Not Up For Debate

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Verses 5-9 give Titus the what behind his job description. He is supposed to complete any unfinished business regarding the churches on Crete, and he was to select and appoint elders to help oversee each congregation. Now, in verses 10-16, Paul provides him with the why. The gospel was spreading on Crete, and the churches were increasing in number and size. The expansion of the ministry had brought in more people, but also a range of problems. Success has a way of attracting attention, and because the number of converts to Christianity was increasing, this new religion was gaining interest among those who had less-than-godly motives.

One of the reasons behind Paul’s instructions that Titus appoint qualified men to serve as elders over the churches was the presence of some bad influences within the local congregations. Paul gives the impression that this was not a case of a few bad apples, but a whole barrel-full. And his description of these people is far from flattering. He describes them as insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers. Their lives were characterized by a refusal to submit to authority. The Greek word Paul used is anypotaktos, and it can literally be translated as “not subject to.” These people answered to no one but themselves. So, Titus was going to need a group of elders who could assist him in stemming the negative influence of these individuals, because they were empty talkers. Here Paul uses a Greek word that is actually a contraction of two other words: mataiologos. The first half refers to vanity or something that lacks truth or purpose. Therefore, it has no beneficial value. The second half of the word refers to speech and, when you combine the two you get the idea of useless words that have no basis in truth and no lasting benefit. In fact, Paul describes their words as deceptive. He uses the Greek word phrenapatēs, which is a contraction of two other words and literally means “mind-misleader.” 

These people were what Paul would describe as false teachers. They were men and women who had brought their own agendas into the church and were propagating ideas that were not in line with the teaching of the apostles. Their “empty talk” was likely a toxic cocktail that attempted to blend pagan ideas and their own personal perspectives with the gospel message. And Paul specifically points out “those of the circumcision party” – the Jewish converts to Christianity who were demanding that all Gentile converts submit to the rite of circumcision and agree to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be considered truly saved. 

These people were guilty of the very same thing Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of in His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Paul had been forced to confront the same problem among the Colossian believers, and he warned them:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Colossians 2:8 NLT

Paul had gone on to tell the believers in Colossae that these man-made rules and requirements had no lasting value. They were simply a listing of dos and don’ts that were based on mere whim and not the word of God.

…why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. – Colossians 2:20-22 NLT

And Paul tells Titus that these kinds of people need to be silenced. Their false ideas were not to be tolerated and, most certainly, were not to be amalgamated into the doctrine of the church. That is why Paul insisted that any elder candidate must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). It is difficult to confront falsehood if you don’t know the truth. You will find it hard to correct others if you have no clue as to what they are saying or doing wrong. 

But pointing out the error behind false teaching is one of the key roles of an elder. Which is why it essential that an elder be one who is steeped in the Word of God and “who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). Otherwise, falsehood will spread throughout the church unrecognized and unabated. So, Paul warns Timothy: “They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). False teaching has real consequences. It is dangerous and deadly because it leads people away from the truth of the gospel. In the case of the party of the circumcision, they were adding to the gospel, demanding that rule-keeping was a necessary part of salvation. In their minds, salvation was no longer a free gift from available through the grace of God. It was based on a set of rules determined by men. And Paul would have nothing to do with it.

And the worst part of the whole affair is that the individuals spreading these lies were not doing it for the good of the church, but for their own selfish gain. They were in it for what they could get out of it, and that most likely included power, prestige, influence, and, possibly, financial gain. These people saw themselves as on an equal plain with that of Paul and the other apostles. They deemed themselves to be spokesmen for God, but they had not been sent by God. And there were not teaching the truth of God.

Quoting a well-known Cretan poet, who described his own people as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV), Paul seems to be saying that the people of Crete were prone to being deceived. They were buying what these false teachers were selling, which is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” This was serious business, and there was no room for diplomacy or political correctness. And Titus was to concern himself with the strengthening of the faith of any who had been misled by the teaching of these individuals. He was to call them back to the truth of the gospel message as expressed by Jesus and His disciples. And by promoting the truth, Titus would help the believers in Crete to stop “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

One of the primary errors Paul and Titus were having to expose was asceticism. This was teaching that promoted the abstaining from certain foods or activities. It was a works-based mentality that equated spirituality with self-denial. But Paul wanted Titus to remember that to the pure all things are pure. In other words, a Christian’s righteousness is not based on his or her activities or abstentions from certain actions, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. While our behavior is important, it is not what makes us right with God. As Isaiah so clearly stated, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

Paul was echoing the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples, “Don’t you understand yet? Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:16-20 NLT).

