Generous to a Fault

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Genesis 13:1-9 ESV

After Abram’s close call with Pharaoh, he decided to leave Egypt behind and return to the land of Canaan. The text doesn’t mention whether the famine there had come to an end, but it seems safe to assume that Abram returned because he had received permission from God to do so. According to verse 1, Abram made his way back to the Negeb, located on Canaan’s southernmost tip. But this arid region would prove to be an inhospitable environment for Abram’s newly acquired flocks and herds. He had received as a bride price for Sarai, whom Pharaoh had added to his harem as a concubine. When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he released her and had Abram and his family escorted from the land of Egypt.

Abram walked out of Egypt far wealthier than when he had entered.  Despite his deception and narcissistic attempts at self-preservation, he ended up being rewarded.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

And Moses opens chapter 13 with what appears to be a parenthetical statement, designed to set up and explain the rest of the chapter’s story.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. – Genesis 13:2 ESV

But not only did Abram have additional herds and flocks in his possession, he was still accompanied by his nephew, Lot. And the text reveals that Lot had also prospered during their stay in Egypt.

And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together. – Genesis 13:5-6 ESV

Lot had benefited greatly from his association with Abram. He had been blessed vicariously and undeservedly, just for being Abram’s nephew. But sometimes blessings can end up being a curse. Prosperity, while highly beneficial in so many ways, can also bring about unexpected conflicts and temptations. You see the potential for this outcome in Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the land of Canaan. God has promised to bless them with a rich and fertile land filled with well-fortified and well-stocked cities equipped with modern conveniences like hand-carved cisterns designed for storing rainwater.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the LORD, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the LORD your God and serve him.” – Deuteronomy 6:1-13 NLT

There was high probability that the people of Israel would find their newfound prosperity to be a temptation to become prideful and forgetful. Rather than focusing on the gracious Giver, they would end up obsessing on the gifts He had given. Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, reveals an insightful degree of self-awareness when he asks God for two favors.

O God, I beg two favors from you;
    let me have them before I die.
First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name. – Proverbs 30:7-9 NLT

Abram and Lot had both been blessed by God. Now, the question would be whether they would allow those blessings to become a curse. Would they become fat and happy, self-consumed, and overly self-sufficient? Would their good fortune lead to further dependence upon God or a growing sense of independence and self-sufficiency?

Sandwiched in-between the disclosure that Abram was “very rich” (Genesis 13:2), and Lot “had flocks and herds and tents” (Genesis 13:5), Moses states that Abram “journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4 ESV). And Lot went with him.

Abram, despite his less-than-stellar showing in Egypt, returns to the site where he had built the altar, and he offers sacrifices to God. It seems that Abram understood that his timely departure from Egypt, with his wife by his side, had been the work of God. And he wanted to express his appreciation by offering some of his newfound wealth as a thank offering to God. There is no indication that Lot participated in this selfless display of thanksgiving. He had been equally blessed by God but displayed no awareness of God’s gracious benevolence, and he offered no gifts of gratitude. But, in time, he will display an unflattering tendency toward self-interest and self-indulgence.

Moses describes the situation between Abram and his nephew as untenable.

the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together – Genesis 13:6 ESV

This is an interesting statement because it portrays the land of promise as rather unpromising. Perhaps the famine had decimated the available pasture land, rendering the current location as an insufficient source of food for the enlarged herds of Abram and Lot. But there seems to be something more significant going on in this passage.

When God had issued His original call, He had made the conditions of that call clear:  “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NLT). Yet, as the text reveals, “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4 NLT).

The land had been promised to Abram, not Lot. In a sense, Lot should not have been there and his presence was proving to be problem. The land was sufficient for the flocks and herds of Abram, but not for both. Somewhere along the way, in keeping with the command of God, Abram should have separated himself from Lot. But he had failed to do so. Now, God was stepping in and forcing these two men to part company. As the herdsmen of Abram and Lot attempted to shepherd their respective flocks on the same parcel of land, tempers flared.

…there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

And, at this point in the story, Moses provides another parenthetical aside.

At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. – Genesis 13:7 ESV

This is intended as a reminder that the land was already occupied. God had led Abram to a country where other people groups had settled and put down roots. Their presence would have further limited the available pasture land. This disclosure by Moses was also meant to foreshadow the miracle that God will have to perform in order to make this already-occupied land available to Abram’s descendants.

Verses 8-13 reveal Abram’s solution to the dilemma. In an effort to appease Lot and his disgruntled herdsmen, Abram gave his nephew his choice of permanent pastureland.

“Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” – Genesis 13:9 NLT

This is viewed by many as a sign of Abram’s magnanimity. He takes the high road and gives his undeserving nephew first dibs on the available land. But in some sense, this reflects a lack of reverence for God’s promise. God had clearly told Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). While Lot was Abram’s blood relative, he was not his offspring. It’s highly likely that Abram’s decision to share the land with Lot was driven by his belief that Lot would eventually be his heir.  After all, Abram wasn’t getting any younger and his wife was still barren. So, he probably believed that this young man would end up being the means by which God fulfilled His promise to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).

But that was not God’s plan. And it will soon become clear that Abram’s gracious offer to Lot was going to end up backfiring on him. This young man would display a disregard for the well-being of his uncle and a myopic preoccupation with his own success. Lot was out to make of himself a great nation. He was choosing the best land so that he might enjoy the best possible outcome. But his choices would prove to be far from wise and less than beneficial. And Abram’s decision to pacify Lot by parceling out the land given to him by God would only lead to greater turmoil in the days ahead.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Short Journey from Doubt to Disobedience

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. Genesis 3:1-7 ESV

With the opening of chapter three, the story takes a sudden and decidedly dark turn. The preceding chapter ended with the first marriage ceremony, officiated over by God Himself, as He joined together as “one flesh,” the man and woman He had created. It had been an idyllic scene, as Adam welcomed his new wife.

“At last!” the man exclaimed.

“This one is bone from my bone,
    and flesh from my flesh!
She will be called ‘woman,’
    because she was taken from ‘man.’” – Genesis 2:25 NLT

And Moses ended that chapter by noting that “the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NLT). They enjoyed a relationship built on innocence, transparency, and complete trust. They were just as God had intended them to be and, together, they enjoyed the bountiful and beautiful environment He had prepared for them. Yet, their state of unadulterated innocence and intimacy was about to change – forever.

