Blameless in Holiness

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV

Paul closes this section of his letter by reiterating his desire to return to Thessalonica. But as he shared earlier in the letter, that desire had been resisted by the enemy.

…we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 ESV

Yet, Paul knew that his path was determined by God, not Satan. He was fully convinced that his return to Thessalonica was in the hands of the Almighty, and it was his prayer that God the Father and God the Son would make it possible. The Greek word Paul used is kateuthynō, and it means to guide or make straight by the removal of any obstacles or hindrances. Paul will use this same Greek word in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 ESV

Paul knew that what God wanted done would be done. If He wanted Paul to return to Thessalonica, it would happen. Satan himself has no power to thwart God’s will. And Paul knew that God alone possesses the power to remove any obstacles to the believer’s spiritual journey, making it possible for them to experience the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

For Paul, God was the key to everything. The Trinity was the sole source of the believer’s strength and hope. The Father’s will for man’s redemption, made possible by the work of His Son on the cross, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the non-negotiable necessities behind the believer’s transformation from condemned sinner to glorified saint. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that any hope they had to live strong, blameless, and holy lives was totally dependent upon the Father, Son, and Spirit. And it was Paul’s constant prayer that God would “establish” or strengthen their hearts so that they might live worthy of their calling.

When Paul uses the word “heart,” he is not referring to the organ that pumps blood through the body. While the Greek word kardia did have that meaning, Paul was using it to refer to the center of all spiritual life. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes it as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.”

Paul knew that the external behavior of the Thessalonians was directly tied to the internal condition of their hearts. Jesus warned that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). The Old Testament proverb reads: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). The outward actions of our lives tend to flow from the inward condition of our hearts. That is why any attempts at behavior modification without transformation of the heart are doomed to failure.

The goal, as far as Paul was concerned, was a strong finish. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to run the race well and keep their eyes on the prize. For him, the journey was meaningless if you didn’t remain focused on the destination. That is how he lived his life.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And he expected all those under his spiritual care to follow his lead. Which is why he emphasizes “the coming of our Lord Jesus.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia and it was most often used by Paul to refer to the return of Christ. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul will provide the Thessalonians with insight into the day when Christ will return for His bride, the church.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

Jesus was coming back. That fact is a very important part of the gospel message. Jesus‘ first coming, while epic in nature and essential to the promise of salvation, is incomplete if He does not come again. Jesus promised the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. And He told them, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 NLT). The bad news was that He was leaving them. The good news was that He was coming back some day. And immediately after telling the disciples He was leaving but would be returning some day, He promised to send them His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” – John 14:27-28 NLT

That promise holds true for each and every believer in Christ. The Thessalonians had received the gift of the Spirit, who was fully capable of giving the peace of mind and heart. He had the power to transform their inner lives so that their outward behavior reflected their confidence and hope in the promise of their future glorification. Their ability to become like Christ was provided by the Spirit, who would guide and empower them until the return of Christ. But if Christ did not return before they died, they had nothing to fear because they would go to be with Him.

The promised return of Christ is meant to remind us that this life is not all there is. There is life after death. There is glory to come. This temporal existence will be followed by the eternal state. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). He told the Corinthian believers: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). And Peter shared Paul’s confident hope in the promise of God.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

One day we will stand before God blameless in holiness. We will be sinless and completely righteous. That future reality, guaranteed by the word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, is to keep us motivated as we live in this fallen, sin-filled world. Any momentary, light afflictions we may have to suffer in this life will pale in comparison to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us.

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

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

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

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Keep On Keeping On

18 Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Philippians 1:18-26 ESV

Paul opens this section by reconfirming his determination to rejoice in his circumstances. While news of his imprisonment had been disconcerting to the believers in Philippi, For Paul it was just another God-ordained opportunity to spread the gospel. And if others were attempting to take advantage of his situation by filling the role of messenger is his absence, so be it. As long as Christ was being lifted up, he was perfectly okay with it all, even if some of these people were motivated by envy and not a sincere love for the lost.

Paul knew that any success he had enjoyed in his ministry had not been because of his powers of persuasion, but it had been due to the power of the gospel. In writing to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul reminded them of the treatment he and Silas had suffered in Philippi because of their preaching of the gospel. Not long after their arrival in Philippi, they had cast a demon out of a young slave girl. With the exorcism of the demon, she lost her ability to act as a fortune teller for her masters and they lost a much-needed source of revenue. In an act of revenge, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates of the city, where the two men were severely beaten and thrown in jail. And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that all of this had taken place just prior to his arrival in their town.

You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a failure. You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 NLT

In spite of all that had happened in Philippi, Paul and his companions declared the Good News boldly in Thessalonica, even in the face of opposition. And they did so, not for money or the praise of men, but to please God as His faithful messengers. So, Paul was not concerned with the motives of others. As long as they were preaching salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, he was satisfied and could rejoice. Paul had never been in the ministry for what he could get out of it. For him, it was a calling, not a job. And He never saw himself as this gifted spokesman for God using his talents to further the Kingdom of God. He even describes himself as nothing more than a fragile clay jar containing the great treasure of the gospel message (2 Corinthians 4:7). And he wrote to the Corinthian believers, reminding them that their conversions were due to the power of the Spirit, not his own eloquence.