This is what Titus was to reaffirm to the believers on Crete, because the false teachers were confusing the matter. They were teaching that was made impure from outside influences. Therefore, abstinence was the key to spirituality. But Paul wanted Titus to drive home the gospel message that true spirituality begins on the inside, in the heart, as the Spirit of God takes up residence in the believer and transforms him from the inside out.

And just in case Titus has missed his point in all of this, Paul makes it painfully clear, declaring that the false teachers on Crete “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15 ESV). He leaves no doubt as to his opinion of these people. And he gives Titus no room for negotiation with them. They are unfit for any good work. And Titus, with the help of the elders he would eventually appoint, was expected to deal with these people quickly and effectively, for the sake of the body of Christ on Crete.

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.s

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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Smoke and Mirrors

12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. – Jude 1:12-13 ESV

Jude continues his unrelenting barrage against the false teachers, and he uses symbolic imagery from the realm of nature to do it. These less-than-flattering comparisons leave no doubt as to his opinion of these individuals and the negative influence they were having on local congregations.

His reference to them as hidden reefs reveals his concern that they were operating out-of-sight which made them all that more dangerous. Like a reef lying just beneath the surface of the water, unseen by the pilot of a ship, these individuals existed within the body of Christ, but somewhat hidden from view. And, for Jude, it was important that their presence be exposed so that the church could avoid spiritual shipwreck. It is often the case that those who promote false doctrines choose to remain in the background, quietly promoting their error in relative obscurity. Rather than seeking the main stage and the power of the pulpit, they wield their influence one-on-one, slowly spreading their lies like cancer.

Jude describes them as using the love feast as a platform for their propaganda. The love feast was a regularly occurring feature of the New Testament church. It was a time when the church gathered to share a common meal, centered around the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. This intimate gathering provided the perfect venue for these people to share their views in a relaxed and unassuming atmosphere of mutual love. People would have naturally let their guard down on these occasions because they were gathered together with those they loved and with whom they shared a mutual love for Christ. And these false teachers used those regular gatherings to disseminate their views with no reverence or regard for the Lord’s Table itself. For them, it was nothing more than an opportunity to make their views known. Rather than celebrating and commemorating the truth surrounding Christ’s sacrificial death, they were interested in promoting their lies.

Their interests were purely selfish. Which made their presence at the love feast all that more egregious. They were self-promoters who only cared about making their views known so they could increase their influence over the flock of Jesus Christ for their own personal gain. Which is why Jude refers to them as shepherds who feed themselves. They had no care or concern for the flock. Their actions were motivated by love of self, not love for others. This imagery of the selfish shepherd would have resonated in the agrarian culture. And it would have been very familiar to any of the Jews within the congregation because of its use in the Old Testament Scriptures. God had used this same indictment against the spiritual leaders of Israel.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep?” – Ezekiel 34:2 NLT

“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. – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

These men cared more about their views than they did for the people of God. They had a higher regard for their own personal opinions than they did for the flock of God.

Next, Jude compares them to waterless clouds. In a land where rain could be rare, the presence of a cloud was a sign of hope. It carried with it the possibility of refreshment. But the kind of cloud to which Jude is referring was one that came and went without offering a single drop of rain. They were blown by the wind and disappeared almost as quickly as they came. Their words sounded good, and their teaching seemed to offer hope but, in time, the truth would be known. They were all talk with no substance. They were like clouds that brought no rain. While they might offer temporary relief from the scorching heat of the sun, they would eventually blow over, leaving nothing but parched ground and spiritual thirst in their wake. What a hateful thing it is to offer hope, but no help. What could be crueler than teasing the spiritual thirsty with thoughts of relief, only to leave them in disappointment and despair?

God had strong words regarding all those who attempt to slake spiritual thirst through man-made means.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

The false teaching of these individuals offered false hope. Their words were like a hand-dug cistern riddled with cracks that made it incapable of offering any form of relief.