One day, as Eve walked in the garden, she was confronted by one of the other “living creatures.“ In a scene straight out of a Harry Potter novel, Eve is confronted by a beautiful and particularly beguiling serpent. Surprisingly, Eve does not seem to be shocked at the creature’s capacity to speak. Due to her recent arrival on the scene, Eve may have not yet interacted with any of the other animals, so she would have been unaware that the capacity of speech was solely restricted to humans. The fact that the serpent spoke to her does not seem to surprise her. But the words that come from the mouth of the serpent will have life-altering implications.

It is interesting to note the wordplay that takes place between verse 25 of chapter two and verse 1 of chapter three. In Hebrew, the word for “naked” is עָרוֹם (ʿārôm), and the word used to describe the craftiness of the serpent is עָרוּם (ʿārûm). Moses, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, uses these two words to differentiate between Eve, the innocent protagonist, and the serpent, the clever and cunning antagonist. The serpent is going to make a full-frontal assault on the child-like innocence and inexperience of Eve.

But before preceding, we have to address the issue of the serpent’s identity. Was this just another snake in the garden? It would seem that the answer is no. This serpent displayed the capacity to reason and speak. Moses describes it as being “more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). This statement could indicate that the serpent was not one of God’s creations. Then where did it come from? Most biblical scholars agree that the serpent was a manifestation of Satan himself. The prophet Ezekiel describes Satan as being in Eden.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;
    every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
    beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
    and crafted in gold were your settings
    and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you. – Ezekiel 28:13-15 ESV

And Ezekiel describes the ignominious fall of this “anointed guardian cherub” who had been “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezekiel 28:12 ESV).

Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:17 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah provides further insights into Satan’s epic fall from grace.

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

Satan, desiring to be as God, had led an angelic insurrection against the Almighty. But his attempt to overthrow and replace God had failed and he was cast down to earth. In the book of Revelation, John provides an apt description of this former ministering angel. He refers to him as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9 ESV). Jesus described Satan as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44 ESV). With this statement, Jesus seems to indicate Satan’s role in the fall. He played the part of the deceiver, using lies and half-truths to persuade Adam and Eve to rebel against God. And Jesus went on to explain that Satan “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).

It seems clear that the serpent was merely a tool, a deceptive prop in the hands of Satan. It could be that Satan even disguised himself in the guise of a serpent in order to infiltrate the garden and catch the unsuspecting Eve off guard. The apostle Paul, when calling the false teachers who were deceiving local congregations, he described them as “deceitful workman, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ESV). Then, he went on to explain the source of their deception.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. – 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 ESV

It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to consider Satan as disguising himself as a serpent. In that form, he was able to approach Eve and raise questions about the integrity and trustworthiness of God. He may have been cast down, but he had not yet given up his desire to replace God. This time, he chose to attack God’s chosen image-bearers in an effort to dissuade them from the kingdom mandate they had been given. And his weapon of choice was deceit, designed to produce doubt, which would eventually lead to disobedience. He began his conversation with Eve by asking a cleverly worded question:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 2:1 ESV

He was testing her knowledge and understanding of God’s command concerning the trees of the garden. But he was also subtly encouraging Eve to doubt the integrity of God’s word.

But Eve calmly responded, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3 ESV). But Eve exposed her ignorance of God’s command by adding the inaccurate prohibition against touching the tree. Her answer was only partially correct, and this opened the door to Satan’s next salvo.

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

With this one statement, Satan planted the seeds of doubt that would soon spring forth into full-grown disobedience. He blatantly refuted the word of God by declaring that eating the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in life, not death. He insinuated to Even that God was holding out on them. The Almighty was trying to prevent them from experiencing all that they were meant to be. He asserted that if they actually disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would be like God. In other words, the fruit would give them the capacity to determine right from wrong. They would become autonomous and self-governing. In a sense, they would be like God in that they would be able to determine what was best for themselves. They would no longer have to live by God’s restrictive and repressive rules.

Satan portrayed God as the deceiver. He turned the tables and cast God as the villain in the story. It was Yahweh who was keeping them from enjoying their well-deserved freedom and right to self-determination.

And Eve quickly succumbed to Satan’s tempting ploy. Moses states that “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6 ESV). She immediately experienced what the apostle John would later describe as “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). She fell in love with the fruit and all that it could offer. And she ate. She gave in to the temptation. Not only that, she shared the forbidden fruit with her husband. Yes, Adam was there. He had been the entire time. He had heard the entire conversation between Eve and the serpent and had never spoken up. It had been to Adam that God had given the original warning concerning the tree.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

He knew exactly what God had said and should have refuted the lies of the serpent. But, instead, Adam followed his wife’s lead and accepted her offer of the fruit. He too, doubted God’s word and made the fateful decision to disobey God’s command. And the rest, they say, is history. Moses sadly states, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). They got exactly what the serpent had promised: Their eyes were opened. But what they saw disturbed them. Rather looking on one another’s innocence, they viewed themselves in the guise of guilt. They had sinned and they knew it. And they immediately tried to cover their nakedness and hide themselves from the all-seeing eyes of God.  

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Just As God Had Planned

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.

12 And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 13 And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” 16 And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

17 And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Mark 14:10-21 ESV

Two very different people performed two distinctively different actions that fateful night and both would be remembered. The first was the unidentified woman who graciously anointed the head of Jesus with expensive oil. The other was Judas, one of His own disciples who, driven by greed, chose to betray Him. Concerning the first, Jesus stated, “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9 ESV). She would be memorialized for her display of selfless sacrifice and love. But the name of Judas would become a byword for treachery and deceit. HIs selfish sellout of His friend and Master would forever label him as the consummate icon of betrayal. Jesus would say of him, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21 ESV).

The woman did what she did out of love for Jesus. But the actions of Judas were motivated by financial gain. Matthew tells us that Judas left the upper room and headed straight to the Sanhedrin, where he bargained away the life of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15), which was the average price for a slave. This man, who had spent the last three-and-a-half years of his life with Jesus, showed no remorse in placing a price tag on His life. Perhaps Judas had finally recognized that Jesus was not going to set up His Kingdom on earth, and he and the other disciples were not going to enjoy the positions of power and prominence for which they had hoped. So, he thought to make the most of his disappointment by turning Jesus over to the authorities.

