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 promising them that this alliance with the family of Jacob would have long-term benefits. But just three days after the men had undergone the 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 service.

While Jacob 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 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 Jacob 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

 

 

 

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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.

Return To God.

Ephraim feeds on the wind and pursues the east wind all day long; they multiply falsehood and violence; they make a covenant with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” – Hosea 12:1-6 ESV

Jacob was the common ancestor of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. His life had been a contentious affair, and it started at his birth. He had come from the womb clutching the heel of his twin brother Esau. He would grow up to be a man who depended upon trickery and deceit to get what he wanted. But it was after his face-to-face encounter with God, where he wrestled with the Lord, demanding that He bless him, that his name and his life were forever changed. Jacob called the name of the place where his encounter with God took place, Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Genesis 32:30 ESV). had been given a new name. And it was there that God gave him his new name. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 ESV). Israel means “he strives with God.” Jacob, in desperate need of God’s blessing, was willing to physically fight with God in order to receive it. For the first time in his life, he knew he needed God. He could not live his life on trickery and deceit any longer.

Much earlier in his life, Jacob had had another encounter with God. It was at a place called Luz. Moses records what happened there.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Jacob had renamed the place, Bethel, which means “House of God.” And years later, after God had changed his name to Israel, he was instructed by God to go back to Bethel.

“Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. – Genesis 35:1-4 ESV

It is interesting to note, that while Jacob commanded his household to put away their foreign gods and worship God alone, he did not destroy the idols, but hid them under a tree near Shechem. His obedience to God was incomplete. While the idols had been buried, the peoples’ desire for them had not gone away. Years later, when they had been returned to the land after their more than 400 years of captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Israel would continue to prove their unfaithfulness to God through the worship of false gods. And Bethel would be one of the cities where Jeroboam, the king of the northern nation of Israel, would set up a golden calf and command the people to worship it. He turned the place called “House of God” into a place to worship false gods. It was as if the idols Jacob had buried under the tree had been dug up. Their influence upon the people of Israel had never really diminished.

When Jacob had wrestled with God, he had recognized the divine nature of the place. He had said, “What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT). And now, generations later, his descendants had turned Bethel into gateway to idol worship and apostasy. But Hosea begged the people of Israel to return to the Lord. He wanted them to remember the faithfulness of God and turn away from their love affair with false gods. “The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, the Lord is his name! So now, come back to your God. Act with love and justice, and always depend on him” (Hosea 12:5-6 NLT). As Jacob had learned his need for God, the people of Israel needed to rediscover their desperate dependency on Him. Like Jacob in his early years, their lives were characterized by deceit, trickery, manipulation and self-sufficiency. They wanted the blessings of God without obedience to God. Now Hosea was calling them to live lives that reflected their status as God’s children. They were to exhibit love, justice and obedience. Their lives were to be characterized by faithfulness. No more wrestling with God. No more contending and conniving. Jacob’s wrestling match with God had left him with a permanent limp. And the people of Israel were going to find out just how painful resistance to God can be. God wanted to bless them, but they were too stubborn to let that happen. And sadly, there are believers today who refuse to let God bless them. Rather than submit to His will and walk in His ways, they stubbornly demand to live their lives according to their own terms. Rather than return and repent, they resist. They may bury their idols under the tree, but their love affair with them remains.

Throw Up. Grow Up.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. – 1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV

So. Therefore. As a result. Consequently. With that in mind.

That little word, “so” is a transitional word. It links everything in chapter one with what is about to follow. In chapter one, Peter has provided us with some indicative statements. As the word suggests, they indicate something. The statements Peter makes in chapter one point out or show us something that is a truth or fact. For instance, he says that according to God’s great mercy, “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV). He tells us that, as a result, we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). We are being guarded through faith by God’s power for salvation (1 Peter 1:5 ESV). During this lifetime, our faith will be tested, but in the end it will only prove that our faith was genuine, bringing praise and glory to God (1 Peter 1:7 ESV). We have been called by God and have been set apart by Him to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15 ESV). And our souls have been purified because we obeyed the truth of the gospel (1 Peter 1:22 ESV).