When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NLT

But as Paul writes to the Philippian believers from his house arrest in Rome, he shares with them the tremendous internal conflict he was having. It had nothing to do with a fear of death. He knew that was a possible outcome of his pending trial before Nero and he was perfectly at peace with that. In fact, he flatly stated, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23 ESV). He saw death as a reward, not a punishment. But he also struggled with the desire to continue his ministry among them. As much as he longed to be with the Lord, he felt that his work on Christ’s behalf was far from over. In fact, he told the Philippians, “I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith” (Philippians 1:25 NLT).

One thing motivated Paul’s actions and attitudes – bringing glory to the name of Christ. If he could do that through deliverance from prison and a continuation of his ministry, so be it. But if his trial resulted in a death sentence, he saw that as a gracious deliverance by God from this sin-marred world. When all was said and done, Paul simply wanted to honor Christ in all that he did, which is why he stated, “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die” (Philippians 1:20 NLT).

Paul was not making much of himself. He was not bragging about his superior spirituality or attempting to set himself up as some icon of righteousness and religious virtue. He was attempting to encourage the believers in Philippi to share the same perspective on life that he had. He didn’t view his arrest and imprisonment as a setback or a sign of God’s disfavor with him. He sincerely believed that it was all a part of God’s will for his life. By maintaining his focus on Christ and trusting in the will of God for his life, Paul had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11 NLT). So, he was able to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Philippians 4:12 NLT).

He knew that the Philippian believers were facing their own set of difficulties. They were going to have struggles in their faith journey, just as Paul had. And Paul wanted them to stay strong, to remain committed to the cause of Christ, and to see the sovereign hand of God in all that happened in and around their lives.

Paul was convinced that he was going to be released and that he would one day see them again. But in the meantime, he wanted to encourage them to keep on keeping on. Later on in this letter, Paul writes these powerful words of testimony and encouragement.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us… – Philippians 3:14 NLT

Then he follows up this statement of personal conviction and commitment with a call for them to follow his lead.

Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. – Philippians 3:17 NLT

And in the following verses, Paul will provide the Philippians with specific details concerning the conduct of all those who claim heavenly citizenship as God’s children.

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 Recipe for Restoration.

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.
For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
    and trust in oppression and perverseness
    and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill. – Isaiah 30:8-17 ESV

God commands Isaiah to make a permanent record of all that He has said against Judah. He wants it all in writing so that the people of Judah cannot disagree with the words that Isaiah spoke to them, or deny that they ever heard them. It seems that Isaiah is commanded to use two different mediums upon which to record God’s words against Judah. One was a tablet, on which he would inscribe the words and place in the public record. The second was a book or scroll, made of papyrus, on which he would record the very same words, but for future use. This scroll would be set aside and kept safe so that Isaiah could bring it out at a later date and remind the people of their refusal to listen to God. It would act as a permanent witness against them.

And all of this was necessary because the people were stubborn. God describes them as “a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). Like immature children, who think they can avoid anything bad by simply refusing to acknowledge its presence, the people of Judah begged their seers and prophets to stop giving them bad news.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right. – Isaiah 30:10 NLT

three-wise-monkeys-sculpture-in-bronze-finish-111676-p

They truly thought the could just escape the bad news by denying its reality. If they covered their ears, they wouldn’t hear. If they closed their eyes, they wouldn’t have to see what was happening around them and to them. And if the could only get everyone to stop talking about all this doom and gloom, they could go on with their lives. They could get back to business as usual. They even demanded that Isaiah change his message and tell them what they wanted to hear.

“Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:11 NLT

This reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. They were tired of hearing about God and His holiness. They even distance themselves from Yahweh, describing Him as Isaiah’s God, not their own. This desire to ignore God’s holiness and escape His judgment is nothing new. Remember, they had convinced themselves that God couldn’t see what they were doing anyway.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

This tendency among God’s people has always been around. Paul warned Timothy that the day would come in his own ministry when people would want their preachers to tell them nice things.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

For some reason, we think we can escape the truth by simply redefining it. In our day, we deny the reality of hell, by turning it into nothing more than the earthly results of our bad decision-making. Hell becomes figurative, not literal. But denying hell or redefining it, does not make it go away. Another major trend in modern evangelicalism is the emphasis being placed on the love of God, at the expense of His holiness. It goes something like this: A loving God would not send condemn anyone to an eternity in hell. Or another manifestation of this redefining of God shows up in a message of tolerance. We demand that a loving God is accepting of everyone and everything. He is all-loving. But in reaching this seemingly correct conclusion, we leave out the very important doctrine of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin. God does not tolerate sin. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin with His own life.

And God would tell us the same thing He said to the people of Judah:

“Because you despise what I tell you
    and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly.” – Isaiah 30:12-13 NLT

They didn’t like what God had to say. His words of condemnation and the constant call to repentance were not what they wanted to hear. So, they trusted in lies and half-truths. They changed the rules of the game. But their denunciation of Isaiah and their denial of his message would do nothing to alter the outcome. Their calamity was going to come – suddenly. Like a bulging wall that is on the brink of failure, their demise would take place quickly, and the consequences would be devastating. Their wall of lies and self-constructed truth was not going to stand the onslaught of God’s judgment. And God warns them, “You will be smashed like a piece of pottery—shattered so completely that
there won’t be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well” (Isaiah 30:14 NLT). 