But before Judas would have the opportunity to sell Jesus out, the two of them would celebrate one final Passover meal together. Jesus sent Peter and John into the city with instructions to make preparations for this important ceremony. He told them they would find “a man carrying a jar of water.” Since it was uncommon for men to perform such a menial task, this man would have stood out to the disciples. Once they found him, they were to follow him to his master’s house. There they would find a large room already arranged for their use. This meant that, in keeping with the laws concerning Passover, the entire house had been cleansed of all leaven. Peter and John then prepared the meal, which included the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb. All of this had to be done according to the commands given by God to Moses.

“You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset…” – Deuteronomy 16:5-6 ESV

All of this took place on Thursday night. The lamb was slaughtered at sunset and the Passover meal was eaten that evening. So, once all the preparations had been made, Jesus gathered with the 12 disciples in the upper room to celebrate the Passover with them. And it was during the meal that He announced His betrayal.

“Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” – Mark 14:16 ESV

This unexpected news came as a shock to all 12 of the disciples, including Judas. How could his carefully concealed plan have been so easily exposed? He must have been in a state of near panic as he considered what the rest of the disciples would do if they discovered he was the guilty party. Would they turn on him? Should he run?

But much to Judas’ relief, the other 11 disciples show no sign that they suspect him. Instead, saddened by Jesus’ accusation, they each question whether they might be the one of whom Jesus spoke. With a sense of disbelief tinged with concern, each man asks Jesus to clear his name by absolving him of any role in this terrible act of treachery. Rather than casting aspersion on one another, each man wonders aloud if he is the one who is destined to fulfill this infamous role. But Jesus’ answer provides them with little relief.

It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.– Mark 14:20 ESV

The perpetrator of this heinous act of betrayal is one of them. And not only is this individual one of their own, but he has also just shared the Passover meal with them. There is a degree of intimacy and familiarity conveyed by Jesus’ words. This is no stranger, but a member of the family. And this brings to mind the warning Jesus had previously given to His disciples.

“Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you.” – Luke 21:16 NLT

Judas was part of the family. He had shared an intimate relationship with Jesus and each of the other 11 disciples. They had shared countless meals, walked side-by-side over hundreds of miles, and enjoyed a variety of never-to-be-forgotten experiences. But now, one of them was going to do the unthinkable.

Yet, Jesus reveals that it was all part of God’s divine plan. This shocking act of betrayal was not an unexpected detour, but a divinely orchestrated sequence in the sovereign plan of God. Judas was playing the part for which he had been chosen. And even though Jesus had known all along that Judas would be the one to betray Him, He had treated him as one of His own. Judas had experienced the same unconditional love like all of the other disciples. And yet, he would turn his back on Jesus, selling Him out for 30 pieces of silver. But even this was in keeping with the sovereign decree of God as prophesied by Zechariah.

Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. – Zechariah 11:12-13 ESV

God’s will would be done. The Son would be betrayed. The Lamb of God would be sacrificed. And the Savior of the world would become the ransom for many.

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

Truth-Tellers Vs Ear-Ticklers

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. – Micah 3:5-8 ESV

In these verses, you can almost sense Micah’s anger as he addresses his adversaries – those individuals who had chosen to deliver a different message to the people of Judah. Micah’s job was hard enough without having to deal with the constant presence of those who contradicted his words by offering the people false promises of hope. These men were responsible for the attitude of arrogant pride that pervaded the nation of Judah. They were willing to tell the people what they wanted to hear– in return for personal gain and popularity. But their attempts to paint a rosy picture of the future was in direct conflict with the message God had given Micah, Isaiah, and the other prophets.

And while their message that all would be well in Judah won them plenty of friends and made Micah persona non grata in the community, they were not speaking for God.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
14 They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace. – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

These men were using their perceived position as prophets of God for personal gain. Micah accuses them of telling people what they wanted to hear as long as they got something in return.

You promise peace for those who give you food,
    but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. – Micah 3:5 NLT

They didn’t care about the well-being of the people and they didn’t speak for God. They were fabricating tales designed to make people feel good. Rather than calling the people to repentance, they were encouraging them to continue doing the very things that God had promised to judge. And the people were drawn to these false prophets with their pleasant-sounding, ear-tickling lies disguised as messages from God.

The apostle Paul warned Timothy to expect this same kind of behavior in his day. Wherever and whenever the people of God gather, they will attract charlatans and frauds posing as pastors, teachers, and prophets of God.

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

And the primary danger of these posers and fakers is that their message is always designed to appeal to the sinful nature of men. Rather than convict of sin, they will encourage compromise with the world. Instead of calling God’s people to repentance, they will lead them into further sin, by promoting and condoning behavior that is not in keeping with God’s will.

But while these false prophets will always find a ready and willing audience, they will also discover that God stands opposed to all that they do. Deeming themselves to be shepherds of God’s sheep, the Great Shepherd was going to repay them for the damage they had done to His flock.

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD.

Therefore, this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.” – Jeremiah 23:1-12 NLT

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. – Ezekiel 34:9-10 NLT

Micah has strong words for those who were misleading the sheep of Judah. And, addressing their claim to be speaking on behalf of God, he warns that their days of prophecy and divination were coming to an end. Micah knew that he was speaking for God and that all the judgments he had been warning about were going to take place. When they did, these false prophets would themselves plunged into the darkness of ignorance, unable to explain away the suffering and sorrow taking place all around them.

When the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem finally came, these false prophets would be exposed for what they really were: Liars. Their 15-minutes of fame would come to an abrupt and painful end. It will be difficult to sell a message of “peace” and “all will be well” when the Babylonians are destroying your city and taking your friends and neighbors captive.

Anyone can claim to speak for God but, ultimately, they will have to answer to Him for all that they have said on His behalf and in His name. No matter how attractive their message may have been and despite the number of people it may have fooled, God will be the one who repays them for the lies they have spread in His name.

