Much Will Be Required

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Matters

11 Thus says the Lord:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Gift From God

1 Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were being put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not put to death. And he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the Lord, while Athaliah reigned over the land.

But in the seventh year Jehoiada sent and brought the captains of the Carites and of the guards, and had them come to him in the house of the Lord. And he made a covenant with them and put them under oath in the house of the Lord, and he showed them the king’s son. And he commanded them, “This is the thing that you shall do: one third of you, those who come off duty on the Sabbath and guard the king’s house (another third being at the gate Sur and a third at the gate behind the guards) shall guard the palace. And the two divisions of you, which come on duty in force on the Sabbath and guard the house of the Lord on behalf of the king, shall surround the king, each with his weapons in his hand. And whoever approaches the ranks is to be put to death. Be with the king when he goes out and when he comes in.”

The captains did according to all that Jehoiada the priest commanded, and they each brought his men who were to go off duty on the Sabbath, with those who were to come on duty on the Sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest. 10 And the priest gave to the captains the spears and shields that had been King David’s, which were in the house of the Lord. 11 And the guards stood, every man with his weapons in his hand, from the south side of the house to the north side of the house, around the altar and the house on behalf of the king. 12 Then he brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, “Long live the king!” 2 Kings 11:1-12 ESV

Meanwhile, back in Judah.

Once again, the author shifts the focus of his narrative back to the southern kingdom. While Jehu had been systematically and brutally eliminating the legacy of Ahab from Israel, a regime change had taken place in Judah as well. While the two nations operated independently of one another, they had developed close ties through intermarriage and military alliances. Ahab and Jezebel had a daughter, Athaliah, who had married King Jehoram of Israel. Her influence over him is readily apparent when you read how God assessed his reign and disclosed the nature of his death.

“…you have been as evil as the kings of Israel. You have led the people of Jerusalem and Judah to worship idols, just as King Ahab did in Israel. And you have even killed your own brothers, men who were better than you. So now the Lord is about to strike you, your people, your children, your wives, and all that is yours with a heavy blow. You yourself will suffer with a severe intestinal disease that will get worse each day until your bowels come out.” – 2 Chronicles 21:13-15 NLT

And when Jehoram ending up dying just as God had predicted, he was replaced by Ahaziah, the son he shared with Athalia. During his reign, Ahaziah maintained a close relationship with his family back in Israel, even making a trip to visit his uncle, King Jehoram, who was recuperating from battle injuries at his summer palace in Jezreel. But the timing of his trip proved both ill-planned and ill-fated. He had arrived in Jezreel at the exact moment when Jehu was launching his coup against the house of Ahab. And his decision to be in Israel at that precise moment proved deadly.

When King Ahaziah of Judah saw what was happening, he fled along the road to Beth-haggan. Jehu rode after him, shouting, “Shoot him, too!” So they shot Ahaziah in his chariot at the Ascent of Gur, near Ibleam. He was able to go on as far as Megiddo, but he died there. His servants took him by chariot to Jerusalem, where they buried him with his ancestors in the City of David. – 2 Kings 9:27-28 NLT

In a single day, Jehu had managed to kill the kings of Israel and Judah, creating an immediate power vacuum in both nations. He would end up filling the void left by King Jehoram in Israel, but the battle for control of Ahaziah’s empty throne would prove more complicated and deadly.

As soon as Athalia received the news that her son had been murdered by Jehu, she launched a brutal campaign to secure the crown for herself. Rather than mourn the death of her son, “she arose and destroyed all the royal family” (2 Kings 11:1 ESV). She callously eliminated any and all competition. And thanks to her husband’s sins against Yahweh, her work had been made much easier. As punishment for Jehoram’s ungodly leadership, God had brought judgment against Judah in the form of enemy raiding parties.

Then the Lord stirred up the Philistines and the Arabs, who lived near the Ethiopians, to attack Jehoram. They marched against Judah, broke down its defenses, and carried away everything of value in the royal palace, including the king’s sons and his wives. Only his youngest son, Ahaziah, was spared. – 2 Chronicles 21:16-17 NLT

Now, with Ahaziah out of the picture, Athaliah had few competitors for the throne. But she still went out of her way to eliminate anyone who might jeopardize her plan to rule over Judah. In doing so, Athaliah was going against the revealed will of God. He had made a covenant commitment to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne forever.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16 ESV

Athaliah was not a descendant of David, but she was not about to let that minor detail stand in her way. So, she set out to clear her path to power by systematically wiping out anyone who might claim to be the rightful heir to David’s throne. 

Having successfully eliminated the competition, Athaliah became the self-appointed queen of Judah, and she would hold that title for the next six years. But little did she know that all the while she sat on the throne, the true king of Judah was being protected in the house of God. During her ambitious and murderous power-grab, she had inadvertently overlooked one minor detail: A young boy named Joash. He was the son of King Ahaziah and, therefore, the rightful heir to the throne.

When Athaliah had begun her murderous spree, her step-daughter, Jehosheba, had risked her life by protecting Joash, the infant son of Ahaziah. The book of 2 Chronicles provides us with a detailed description of her brave rescue attempt.

