said, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). And in His list of defiling actions and attitudes that flow from the heart, He included evil thoughts, lying and slander. And He placed them right alongside murder, adultery, sexual immorality and theft. Our words are an expression of our heart. And to speak falsehood – kind-sounding words that are actually backed by hate-filled thoughts – is to do evil and not good. Yet, Peter calls us to bless because we have been blessed. We are to be a blessing to others, because we have received the blessing of God, His undeserved, unmerited grace and favor in the form of salvation made possible through the death of His Son. And Peter would have us continually reflect on the example provided to us by Christ.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23 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.

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

The Yellow Brick Road of Disobedience.

At the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Then he summoned Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea for mercy before him: If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you. Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, that he may have mercy on you and let you remain in your own land. But if you say, ‘We will not remain in this land,’ disobeying the voice of the Lord your God and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,’ then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die. All the men who set their faces to go to Egypt to live there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence. They shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I will bring upon them.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: As my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an execration, a horror, a curse, and a taunt. You shall see this place no more. The Lord has said to you, O remnant of Judah, ‘Do not go to Egypt.’ Know for a certainty that I have warned you this day that you have gone astray at the cost of your lives. For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says, declare to us and we will do it.’ And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live.” Jeremiah 42:7-22 ESV

Johanan and the people had asked Jeremiah to seek the will of God concerning whether they should stay in Judah and face the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar over the murder of the man he had appointed as governor, or should they hightail it to Egypt. They had assured the prophet that they would do whatever God told them to do. So, ten days later, Jeremiah came back with the new from God. And it is not what they had been expecting or desiring to hear. He let them know, in no uncertain terms, that God wanted them to stay right where they were, and God communicates His message with two if-then conditional statements. The first described what would happen if they obeyed His will and stayed in the land.

If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” – Jeremiah 42:10 ESV

Obedience would bring the blessing of God. Rather than punish them, He would protect them, even preventing the king of Babylon from seeking revenge against them. They would no longer have to fear Nebuchadnezzar. God Almighty would stand in the gap and act as a shield of protection for them. There was no need to run and seek shelter in Egypt, because they had God on their side. But God knew their hearts and so, He gave them the second scenario.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you set your faces to enter Egypt and go to live there, then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt, and there you shall die.” – Jeremiah 42:15-16 ESV

They had a choice to make. They could obey God and live, or they could disobey God and take their chances in Egypt. But if they chose option B, they would discover that Egypt would make a lousy savior. Their problems would follow them there, because there is no escape from the wrath of God. It was King David who wrote:

Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, “Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,”
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Of course, David meant his words as a positive statement regarding God’s inescapable presence. He took comfort in the fact that there was no place where God was not present and His not all-pervasive. But for Johanan and the remnant of the people of Judah, they would find out that there was no escape from God judgment for disobedience. God had ordained the fall of Judah and He had chosen to use Nebuchadnezzar to do it. He had also told the people of Judah on numerous occasions, that it was His will that those who were left behind after the fall of Jerusalem were to stay in the land and remain under the submission of the Babylonians. What they didn’t realize was that God had a purpose behind His command. He intended the Babylonians to provide the remnant, in their weakened and vulnerable state, with protection from the mightiest nation on the planet. Their conquerors would become their defenders. But in order to enjoy that divinely ordained protection, the people of Judah would have to choose to remain under Babylonian rule. They would have to trust God and give up their desire to run from what they perceived as a threat on their lives.

But God knew what was going to happen, and He didn’t need His omniscience to come to that conclusion. He had seen this scenario played out time and time again with His people. He was well-acquainted with their hearts and their propensity to do things their own way. He even told them what they were probably thinking:

“We will not stay here; instead, we will go to Egypt where we will be free from war, the call to arms, and hunger.” – Jeremiah 42:13-14 NLT

Notice the rationale behind their decision. Freedom from war, the end of conscription of their young men for war, and no more hunger and starvation as a result of war. They viewed their escape to Egypt as a panacea for all their perceived problems. But the yellow brick path of disobedience never leads to the Emerald City. Choosing to disobey the will of God never ends well. It may seem appealing and, even logical, but it will always result in disappointment and disillusionment. Remember what happened to Jonah when he refused to do what God commanded him to do? He was to take God’s offer of repentance to the people living in the city of Ninevah. But rather than obey God, Jonah chose to get on a boat and head in the opposite direction. And how did that work out for him? He ended up in a storm, getting thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and thrown up on the beach. On top of all that, he ended up doing God’s will anyway. And what is fascinating about the story of Jonah is that the fish was actually the means of Jonah’s salvation, not a punishment from God. God sent the fish to keep Jonah from drowning, and Jonah reflects his awareness of this fact in his own words:

“You threw me into the deep waters,
into the middle of the sea;
the ocean current engulfed me;
all the mighty waves you sent swept over me.
I thought I had been banished from your sight,
that I would never again see your holy temple!
Water engulfed me up to my neck;
the deep ocean surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;
the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;
but you brought me up from the Pit, O Lord, my God.” – Jonah 2:3-6 NLT

As Jonah sank into the depths of the sea, he called out to God to save him, and God sent the fish to do just that. The fish was his means of escape. Yes, he had to remain three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, but his life was spared. And, as a result, he was able to heed God’s second call to go to Ninevah and, this time, he went.