The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end.
Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God. – Micah 3:6-7 NLT

But Micah boldly proclaims his confidence in who he is and in all that he has said.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

As a messenger of God, Micah had the full backing and support of the Spirit God. His message, while unappealing and unpopular, was true. When Micah spoke, he did so with God’s blessing. His message was just and right because it came from the lips of God Himself. He could speak confidently and powerfully, boldly declaring the sins of the people of Judah, even when they rejected his words and resisted his efforts.

They didn’t have to listen to him, but it would be in their best interest if they did. They could continue to pay the false prophets to tell them what they wanted to hear, but it would prove to be a poor investment. They could deny the warnings of Micah and refuse to believe that judgment was coming, but it wouldn’t change a thing. The truth of God is not always easy to hear. His condemnation of our sin and His call to repentance is intended to bring about conviction and to promote confession. But our sin natures inflate our pride by encouraging a belief in our own self-righteousness. We refuse to believe we’re as bad as God says we are. And so, we seek out teachers, preachers, authors, and speakers who will promote and encourage our sense of self-worth and assuage any feelings of guilt or conviction we may be feeling.

But self-deceit and false teaching will never produce fruit in keeping with true repentance (Matthew 3:8). Trying to convince yourself that you’re inherently good and surrounding yourself with those who will support that conclusion will only lead to disappointment. That’s why the people of God need to seek out those who will speak the truth of God boldly and unapologetically – men and women who share the conviction of Micah and who stand side-by-side with the apostle Paul in his conviction to preach the gospel faithfully, regardless of the cost.

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 2:2-6 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 Power to Stay Persistent

Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
    who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
    when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
    who puts nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
    and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down on the prophets,
    and the day shall be black over them;
the seers shall be disgraced,
    and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
    for there is no answer from God.
But as for me, I am filled with power,
    with the Spirit of the Lord,
    and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
    and to Israel his sin. Micah 3:5-8 ESV

Micah now turns his attention to his nemesis, the false prophets, who were constantly contradicting his message and delivering their own version of the “truth.” These men were particularly irritating to Micah because they only made his already difficult job that much harder to do. Their messages filled with optimism were popular among the people but they were not speaking on behalf of God. The book of Lamentation contains a similar indictment against these purveyors of false hope.

Your prophets have said
    so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
    by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
    filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah found himself facing a similar challenge, having to deal with his own set of self-proclaimed prophets decimating lies disguised as truth.

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions?
    Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! – Jeremiah 6:13-15 NLT

Jeremiah compares the actions of these men to someone putting a bandaid on a life-threatening wound. Their treatment protocol for what ailed the nation of Judah was superficial at best, causing the people to have a false sense of hope and encouraging them to remain stubbornly unresponsive to God’s calls to repentance.

Micah accuses these pseudo-prophets of selling their services for personal gain. In exchange for food, these men would issue positive proclamations of “peace.” In other words, if you treated the prophet well, he told you what you wanted to hear. He used his words, supposedly spoken on behalf of God, as a bartering tool to get what he wanted. And if anyone refused to play along with these false prophets, they would find themselves on the receiving end of a curse. Their power to prophesy would be used as a weapon to issue threats and manipulate behavior.

But while the people were easily influenced by these charlatans, God was not going to tolerate their behavior. They were claiming to speak on His behalf, but the words coming out of their mouths were in direct contradiction to His divine will. So, Micah warns them that their 15-minutes of fame is about to come to an end.

Now the night will close around you,
    cutting off all your visions.
Darkness will cover you,
    putting an end to your predictions.
The sun will set for you prophets,
    and your day will come to an end. – Micah 3:6 NLT

Micah uses the image of a pitch-black night to convey the future state of these individuals. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is a symbol of God’s divine revelation. Having prophesied falsely, they were going to find themselves “in the dark” when it came to any future revelations from God. Their status as prophets of God would be irrevocably terminated.

This temptation to speak on behalf of God , using the authority of His name for self-aggrandizement, is real and ever-present. And every generation of God’s people has found itself the recipients of false messages from self-appointed spokesmen for God. And, just as in Micah’s day, these individuals stand condemned by God for their audacity to use His name for personal gain.

“Few men are as pitiable as those who claim to have a call from God yet tailor their sermons to please others. Their first rule is ‘Don’t rock the boat’; their second is ‘Give people what they want.’“ – Warren Wiersbe, “Micah.” In The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets

For Micah, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that his arch enemies were going to get their just desserts. Their days of deceiving the people were going to come to an end.

“Then you seers will be put to shame,
    and you fortune-tellers will be disgraced.
And you will cover your faces
    because there is no answer from God.” Micah 3:7 NLT

Having claimed to have been God’s messengers, they were going to find that their communication lines to God were completely cut off. They would call out from their darkness and get no response from heaven. No visions. No prophecies. No answers.

But Micah boldly claimed that he was in the right. He had been a faithful messenger for God, delivering His warnings of coming judgment in the face of constant rejection, ridicule, and hostility.

But as for me, I am filled with power—
    with the Spirit of the Lord.
I am filled with justice and strength
    to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. – Micah 3:8 NLT

He found comfort in the fact that he had been true to his calling. He had not shirked his God-given responsibility to proclaim the truth. Micah wasn’t in it for money. He didn’t tailor his message to tickle the ears of his audience. He hadn’t offered pleasant-sounding platitudes in exchange for personal perks. He had remained faithful to his God-ordained calling and knew that as long as He spoke God’s word he would have the power of God’s Spirit guiding and protecting him.

Those who have been called by God to serve as His messengers have always faced the very real temptation to alter their message to accommodate the whims of their audience. And there will always be those who sell out their calling in order to cash in on their God-ordained influence. But ministers of God must remain faithful to the One who sent them. Even in the face of ridicule and rejection, they must refuse to dilute their message or to diminish the integrity of their calling.

Their outlook regarding their divine assignment must be the same as that of the apostle Paul.

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 2:2-6 NLT

God’s messengers must remain committed to God’s message. They speak for Him. And, one day, they will answer to Him. But as long as they remain faithful to His calling, they will experience the power of His Holy Spirit and enjoy the assurance that their words are filled with justice and strength.

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 Lord Is Their Inheritance

1 “The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord’s food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. And this shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder and the two cheeks and the stomach. The firstfruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time.