So, as a result…

This is where the imperatives come in. Indicatives are always followed by imperatives, which are simply commands. According to Dictionary.com, an imperative is “something that demands attention or action; an unavoidable obligation or requirement; a necessity.” So chapter two begins a long series of imperative statements that provide us with clear insight into how our behavior should reflect our new standing in Christ. He begins by saying, “put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1 ESV). To understand this verse, we have to go back to verse 22 of chapter one. Peter wrote, “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.” The five nouns found in verse one of chapter two are all antithetical to the kind of love to which Peter is calling us. Malice is a kind of evil that desires to harm others. Deceit describes a subtle, hidden intent to trick or bait someone in order to harm them or get something from them. Hypocrisy is another form of deceit, where one tries to dishonestly portray himself as something other than what he is. Envy is a form of jealousy mingled with spite. It not only longs for what the other person has, but hates them for having it. Slander is a form of backbiting or gossip with an intent to harm the reputation of another individual. 

You can see how these five attitudes or actions stand in direct opposition to the kind of brotherly love that Peter has called us to. So he tells us to put them away. The Greek word he used is ἀποτίθημι (apotithēmi) and it means “to cast off, to renounce” (Greek Lexicon :: G659 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). There is a certain forcefulness to the word. It was a favorite word of Paul. He told the believers in Rome to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12 ESV). He wrote to the Ephesian believers, “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). To the Colossian church he wrote, “you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8 ESV). Even the apostle, James, got in the act, using the very same word when he wrote, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21 ESV).

Because of who we are in Christ, we are to live differently. We are to love one another. But it is impossible to pull that off if we are constantly backbiting, deceiving, envying and attempting to take advantage of or harm one another. So we have to take an aggressive attitude toward these things in our lives – casting them off like filthy clothes. They should repulse us and be repugnant to us. And it is important that we keep in mind that, like most of the letters in the New Testament, this letter has a corporate message to it. These imperatives are written to the church, not just the individual believer. Together, we are to put aside these things. We are to make sure that they are not present in our fellowship. Any one of these things can become a cancer, spreading disease and ultimately spiritual death to a congregation if it is allowed to linger. So we are to put them away.

And in their place we are to long for the “pure spiritual milk” of God’s Word. As we rid ourselves of these things, we are to fill ourselves with Scripture. We are to long for it. In fact, the Greek word Peter uses is ἐπιποθέω (epipotheō) and it is a word that is often used in a negative sense to refer to lust. It means “to earnestly desire or long for” (Greek Lexicon :: G1971 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). We are to crave God’s Word like an infant craves milk. And the Word of God plays a formative role in the life of every believer, strengthening and nourishing them, providing them with all that they need to grow up in their faith. It’s interesting to note that Peter says the Word of God helps us “grow up into salvation.” For many of us, salvation was a one-time event that took place some time in the past. We prayed a prayer. We walked the aisle. We gave our life to Christ. But Peter seems to indicate that, while our salvation had a beginning, it is to be ongoing. To grow up into salvation is to mature in our faith and our understanding of just what God has done for us through Christ. Our understanding of and appreciation for God’s mercy, grace, love and forgiveness should grow day by day. Our dependence upon God should increase over time. Our realization of our own weakness and His power should grow exponentially as we spend more time on this planet.

Maintaining his imagery of a nursing infant, Peter tells us that if we tasted the goodness of the Lord at our conversion, we should long for it more and more as we grow older. We should want more of that goodness with each passing day. And we should be willing to get rid of anything that would stand in the way of us receiving it. We will never fill up on God’s goodness if we are filled with malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy or slander. So we need to purge these things from our system. And in reality, these things are less like dirty garments we wear than they are like destructive elements we have ingested into our system. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). So, in a sense, we need to regurgitate what is inside us so it can be replaced with the nourishing, nurturing Word of God, and grow up into salvation.