But it didn’t have to be this way. Their inevitable destruction could have been avoided. And God makes it clear how they could have escaped what was about to happen.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

And it’s essential that we not miss how God refers to Himself in this passage. He is the “Holy One of Israel.” Remember, they had refused to recognize Him as such. But here, God is letting them know that He is their God, not just Isaiah’s. And He is holy. He is also sovereign. He is in complete control of all things, whether they want to admit it or not.

As the Holy One of Israel, He lets them know that remedy for their coming fall was simple. All they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him. Repent of their sin of trusting in Egypt, and rely upon Him instead.  It was that easy. And God lets them know that it was the only way they would find salvation. He uses two Hebrew words to describe what they had to do: shaqat and bitchah. The first refers to a state of rest or inactivity. It’s the thought conveyed by the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). It carries the idea of tranquility, even in the midst of trouble.

The second word has to do with a confidence that is a direct byproduct of trust. It is the same idea expressed by Isaiah earlier in this book.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
 – Isaiah 26:3 NLT

God spells out the remedy for what ailed them. But He also sadly states, “But you would have none of it” (Isaiah30:15 NLT). Rather than repenting and returning to God, they had made the decision to trust and find confidence in Egypt.

“No, we will get our help from Egypt.
    They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.” – Isaiah 30:16 NLT

But God breaks the bad news to them that their so-called savior was going to prove completely unreliable. The only swift horses they were going to see would be the ones their enemies rode. It would be a lopsided battle with the people of Judah completely routed and destroyed. And God describes their post-battle condition in bleak terms.

“You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
    or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” – Isaiah 30:17 NLT

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

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

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

The Fear of Losing Focus.

O Lord, you have deceived me,
    and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
    and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
    everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
    I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
    a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
    or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
    shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
    and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering.
    Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
    say all my close friends,
    watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we can overcome him
    and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
    therefore my persecutors will stumble;
    they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
    for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
    will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous,
    who sees the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
    for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
    praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
    from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
    on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
    let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
    making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
    that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
    and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
    so my mother would have been my grave,
    and her womb forever great.
Why did I come out from the womb
    to see toil and sorrow,
    and spend my days in shame? Jeremiah 20:7-18 ESV

This particular section of chapter 20 reflects a kind of spiritual schizophrenia that Jeremiah was undergoing. In just a few short verses he goes from accusing God of deceiving him to praising God for delivering him. Then he goes back to the emotional low point of wishing he had never been born. This reflects a man under extreme pressure. He is stressed out. His emotional battery is running is dangerously low and the daily responsibilities of his life as a prophet of God are catching up with him. He faces constant mocking from the people. They view him as a laughing stock and nobody takes him seriously. So, part of Jeremiah wants to just keep his mouth shut and give up his duties as a prophet. He feels a strong desire to never mention the name of the Lord again. But that feeling gets overwhelmed by an even greater, more pressing sense of responsibility and accountability. He describes it as “a fire in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT). His God-given job is too much to bear, but it’s also impossible to walk away from. And when Jeremiah attempts to ignore the role God has given him, he finds it impossible and states, “I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it” (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT).

One part of him wants to give up. But another part of him can’t help but continue to speak up, despite the fact that he is losing friends left and right. Everyone wants him to fail. Nobody wants him to be right. Because if he is right, then they are all in trouble. His accusations of sin and pending judgment are not anything anybody wants to hear. But he knows in his heart that this is the word of God and it must be shared. It is the truth and it cannot be ignored, even if it is costly. Stuck on this emotional roller coaster, Jeremiah does the only thing he can do: Call out to God. He expresses his feelings to God. He shares his frustrations, but he also conveys his trust in God. He refers to God as his dread warrior.

But the Lord stands beside me like a great warrior.
    Before him my persecutors will stumble.
    They cannot defeat me.
They will fail and be thoroughly humiliated.
    Their dishonor will never be forgotten. – Jeremiah 20:11 NLT

Even though Jeremiah is despondent and frustrated with his lot in life, he knows he can turn to God. In a way, Jeremiah is simply reminding himself that his God can be relied upon. In spite of the circumstances of his life and his feelings of abandonment and failure, he keeps rehearsing his long-held beliefs about God.

O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
you test those who are righteous,
    and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,
    for I have committed my cause to you. – Jeremiah 20:12 NLT

Jeremiah was practicing a bit of self-motivation, but based on the character of God. His God was the warrior, the Lord of Hosts. His God was all-knowing and all-seeing. His God was fully capable of seeing into the hearts of men, including Jeremiah’s, and determining who was right and who was wrong. Based on that knowledge, God would do the right thing. Of that, Jeremiah was confident. Well, as confident as any human being can be. Jeremiah was just a man and susceptible to the doubts and fears we all face. But he knew the key to overcoming his despair and despondency was concentrating his thoughts on the character and nature of God. So he reminds himself:

Sing to the Lord!
    Praise the Lord!
For though I was poor and needy,
    he rescued me from my oppressors. – Jeremiah 20:13 NLT

He speaks in the future tense, as if God’s deliverance of him has already taken place. He is still in the same spot he was in before. Nothing has really changed about his circumstances. But he is attempting to change his perspective, by focusing on what he knows and believes about God. The key to overcoming our times of despair is not always immediate deliverance by God, but increasing reliance and trust in God. The reality of Jeremiah’s less-than-pleasant situation was going to have to be replaced by what he knew to be true about God. The apostle Paul had a similar expectation regarding God and His Son.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. – Romans 8:35-37 NLT

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul asks the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” And the answer is an obvious, “No one.” Oh, don’t misunderstand, there will always be those who are against us. Jeremiah had plenty of opposition, including people like Pashtur. But they were no match for God. They can hate us and even attack us, but in the end, God is for us and we will experience His will for us – despite them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t guarantee us a trouble-free life. It simply means that we have someone on our side who will never leave us or forsake us. And Paul reminds us:

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

But how easy it is to forget all that. How quickly we can find ourselves taking our eyes off of God and putting them back on our circumstances. In a way, that is exactly what we see Jeremiah doing in this passage. Right after praising God for His coming deliverance, Jeremiah resorts to wishing he had never been born.