“And if a Levite comes from any of your towns out of all Israel, where he lives—and he may come when he desires—to the place that the Lord will choose, and ministers in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow Levites who stand to minister there before the Lord, then he may have equal portions to eat, besides what he receives from the sale of his patrimony. – Deuteronomy 18:1-8 ESV

The nation of Israel was made up of 12 tribes, but one of these tribes, the Levites, enjoyed a special relationship with God. They had been set apart by Him to care for the tabernacle and to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. But for us to fully understand the unique nature of their relationship with God, we have to go back and look at the history of this tribe. Their path to becoming God’s chosen ones has a rather surprising and bumpy beginning.

Back in the book of Genesis, there is recorded an encounter between Jacob, the father of the 12 sons who would later become the tribes of Israel, and Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite. This story took place when Jacob was still living in the land of Canaan, long before the famine forced him and his family to seek food and shelter in Egypt.

The Genesis account relates that Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, went to visit some of the other young girls who lived in the area. “But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw Dinah, he seized her and raped her” (Genesis 34:2 NLT).

When his lust turned to love for Dinah, he begged his father to seek permission from Jacob for her hand in marriage. But when Jacob’s sons “were shocked and furious that their sister had been raped. Shechem had done a disgraceful thing against Jacob’s family, something that should never be done” (Genesis 34:7 NLT).

Hamor, the father of Shechem, pleaded with Jacob to allow the marriage to take place. In fact, he suggested that their two families form an alliance by encouraging additional marriages between their sons and daughters.

“…let’s arrange other marriages, too. You give us your daughters for our sons, and we will give you our daughters for your sons. And you may live among us; the land is open to you! Settle here and trade with us. And feel free to buy property in the area.” – Genesis 34:9-10 NLT

Shechem begged Jacob and his sons to allow him to marry Dinah, promising to pay whatever they demanded as a dowry. Their response must have caught Shechem and his father off guard.

“We couldn’t possibly allow this, because you’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for our sister to marry a man like you!  But here is a solution. If every man among you will be circumcised like we are, then we will give you our daughters, and we’ll take your daughters for ourselves. We will live among you and become one people.” – Genesis 34:14-16 NLT

It was all a ploy designed to provide an opportunity to seek revenge against the Hivites for the rape of Dinah by Shechem.

Shechem convinced all the men in his family to undergo the rite of circumcision by assuring them that this alliance with the family of Jacob would have long-term benefits. But just three days after the men had undergone the painful procedure, and while they were still recovering, Simeon and Levi “took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem. They killed them with their swords, then took Dinah from Shechem’s house and returned to their camp” (Genesis 34:25-26 NLT).

Simeon and Levi were the full brothers of Dinah, having been born to Jacob’s wife, Leah. Their close relationship with their sister must have motivated the extreme nature of their response. But while they were the two sons of Jacob responsible for slaughtering all the men of the Hivites, their 10 brothers took full advantage of their actions by plundering all the wealth of the town, even taking all the wives and children of the Hivites as plunder.

When news reached Jacob of what Simeon and Levi had done, he was appalled.

“You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. We are so few that they will join forces and crush us. I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” – Genesis 34:30 NLT

And years later, when Jacob was on his death bed and pronouncing blessings upon his 12 sons, he would have this to say about Simeon and Levi:

“Simeon and Levi are two of a kind;
    their weapons are instruments of violence.
May I never join in their meetings;
    may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
    and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
    a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
    I will disperse them throughout Israel.” – Genesis 49:5-7 NLT

Jacob pronounced a curse on these two sons and their descendants. Even years after the slaughter of the Hivites, Jacob recalled the treacherous and deceitful nature of their actions. But fast forward to the day when Moses descended from the top of Mount Sinai with the tablets containing the Ten Commandments in his hands. He arrived back in the camp of Israel only to find them worshiping a false god in the form of a golden calf. In his anger, Moses called out to the people:

“All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.

Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day.

Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” – Exodus 32:26-29 NLT

The Levites redeemed themselves. The tribe that had been under their father’s curse for their slaughter of the Hivites were used by God to enact His judgment against the wicked and unfaithful among the Israelites. They became God’s instruments of justice. And, as a result of their faithful service to God, He set them apart and ordained them for His use.

While Jacob had pronounced a curse on the descendants of Levi, decreeing that they would be scattered among the other tribes, God turned this curse into a blessing. He would graciously provide for the needs of the Levites, rewarding them with 48 cities in which to live, scattered among the other 11 tribes of Israel.

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can flee for safety. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. In all, forty-eight towns with the surrounding pastureland will be given to the Levites. These towns will come from the property of the people of Israel. The larger tribes will give more towns to the Levites, while the smaller tribes will give fewer. Each tribe will give property in proportion to the size of its land.” – Numbers 35:6-8 NLT

While Jacob’s curse would ultimately be fulfilled, God sovereignly orchestrated events in such a way that the tribe of Levi would prosper as a result of its fulfillment. It all recalls another interaction between Jacob’s sons and their long-lost brother, Joseph. Out of jealousy over his close relationship with their father, they had sold him into slavery. But years later, when Joseph had become the second-highest-ranking official in Egypt, and his brothers found themselves standing his presence, he told them:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” – Genesis 50:20 NLT

God had been working behind the scenes, orchestrating events so that the treachery of Joseph’s brothers would result in good, not evil. And, in the same way, God used the Levites, who had been cursed by their very own father, to bring about good among the people of Israel. He would redeem and restore them, setting them apart for His use. And God would provide for their needs. While they would never own a single acre of land in Canaan, God would make sure they had cities and homes in which to live and plenty of food to eat. He would be their provider and protector. But even more importantly, He would be their inheritance.

“They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.” – Deuteronomy 18:2 ESV

At one point, the Levites had been cursed and condemned. But they had answered the call of Moses and avenged the glory of God. They had aligned themselves with the righteous cause of God Almighty, and He had graciously redeemed and restored 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

 

 

 

Foolish Wisdom.