Johanan and the people of Judah had their answer from God. Now, the question was what they were going to do with it. How would they respond? Jeremiah seemed to already know, because he flatly told them:

“You said, ‘Just tell us what the Lord our God says, and we will do it!’ And today I have told you exactly what he said, but you will not obey the Lord your God any better now than you have in the past. So you can be sure that you will die from war, famine, and disease in Egypt, where you insist on going.” – Jeremiah 42:20-22 NLT

They weren’t going to listen. They were not going to obey. They had already made up their minds and had the maps and provisions for their journey to Egypt pre-prepared. They probably had their bags packed. And it wouldn’t be long before they were on their way, following the yellow brick road of disillusionment and false hope. This should bring to mind a warning God gave to the people of Judah earlier in this very same book.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 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.

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

Approved By God.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Jesus wastes no time. Once the crowd has taken their seats in front of Him, He jumps right into His lecture, and He begins with what has come to be known as the “beatitudes”.  This portion of His message derives its name from the repetitive use of the word, “blessing” that appears at the beginning of each line. The Greek word for blessing in the original text of Matthew’s gospel was makarios. In the Latin Vulgate, the word is beati, which is derived from the Latin beatitudo/beatus. Therefore, the name of this section of Jesus’ message became known as “The Beatitudes”.

In order to fully understand what Jesus is saying, we must know what He meant by using the word, “blessed”.  There is no doubt that it has a positive connotation. To be blessed is a good thing. But what kind of blessing did Jesus have in mind? We tend to use the word quite loosely and indiscriminately. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say something like, “He has been blessed with good genes” or “Grandchildren are such a blessing.” From our perspective, we can be blessed by good health, a new job, a strong constitution, a loving spouse and with good friends. Even in Jesus’ day, the word carried the connotation of being “supremely blest; by extension, fortunate, well off” (“G3107 – makarios – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Apr, 2017). The problem we face in reading The Beatitudes is applying our definition or understanding of what it means to be blessed and missing out on what Jesus was actually saying. Our natural tendency, just like the 1st-Century Jews sitting in Jesus’ audience that day, is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Warren Wiersbe states that the blessing to which Jesus referred is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” So while we might connote blessing with personal prosperity and a lack of problems, Jesus was speaking of something quite different. The root idea behind blessing is approval. God does not bless that which He does not approve. If you take the full context of Jesus’ message, it becomes clear that He is teaching about the kingdom of heaven and the character of those who belong to it. In essence, He is teaching about justification: how to be made right or approved by God. In the very next section, Jesus will bring up the Mosaic law. For the Jews in His audience, the Law had always been the sole requirement for attaining a right standing with God. It was through the keeping of the Law that man attempted to gain God’s approval or blessing.

All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, we have recorded the words spoken by Moses to the people of Israel on behalf of God.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NLT

They were to live in obedience to the commands of God. If they did so, they would be blessed by God. If they refused to do so, they would be cursed. In the previous chapter, Moses had made clear just what the blessing He promised would entail.

“You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:12-13 NLT

By obeying God, they would enjoy the approval and presence of God. They would know what it was like to have His protection and to enjoy His provision. The curses would be the result of having lost that relationship. But the Jews had ended up placing a higher value on the material blessings they enjoyed than on God’s approval. The idea that the God of the universe approved of them was less important to them than the personal prosperity they enjoyed as God’s people. And this misunderstanding of the blessing of God had resulted in them turning the Law into a means to an end. They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy, so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy. He had become nothing more to them than a conduit to more important things: health, happiness, material goods, crops, children, peace, long life, or whatever else they desired.

So here comes Jesus, preaching a message of what it means to be truly blessed by God. And what He has to say will rock the world of His listeners. He will tie the blessing of God to poverty, mourning, meekness, deprivation, and persecution. He will talk about heavenly rewards versus earthly ones. He will command His listeners to rejoice when they are persecuted, to turn the other cheek when they are slapped, to willingly go the second mile, to love their enemies, and to give to those who ask to borrow, expecting no payment in return. None of this would have made sense to His listeners. None of it would have sounded the least bit appealing. In the mind of the average Jew, it was the wealthy who were blessed by God, while the sick and the lame were cursed by God. They believed material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, so poverty must be a curse.

But what Jesus has to say in this passage will turn the tables on that kind of thinking. A great deal of what Jesus says will be in direct contradiction to their skewed understanding of the Law and what they believed was necessary to be right with God. They tied proof of righteousness (a right relationship with God) closely to outward signs of His blessing. But Jesus was going to blow up that presupposition. He was going to go to the heart of the issue – literally. Because Jesus was out to change the hearts of men. With His coming, the days were finished when men would be able to judge their righteousness based on outward evidence. God looks at the heart. And Jesus came to die so that men’s hearts might be redeemed and their behavior radically changed. What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment. He is speaking to a pre-cross crowd, explaining to them a post-cross reality. He knows something to which they are oblivious. He recognizes that all He is saying to them is not only impossible for them to understand, but impossible to pull off until He has died, been resurrected and the Holy Spirit comes. His words are preparatory in nature. He is expanding on His previous message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). Things were about to change. The Messiah had come. The Savior of the world was in their midst. And the means by which men might be made right with God, permanently and perfectly, had finally arrived. But before anyone could accept what Jesus had come to provide, they would have to recognize their need. That is why Jesus would later offer the Great Invitation: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be a new list of laws, rules and requirements for people to follow in order to gain God’s approval. It is a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who will find their approval by God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a pre-cross explanation of how right behavior will flow from having a right relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. The key message behind the Sermon on the Mount is the approval of God. And Jesus is in the process of helping His audience understand that right behavior stems from having a right relationship with God, not the other way around.

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