Yet I curse the day I was born!
    May no one celebrate the day of my birth. – Jeremiah 20:14 NLT

Why was I ever born?
    My entire life has been filled
    with trouble, sorrow, and shame. – Jeremiah 20:18 NLT

Like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat in the midst of the storm and began walking on the water toward the outstretched arms of Jesus, Jeremiah took his eyes off of God. And when he did, he began to sink under the waves of despair. The gospel of Matthew records what happened to Peter when he took his eyes off of Jesus.

But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. – Matthew 14:30 NLT

When he stopped trusting Jesus and started believing his circumstances were greater and more powerful than his God, he sank. And it was only when he cried out to Jesus that he was saved. Jeremiah was going to continue to experiencing rough days. His job was far from finished. There were going to be more threats and increasing resistance to his message. And to survive, he was going to have to keep his eyes on God. He was going to have to constantly remind himself of the power and presence of God, even in the midst of the storms of life.

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

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

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

The Choice Is Up To You.

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
    and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
    according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:5-10 ESV

Who are you going to trust? This is a question each and every human being ultimately has to answer. But for those who claim to believe in God, it should be a no-brainer. For the people of Judah, there should have been no question regarding the focus of their trust and hope. It should have been God. After all, He had more than proven Himself trustworthy over the years. All the way back to the days of Abraham, God had promised to make of the patriarch of Israel a mighty nation and to give them the land of Canaan as their possession. And He had done it. Early in their history, when they found themselves living as slaves in the land of Egypt, God had rescued them, miraculously freeing them and delivering them to the promised land. Time and time again, God had shown Himself faithful and worthy of their trust. But they had repeatedly chosen to turn their backs on God, placing their confidence in false gods and making alliances with pagan nations. And God makes it painfully clear that their decision to trust in someone or something other than Him was not going to turn out well for them.

Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 17:5 NLT

They had made a choice. They had purposefully determined to place their confidence elsewhere. God wasn’t enough for them. In fact, we see this attitude revealed in all its glory when they had demanded that God give them a king like all the other nations. They had taken their demand to Samuel, the prophet, and he was appalled and appealed to God.

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT

They were guilty of putting their hope and confidence in man and making flesh their strength. It wasn’t as if God had let them down. He had ruled over them through a succession of judges. And those judges had rescued them time and time again from the attacks of their enemies. But they failed to realize that their suffering at the hands of their enemies had been the punishment of God for their sins against Him. Their unfaithfulness, illustrated by their idolatry, was their real problem. A king wasn’t going to fix what ailed them. And that would proven repeatedly over the coming centuries by the long line of wicked and idolatrous kings who would lead them down the wrong path, away from God.

They had been given the chance to trust in God. But they had chosen not to. And the outcome of that choice was far from pleasant. Their turning away from God produced spiritual dryness. Rather than fruitfulness, they experienced a loss of productivity and a moral drought that left them like withered plants in the desert. But God reminded them that trust in Him produced just the opposite results.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8 NLT

Trusting in God does not eliminate difficulties. Look at these verses. They mention the presence of heat and drought. But they also promise fruitfulness in spite of those less-than-ideal conditions. Trusting in God brings the provision of God. Those who place their hope and confidence in God find themselves provided for by God. The difficulties of life become opportunities for God to meet needs and prove His faithfulness. Drought is no match for God. Blazing heat can do no harm to those who find rest in the shade of God’s mercy and grace.

But here’s the problem: The human heart. It is wicked and deceitful. We can’t even understand why we do what we do. We may think we understand our motives, but we don’t. Only God truly knows the hearts of men. He is able to look into the inner recesses of our hearts and see the real motivation behind what we do and don’t do. He knew why the people of Israel had demanded a king. They were rejecting Him as their king. He knows our hearts. And He rewards us according to the motives of our hearts.

I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:10 NLT

The people of Judah had made their choice. They had chosen to place their trust in something other than God. They acted as if they still worshiped Him they went through the motions, offering their sacrifices and claiming to be His children. But their hearts were far from Him and God knew it. So, they were going to suffer the consequences. Rather than blessings, they would experience curses. Instead of fruitfulness, they would endure spiritual dryness and, ultimately, physical death. They had chosen. And they would suffer for their choice. The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed words of reminder.

Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.  Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

God can and should be trusted. He is trustworthy. He is all-powerful, able to provide strength to the weak, hope to the hopeless, and renewed energy to those facing difficulty. But we have to choose to trust Him. We have to make the decision to turn to Him, rather than relying on our own human strength or placing our hope in something of someone other than Him. It is a daily, moment-by-moment decision.

 

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 Alone.