“How can you say, ‘We are wise,
    and the law of the Lord is with us’?
But behold, the lying pen of the scribes
    has made it into a lie.
The wise men shall be put to shame;
    they shall be dismayed and taken;
behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,
    so what wisdom is in them?
Therefore I will give their wives to others
    and their fields to conquerors,
because from the least to the greatest
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among the fallen;
    when I punish them, they shall be overthrown,
says the Lord.
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
    there are no grapes on the vine,
    nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
    and what I gave them has passed away from them.”
Jeremiah 8:8-13 ESV

What good is it to know God when what you know about God is wrong? What good does it do you to have a knowledge of God’s Word that’s based on a faulty understanding of what it says? In these verses, God exposes a serious problem among His people that was due to the negligence and deceit of the men who were supposed to be their spiritual leaders. While the people had a false confidence in their knowledge of God’s laws, He tells them, “your teachers have twisted it by writing lies” (Jeremiah 8:8 NLT). Their interpretations of God’s laws and commands were blatantly wrong. They were guilty of manipulating God’s law in such a way that it made adherence to it easier and violation of it less likely. The prophet Isaiah wrote this less-than-flattering assessment of the people of Israel from the mouth of God Himself:

“this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” – Isaiah 29:13 ESV

And centuries later, Jesus would quote this very same verse when speaking of the Pharisees in His day.

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 ESV

The Pharisees and scribes had come to Jesus accusing His disciples of breaking the traditions of the elders by not washing their hands before they ate. And Jesus responded by accusing them of breaking the commandments of God for the sake of their own man-made traditions. While the law said that everyone should honor their father and mother, and that anyone who reviles their father or mother should be put to death, they had developed their own set of laws. They actually taught that if someone had parents who were in need of financial support, the adult child could get out of helping them by simply saying, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God” (Matthew 15:11 NET). And the result of taking advantage of this loophole was, “he does not need to honor his father” (Matthew 15:11 NET). Jesus describes this as nothing less than hypocrisy. It was a violation of the letter of the law.

And that was exactly the kind of thing going on in Jeremiah’s day. They were guilty of violating the letter of the law. By placing the interpretations of men over the God-given intent of the law, they could claim to be living in obedience to God’s will. But God accused these spiritual leaders of having rejected His word. Reinterpreting His laws to create loopholes so that obedience was easier to achieve was nothing less than violating His laws altogether. And God didn’t take what they were doing lightly. He described them stark terms:

“From the least to the greatest,
    their lives are ruled by greed.
Yes, even my prophets and priests are like that.
    They are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 8:10-11 ESV

And worse yet, they had no shame for their actions. They exhibited no remorse or regret over what they had done. Rather than acting as shepherds of God, leading His people well and caring for their spiritual needs effectively, they were motivated by greed and power. They told the people what they wanted to hear. Unlike Jeremiah, who obeyed God and warned the people of coming judgment and called them to repentance, these false shepherds offered superficial words of encouragement and assurances that all would be well.

The role of a spiritual leader among God’s people is a high-cost calling. It can be dangerous. Speaking the truth of God is not always easy or appreciated by those who have to hear it. The prophets of God were rarely well-received or treated with respect. Even Jesus had warned His disciples:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:16-18 ESV

Speaking on behalf of God can be dangerous business. One would think that sharing the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness for sins would always be well-received. But that is exactly the message Jeremiah was given by God to share to the people of Judah. He was calling them to repentance. If they would only acknowledge their sins and return to God, He would forgive them. But there’s the rub. They refused to admit their sins. And they resented the fact that Jeremiah was accusing them of being sinners. In order to receive salvation for sins, God requires acknowledgement of those sins. Someone who refuses to see themselves as a sinner will never see their need for a Savior. That was the problem the Pharisees had. They refused to admit that they were sinners. They viewed themselves as righteous before God. And Jesus sarcastically said of them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12 ESV). They hated the words of Jesus. They rejected His calls to repentance. They saw no need of a Savior because they refused to see themselves as sinners.

And that same kind of attitude is alive and well today. There are countless men and women masquerading as God’s messengers and delivering words of encouragement and false promises of future blessing, while the people of God live in open disobedience to the will of God. In pulpits all across the country, the seriousness of sin is downplayed or ignored altogether. Calls to repentance have been replaced with calls for social reform and messages about tolerance and love at all costs. Sermons on holiness have been replaced with pep talks about happiness. Rather than teaching the whole counsel of God, pastors have determined to cherry pick and proof text their way through the Scriptures, preaching only those passages they deem uplifting and encouraging. Pleasing men has become far more important than pleasing God. And the warning that Paul gave Timothy has come to fruition in our day.

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. – 2 Timothy 4:3 NLT

God would not tolerate this kind of spiritual leadership in Jeremiah’s day and He is not about to tolerate it in ours. He was going to deal harshly with the false prophets and priests in the land of Judah. And what makes us think He is not going to do the same thing among the people of God today. Their successful ministries are not a sign of God’s blessing. Their popularity among the people is not an indication of their position as God’s spokesperson. Diluting the Word of God may result in packed pews but it will never garner the blessing of God. Minimizing God’s call to holiness by preaching messages that promote happiness may build a successful ministry, but it will ultimately bring the judgment of God. God holds His ministers to a very high standard. Anyone who claims to speak for God will be held accountable by God.

 

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

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

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

Peace, Peace.

To whom shall I speak and give warning,
    that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
    they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
    they take no pleasure in it.
Therefore I am full of the wrath of the Lord;
    I am weary of holding it in.
“Pour it out upon the children in the street,
    and upon the gatherings of young men, also;
both husband and wife shall be taken,
    the elderly and the very aged.
Their houses shall be turned over to others,
    their fields and wives together,
for I will stretch out my hand
    against the inhabitants of the land,”
declares the Lord.
“For from the least to the greatest of them,
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.
Jeremiah 6:10-15 ESV

Sometimes we fail to think about the lot of the poor prophet who was tasked with the God-ordained responsibility of delivering a very difficult-to-hear message to the people of God. Jeremiah was just a man. He had feelings and emotions. And, on top of that, Judah was his homeland and the people to whom he was called to minister were his people. He took no pleasure in pointing out the peoples’ sins and warning them of the coming disaster. He was simply doing what God had commanded him to do. But at the same time, he knew the frustration of putting himself on the line everyday, facing the ridicule and rejection of the people, and watching them refuse to believe his words. He had to have felt like a failure at times. He would have known what it was like to get angry at the unwillingness of his own people to listen to what he had to say. And Jeremiah shares with God just a bit of his growing frustration:

“To whom can I give warning?
    Who will listen when I speak?
Their ears are closed,
    and they cannot hear.
They scorn the word of the Lord.
    They don’t want to listen at all.
So now I am filled with the Lord’s fury.
    Yes, I am tired of holding it in!” – Jeremiah 6:10-11 NLT

Jeremiah knew he was speaking for God, but he took their rejection of his words personally. No one likes rejection. The prophet Samuel, went through a similar experience. At one point, the people of Israel came to him and demanded that they give them a king just all the other nations. This request made him angry on two accounts. First of all, he had been serving as the judge over Israel, and he took their request as a personal affront. Secondly, because he had grown old, he had appointed his two sons to serve as judges over Israel as well, but they proved to be corrupt. So, the people demanded a king instead. And Samuel took his frustration with the people to God. But God let Samuel know that he was not to take this personally.