And Jude is far from done. He calls them fruitless trees. Once again, the point seems to be that they offered hope, but without delivering. A tree, barren of fruit, was of little use. And to make their uselessness obvious, Jude describes them as “doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots” (Jude 1:12 NLT). In other words, they will never bear fruit. His reference to the Autumn was intended to convey the thought that they were in the wrong season for producing fruit. It was impossible. But what made matters even worse was that these “trees” had been pulled up by the roots and were physically incapable of fruit-bearing, regardless of the time of year. The church was never going to receive any benefit because these false teachers were spiritually dead.

As far as Jude was concerned, these people were nothing more than trouble-makers. They stirred up dissension and discord like waves stir up debris and throw it onto the shore. These people were relentless in their efforts, like the repetitive nature of waves breaking on the sand. With each successive wave of their teaching, more lies get deposited into the hearts and minds of the people, with no sign of relief.

Finally, Jude refers to them as wandering stars. Unlike fixed stars that provided seaman and travelers with a constant source of guidance and direction in their journeys, these individual were like planets whose position in the sky was constantly changing. They had the appearance of stars but were unreliable as a navigational point of reference. Depending on the season, they could appear in different locations in the sky, making them completely useless for determining your location or reaching your destination.  Jude describes them as being “doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13 NLT). They were going nowhere. Their fate was sealed, sand the future was certain. Their lies and deceit would leave them marred in their own falsehood and deception, incapable of seeing the truth and experiencing the joy that God offered.

The danger was real, but it was subtle and sinister in its appearance. It tended to remain hidden from view, and when it did appear, it was attractive, offering what appeared to be true hope and help. But it was all smoke and mirrors. And Jude wanted his audience to recognize the false teaching of these people for what it was: A dangerous and deadly threat to the spiritual well-being of the church.

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

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. 11 Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. – Jude 1:9-11 ESV

You don’t have to be a theological scholar to recognize that Jude has a strong dislike for the false teachers about whom he is writing. You won’t find any grace or kindness in his words regarding them. He doesn’t paint them as well-meaning, but misinformed individuals who hold a slightly different view than his. He isn”t accommodating or concilatory. He shows no interest in compromise or making concessions. The issues these individuals are addressing are not up for debate and are not subject to their own personal opinions or views.

Jude saw their intentions as anything but well-meaning. In fact, he paints them as spies, describing them as having “crept in unnoticed” with the sole into to “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:4 ESV).  These people were not to be trusted or tolerated. And Jude leaves no doubt as to the reason for his dislike for and disdain of them.

…these people—who claim authority from their dreams—live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings. – Jude 1:8 NLT

It seems that these individuals displayed a certain sense of super-spirituality, claiming to have received visions from God to back up their false teaching. And yet, Jude points out that their lives were marked by immorality, rebellion against authority, and a rejection of the supernatural. That last point is somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, but Jude seems to be picking up on something that Peter dealt with in one of his letter.

He [God] is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority.

These people are proud and arrogant, daring even to scoff at supernatural beings without so much as trembling. But the angels, who are far greater in power and strength, do not dare to bring from the Lord a charge of blasphemy against those supernatural beings. – 2 Peter 2:10-11 NLT

It would appear that these false teachers were guilty of rejecting certain ideas concerning the supernatural realm, including the presence of demons or fallen angels. They scoffed at the idea, labeling it as nothing more than superstition. And yet, Peter made it clear that God took the presence of demons seriously.

For God did not spare even the angels who sinned. He threw them into hell, in gloomy pits of darkness, where they are being held until the day of judgment. – 2 Peter 2:4 NLT

And as Peter pointed out, even good angels refuse to speak a negative word regarding their fallen counterparts. As spiritual beings, they had a serious and reverent regard for the supernatural. But that was not the case for these false teachers. They thought they knew better. They saw themselves as smarter than angels.

But, to put it bluntly, the false teachers were nothing more than religious rebels, attempting to force their particular point of view on the unsuspecting believers within the local congregation. They had an open disregard for God’s point of view. And it appears that they treated the supernatural with disdain.

At this point, Jude uses what appears to be a well-known story regarding Moses, which is not recorded in the Bible. It is likely based on oral tradition and had been handed down among the Jewish community over the centuries. It was actually recorded in the apocryphal book, The Assumption of Moses. Jude’s use of this story shouldn’t necessarily be taken as proof of its authenticity. He was simply using its familiar details for the purpose of proving his point.