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” – 2 Samuel 24:1-10 ESV

This closing chapter of the book of 2 Samuel will not end with David’s death, but with a recollection of yet another of David’s sins against God. This time, he will be guilty of taking a census in order to determine the size of his army. Most commentators believe this was done late in David’s reign and life, because he will use Joab, the commander of his army, as well as his troops, to travel across the length and breadth of the kingdom in order to take the census, a job that would take them nine months to complete. So it is believed that his had to be during an extended period of peace, when there was no eminent threat of war. The latter years of David’s reign was the only time when this could have happened.

But regardless of when it happened, the main concern is that it did happen. And there is a bit of confusion with this point, because the book of 1 Chronicles, in recording this very same episode, tells us, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). And yet, in this version of the story, it says, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’”  (2 Samuel 24:1 ESV). So, which was it? Did Satan incite David to number Israel, or was it God? While this appears to be a contradiction, it is really a matter of perspective. We know from the book of James that God does not tempt anyone to sin.

God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. – James 1:13 NLT

But God does discipline His people for their sins. And He has a track record of using others to accomplish His will, including the kings of foreign nations and even Satan himself.  In the book of Exodus we read how God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, so that he would refuse to let the people of Israel go. But his stubborn refusal would result in yet another display of God’s glory and greatness. All of this was so that the people of Israel, having lived in Egypt for 400 years, would know that their God was greater than the gods of Egypt.

In the case of David, recounted in this closing chapter of 2 Samuel, it seems that God desired to punich Israel for their disobedience, so he allowed Satan to entice David to take the census. It was in keeping with God’s plan to discipline His own people, but Satan was the instigator of David’s rebellious decision to do what he did. But why was taking a census so bad? What was so wrong about David wanting to know the size of his army? The problem does not appear to be the taking of the census itself, but the motivation behind David doing it to begin with. It was David who wrote:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
– Psalm 20:7 ESV

Another anonymous psalm states a similar truth:

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you. – Psalm 33:16-17 NLT

In taking a census of his fighting force, David was revealing that his hope and trust were in his army, not God. He was placing his confidence in the size of his mighty military machine, not power of God Almighty. He just had to know. So he sent the military commander and his troops to scour the land, determining the exact number of all the men qualified to serve in his army. It is important to remember that this was probably done in a time of peace, when there was no pressing need to have a larger army. But David wanted to know. His action was sinful. And at the heart of David’s sin was his lack of trust in God. And it would appear that David’s lack of trust was an expression of the hearts of the people. God was angry with them, but the text does not tell us why. Perhaps it was their lack of trust in Him that was the real issue here. David, as the king and legal representative of the people, was acting out the very heart attitude of the people of Israel. They had begun to place their trust in someone or something other than God. Perhaps they had become comfortable with David as their king and overly confident in his military prowess and the army’s ability to protect them from their enemies. By the latter years of David’s reign, Israel had become a powerful nation and a force to be reckoned with. Their success had probably produced a fair amount of over-confidence. As is usually the case in most of our lives, when things are going well, we tend to forget about God. In times of relative peace and tranquility, we can find it easy to lose our need for God. Whatever it was that the Israelites had done, God was angry with them, and so, He used David to bring about a fitting punishment for their sin.

David, against the better judgment of Joab, commanded the census be taken, and nine months later he got the news for which he was looking.

…in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000. – 2 Samuel 24:9 ESV

One million three hundred thousand men. That is a huge army by any standard. And it must have made David proud to know that he had those kinds of numbers at his disposal. This news would have fed his pride and boosted his ego. He was a powerful king with a formidable army at his disposal. But David’s moment of ego-driven ecstasy would be short-lived. We’re told that, “after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him” (2 Samuel 24:10 NLT). He had second thoughts about what he had done. Perhaps he remembered the words of his own psalm. Whatever the case, his heart began to be burdened by what he had done. He recognized his actions as sin and confessed it openly to God.

“I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10 NLT

David had sinned. No surprise there. After all, we have seen him sin before. But the key lesson in this passage is that David recognized his sin and confessed it before God. He admitted his guilt and sought God’s forgiveness. He didn’t attempt to blame anyone else for his actions. He didn’t make excuses. And it’s interesting to note that David confessed his sin before God had done anything to discipline him for it. Sometimes, we can sin against God and be completely comfortable with our actions, until He chooses to punish us. Too often, it is when the disciplining hand of God falls on us, that we see the folly of our sin and confess it to Him. But David confessed before God had done anything. His heart was sensitive enough to recognize the error of his ways and to admit it to God. He didn’t wait until God’s judgment fell on him.

Trust in God is a vital characteristic for the child of God. The proverbs state:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
    and he will show you which path to take. – Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT

In numbering the people, David had illustrated his failure to trust God. He was putting his hope and trust in something he could see and count. He was placing his confidence in the physical size of his army, not the invisible might of his God. It’s always easier to trust in something we can see and touch, than to place our confidence in a God who is hidden from our eyes. But God had proven Himself faithful to David, time and time again. He had rescued him repeatedly. He had protected him countless times throughout his life. But here, near the end of his life, David found himself putting his trust in something other than God, and he would pay the consequences for his sin. It is so important for us to remember that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we put out hope and confidence in the things of this world, we will lose the battle. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle that will require faith and hope in God. The size of our army or our bank account will not help us in this conflict. Our physical strength will be no match for the spiritual enemies we face. David could number his army, but they would not be his source of salvation in a time of need. God alone can save. God alone deserves our trust. God alone is the one who warrants our attention, affection and hope.

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

Dazed and Confused, Yet Confident.