“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.” – 1 Samuel 8:7-8 NLT

Anyone who speaks on behalf of God will experience the frustration of having their words rejected by those to whom they are called to minister. It comes with the territory. The truth is not always welcome. Even Jesus said, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Jeremiah was experiencing the inner conflict of a man who was obligated to speak the word of God, while watching his own people refuse to accept a single thing he had to say as truth. And he knew their refusal to listen was going to have dire consequences. Jeremiah fully believed in the words of God. He had no doubt in his mind that God was going to fulfill every single thing He had said He would do. And God responded to Jeremiah’s growing frustration over the peoples’ stubborn refusal to listen with another warning.

“I will pour out my fury on children playing in the streets
    and on gatherings of young men,
on husbands and wives
    and on those who are old and gray.
Their homes will be turned over to their enemies,
    as will their fields and their wives.
For I will raise my powerful fist
    against the people of this land,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 6:11-12 NLT

God’s wrath against their sin would be unchecked. From the youngest to the oldest, all would suffer the result of His justice, for all were guilty of sin against Him. The entire nation was worthy of facing His judgment. “From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed” (Jeremiah 6:13 NLT). The permeating influence of sin was everywhere and had infected everyone. And it had started at the top and worked its way down.

“From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

Jeremiah had competition. There were others who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God, but their messages were much more acceptable and tolerable. While Jeremiah was busy warning the people of coming disaster, the false prophets were contradicting his words with messages of peace. They were assuring the people that all would be well. God was not going to punish them. But God calls them frauds, and He deems their care for His people as superficial. They were putting band-aids on a mortal wound. Later on, Jeremiah would bring up this problem again, telling God exactly what these false prophets were telling the people:

“All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.” – Jeremiah 14:13 NLT

And God will make it clear that these people did not speak for Him.

Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” – Jeremiah 14:14 NLT

Their unbelievable willingness to claim their words came from God was going to prove disastrous. They would be held accountable for their lies. God would punish them for their deception.

Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! As for the people to whom they prophesy—their bodies will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and war. There will be no one left to bury them. Husbands, wives, sons, and daughters—all will be gone. For I will pour out their own wickedness on them. – Jeremiah 6:15-16 NLT

These people were unashamed for what they were doing. They knew they were lying, but were not even embarrassed when called out about it. God accuses them of not knowing how to blush. There was no remorse or sorrow over sin. There was no regret over having rejected God or for having lied in His name. They weren’t sorry for what they were doing. And, as a result, they would suffer the same fate as the people.

“Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 6:15 NLT

Jeremiah was frustrated, but he was faithful. He was angry over the failure of his people to listen to his words of warning. But he was committed to speaking the truth, regardless of the outcome. He was going to keep saying what God gave him to say, no matter what happened. He wasn’t going to take the easy road and simply tell the people what they wanted to hear. That route would make him more popular. That message would garner him a following. But it would not stop the inevitable. Lies will never stop the truth of God. They may make us feel better for a time, but they will prove short-lived and incapable of preventing the inevitable. The world cries out, “Peace, peace” but God calls out, “Repent!”

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

Oh, What Tangled Webs.

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. – 1 Samuel 30:1-6 ESV

It was in his epic poem, Marmion, that Sir Walter Scott first penned the now-famous words: “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And no story proves the veracity of those words quite the one concerning David as he returned to Ziklag after having been sent home by Achish. No doubt, David was feeling a bit relieved after having narrowly escaped having to go to war with the Philistines and risk exposing the subterfuge behind his whole scheme. He had deceived Achish into believing that he was on his side. He had convinced the Philistine king that he and his men had been occupying their time attacking the enemies of Philistines, when in reality, they had been raiding the enemies of Israel. David never should have been in Philistia in the first place. He had received no direction from God to take his two wives along with all his men and their families and seek refuge among the enemies of Israel. But he had. And now, his life of deception was going to result in a less-than-happy reception when he returned home.

David and his men discovered that their town had been raided by Amalekites while they were away. Believing that their wives and children would be safe, David and his men had mustered for battle, under the pretense that they were going to aid the Philistines in their war against the Israelites. It is doubtful that David would have ever raised his sword against Saul or his kindred. More than likely, he and his men would have turned against the Philistines as soon as the battle started, but he would still have had to deal with Saul, his mortal enemy. David’s rejection by the Philistines was a godsend. He was blessed to have been given a reprieve by God and been allowed to go home. But what he found when he arrived was devastating. Ziklag had been burned to the ground and every person in it had been taken captive by the Amalekites, including David’s two wives. And we don’t have to imagine how David’s men reacted to the scene. They blamed David. It was all his fault. No doubt, they had questioned the wisdom of David when he first came up with his plan to hide among the Philistines. They had probably grumbled and complained as they made their way to the front lines, facing the prospect of having to fight against their own people. But now, their sorrow and frustration overflowed. We’re told that “they wept until they could weep no more” (1 Samuel 30:4 NLT). And then their sadness turned to anger.