Genesis 29-30, Matthew 15

A Dangerous Trend.

Genesis 29-30, Matthew 15

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.  – Matthew 15:18-20 ESV

The pattern of deceit and deception found in the story of Jacob and Esau will follow him as he attempts to escape the wrath of his brother Esau. Jacob’s arrival in the land of his uncle, Laban, would appear to be a positive turn in the story of Abraham’s descendants. But we continue to see the sin of man polluting the stream of God’s divine plan. And yet, in spite of it all, God remains faithful to His covenant promise, providing blessings on and through Jacob.

What does this passage reveal about God?

While God seems to be silent throughout much of this portion of the story, He is always there, behind the scenes, orchestrating the outcomes of Jacob’s relationships and circumstances. The men and women in these passages continue to sin, acting selfishly and treating one another contemptuously. Their actions, for the most part, are unrighteous and far from godly. Everyone is looking out for themselves. And yet, in the midst of this competitive and conflict-saturated atmosphere, God is there.

God orchestrates the arrival of Jacob at the well at just the same time that Rachel arrives with her father’s sheep. Jacob, whose very name means “trickster” or “deceiver” is himself deceived by his own uncle. It seems that Laban and Jacob were cut from the same cloth, a detail that had not escaped God’s plans for Jacob. God would use Laban’s deception to bring about the birth of the twelve sons who would make up the future tribes of Israel. All the bickering, bartering, deceit and deception would be redeemed by God for His divine purposes. The passage tells us that “When the Lord saw that Leah was ‘hated,’ he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31 ESV). God was in control. Even the very names of the children reflect this fact. Reuben means “sees” and refers to God’s recognition of Leah’s situation. Simeon means “hears” and speaks of God’s awareness of Rachel’s hatred for Leah. Judah means “praise” as a reminder of Leah’s gratefulness to God for all He had done for her. Each of the names of each of the children in some way reflect a character quality or attribute of God. God “remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22 ESV).

And God blessed Laban. Even though this man had lied to and cheated his nephew, God blessed him because of Jacob’s very presence. God had promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him, and this was a partial fulfillment of that promise. And God blessed Jacob. He prospered him and caused his flocks to increase. Jacob thought his unique attempt at genetic engineering was the cause of his success, but in reality, it was all the work of God. And while Laban once again tried to cheat Jacob, God was blessing him. “Thus the man increased greatly and had large flocks, female servants and male servants, and camels and donkeys” (Genesis 30:43 ESV). God was at work. And while the cast of characters in this story bring little in the way of virtue or redeeming qualities, God is still able to accomplish His divine will – for His glory and the ultimate good of man.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Once again, it is not a pretty picture. In Laban, Jacob met his match. He ends up looking in the mirror and sees himself. This entire story is a virtual repeat of what has happened before. Jacob gets cheated by Laban just as Jacob had cheated Esau. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, just as his mother had loved him more than his brother Esau. God opened Leah’s womb just as He had Sarah’s. Both Leah and Rachel follow the example of Sarah and give their maid servants to their husband in an attempt to provide him with children. Throughout the story there is an unhealthy competition that results in increasing conflict. Leah bargains with Rachel for the rights to have sexual relations with Jacob, using fruit as the currency of the day. Just as Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew, Rachel sells her “rights” to have sexual relations with Jacob – for a handful of fruit.

All throughout this story, we see men and women who are controlled by their flesh or sin natures. They respond to one another selfishly and sinfully, with very little regard for the name of God. You see little in the way of remorse, let alone repentance. They acknowledge the hand of God when it works out in their favor, but respond in anger and resentment when things don’t turn out well. They fight, feud, deceive, cheat, and constantly strive to make sure that everything works out for their own selfish advantage – all the while, unaware of God’s greater plan and the bigger picture He is painting for all mankind.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Like Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban, I can become so myopic and short-sighted, that I fail to recognize all that God is doing behind the scenes in my life. I can become so self-consumed that I no longer see God’s bigger plan for the human race. I want to make it all about me, but it’s not. It’s all about God and His divine plan for mankind. I find it fascinating that the companion New Testament passage for today’s reading is Matthew 15. In it, we read these sobering words from Jesus Himself. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 ESV).