Ahaziah’s sister Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram, took Ahaziah’s infant son, Joash, and stole him away from among the rest of the king’s children, who were about to be killed. She put Joash and his nurse in a bedroom. In this way, Jehosheba, wife of Jehoiada the priest and sister of Ahaziah, hid the child so that Athaliah could not murder him. – 2 Chronicles 22:11 NLT

Don’t miss the sovereign hand of God in all of this. It just so happens that Jehosheba was not only the daughter of the king and, therefore, the half-sister of Joash, but she was also the wife of Jehoiada the priest. These relationships were God-ordained and providentially established to not only keep Joash alive but to preserve the promise that God had made to David years earlier. After initially hiding Joash in a room within the palace, Jehosheba and her husband, Jehoiada, moved him to the temple. And for the next six years, the young boy would find protection in the house of God. Yahweh, the God of David, was preserving the seed of David so that He might fulfill the promise He had made to David. And what makes this so significant is that God was preserving David’s seed so that He might one day send His own Son as the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. The psalmist writes, “The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne’” ( Psalm 132:11 ESV). And the apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus was the Son whom God had in mind when He made that promise to David.

God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 1:2-4 NLT

But had Jehosheba not been there to preserve the life of her brother, the line of David would have come to an abrupt end. And had her husband not been Jehoiada the priest, the young boy would not have been given sanctuary in the temple of God. All of this was the handiwork of God Almighty, who was operating behind the scenes in order to preserve and protect His covenant promise. Nothing was going to stand in the way of God’s long-term redemptive plan for the people of Israel and the nations of the world – including Athaliah.

And in time, Athaliah’s 15-minutes of fame came to an end. When Joash reached the age of seven, Jehoiada the priest called for the captains of the Carites, who served as royal bodyguards. He brought them into the temple and introduced them to Joash, the rightful heir to the throne. This would have been shocking news to these men. None of them would have had any idea that Joash was alive. Jehoiada’s decision to use the temple as the venue for revealing this exciting news was intended to remind these men that God was at work. He had them swear an oath before God that they would protect the new king at all costs, and they agreed. Then, as if to solidify their commitment, he equipped these men with “spears and shields that had been King David’s, which were in the house of the Lord” ( 2 Kings 11:10 ESV). This was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder that Joash was a descendant of the great king, David, and the rightful heir to the throne of Judah.

Having instigated plans to provide protection for Joash, Jehoiada took the next steps to make inaugurate the new king of Judah.

Then he brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony. And they proclaimed him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, “Long live the king!” – 2 Kings 11:12 ESV

After six years under the reign of Athaliah, the fate of Judah was about to take a dramatic turn. From the holy temple of God, a cry would go out, declaring that Judah had a new king. The sovereign plan of God was alive and well, and it was about to be revealed in the life of a seven-year-old boy named Joash. And it’s interesting to note that Joash’s name means, “given by the Lord.” He would be a gracious gift from God Almighty, providing immediate hope for the people of Judah and a link to the future promise of the Messiah.

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

 

When Dreams Turn Into Nightmares

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.”

11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” 14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. 2 Kings 4:8-25 ESV

When Elijah had been the prophet of God to Israel, his ministry seemed to focus on the royal household. Virtually all of the interactions he had were with King Ahab or his wife, Jezebel. And while Elisha had begun his own prophetic ministry with a confrontation between himself and King Jehoram, he seems to have been a prophet to the people. In the last story, Elisha came to the aid of a recently widowed woman who was facing the prospect of having her two sons sold into slavery because of an unpaid debt. In a sense, this woman represented the nation of Israel. She had been left destitute by her husband, a former prophet of God. While alive, this man of God had incurred a sizeable debt, and had he made no plans for its repayment in the case of his death. In a real sense, the people of Israel found themselves spiritually destitute and owing a large debt to God Almighty. Their kings had taken advantage of God’s love and mercy, using His resources to fund their own profligate lifestyles. They had lived for the moment, never considering what would happen when God called their debt due. Jeroboam, Ahab, Ahaziah, and now, Jehoram, all led the people into idolatry and left them with a debt they could not pay.

But Elisha had intervened on the widow’s behalf, providing her with a miracle that eliminated her debt, spared her sons, and met her needs for a long time to come. Through the actions of His faithful prophet, the God of Israel revealed His love and concern for His covenant people. Now, the story shifts to yet another encounter between Elisha and a woman in need. But this time, the woman isn’t even aware that she has a need.

For some unspecified reason, Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, made regular trips to the northern region of Israel that took them to the city of Shunem. In this city, Elisha made the acquaintance of a local woman who offered the prophet and his servant access to her home so they could rest. Realizing that Elisha was a prophet of Yahweh she showed him hospitality and even had her husband construct a room on the roof of their home where the two men could stay when they were in town.

Unlike the widow in the previous story, this woman was apparently wealthy and well-cared for. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. But she was also generous and willing to share what she had with others. The gracious hospitality she extended to the prophet of God reveals that, despite the apostasy all around her, she had maintained her dedication to Yahweh.

Desiring to thank the woman for her courtesy and care, Elisha sent his servant to ask what they could do for her. He wanted to repay her for her kindness. But it’s interesting to note that he offered to speak a good word on her behalf to the king or the commander of the army. Why would the prophet of Yahweh offer to act as an intermediary between this woman and these two apostate leaders of Israel? Perhaps it was a test, designed to see if the woman was a true follower of Yahweh. Would his offer of access to the king pique her interest and reveal a self-aggrandizing side to her personality? Or, instead, would she ask the prophet of God to appeal to Yahweh on her behalf?

But the woman simply responded, “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13 ESV). This rather cryptic-sounding statement was her way of saying, “I’m just fine. I’m well-taken care of and in need of nothing.”

Yet, Elisha somehow senses that her answer was not quite honest. She was hiding something. And it was Gehazi who made the keen observation that she and her husband were childless. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but she had no sons to carry on the family name. And Gehazi had recognized that her husband was advanced in years.

While the woman in the previous story had been without a husband, she had been blessed with two sons. But the Shunnamite woman had a husband but no children. For the moment, the woman had no perceived need, but the day was coming when her husband would die with no male heirs to whom he could leave his land and estate. In that culture, the inheritance could not be passed on to the wife. So, without a son, she would be left with nothing. She didn’t realize it, but her predicament was far more precarious than she imagined.