So that we might better understand the nature of Jude’s use of this story, William John Deane provides this commentary.

Taking into consideration the circumstances of the burial of Moses, we see that it was intended to be a secret transaction. The Lord, we are told (Deut. xxxiv.6), “buried him in a valley of the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Doubtless there was a good reason for this secrecy. The, proneness of the Jews to idolatry, the likelihood that the body of their great leader might become an object of adoration, even as the brazen serpent drew their hearts away in later time, the tendency to follow the creature-worship and to pay that undue reverence to relics which they had seen in Egypt, — these considerations may have led to the concealment of the body of Moses. And the devil wished to frustrate this purpose. He saw an opportunity of using the mortal remains of Moses to draw away the Israelites from true religion. He would have no mystery about the burial. The people should be shown their leader’s resting place; of the result he had no doubt whatever. And Michael, the appointed guard of the grave, as the Targum says, resisted this evil attempt of Satan, and firmly carried out the purpose of God. Using the words which God Himself had employed when the wicked spirit endeavoured to withstand His act of clothing Joshua, the high priest, in festal garments (Zech. iii.), Michael answered, “The Lord rebuke thee.” And in the unknown spot the body rested; or, at any rate, it was seen no more till it appeared to the wondering three on the Mount of Transfiguration fourteen hundred years later. – William John Deane, Pseudepigrapha

Jude is not validating the veracity of the story as much as he is using it in order to expose the sins of the false teachers. In the story, the angel Michael does not treat Satan with contempt or derision. He doesn’t speak with contempt, but simply says, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Jude is pointing out that the supernatural realm exists. And yet, “these people scoff at things they do not understand” (Jude 1:10 NLT). The Greek word translated as “scoff” is blasphēmeō, and it refers to irreverent or reviling speech. They were treating the things of God, the unseen and inexplicable things of God, with an air of arrogance and open disregard. And when they spoke, they did so in ignorance.

Jude compares the with dumb, unthinking animals who “do whatever their instincts tell them” (Jude 1:10 NLT). In other words, they were driven by their passions and controlled by their natural, fallen instincts. And Jude compares them to two notorious characters from history: Cain and Balaam. Both of these men had less-than-stellar reputations. Cain, driven by jealousy and the desire for revenge, committed the first murder, killing his own brother, Abel. Balaam, a prophet, disobeyed the expressed will of God and provided the enemies of Israel with a plan for causing their downfall. And what he did was driven by his desire for money. He sold out the people of God for personal gain. Both men were controlled by their sinful desires.

And, by comparison, so were these false teachers. And their actions were going to result in their own destruction. They were headed for a fall, because they were standing in opposition to God Himself. They were guilty of rebellion against God and, as a result, they would perish, just as Korah had. This is another reference to a well-known historic event recorded in the book of Numbers. Korah led a rebellion against Moses, claiming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Korah disrespected Moses’ God-ordained leadership role and tried to usurp his authority. But God stepped in and destroyed Korah and all who joined his rebellion.

Jude is making it quite clear that the future for these false teachers will be unpleasant. If they continue down the path they have chosen, it will not end well for them. And he wants his readers to understand the danger in following the teaching of these misguided and self-obsessed individuals. They do not represent an alternative form of leadership. Their teaching is not to be treated as an acceptable option or viewpoint. It is to be rejected at all costs. They were to be seen as a danger to the faith community and a threat to the integrity of the gospel message. And they were to be avoided at all costs.

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

Misplaced Trust

1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”

13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. – Isaiah 36:1-21 ESV

The fateful day has arrived. The Assyrians are literally knocking at the door of Jerusalem, preparing to add this city to a long list of others they had conquered in the region. Isaiah provides us with a date, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, which would have been 701 BC. By this date, the Assyrians had conquered 46 cities in Judah, including Lachish, which Sennacherib used as a staging area for further military actions.

The Assyrian king sent an emissary, accompanied by a massive army, to discuss surrender terms with King Hezekiah of Judah. This display of might was meant to persuade the king to surrender Jerusalem without a fight. King Hezekiah sent three of his top administrative personnel to meet with the Assyrians and, as they stood just outside the conduit of the upper pool, the people of Judah squeezed onto the walls to see what was going to happen.