When David had passed a little beyond the summit, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of donkeys saddled, bearing two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred bunches of raisins, a hundred of summer fruits, and a skin of wine. And the king said to Ziba, “Why have you brought these?” Ziba answered, “The donkeys are for the king’s household to ride on, the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine for those who faint in the wilderness to drink.” And the king said, “And where is your master’s son?” Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give me back the kingdom of my father.’” Then the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.” And Ziba said, “I pay homage; let me ever find favor in your sight, my lord the king.”

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The Lord has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.”

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust. And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.– 2 Samuel 16:1-14 ESV

It seems that with each step David took, the news got worse. All he was trying to do was leave the city in peace and before he could get past the summit of the Mount of Olives, yet another individual shows up with bad news. Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, arrived with a couple of donkeys loaded down with supplies. When David asked Ziba why he was there, he explained that Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, had decided to align himself with Absalom, in hopes of getting back what was rightfully his as an heir of the former king. Ziba’s news had to have stung David deeply, because he had shown great mercy and love to Mephibosheth, allowing him to live in his palace and eat at his table. He had kept a vow he had made to Mephibosheth’s father and now, Mephibosheth was returning the favor with betrayal.

But later on in the story, we will discover that Ziba had been lying. When David eventually returns to Jerusalem, Mephibosheth is one of the first ones to greet him, and he explains to David what really happened that day.

Now Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, came down from Jerusalem to meet the king. He had not cared for his feet, trimmed his beard, or washed his clothes since the day the king left Jerusalem. “Why didn’t you come with me, Mephibosheth?” the king asked him.

Mephibosheth replied, “My lord the king, my servant Ziba deceived me. I told him, ‘Saddle my donkey so I can go with the king.’ For as you know I am crippled. Ziba has slandered me by saying that I refused to come. But I know that my lord the king is like an angel of God, so do what you think is best.” – 2 Samuel 19:24-27 NLT

But when Ziba showed up that day, it was impossible for David to know what was really going on and, at that point, David would have not been surprised by anything he heard. That Mephibosheth might have decided to betray him was not shocking news to David. He took it in stride and determined to reward Ziba for his kindness by giving him all that belonged to Mephibosheth. Of course, this reward would remain unclaimed by Ziba as long as David remained in exile and Absalom was on the throne.

The next thing that happened to David was even more disconcerting and disturbing. As he and his retinue continued their escape, they passed by the town of Bahurim, where a man came out and began to verbally assault David, cursing him and accusing of being a man of bloodshed. As David went on his way, this man followed, spewing his words of anger and resentment and throwing stones at the former king. Shemei, it seems, was related to Saul and he had some long-held resentment toward David for having replaced Saul as the king of Israel. He even seems to blame David for Saul’s death, as well as that of Abner and Jonathan. His accusation that David was a man of bloodshed was another statement that had to have hit David hard. While David knew he had played no part in the death’s of Saul, Jonathan or Abner, he would have been reminded of his role in the death of Uriah. It is likely that he recalled his refusal to deal with the actions of his own son, Amnon, which eventually led to Amnon’s murder by Absalom. David was a man of bloodshed. He knew it well and lived with the knowledge of that fact each and every day of his life. And while he had been forgiven by God, he would never forget the events of his life that had led to the discipline of God. Even now, David could not be sure whether all of this was yet another demonstration of God’s displeasure with him.

The words of Shemei had to have hit David hard.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

David was dazed and confused. He was reeling from the rapid-fire series of events that had left him without at throne and on his way into exile yet again in his life. What had happened? How did everything fall apart so quickly and unexpectedly? What was God doing? And what had David done to deserve it?

There are moments in all of our lives when we question what God may be up to. We struggle with understanding the nature of the events surrounding our life and almost immediately begin to wonder what we have done to make God angry with us. We tend to see the presence of disorder or disaster in our lives as a sign of God’s displeasure with us. And David would have felt the same way. He was unsure of the cause of these events, but almost automatically assumed it had something to do with him and was the result of something he had done. He was trying to trust God, but it was difficult. Wave after wave of bad news engulfed him, leaving him reeling and wondering what he had done to deserve this fate.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, there will always be well-meaning friends who step in to give us advice. In their effort to ease our pain, they will say things meant to encourage and comfort us, but so often, their words will lack Scriptural backing or the authority of God. Abishai, out of love for David, offered to silence Shimei by cutting off his head. While that would have done the trick, David refused, saying, “If the Lord has told him to curse me, who are you to stop him?” (2 Samuel 16:10 NLT). David was not willing to commit further bloodshed in an effort to eliminate this discomfort in his life. It it was God-ordained, then there was nothing to be done. He went on to tell Abishai and all those with him, “My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT).

It is so easy to believe that the removal of the discomfort in our lives will solve our problem. We can so easily convince ourselves that the elimination of whatever is bothering us is the key to restoring our joy and contentment. But David knew that his hope was in the Lord. Killing Shimei would not resolve his problem. Silencing the words of an angry man would not make David’s life any better or easier. Only God could bring peace in the midst of the chaos and restore David’s joy. David had a strong belief that all things come from the hand of the Lord. He believed in the sovereignty and providence of God. Like Job, David lived by the mantra, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). David was dazed. He was confused. But he was confident that God was in control. He may not have fully understood why these things were happening, but he was fully assured that God knew. And in time, God would make His will in all of these things plain to David.