So, Elisha called the woman in and informed her, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!” (2 Kings 4:16 NLT). Her reaction to this news reveals that she had long ago given up hope of ever having a son.

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” – 2 Kings 4:16 NLT

When Elisha had asked the woman what he could do for her, she had hidden the desire of her heart. She gave the impression that she had no need and was perfectly fine. But she had lied. Her heart longed for a son but she had become convinced that her dream would never become a reality. So, she lived with a constant fear of the future. What would happen to her when her husband died? How would she survive?

But, once again, Elisha, operating on behalf of Yahweh, spoke a word of blessing over the woman, predicting that she would give birth to a son. And his words proved true. God did a miracle and gave the woman the desire of her heart. She conceived and gave birth to a son. But the story doesn’t stop there.

In the space of just a few verses, the author reveals that the storybook ending was about to take a dark turn. This precious gift from God was going to be suddenly and unexpectedly taken away. One day, while visiting his father in the fields, the young boy complained of a headache. He was rushed home and, later that same day, he passed away in the arms of his mother. Every detail of this story makes the reader want to ask, “Why?” None of this makes sense. Why would God give this woman a son and then allow him to be taken away? What good did it do for her to give birth to a son if he would never live long enough to become the heir? The woman was no better off than before. If anything, her sorrow was only intensified by the loss of her long-awaited son.

But the actions of the woman reveal something about her faith. Upon her son’s death, she took the body and laid it on the prophet’s bed. Then she ordered her husband to saddle a donkey so she could fetch the prophet. At this point, it seems that the boy’s father was unaware that his son had died. For whatever reason, the woman chose to keep him in the dark, assuring him, “All is well” (2 Kings 4:23 ESV). Her son was dead but she still had hope. She knew that the very same man who had predicted the birth of her son would know what to do. This time, rather than hide her need, she sought the one who could do something about it. And she found Elisha at Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal.

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

God Is Not Done

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
– Micah 5:1-5a ESV

Verse 1 of chapter five provides a connecting link back to the theme of chapter four. In the Hebrew Bible, it is actually included as the last verse of chapter four. But regardless of its placement, its message is the same. Jerusalem is being called to muster its troops because the enemy will soon arrive and lay siege to the city.  Jerusalem had a long history associated with warfare. For centuries, nations had battled over this prominent sight located on the top of Mount Zion. According to 2 Samuel 5, David took the city from the Jebusites.

David then led his men to Jerusalem to fight against the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the land who were living there. The Jebusites taunted David, saying, “You’ll never get in here! Even the blind and lame could keep you out!” For the Jebusites thought they were safe. But David captured the fortress of Zion, which is now called the City of David. – 2 Samuel 5:6-7 NLT

Micah refers to Jerusalem as “the daughter of troops,” indicating its long association with warfare. Even after David made Jerusalem his capital city, this prime piece of real estate in the Middle East would remain a battle ground, attracting the attention of countless enemies who longed to displace the Jews and make it their own. And Micah reveals that an enemy is coming who will do just that. This time, the walls will be breached and the “judge of Israel” will be struck on the cheek.

This is most likely a reference to King Zedekiah, the man who had the unenviable experience of sitting on the throne when the Babylonians showed up to sack the city of Jerusalem. The imagery of him being struck on the cheek is meant to convey the idea of abject humiliation. Micah is warning that this judge or ruler over Israel is going to be publicly shamed and humiliated by those who conquer the city of Jerusalem. And the book of 2 Kings provides us with the grizzly details of what happened.

So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:1-7 NLT

Verse 1 is dealing with a future event, but one that will take place in a relatively short period of time. As Micah penned these words, the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was still unfulfilled, but it was inevitable and unavoidable.

But suddenly, Micah turns his attention to the fate of another city in Judah and to the exploits of another ruler. Verses 2-5 are intended to provide a stark contrast to the events described in chapter four.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth.
Writhe and groan like a woman in labor,
    you people of Jerusalem,
for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon. – Micah 4:9-10 NLT

Unlike the city of Jerusalem, the small village of Bethlehem Ephrathah could look forward to a brighter future. Micah utilizes the two names most commonly associated with this town. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Ephrathah means “place of fruitfulness.” While Jerusalem had been King David’s capital city, Bethlehem was his birthplace.

Micah refers to Bethlehem as “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2 ESV). He purposefully accentuates the insignificance of this obscure village, located just five and a half miles due south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem paled in comparison to the capital city with its high walls, luxurious palace, and its temple inlaid with gold and precious stones. A nondescript village like Bethlehem would be overlooked by the Babylonians troops as they made their way to Jerusalem. It had nothing to offer. It contained no palaces to pillage and no fine homes laden with treasures. And yet, Micah signifies that this inconsequential town will have an important role to play in Israel’s future. God had revealed to Micah that Bethlehem was going to be the birthplace of yet another individual who, like David, would rule over the nation of Israel.

…from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Here, Micah uses a different Hebrew word than the one he used in verse one. When Micah referred to the “judge” who would be humiliated at the hands of the Babylonians, he used the word shaphat. This was most likely intended as a form of wordplay because the Hebrew word for “rod” is shebet. These two similar-sounding words were meant to drive home his main point: The proud and arrogant king of Israel would be humiliated. 

But in verse two, Micah uses the Hebrew word mashal, which means “to rule” or “to have dominion.” Unlike Zedekiah, who would see his reign brought to an abrupt and ignominious end, this future ruler over Israel “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God” (Micah 5:4 ESV).