David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

David had been in difficult circumstances before, but nothing quite like this. His wives were gone. His men wanted to stone him. Things could not have gotten much worse. And all of it was David’s doing. He had been the architect behind this fiasco. It had been his decision to seek refuge among the Philistines. It had been his idea to use his base in Ziklag to launch raids against the enemies of Israel. He may have fooled King Achish, but he obviously had not fooled the Amalekites, who made it a point to raid and sack the very town in which David and his men lived. All the way back in chapter 27, we read:

Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. – 1 Samuel 27:8-9 ESV

In attacking the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, David had actually been doing the very thing God had commanded the Israelites to do when He gave them the land of Canaan. He had commanded that they completely destroy all the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because if they didn’t, He knew the Israelites would find themselves being negatively influenced by their presence. In a way, these pagan nations represented sin and ungodliness. They practiced idolatry and their societies were marked by immorality and godless behavior. God’s command to remove them was in order to keep the Israelites from becoming like them. But the Israelites had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. So, David’s attacks against the Amalekites had been in obedience to God’s professed will for the people of Israel, but there is no indication that God had commanded David to carry out his raids from the safety of his headquarters in Ziklag. David was attempting to do God’s will his own way. He had been trying to remain faithful to God while, at the same time, failing to trust God to keep him safe in the land of Judah. Like Abraham seeking relief from a famine by seeking refuge to Egypt, David had discovered that his plans, made apart from God’s input, had resulted in some very unsatisfactory and uncomfortable consequences.

But David found strength in the Lord his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

This is a key moment in the life of David. In the midst of one of the most difficult moments of his life, David turned to God. The Hebrews word translated “strength” is chazaq and it carries the idea of encouragement or finding courage. David, at a very weak moment in his life, found courage by turning to God. He had made a mess of his life, but he knew that He could turn to God for strength, support, and the boldness he would need to handle the situation. With his men seeking to stone him, David sought solace and strength in God. And he would learn a valuable, life-changing lesson from this moment in his life. He would later use the very same Hebrew word when penning the words of his psalms.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:14 ESV

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord! – Psalm 31:24 ESV

We can weave some very tangled webs in our lives. We, like David, have the unique capacity to get ourselves in all kinds of predicaments, through disobedience or our own stubborn self-sufficiency. It is so easy to leave God out of our decision-making and then wonder how things got so screwed up. But in those moments of confusion and weakness, we need to do what David did. Turn to God. Seek strength, comfort, encouragement and courage in Him. David could have easily followed up one bad decision with yet another one. He could have begun scheming and planning, trying to figure out how to get himself out of the jam he had created. But instead, he turned to God. He found strength in the Lord his God. And in spite of all that had happened and all that David had done, God would come through. He would prove faithful yet again. And God would untangle the the web that David had weaved. He would graciously clean up the mess created by David’s choice to rely on deceit rather than divine guidance.

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

An Awkward Reunion.

Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them. And he said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.” They said to him, “No, my lord, your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man. We are honest men. Your servants have never been spies.”

He said to them, “No, it is the nakedness of the land that you have come to see.” And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” But Joseph said to them, “It is as I said to you. You are spies. By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you. Or else, by the life of Pharaoh, surely you are spies.” And he put them all together in custody for three days. – Genesis 42:6-17 ESV

And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. That line should ring a loud bell in your mind. It acts as a link to the events that took place years earlier when Joseph was still his father’s favorite son, wearing his multicolored tunic and living in the land of Canaan along with his brothers. Those words are a not-so-subtle reminder of the two dreams Joseph had regarding his family.

One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. “Listen to this dream,” he said. “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!” – Genesis 37:5-7 NLT

Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

It was these two dreams, at least in part, that had led to Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. The dreams had been the last straw, the final point of irritation that had caused their jealousy and hatred of Joseph to reach the point of no return. And yet, 21 years later, here they were bowing down before their brother. Granted, they had no idea it was their long-lost brother. While Joseph recognized them, they were unaware that the man before whom they knelt was the same individual they had sold into slavery years earlier. It would have been the last thing they expected.

But Joseph recognized his brothers and remembered his dreams. There must have been a host of emotions that welled up in Joseph as he looked at his brothers for the first time in years, recalling what they had done to him. All the memories of his childhood and the special relationship he shared with Jacob, his father, would have come to mind. Joseph was human, and like any human being, he would have felt pangs of anger and resentment, the desire for revenge, the temptation to gloat, and the longing for restoration. For the time being, Joseph decided to keep his identity hidden from his brothers and “he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them” (Genesis 37:7 ESV).

What happened next was a series of tests administered by Joseph in order to determine the hearts and attitudes of his brothers. It had been two decades since he had seen them and he needed to know if they were the same men who had sold him into slavery. Had their hearts changed? Were they the least bit remorseful over their actions? Could they be trusted? His last memory of his brothers was that of a scheming, disloyal band of individuals who let petty jealousy and envy so cloud their minds that they sold their own flesh and blood for 20 shekels of silver. And we must always remember that their original idea had been to kill Joseph. They had been willing to take his life, but had settled for selling him to the slave traders when cooler heads prevailed.

By this time, Joseph must have looked like an Egyptian. As the royal governor, he would have been wearing Egyptian garments and surrounded by the trappings of his office. All his brothers saw was a powerful Egyptian official to whom they must humbly bow if they hoped to walk away with any grain to take home to their father. So when this unknown official accused them of being spies, they were shocked and dismayed. Their pulse rates quickened and their eyes grew wide with fright. They were a long way from home and were in a hopeless position, falsely accused by one of the most powerful men in Egypt. So they denied the charges and told the governor their story. They let him know about their father and their younger brother, who both awaited their return. They even mentioned their brother who “is no longer with us” (Genesis 42:13 NLT).

But Joseph demands that they prove their story by sending one of their brothers back to Canaan to fetch their father and brother. In the meantime, the rest would remain under house arrest as spies. The Joseph had them put in custody for three days to give them time to think about what they would do. This allowed the brothers time to think about their precarious situation and to discuss their strategy. Would they be honest or would they concoct a lie in order to save their lives? They had no idea that this entire scenario was the sovereign plan of God and that the brother they had sold into slavery was the one before they bowed and to whom they owed their lives and those of their families back in Canaan. This tension-filled reunion was part of God’s plan to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their father. Even their immoral act of betraying their own brother would be redeemed by God in order to bring about His sovereign plan. The next weeks and months would prove uncomfortable and disconcerting for them. They would have to live with uncertainty and a growing sense of remorse and regret, wondering if their former actions were the reason for their current circumstances. Had their earlier sin finally caught up with them? Was this God’s payback for their mistreatment of Joseph? God was looking for a change of heart. He was desiring repentance in the lives of those whom He was about to fulfill His covenant promise.