That’s the story of Genesis. That’s the story of man. What we see happening in chapters 29-30 of Genesis is the effects of heart disease. As Isaiah wrote and Jesus quoted, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Jacob may have been a descendant of Abraham and heir of the promises of God, but at this point in his life, his heart was far from God. He was in self-preservation mode. His lived by the code: “every man for himself.” And far too often, I can find myself living that very same way. The amazing thing is that God continues to bless me in spite of me. He continues to fulfill His promises to me, not because I deserve it or have earned the favor, but out of His amazing grace. Leah, Rachel, Laban and Jacob all gave God lip service. They tipped their hats to His obvious influence in and around their lives. They gave their children names that reflected God’s involvement in their lives. Laban acknowledged God’s influence over his life. But their hearts were far from Him. They failed to truly worship and fear Him. They were incapable of seeing His sovereign plan at work among them. I want to learn from their mistakes and recognize my own spiritual shortcomings as I read about theirs. So that I might become a willing participant in God’s divine plan, not just an unknowing passenger who is along for the ride.

Father, I see myself in this story. I share so many of the qualities and characteristics of Jacob, Rachel, Leah and Laban. I don’t want to be guilty of honoring you with my lips but having a heart that is far from You. Open my eyes and let me see the reality of my own sin nature and my ongoing need for Your Son’s saving and sanctifying work in my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 20e

The Detestability of Dishonesty.

“The Lord detests double standards; he is not pleased with dishonest scales.” – Proverbs 20:23 NLT

Dishonesty has become a comfortable, close friend to a lot of us. No, we would never admit it and some of us may not even be able to recognize it. But if the truth be known, dishonesty has become a natural and normal part of our lives. It’s a subtle thing. We don’t think of ourselves as liars or cheats. We don’t try to take advantage of others by twisting the truth or falsifying information. But there is a tinge of dishonesty in our dealings with others and even in our relationship with God. And that should scare us, because Solomon warns us twice in this Proverb about God’s disdain and dislike for dishonesty in all its forms. Yes, he seems to be talking about financial dealings or dishonesty in commerce, but God’s hatred for double standards goes well beyond just false weights and unequal measures. If we deal with this passage so literally, we will all escape unscathed because none of us use actual scales and measures anymore. Those are antiquated business tools that no longer apply, but the heart behind them does. These verses are dealing with an attitude of dishonesty and deception in the heart of an individual that causes him to use any and all means at his disposal to take advantage of others for his own selfish gain. God despises it. He detests it.

While most of us would never think of cheating someone in a business transaction, we have probably fudged the facts slightly in order to make a sale or close a deal. We have withheld important information that we believe might hurt the negotiations. We may have not disclosed some income on our taxes or we might have over-estimated our income when applying for a loan. And what’s interesting is that we would be the first ones to scream, “Injustice!” if someone had done those same things to us. We would cry foul and demand restitution. That’s a double standard and God hates it. It flies counter to the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is why God hates dishonesty. It is disingenuous and incredibly self-centered. It reveals an attitude and heart that is self-focused and cares little for the well-being of others.

The problem with dishonesty is that it can become a habit. We can do it for so long and so well, that we even end up deceiving ourselves. We begin justifying our actions as acceptable and understandable, given the circumstances. We become sly and subtle in our dishonesty. And it can take on all kinds of forms. One of the most common is our tendency to act as if we’re something we’re not. We put on a facade and pretend to be something or someone other than who we really are. We act more successful than we are. We pretend to be more sophisticated than we actually happen to be. We try to give off the impression we are financially better off than our bank account might reveal. These are all forms of deception and dishonesty. Another common form of dishonesty is our unwillingness to be transparent and open with one another. Our lives could be cratering and falling apart, but we will put on the happy face and muster up the energy to try and fool all those who know us, just so they won’t know the truth about us. God hates it when we do this. It’s dishonest and deceptive. It is untruthful, and when exposed, causes those who know us to lose trust in us. People lose faith in us because we refuse to be honest with them about who we are and what we are going through.