This ruler will do what Zedekiah and his predecessors failed to do: Shepherd the flock of God. And he will do so in the strength of the Lord and for the majesty of His name. He will be faithful. He will be successful. He will be righteous. And he will be eternal. Notice what Micah has to say about this future king of Israel. He describes him in rather cryptic terms, saying his “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2 ESV). This is meant to set apart this individual as something more than just another human king.

The prophet Ezekiel links this future King of Israel with the former king whom God had designated as a man after His own heart.

“And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:23-24 NLT

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. – Ezekiel 37:24-25 NLT

But this is not describing a resurrected and resuscitated King David who will regain his throne in Jerusalem. Ezekiel is prophesying the coming of one who will also be a man after God’s own heart and rule the nation of Israel as David did.

He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
    Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
    and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

The apostle Paul describes this future King of Israel as coming from the very throne room of God and taking on human flesh.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

And, in his gospel account, Matthew records just how this King was born as a human being.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
    who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

And Micah reveals that the people of Judah would find themselves “given up” by God until the time of Jesus’ birth was ordained to take place.

Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Jesus Christ was born in the city of Bethlehem. He was a Jew, a descendant of David, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. But His own people rejected Him as their Messiah. They refused to accept Him as their King, choosing instead to betray Him to the Romans, falsely accusing Him of fomenting insurrection against Caesar. So, He was crucified as a punishment for His “crimes.” And the description of His crime was carved into a wooden plaque and placed on the cross upon which He was nailed.

So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull (in Hebrew, Golgotha). There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. And Pilate posted a sign on the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:16-19 NLT

The Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Him. And, while He continues to be ignored by the vast majority of His fellow citizens of Israel, Micah prophesies concerning a future day when the chosen people of God will have their eyes opened and their relationship with God fully restored.

…the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel. – Micah 5:3 ESV

Micah referred to this event back in chapter two, when he quoted the promise of God.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds! – Micah 2:12 NLT

Jesus Christ will be the fulfillment of this promise. But it did not take place at His first coming. So, it remains as yet unfulfilled. But God is not done. He has a plan in place and He will bring it about in His perfect timing. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, God has great things in store for Israel.

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:26-27 NLT

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

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

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

Trust Him

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. – Micah 4:9-13 ESV

Micah has given the people of Judah a glimpse into the future, providing them with a hope-filled description of God’s redemptive plan concerning them. Now, he rather abruptly brings them back to earth with a reminder of their more pressing fate. They still had the looming reality of God’s pending judgment hanging over their heads. Their centuries-worth of sin and rebellion against God had to be punished.

So, Micah paints a foreboding picture of just how difficult and dark those days will be. He fast-forwards the timeline again, providing them with a prophetic glimpse into the not-so-distant future and describes the horrific scene of the Babylonians invading Jerusalem. He describes the people crying out in pain and anguish as they watch the destruction of their beloved city. They have no one to lead them. Their king has been taken captive. Their army has fallen. All the prophets and priests who had promised them that everything would be okay, have been exiled as slaves to Babylon. And the book of 2 Kings confirms the accuracy of Micah’s prediction.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:3-7 NLT

The devastation and destruction will be horrific. Nothing will remain untouched or spared from the wrath of the Babylonian army as it pillages and plunders the city of all its treasures. Again, the book of 2 Kings provides detailed confirmation as to the accuracy of Micah’s words.

Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard and an official of the Babylonian king, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned down the Temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem. He destroyed all the important buildings in the city. Then he supervised the entire Babylonian army as they tore down the walls of Jerusalem on every side. – 2 Kings 25:9-10 NLT

Micah compares the pain of the people to that of a woman in the midst of childbirth. This imagery is meant to link the very real pain they will experience as a result of God’s judgment with the future joy they will feel when God redeems them from their captivity in Babylon.

This section of Micah’s book is filled with a rather strange admixture of present and future scenes. He is compressing the timeline in such a way that it is difficult to know what is going to happen when. But Micah is not trying to provide the people of Judah with a detailed calendar of dates or give them a hard-and-fast outline of coming attractions. He is trying to let them know that God is in complete control of every detail concerning their past, present, and future. God exists outside of time. He knows the future just as well as He knows the past. He was intimately familiar with every detail concerning the coming Babylonian invasion. And He was just as aware of every circumstance surrounding the return of a remnant of His people from Babylon to Judah 70 years later. And Micah combines all these events into one seamless whole, in an effort to assure the people of Judah that everything was in the sovereign hands of God.

…for now you must leave this city
    to live in the open country.
You will soon be sent in exile
    to distant Babylon.
But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

In Micah’s day, Judah had no shortage of enemies who longed to see her demise. In spite of their disobedience and sin, the people of Judah had enjoyed a certain degree of success. As a nation, they had continued to play a prominent role in the oftentimes volatile affairs of the Middle East. Over the years, they had made a great many enemies who would love nothing better than to see them destroyed. And when the Babylonians finally invaded Judah, these nations not only rejoiced, they took advantage of the situation, claiming the former territories of Judah as their own.

But Micah assures his countrymen that these enemies of Judah were overlooking one very important fact.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

When the time for Judah’s fall finally came, these nations would see an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances. But they would be ignorant of God’s much larger and longer-term plans concerning Judah. And they would be completely oblivious to His plans for them. But, once again, Micah compresses the timeline, inserting events that will take place in the “latter days.” Here he is describing the judgment of God against the nations of the earth that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ. The prophet Zechariah provides a detailed account of what will happen to all those who stand opposed to God and His chosen people when Christ returns.