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 High View of God.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” – Genesis 40:1-8 ESV

It is important to look back on an important detail from the previous part of the story. In chapter 39 we read, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). A little later on, in chapter 40, we are told it is “the house of the captain of the guard” (Genesis 40:3 ESV). This was most likely a building attached or adjacent to  Potiphar’s house so that he could keep his eye on these royal prisoners. Because Joseph had been a slave of Potiphar, captain of the king’s guard, he had been transferred from Potiphar’s house to the royal prison. Joseph had committed no crime against the king, but yet he was placed in this prison, even though he was a common slave. This is an important detail, because it is while Joseph is in this prison that he will “just happen” to meet two other individuals who will play a significant role in his future.

Before long, Joseph is joined by the king’s cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom had done something to make the king angry enough to throw them both in prison. We are not told their crimes, but they had both experienced the same meteoric fall in their fortunes that Joseph had. They were placed under Joseph’s care, because as we saw in the last chapter:

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:22-23 ESV

Two men with close ties to Pharaoh are imprisoned alongside Joseph. Because of the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life, he is placed in charge of them. And then the fun begins. Both of these men end up having dreams. Vivid dreams. Disturbing dreams. On the very same night. And we’re told that each dream had its own interpretation. But remember where they are: In prison. They have no access to wise men or magicians, astronomers or seers. How will they ever discover the meaning to their dreams. And why had they both had dreams on the very same night in the very same place?

The next morning, Joseph notices that something is wrong. The two men are visibly upset and, true to his role as their caretaker, Joseph asks them what is disturbing them. They both reply, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8a ESV). They seem to know that these dreams are not your garden-variety dreams. There is something significant about them and they are anxious to know what they portend. The response Joseph gives provides us with a glimpse into his theology – his view of God. He simply states, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Genesis 40:8b ESV).

There is a great deal of similarity between this story and the one concerning Daniel and his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Over the book of Daniel we read:

Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” – Daniel 2:2-3 ESV

The king’s counselors and wise men respond, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation” (Daniel 2:4 ESV). But the king is adamant. He not only wants them to tell them what the dream means, he demands that they be able to tell him what he dreamed. If not, he will have them torn limb from limb. These men are dumbstruck. They find themselves in a life or death predicament and plead with the king.

“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 1The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” – Daniel 2:10-11 ESV

Enter Daniel. He tells the king:

“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” – Daniel 2:27-28 ESV

Long before Daniel lived and his story was written down in a scroll, Joseph held a similar view of God. His God was all-knowing and ever-present. His God was able to reveal mysteries and make known the unknowable. Joseph knew a thing or two about dreams. He had had a few of his own. Perhaps Joseph had been given the interpretation of his own dreams by God. By this time in the story, Joseph could have had a much more clear idea of his future and the role his two dreams were going to play. But whatever the case, Joseph is nonplussed by what the two men say and simply asks them to share their dreams so he can provide them with an interpretation – with the help of God.

Joseph held a high view of God – even in the lowest moments of his life. He refused to let his physical location or the state of his circumstances alter his view of God. His expectations of God were greater than any complications life might bring. Even in prison, his God was with him. And if his God was with him all the time and in all places, He was big enough to handle the interpretation of a few dreams.

“We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will,whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.”  – Brother Lawrence

For Such A Time As This.

And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. – Esther 4:9-17 ESV

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When Mordecai sent word to Esther, his adopted niece, commanding her to go to King Xerxes and beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people, he knew he asking her to risk everything. He was well aware that she was going to have to reveal her long-hidden secret about her Hebrew heritage. There was no way to know how he might react to this news. But Mordecai knew that they had no other choice. The way he looked at it was that Esther was there only hope. And he viewed her presence in the palace as a literal godsend. She had been sent by God for such a time as this. Her position as queen had not been a case of good fortune, but the result of God’s sovereign plan. God had known all along what was about to take place. He knew the heart of Haman. He was fully cognizant of the fact that Haman was an Amalakite, the long-standing enemies of the Jews. God had not been surprised by the king’s edict. He was not up in heaven wringing His hands in despair, left to come up with a last-minute plan to save His people. He had been orchestrating His plan all along, long before Haman got promoted or had his feelings hurt by Mordecai, and well in advance of this latest man-made calamity. As the people of God, it is essential that we remember the words found in Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). In the book of Isaiah, we hear these foreboding, yet also comforting words from God:

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…’” – Isaiah 46:9-10 ESV

Mordecai was in mourning, but he was not morose. He had not lost hope. He had no idea why these events were taking place. His sack cloth and ashes were more a sign of submission to God than anything else. He was acknowledging to God his sadness over the king’s edict, and his complete dependence upon God’s help. His call to Esther to use her position as the queen to appeal on behalf of her people was an act of belief that God was at work and that Esther was part of His divine plan.

For Esther, the news was devastating. But the command from her uncle to use her position to beg the king’s favor was frightening. She could not simply walk into the king’s presence at any time. She had to be invited. And the passage makes it clear that it had been a month since she had last received an invitation into the king’s presence. To dare to enter the king’s inner chambers without his express permission meant death. But Esther recognized the wisdom of Mordecai’s words and the cold, hard reality that she, above all people, had the best chance of changing the king’s mind. So she boldly proclaimed, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 ESV).