One of the realities about dishonesty is that we may fool others, but we can never fool God. “The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT). God sees all. He knows all. He is aware of every occurrence of dishonesty in our lives. He knows when we lie. He is aware every time we withhold the truth in any form or in any way. He is never deceived by our deception. And He despises, dislikes and disdains it when we attempt to cover up, hide, fake it, or live our lives dishonestly or deceptively. He is a God of truth. He longs to see His people live in integrity. The biblical concept of integrity is wholeness or completeness. It carries the idea of a life with no compartmentalization. There are no hidden areas. Not skeletons in the closet. We live our lives in integrity before God when we recognize that He sees all and so we stop trying to hide anything from Him. We wholly and holy before Him. No deceit, deception or dishonesty.

Father, help me to live openly and honestly before You. Show me when I am being dishonest because sometimes I think I have grown so accustomed to it that I don’t recognize it anymore. Don’t allow me to live in dishonesty and deceit. Remind me daily that You see the motives of my heart. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 9b

The Folly Of False Advertising.

“Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!” – Proverbs 9:17 NLT

Prior to entering the ministry, I spent 29 years in the advertising industry as a graphic designer. I loved everything about advertising and marketing. I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of the business and coming up with creative ways to market products to specific audiences in order to increase sales. But one of the dangers inherent in the industry is the temptation to present a product or service in a way that either obscures and ignores its faults or enhances and overly inflates its attributes. Sadly to say, it’s a common practice because increased sales drive everything, including ethics, at times. But if you’ve ever been a victim of false advertising, you know how frustrating it can be. You buy a product on good faith, only to find out that it can’t deliver on the promises made when you bought it. Your investment ends up being a big disappointment. The same could be said of sin. Satan is called the father of lies and he is an expert at manipulating the facts in order to present his product in the most favorable light. He is adept at advertising sin in such a way that it not only sounds appealing, but indispensable. Solomon was well aware of this fact. Over and over again in the Proverbs he warns of the dangers of false advertising. But he isn’t dealing with products that fail to live up to their expectation. He’s warning against the moral failure that inevitably comes as a result of our own lack of discernment in the face of the enemy’s alluring offers. Solomon talks a lot about the promiscuous or adulterous woman. He describes her words as seductive. He says her lips are as sweet as honey, and her mouth as smoother than oil. She seduces with pretty speech and entices with flattery. And because they lack discernment, men fall prey to her tactics, taking the lure and reaping the results of their own stupidity. Solomon describes folly in a similar manner, describing it as a woman calling out to those who lack judgment, “Stolen water is refreshing; food eaten in secret tastes the best!” (Proverbs 9:17 NLT). It sounds so true, so appealing, so tantalizingly logical. But it’s a lie. Temptation is always tempting, otherwise it would have no impact on us. And our enemy, Satan, knows our weaknesses. He is fully aware of the chinks in our armor. He knows what will tempt each of us and that is where he focuses his attention. He understands human nature and he appeals to our basest instincts and tries to take advantage of our sin natures. As in all advertising, Satan knows the key to success is figuring out how to appeal to our insatiable pride. So he flatters us, distracts us, manipulates and deceives us. He promises to give us what only God can provide. He offers us satisfaction, significance, and success. He guarantees us happiness. But the results are always the same: disappointment, disillusionment and, ultimately, death.

But wisdom calls out, “Come, eat my food, and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave you simple ways behind, and begin to live; learn to use good judgment” (Proverbs 9:6 NLT). God offers us true satisfaction, real success, and lasting significance – in Him. Don’t buy the lie. Listen to God. Answer His call. You’ll never be disappointed.

Father, give me the capacity to see through the subtle lies of the enemy. Don’t let me fall prey to his false advertisements. Only You can deliver what I need. Teach me to trust You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org