And the Lord will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day they will be terrified, stricken by the Lord with great panic. They will fight their neighbors hand to hand. Judah, too, will be fighting at Jerusalem. The wealth of all the neighboring nations will be captured—great quantities of gold and silver and fine clothing. This same plague will strike the horses, mules, camels, donkeys, and all the other animals in the enemy camps.

In the end, the enemies of Jerusalem who survive the plague will go up to Jerusalem each year to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. Any nation in the world that refuses to come to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, will have no rain. If the people of Egypt refuse to attend the festival, the Lord will punish them with the same plague that he sends on the other nations who refuse to go. Egypt and the other nations will all be punished if they don’t go to celebrate the Festival of Shelters. – Zechariah 14:12-19 NLT

Once again, Micah brings in a scene from the distant future, allowing the people of Judah to see what God has planned for them as a nation.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:13 NLT

Micah wants them to understand that this event is just as certain as their coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. God had a plan in place that was all-inclusive and completely trustworthy. He had left nothing up to chance. Their unfaithfulness would do nothing to diminish the faithfulness of God. Yes, He would punish them for their sins, but the day was coming when He would restore them. He would bring judgment upon them for their refusal to repent, but He would also send His Son one day to rescue them from the days of Tribulation.

How easy it is to lose sight of God’s sovereign plan and focus on the more immediate circumstances surrounding us. The people of Judah were fixating on the threat of Babylonian invasion and the destruction of their nation. But Micah was attempting to remind them that their God was not only greater than their problem, but He was also in complete control of it. Everything they were facing and fearing was coming through the sovereign hands of God. And He had more in store for them than they could ever imagine. While the enemies of Judah were clueless concerning God’s future plans for Judah, He was not. And the prophet Jeremiah provided the following words of comfort directly from the lips of God.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

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

Failure to Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

The judgment of God was coming against Israel and Judah. But why? The answer to that question is found in chapter one: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5 ESV). And both Israel and Judah stood as guilty and condemned by God. But just in case anyone was thinking about arguing their case, Micah provides a detailed list of crimes worthy of conviction.

While chapter one included God’s indictments against Israel and Judah, in chapter two the focus shifts to the southern kingdom of Judah. After all, as one of its residents, Micah had been appointed by God to deliver his message of judgment and call to repentance to his own people. And God wanted Micah to make it painfully clear that when the nation fell, it would not be the result of blind fate or because of the imperialistic ambitions of a foreign power. No, it would be because of their many sins against God. The grounds for their future fall would be their own wickedness. The source of their ultimate demise would be their sovereign, holy, and righteous God.

Micah proceeds to itemize the many sins of the people of Judah through a series of woes. The term “woe” was often used to express sorrow or lament but in this case, Micah is using it as a threat or announcement of pending judgment because of guilt.

Unrighteousness had become so prolific in Judah that there were those who spend their nights concocting plans to commit acts of wickedness the next day. They literally dreamed of sinning. And, because they had the financial resources and power to put those plans into action, “When the morning dawns, they perform it” (Micah 2:1 ESV).

This first woe seems to be directed at the rich and powerful in Judah, who were using their influence to take advantage of the less fortunate among them. They were growing richer by means of extortion and graft. They were motivated by greed and devoid of compassion, using their formidable resources and connections to satisfy their insatiable lust for more.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

The actions of these individuals were driven by a love of self. They exhibited the characteristics outlined by James centuries later.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

These people were guilty of violating the tenth commandment.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
 – Exodus 21:17 NLT

And because they were using their power and influence to turn their thoughts of covetousness into reality, they were also guilty of breaking the eighth commandment, which prohibited stealing. And to top it all off, they were guilty of violating what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment of God. “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT).

James accused these kinds of people of spiritual adultery. They were guilty of making a god out of money and material possessions.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

They were worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver. And they took great pride in their affluence and in their ability to increase their wealth through cunning and deceit. But Micah warns them that there will be serious consequences for their actions.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

Notice his emphasis on pride. That is exactly what James points out in his letter when addressing the spiritual adulterers of his day.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:6-10 NLT

Pride and arrogance have no place in the life of a child of God. Everything we have comes from the gracious hand of God, as James makes clear in his letter.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

And what we have been given by God is intended for the good of all. His blessings are meant to be shared. There is no place for selfishness and self-centeredness among God’s people. Greed, lust, and covetousness are antithetical to the life of righteousness to which we have been called. And the same thing was true of the people of Judah in Micah’s day. Long before they had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had promised that He would bless them and that He expected them to use those blessings to care for one another. His gracious gifts were to be lovingly shared, not greedily hoarded.

“There should be no poor among you, for the LORD your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession. You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NLT

But generations later, the people of God had proven their inability and unwillingness to follow God’s commands. So, Micah warns them that the very evil they had committed was about to come upon them. These greedy, covetous people would find themselves the victims of someone else’s dreams of conquest and acquisition. The Babylonians would show up one day and use their great power, wealth, and influence to relieve the proud people of Judah of their homes, lands, and dignity. Micah warns that the once-prideful people of God will sing a doleful dirge, lamenting their fall from grace.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
    God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
    He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us.” – Micah 2:4 NLT

God was going to take away the very land He had given to them as their inheritance. He would deprive them of the source of their abundance and fruitfulness. The fields and houses they had stolen from others would be taken from them. They would be left with nothing. No inheritance, no land, no homes, no flocks, no herds, no grains, no fruit, and no hope. And all because they had chosen to disobey the will of God.

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. – Deuteronomy 15:10-11 NLT

Because of their disobedience, the entire land of Judah would become inhabited by the poor. Those who had been graciously blessed by God, but had become dissatisfied with His gifts, would one day find themselves mourning their losses. Both Israel and Judah had been blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to others. But they had failed to use God’s gifts wisely and selflessly. They had become plagued by pride, arrogance, greed, and covetousness. And they were going to learn the invaluable lesson that Jesus would later share.