It is interesting to note that, 23 years earlier, on this very same spot, Isaiah had been sent by God to confront another king of Judah facing a similar problem.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.’” – Isaiah 7:3-4 ESV

Nearly a quarter-century earlier, Judah was facing the combined forces of Syria and Israel, two nations who had formed an alliance in order to capture Jerusalem and destroy Judah. But God had other plans. He warned King Ahaz to stay strong and not lose heart. As bad as things may have appeared, the outcome would be different than expected. He told them:

“It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” – Isaiah 7:7 ESV

But he also warned them:

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

The Syrians and Israelites never conquered Jerusalem. Their plans were easily thwarted by God. And He used the Assyrians to accomplish His will. Now, 23 years later, the Assyrians were gathered en masse outside the walls of Jerusalem. And the words that Isaiah had spoken to King Ahaz all those years earlier still applied. The people of Judah had no reason to fear if they would only trust in God. And trust is the main theme of King Sennacherib’s ultimatum delivered by his emissary.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?” – Isaiah 36:4 NLT

Remember, the king of Judah had paid a large sum to the Egyptians to secure their assistance in the event that the Assyrians came against them. Their confidence, if any, was in that very expensive alliance. They had placed their hopes in the military might of the Egyptian army. But they were nowhere to be found. And King Sennacherib knew it.

“Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:5-6 NLT

Sennacherib knew that Egypt would prove to be an unreliable and even dangerous source of security. They could not be depended upon. But the Assyrian king’s strongest words of warning concerning Judah’s misplaced trust were aimed at Yahweh.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Actually, Sennacherib has his facts wrong. When Hezekiah had begun his reign as king over Judah, he was only 25-years old. But he proved to be a different kind of king, ruling much more in line with his ancestor, King David.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. – 2 Kings 1:3-5 NLT

King Sennacherib saw Hezekiah’s removal of the pagan shrines as an affront to Judah’s god. Being a polytheist, he didn’t understand the concept of a single deity who demanded the undivided worship of His people. But it may be likely that Sennacherib was addressing the unspoken fears of the people of Judah, who were wondering if Hezekiah’s reforms had actually angered the false gods they used to worship. Had his radical efforts to rid the realm of all gods but Yahweh been the cause of all their problems? The Assyrian king seems to stir the embers of this smoldering spirit of unrest among the people. And the three royal representatives of King Hezekiah, sensing that Sennacherib’s words were having their planned impact, asked that the rest of the negotiations be conducted in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, so the people on the walls might not understand what was being said. But the Assyrian emissary refused, choosing instead to address the citizens of Judah directly.

Then the chief of staff stood and shouted in Hebrew to the people on the wall, “Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you. Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian king!’” – Isaiah 36:13-15 NLT

Again, the primary emphasis of his message was focused on trust. He warned them not to trust Hezekiah, the Egyptians, or their own God. They couldn’t rely on their king, their allies, or their deity. Sennacherib was removing every single source of support and security. In the place of their unreliable resources, King Sennacherib offered peace and security.

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well.” – Isaiah 36:16 NLT

“I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:17 NLT

Notice what he is doing. He is offering the people of Judah what God had promised to give them. In a sense, he was setting himself up as their god, their source of peace, prosperity, sustenance, and security. And that is what the enemy always does. He appeals to our innate need for divine help, but he sets himself up as the solution to all our needs. It should not escape our notice that Sennacherib and the Assyrians were a threat to the security of Judah. They had proven themselves to be the enemy of the people of God, having already destroyed 46 other cities of Judah. And now they were camped outside the walls of Jerusalem, a massive army prepared to add this city to their long list of conquests, and determined to make its citizens its slaves.

The offers of Sennacherib were well-disguised lies. He told the people of Judah what they wanted to hear, offering them escape through surrender, and rescue through compromise. If they would only trust him, they would live. But God would have the people of Judah trust Him alone. No matter how bad things may have appeared, no matter how attractive the enemy’s lies may have sounded, only God could deliver the salvation for which they longed. Listening to the lies of the enemy would result in slavery, not salvation. Trusting in the promises of Satan always brings death, not life. So God calls out to us to remain faithful to Him, to place our trust in Him alone.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

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

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

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

 

When God Gets Left Out.