It is important to note that Mordecai and Esther did not leave everything up to God. They seemed to know that God was at work, but that He had placed them where they were for a reason. They both had vital parts to play. Mordecai appealed to Esther. Esther was going to fast and pray, then appeal to the king. She called on Mordecai to call all the Jews in the capital of Susa to fast and pray as well. They were to be active. They were each to do their part. But they were all putting their hope and trust in God. Even Esther knew that it was going to take an act of God to prepare the king’s heart to extend to her an invitation into his presence and a willingness to listen to her plea. She seemed to recognize that her ascension to her position as queen had been a coincidence. It had been a case of providence and the real purpose for her God-ordained role was now being revealed. She had been born “for such a time as this. The conquering of Judah by the Babylonians, the loss of her parents, her adoption by Mordecai, her exile to Persia, and her miraculous rise to royal prominence had all been the work of God. And the seeming method behind God’s madness was being made known. She had a job to do. She was going to be part of God’s divine plan to accomplish His will concerning the people of Israel. I am reminded of the attitude that young David had when he stood against the Philistine warrior, Goliath. Armed with nothing more than a sling and a few stones, he boldly proclaimed:

“Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us! – 1 Samuel 17:46-47 ESV

It was the Lord’s battle, but David still had to fight. He would be the one to sling the stone that took Goliath’s life, but the victory would be God’s, not his. Like David, Esther was going to have to use the resources at her disposal and step into the battle. God had placed her there for a reason. She was going to have to step into the king’s presence, confident in the fact that God was with her and had actually gone before her. This was the Lord’s battle.

No Shrinking Back.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:26-39 ESV

Because of all that Jesus has done for us and made available to us, we should have confidence, a secure assurance that we have access into God’s presence because we have been right with God. But we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). We have a part to play. Among all the distractions and difficulties of this world we must keep our eyes focused on the hope to come: the return of Christ and our final glorification. As followers of Christ, we will find the going tough at times this side of heaven. Living as a Christian requires faith, because so much of what we have been promised in Christ is yet to be fulfilled. Chapter 11 will give a glimpse of what faith looked like for the Old Testament saints. Each of the ones mentioned is recognized for having had faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

This section of chapter 10 is difficult. There are many different interpretations as to what the author is saying and who he is referencing in these verses. There are those who use this passage to prove that Christians can lose their salvation. There are others who say it is referring to Christians who “fall away” from the faith and risk losing their rewards at the judgement seat of Christ. I am not sure either view is correct. The author is writing to a congregation made up primarily of Jews who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and expressed faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Up until this point, the author has been diligently attempting to help his Jewish audience to understand the superior value of Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf. He has spent nine chapters contrasting the old and new covenant, presenting Jesus and the new covenant in His blood as not only superior, but singular in its effectiveness. Through His death on the cross, Jesus accomplished for man what the Law could never have done. His sacrifice provided a means by which sinful men could be made right with a holy God.

But there were evidently those in the author’s audience who were having second thoughts about the efficacy of saving work of Jesus. They were having doubts as to whether His death was enough. So they were reverting back to their old habits of relying on the law. They were evidently offering sacrifices in order to cover over their sins, which meant that they were still sinning. The author starts off this section by saying, “for if we go on sinning deliberately” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). What he has in mind are those sins that are willful and planned, not those that are committed out of ignorance or weakness. It would seem that there were those who were sinning on purpose, and relying on the old sacrificial system to atone for those sins. The author accuses them of having “trampled underfoot the Son of God” and having “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29 ESV). In falling back to the old covenant as their source of atonement, they were saying the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough. They were essentially rejecting His offering as not having fully appeased the wrath of God. The author warns them that if they reject Christ’s sacrifice, there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). If Jesus is not enough, then all that remains is judgment.

So to whom is the author referring? Is he warning Christians from falling away from the faith and losing their salvation? That interpretation would contradict too many other passages that promise believers the assurance of their salvation. Jesus Himself said, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29 NLT). Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient and completely effective. It accomplished the will of the Father by paying in full the debt that was owed as a result of man’s sin. He died once and no other sacrifice is needed. The problem the author is warning about is the very real possibility of someone hearing the good news regarding Christ’s sacrificial death, seemingly accepting it, but then later determining it was not enough. The issue is one of confidence. The author uses this word two times in chapter ten. In verse 19 he tells his readers, “Therefore brothers, since we have this confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…” Then in verse 35 he warns, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…”

Saving faith is enduring faith. It lasts. But there have always been those who seem to express faith in Jesus, but then, when the troubles and trials come, they turn away. They reject the truth. They determine that Jesus is not enough and the promise of salvation is not sufficient. Unwilling to wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise they seek their satisfaction in this life. They refuse to believe that their sins are forgiven. They fall back on to a life of works and self-righteousness, or simply reject the idea that they can be made right with God altogether. The author warns that these individuals face the judgment of God. He gives the very sobering warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). It would seem that his talk of God’s vengeance and judgment has nothing to do with believers, but with those who never fully believed in the first place. He makes this clear when he reminds his readers of their “former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33 ESV). In other words, they had been through difficulty in the past, and they had endured. They had remained faithful and he reminds them, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34 ESV). These people had not rejected the saving work of Jesus at the first sign of trouble. Why? Because their faith was real. Their hope was in something greater than a trouble-free life. Their confidence was in the promise of God of a great reward to come, not their best life now. So the author encourages them, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36 ESV). The one who “shrinks back” will have no reward. God has no pleasure in him. But the author makes it clear that “we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV). True believers believe the truth and endure. They have confidence and continue to hold fast regardless of the circumstances.