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:48 NLT

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

Entrance Into the Kingdom

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” –  Matthew 19:23-30 ESV

It’s essential that we not separate the content of these verses from the encounter that Jesus had with the rich young man. Verse 22 ended with the sobering statement: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

When Jesus had instructed the man to sell all he possessed, give it to the poor and follow him, the man had simply walked away. He considered the cost too high. In his mind, the price Jesus seemed to have placed on eternal life was too steep to pay. This man couldn’t bear the thought of giving up all that he possessed in order to gain eternal life. So Matthew records that the man went away sorrowful.

But we must not miss two critical statements made by Jesus that help give clarity to what Jesus told His disciples after the man’s departure. Two different times in His exchange with the young man, Jesus addressed his desire to know what he had to do to gain eternal life.

If you would enter life… – vs. 17

If you would be perfect… – vs. 21

And in both cases, Jesus had followed up those statements with action steps:

…keep the commandments. – vs. 17

go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. – vs. 21

Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t know. It was not a case of whether the man would or wouldn’t keep Jesus’ instructions. It was that he couldn’t. It was impossible. While the young man claimed to have kept the five commandments Jesus outlined, there was no way he had done so perfectly. And it is painfully clear that the young man loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God. In other words, he had broken the very first commandment because he had made a god out of material things. And he was willing to sacrifice the hope of eternal life with God in order to hold on to his false god of materialism.

So, as the disciples watched the man walk away, Jesus used the moment as a teaching opportunity. He made a statement that must have caught them by surprise.

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24 ESV

For the disciples, this statement made no sense. As Jews, they had always understood a person’s wealth to be a sign of God’s blessing. They had been taught to believe that one of the primary ways in which God bestowed His favor upon men was through material possessions. When they looked at the lives of the patriarchs, like Abraham, Joseph, and David, they saw men who had been greatly blessed by God with great wealth. And they aspired to be blessed in the same way.

So, the words of Jesus caught them off guard. They were inconsistent with their understanding of how life worked. Which explains their astonishment and their question to Jesus: “Who then can be saved?”

Their train of thought had jumped the tracks. The words of Jesus were illogical and disturbing. Their question to Jesus might be expressed this way: “If those who are obviously blessed by God are going to have a difficult time entering the kingdom of heaven, then what hope do we have?”

The disciples were far from wealthy. They had little in the way of possessions. And nobody looked up to them or aspired to be like them. But their whole concept of God’s blessings was warped. They had not yet understood what Jesus had said in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…” – Matthew 5:3-11 ESV

God’s standard of blessing or approval was not wealth. It was an attitude of spiritual poverty and complete reliance upon God. When it came to the kingdom of heaven, the self-reliant and self-sufficient would be denied entrance. Those who determine to make comfort and ease their goal in this life will miss out on the joys of eternal life.

This discussion left the disciples confused and led them to ask, “Who then can be saved?” It’s important to note that they were not using the term “saved” in the same sense we would. They were not tying salvation to the gospel, but to man’s entrance into eternal life. And their understanding was much like that of the rich young man. They believed that eternal life was a reward for the good things done in this life.

But Jesus shocked them when He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). The word “this” ties back the idea of salvation or the earning of eternal life. It is impossible for any man to earn his way into God’s kingdom. And not only that, it was going to be particularly difficult for the wealthy. Why? Because, like the young man who had just walked away, they would find their wealth to be a barrier to saving faith. Materialism has a way of masking our needs. It keeps us from recognizing our true spiritual poverty. Money can buy us a false sense of peace and security. It can make us feel invincible and invulnerable. 

And if you believe that your wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, you will have little impetus to see yourself as someone in need of God’s forgiveness.

This whole exchange began with Jesus describing the need for childlike faith. The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They falsely viewed prominence and position as a sign of favor with God. But Jesus had told them, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). Now, He was expanding on this thought by saying it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man lacked the humble, innocent, and completely dependent faith that displayed his need for God.

And Jesus stressed the sheer impossibility of it all by using an extremely ludicrous illustration. A rich man could no more earn his way into God’s kingdom than a camel could squeeze through the eye of a needle.

Always quick to share his opinion, Peter asked, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”

It’s obvious that Peter was thinking of the words Jesus had spoken to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21 ESV). In Peter’s mind, he had done what Jesus had asked. He had sacrificed greatly in order to follow Jesus so, he wanted to know what was in it for him. What would be his reward? Remember what Jesus told the young man. If he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor, he would “have treasure in heaven.” So, Peter wanted to know what he was going to get for all of his sacrifices.

Jesus answered Peter’s question, but not in the way that he had hoped.

“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:28-29 ESV

Jesus assured Peter that he would have a reward, but it would be far different than what he was expecting. Jesus revealed that there was a day coming when He would establish His kingdom on earth. He would sit on the throne of David and rule from Jerusalem. But that day was in the far-distant future. He was speaking of His millennial kingdom, which will take place after His second coming. And in that kingdom, the 12 disciples will receive their reward. They will rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. They will have positions of power and prominence. They will rule alongside the Messiah in His millennial kingdom.

But in the meantime, they were going to be called to sacrifice. The disciples would be required to give up far more than could imagine. Most of these men would end up sacrificing their lives on behalf of the kingdom of God. They would face persecution and difficulty. And Jesus had already warned them of the reality of their future fate.