1 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. Joshua 9:1-15 ESV

Joshua and the people of Israel had successfully conquered two Canaanite cities. They had defeated and destroyed Jericho and Ai, and their reputation had already begun to spread. News of these two victories made its way to the surrounding nations, creating a sense of fear in the hearts of their people. And the Israelites had celebrated these two victories by traveling to Mount Ebal, where they erected an altar to God and recommitted themselves to the covenant God had given to Moses on that very same spot. As part of the ceremony at Mount Ebal, Joshua inscribed the law of Moses on the stones of the altar and had read the words it contained to the people of Israel. There are some who believe that Joshua had written and read the Book of Deuteronomy in its entirety. Others believe Joshua limited his writing and recitation to chapters 27 and 28. But his reading of the law would have likely included the blessings and the curses found in Deuteronomy. The law was conditional. It required obedience and failure to obey came with serious consequences. But obedience would be accompanied by blessing.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

God had promised to go with them and to cause their enemies to flee before them.

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. – Deuteronomy 28:7 ESV

But God had made it clear that, if they disobeyed His law, things would not go well for them.

“The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28:25 ESV

And one of the key requirements He placed on them was a ban from making treaties or alliances with the people who lived in the land of Canaan.

30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” – Exodus 23:30-33 ESV

God not only required their full obedience to His law, but that they remain set apart and segregated from the nations who dwelt in the land of Canaan. He knew that any interactions they had with the various people groups that occupied the land would end up in the compromising of their convictions. They would be turned away from serving God alone. God knew that the greatest threat to His people was not the military might of the inhabitants of Canaan, but the presence of their false gods. The Israelites didn’t need to worry about succumbing to the superior strength of their foes, but of falling for their false gods. Because if that happened, they would find God to be their enemy. And He had made it very clear what would happen if they disobeyed His law or failed to remain faithful to Him as their God.

47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. – Deuteronomy 28:47-48 ESV

And yet, in spite of all these warnings, Joshua and the people of Israel quickly found themselves in a situation where their commitment to God’s law was put to the test. Because of their growing reputation as a powerful force to be reckoned with, the people of Gibeon decided to do something to protect themselves against this growing threat. They devised a plan to deceive Israel into making an alliance with them. They were smart enough to recognize that Israel was on a search-and-destroy mission, having completely annihilated both Jericho and Ai. They weren’t simply defeating their enemies, they were eliminating them. And the people of Gibeon knew that they would be next unless they did something. That Israel would make an alliance with one of the nearby nations who occupied the land was highly unlikely, so the Gibeonites devised an elaborate ruse that allowed them to appear as if they had traveled from a distant land in search of an alliance with the Israelites.

They knew that if they could trick the Israelites into making an alliance or peace treaty with them, that it would bind them permanently – even after the truth of their deception become known. The treaty, once signed, would become an unbreakable agreement between the two nations, effectively preventing Israel from obeying God’s command to destroy all the nations of the land of Canaan. And the most revealing and regretable lines in this passage are verses 14 and 15.

14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. – Joshua 9:14-15 ESV

The Israelites took the bait. They bought the lie. All because they didn’t take the matter to God. They made a cardinal mistake. They listened to the lies of the enemy and didn’t seek the wisdom of God. Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites, signing a binding covenant that would eventually place the people of Israel in the awkward position of having to put their allegiance to the people of Gibeon ahead of their allegiance to God.

Joshua got taken. He got bamboozled by the enemy and fooled into making an alliance that had been expressly forbidden by God. His failure to seek God’s counsel resulted in him breaking God’s law. He listened to the lies of the enemy and heard what he wanted to hear. The alliance seemed like a good idea at the time, but would one day come back to haunt him. And it all could have been prevented had Joshua sought the counsel of God. It’s interesting to note that the people of Gibeon met Joshua at the Israelite camp at Gilgal. So, the people of God had left Mount Ebal and returned to their original location. They had left the altar and the law behind, both literally and figuratively. They had met with God at Mount Ebal, but now they were back at Gilgal and Joshua’s actions indicate that he neglected to make seeking God a permanent and pervasive part of his daily experience. Worshiping God at the altar is worthless if you’re going to abandon His influence over your life when you leave the altar.

 

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

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

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

Trusting A Lie.

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord‘s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” But Jeremiah the prophet went his way.

Sometime after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke-bars from off the neck of Jeremiah the prophet, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Go, tell Hananiah, ‘Thus says the Lord: You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field.’” And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28 ESV

Welcome to the Prophet Wars. Ali and Frazier had their Thrilla in Manilla, but this chapter chronicles the epic showdown between two prophets of God on the grounds of the temple itself. Jeremiah had just finished delivering his message from God to the ambassadors of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon, warning them that God was sending Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to defeat and enslave them along with Judah. They were to return home and tell their respective kings to submit to God’s will by submitting to the authority of the Babylonians. If they obeyed God’s will for them, they would remain in the land and survive the Babylonian occupation. If they chose to ignore God’s will, they would be destroyed. This same warning was given by Jeremiah to King Zedekiah of Judah. If you want to live, submit to the yoke of the king of Babylon and his people” (Jeremiah 27:12 NLT). And as a visual aid, Jeremiah was commanded by God to wear a wooden yoke when he delivered his messages. Jeremiah’s words and the yoke around his neck served as a one-two punch, a potent combination that was sure to have left an impact on the people who were in the hearing of his message. And news of Jeremiah’s pronouncement spread.

Some time later, Jeremiah found himself facing off with another prophet: Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon. The text informs us that “One day in late summer of that same year—the fourth year of the reign of Zedekiah” (Jeremiah 28:1 NLT), Hananiah showed up at the temple. It seems that Jeremiah was required by God to show up at the temple wearing his yoke and delivering his message for a prolonged period of time. This had not been a one-and-done situation. Day after day, Jeremiah found himself strapping on his yoke and heading to the temple to pronounce judgment on the people of God and the surrounding nations. But on this day, he would run into competition, in the form of Hananiah. With the priests, the people and Jeremiah watching and listening, Hananiah delivered his message:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the other captives that were taken to Babylon. I will surely break the yoke that the king of Babylon has put on your necks. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 28:2-4 NLT

Like a well-aimed punch, Hananiah’s words hit Jeremiah hard. They directly contradicted the message Jeremiah had been delivering. Here was another recognized prophet of God delivering a message that was dramatically and diametrically opposed to the one Jeremiah had given. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of God, Hananiah was calling Jeremiah a liar and deceiver. He struck at the very heart of Jeremiah’s message, insinuating that it was a lie and not the words of the Lord. And you can imagine the impact this had on the people. While Jeremiah had prophesied that the captivity of the people of Judah in Babylon would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), Hananiah was countering with a prediction of a mere two years. Who do you think the people were prone to believe? Which message was more attractive to the the crowds standing in the temple courtyard that day?

But Jeremiah, while staggered by what Hanahiah had to say, was far from down and out. His counter-punch was classic:

“Amen! May your prophecies come true! I hope the Lord does everything you say. I hope he does bring back from Babylon the treasures of this Temple and all the captives.” – Jeremiah 28:6 NLT

Even he had to admit that Hananiah’s words were appealing. He even hoped they would come true. But he knew they would not. Jeremiah was convinced that he was right and Hananiah was wrong. The attractiveness of Hananiah’s message did not make it true, no matter how much the people wanted to believe it. Presenting God as totally gracious and kind, Hananiah gave the people a one-dimensional view of God that failed to recognize His holiness and hatred for sin. And Hananiah, removing the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and breaking it, attempted to illustrate that, in his view, God was going to break the yoke of the Babylonians, even allowing the exiled King Jehoiachin to return from captivity.

But it was all a lie. Hananiah may have legitimately believed what he was saying, but that did not make it true. His incomplete understanding of God may have led him to speak what he believed to be the words of God, but he was wrong. And Jeremiah reminded Hananiah and the people of the ultimate determining factor when judging the veracity of a prophet of God.

“…a prophet who predicts peace must show he is right. Only when his predictions come true can we know that he is really from the Lord.” – Jeremiah 28:9 NLT

Hundreds of years earlier, God had given the people of Israel His word concerning those who claimed to speak in His name.