“But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  – Matthew 10:17-20 NLT

Their reward would be in the future. And it would be tied to eternal life in the kingdom of God. So, rather than seeking their reward in the here-and-now, they were to focus their attention on the hereafter. In this life, they would be required to sacrifice. They would have to die to self and serve God, not material things. Their faith was to be based on the future reward promised to them by God through Christ. They needed to stop viewing the kingdom from a worldly perspective. Wealth, power, and prominence in this life were no guarantees of eternal life. Salvation is a work of God. And nothing is impossible for Him. While we can never earn our salvation, God has made it possible for all who place childlike faith in His Son to receive the unmerited reward of life everlasting.

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

No One Like Him

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 ESV

The fateful day finally arrived. Moses had known for some time that he would never cross over the Jordan and walk in the land of Canaan. He had spent more than 40 years of his 120-year-long life leading the people to the land of promise, but he would never set foot in that land.  He had sinned against God and would pay the consequences for that sin. And that time had come.

As the people of Israel prepared to enter Canaan, God led Moses up to the top of Mount Nebo, located in the plains of Moab. From that vantage point, “the Lord showed him all the land,” from Dan in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. Directly across the valley, Moses would have seen the area on which the temple would later be erected by Solomon. His unobstructed view from the mountaintop would have given him a bird’s-eye perspective of the land promised by God to Abraham. And as Moses scanned the horizon, he was reminded by God:

“This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes…” – Deuteronomy 34:4 ESV

God had fulfilled His promise. He had done what He had said He would do. And now, He was allowing Moses to take it all in, but He would not allow Moses to go in.

“…but you shall not go over there.” – Deuteronomy 34:4 ESV

What an emotional moment this must have been for Moses. To stand, gazing into the vast valley that lay before him, realizing that he was looking at the fulfillment of a nearly half-century of toil and effort on his part. From the moment God had called him in Midian and assigned him the task of rescuing the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses had done all that God had asked Him to do. Sure, he had displayed a bit of reluctance early on, doubting that the people of Israel would buy his explanation that God had sent him as their deliverer.

“But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” – Exodus 4:1 ESV

So, God had given Moses tangible proof that the people would listen to what he had to say. He performed a sign, a somewhat disturbing and disconcerting sign. God turned the Moses’ shepherd staff into a snake and then commanded that he pick it up by the tail. When Moses did as God commanded, the snake transformed back into the staff. But God was not done. He commanded that Moses place his hand inside his cloak. Much to his shock and dismay, Moses removed his hand, only to find that it was covered with leprosy. Yet, God miraculously restored it.

But even with these miraculous signs as proof, Moses questioned his own qualifications to act as God’s spokesman.

“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10 ESV

At this point, Moses was making excuses. He was doing everything in his power to get out of the task God had assigned to him. But God wasn’t interested in Moses’ qualifications. HIs choice of Moses wasn’t based on anything this former murderer and fugitive from justice could bring to the table. God didn’t ask Moses to be eloquent or powerful. He didn’t pick Moses based on his impressive resume or track record as a leader. When God appeared to Moses, it was in the middle of Midian, where Moses had been leading sheep, not men. So, God assured Moses that He didn’t need him to be eloquent or persuasive. He simply needed him to be obedient.

“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” – Exodus 4:12-13 ESV

But Moses had displayed a stubborn resistance to God’s will, begging that He find someone else to do this impossible task.

“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” – Exodus 4:13 ESV

But God didn’t let Moses off the hook. Instead, He gave Moses an assistant, someone who would walk alongside him and share the burden of leadership with him. God added Aaron, Moses’ brother, to the team.

“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.  He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.” – Exodus 4:15-16 ESV

These two men became God’s reluctant delivers. Together, they would confront Pharaoh and demand that he release the people of Israel from their slavery. Together, they would call down the plagues upon the nation of Egypt, bringing about the eventual release of the Israelites. Together, they would lead the people across the wilderness. And together, they would dishonor God before the people, and suffer the consequences for their actions. Years earlier, Aaron had been led by God to the top of another mountain, Mount Hor, where his life was taken by God. He was not allowed to enter the land of promise either.

“Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” – Numbers 20:24-26 ESV

And now, Moses was standing on the top of Mount Nebo, where he would experience the very same fate as his brother, Aaron.

 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. – Deuteronomy 34:5-6 ESV

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the death of Moses. And the book of Jude makes it even more difficult to understand what happened.

 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” – Jude 9 ESV

We have no idea what this means or to what Peter is referring. But suffice it to say, Moses disappeared from the scene and “no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” Moses died at a ripe old age, but “His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.” In other words, he was in good health when God took him home. And his departure made way for Joshua to take over the reins of leadership.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Deuteronomy 34:9 ESV

A new era was beginning. But God closed out the legacy of Moses with the following words:

No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses, who knew the Lord face to face. He did all the signs and wonders the Lord had sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, all his servants, and the whole land, and he displayed great power and awesome might in view of all Israel. – Deuteronomy 34:10-12 NLT

Moses received God’s “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” He had walked with God. He had done signs and wonders on behalf of God.  And he had done it all in the power of God. Moses had been called by God, led by God, empowered by God, and, ultimately, taken home by God. He had served his Master well, and there is little doubt that Moses heard those comforting words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew25:23 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.

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

There Is None Like God

23 And of Naphtali he said,

“O Naphtali, sated with favor,
    and full of the blessing of the Lord,
    possess the lake and the south.”

24 And of Asher he said,

“Most blessed of sons be Asher;
    let him be the favorite of his brothers,
    and let him dip his foot in oil.
25 Your bars shall be iron and bronze,
    and as your days, so shall your strength be.

26 “There is none like God, O Jeshurun,
    who rides through the heavens to your help,
    through the skies in his majesty.
27 The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
And he thrust out the enemy before you
    and said, ‘Destroy.’
28 So Israel lived in safety,
    Jacob lived alone,
in a land of grain and wine,
    whose heavens drop down dew.
29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,
    a people saved by the Lord,
the shield of your help,
    and the sword of your triumph!
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
    and you shall tread upon their backs.” Deuteronomy 33:23-29 ESV

The last two tribes to receive the blessing of Moses are those of Naphtali and Asher. Once Israel entered Canaan and began their conquest and occupation of the land, these two tribes would eventually settle in the northern region, encompassing the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Dan, the city that would become home to one of the golden calves set up by King Jeroboam in the northern kingdom of Israel.

These two tribes would eventually find themselves living on very rich and fertile land with Asher enjoying access to the Mediterranean Sea. The tribe of Naphtali would own the entire eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, providing it with easy access to fresh water and the abundance of fish it contained. The Dan River, emanating from Mount Herman, flowed into the Jordan and on to the Sea of Galilee, providing a ready source of fresh water year-round.  So, these two tribes enjoyed fertile land and access to ample natural resources. In his blessing of them, Moses made reference to their favorable circumstances, even before the Israelites had crossed the Jordan or the land had been allotted.

“O Naphtali, sated with favor,
    and full of the blessing of the Lord,
    possess the lake and the south.” – Deuteronomy 33:23 ESV

“Most blessed of sons be Asher;
    let him be the favorite of his brothers,
    and let him dip his foot in oil. – Deuteronomy 33:24 ESV

This last phrase is likely a reference to olive oil, a symbol of blessing and prosperity. The land the tribe of Asher would occupy in Canaan was abundant in olive trees and this commodity would be in high demand among the other tribes, providing Asher with a lucrative market.

The blessing Jacob gave to Naphtali is a bit vague and difficult to understand.

“Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.”
– Genesis 49:21 ESV

Their designation as a “doe let loose” seem to convey a certain freedom they would enjoy as a tribe. And the second half of Jacob’s blessing can best be translated as “he gives beautiful words” (NET). The tribe of Naphtali would live in a large, fertile region of Canaan, and they would have a positive influence on the rest of the tribes.

But for all the abundance of their lands and the positive qualities associated with these two tribes, the book of Judges reveals that neither Naphtali or Asher were successful in driving out the inhabitants of their allotted territories.

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them. – Judges 1:33 ESV

God would bless them abundantly, but they would fail to live fully obedient to His commands. The phrase, “so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites” is meant to convey shock and surprise. They would directly violate the revealed will of God, choosing instead to compromise their convictions and maintain a relationship with their enemies that was based on convenience and concessions. The tribe of Asher was supposed to have become the new inhabitants of the land, but their refusal to eliminate the Canaanites, left them as interlopers in a land that God had provided as their inheritance.

And the author of Judges states that the tribe of Naphtali fared no better, choosing to live among the Canaanites rather than do as God said and eradicate them from the land.

The book of Judges goes on to tell the story of a future leader from the tribe of Naphtali. This man’s name was Barak, and he had been commanded by God to raise an army of 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, in order to attack the Canaanites. But he refused. Instead, he waited for Deborah, the God-appointed judge over Israel to show up and lead the army. And when Deborah got word, she sent for Barak and questioned why he had refused to obey the Lord.

“Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  – Judges 4:6-8 ESV

Deborah agreed to fight alongside Barak and his army, but she delivered some less-than-encouraging news.

“I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” – Judges 4:9 ESV

God gave them the victory that day, but it was at the hands of a woman named Jael. During the battle, Sisera, a Canaanite general fled from the scene and sought refuge in Jael’s tent. He begged her to keep watch while he rested in her tent, but instead, Jael took matters into her own hands – literally.

But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. – Judges 4:21 ESV

As with the rest of the blessings Moses gave, they reveal that God was going to use these tribes in ways they could not imagine or fully predict. Even the blessings pronounced by Jacob hundreds of years earlier would be fulfilled, but in ways that he could have never understood. These blessings say far more about the sovereignty of God than they illuminate the future of the various tribes. Both Jacob and Moses knew that God was the key to whether Israel survived or thrived.

That is why Moses closes up this section with an emphasis on God and His greatness.

“There is no one like the God of Israel.
    He rides across the heavens to help you,
    across the skies in majestic splendor.
The eternal God is your refuge,
    and his everlasting arms are under you.
He drives out the enemy before you;
    he cries out, ‘Destroy them!’” – Deuteronomy 33:26-27 NLT

All the great things Moses had to say about the tribes were meant to reflect on the goodness of God. He is the one true God who operates from His heavenly kingdom, from where He controls all the affairs of earth. He was going to help Israel by providing them with refuge and driving out the enemies before them. But as Judges 1 reveals, the tribes of Israel would doubt the word of God, refusing to do their part in the elimination of the Canaanites. And their failure to remove the pagan nations from their midst would end up diluting their effectiveness and diminishing their faithfulness.

As Moses wraps up his oration to the people of Israel, his last will and testament, he reminds them that God was their help and hope.

So Israel will live in safety,
    prosperous Jacob in security,
in a land of grain and new wine,
    while the heavens drop down dew.
How blessed you are, O Israel!
    Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord?
He is your protecting shield
    and your triumphant sword!
Your enemies will cringe before you,
    and you will stomp on their backs!” – Deuteronomy 33:28-29 NLT

They could trust God. And, as long as they did, they would experience the blessings of God. His provision and protection, as well as their prosperity, were tied to their trust in God. As long as they stayed fully reliant upon His power and fully committed to keeping His commands, they could enjoy His favor and faithfulness. But time would reveal that each of the tribes would turn their backs on the very one who had saved them and was ready, willing, and able to bless 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