“But if any prophet presumes to speak anything in my name that I have not authorized him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die. Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord?’— whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 NLT

Jeremiah and Hananiah could stand there exchanging verbal punches all day long. They both claimed to be speaking for God, but only one of them could be right. And the only way to prove who was right was to wait and see what was going to happen. Time would be the ultimate determiner of who was really the prophet of God. And in an attempt to portray himself as the winner of this battle of words, Hananiah removed the yoke from around Jeremiah’s neck, broke it and pronounced the words:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Just as this yoke has been broken, within two years I will break the yoke of oppression from all the nations now subject to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.’” – Jeremiah 28:11 NLT

Jeremiah simply walked away. To the priests and people standing in the temple courtyard, it would have looked like a hands-down victory for Hananiah. He had won the day. Jeremiah had abandoned the ring in defeat. Or had he?

Soon after this confrontation with Hananiah, the Lord gave this message to Jeremiah: “Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but you have replaced it with a yoke of iron. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, forcing them into slavery under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control.’” – Jeremiah 28:12-14 NLT

Hananiah may have won the battle, but he was going to lose the war. His bold claim had only made matters worse. He had broken Jeremiah’s wooden yoke, but he had done nothing to change the will of God concerning Judah. Hananiah could deny and contradict the word of God, but it would not change the outcome. In fact, Jeremiah would be the prophet to have the last word:

“Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, but the people believe your lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You must die. Your life will end this very year because you have rebelled against the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 28:15-16 NLT

And the chapter ends with the sobering words: “ In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:17 ESV). Less than two months later, the false prophet was dead. And two years later, his predictions of the return of King Jehoiachin and the fall of Babylon would be proven false. His pleasant-sounding prophecies of God’s grace and mercy without repentance would be exposed as what they were: Lies. And God would hold Hananiah personally responsible for causing the people to trust a lie. Those who claim to speak for God must understand that He will hold them accountable. Saying what you hope are the words of God does not make them so. Uttering what you prefer to be God’s will does not obligate God to bring it about. It is better to remain silent than to speak on behalf of God when you haven’t really heard from Him.

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

You Are A Burden.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

“When one of this people, or a prophet or a priest asks you, ‘What is the burden of the Lord?’ you shall say to them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you off, declares the Lord.’ And as for the prophet, priest, or one of the people who says, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ I will punish that man and his household. Thus shall you say, every one to his neighbor and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But ‘the burden of the Lord’ you shall mention no more, for the burden is every man’s own word, and you pervert the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But if you say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’ thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have said these words, “The burden of the Lord,” when I sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The burden of the Lord,’” therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers. And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”– Jeremiah 23:23-40 ESV

These verses contain God’s continuing indictment of the false prophets of Judah. One of the things He exposes is their misunderstanding of His nature. Evidently, they saw God as limited in His power. He was not all-knowing or all-seeing. Therefore, He was not always cognizant of their sinful activities. He could be deceived and tricked into believing the people were more spiritual than they really were. Perhaps this is linked to their concept that God occupied the Holy of Holies within the Temple. It could be that they saw God as somewhat restricted in nature and unable to be everywhere at the same time. On top of that, the very fact that they had to confess their sins to God could have left them with the false impression that He was unaware of their sinful activity until they told Him. But God let’s them know that their views of Him are false.

“Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.” – Jeremiah 23:23 NLT

This has to do with the transcendence and immanence of God. These false prophets had a one-dimensional view of God. They saw Him as near and dear. He had always been with them and had always taken care of them. He was their God and they were His people. And while this was true, they had left out the fact that God is transcendent. He is the God of the universe who is unhindered by time and space. He is omnipresent – able to be everywhere at the same time. He is omniscient – all knowing and fully aware of all that is going on at all times and in all places, including within the hearts of men. And He is omnipotent – all powerful and unlimited in His ability to accomplish whatever He sets out to do. They had a truncated view of God. He had become small and relatively impotent in their minds. For generations, they had gotten away with their sinful activities with no apparent repercussions. But God warned them:

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?” – Jeremiah 23:24 NLT

He had not been fooled. He knew of each and every thing they had done in defiance of Him and He was fully capable of dealing with their sin by handing out the justice they deserved.

These men had been claiming to speak for God. They had supposedly experienced dreams in which they had received revelations from God. Whether they had actually had dreams or simply claimed so is unclear. It was common for God to speak to His prophets through dreams and visions. But the dreams these men had were false because they had not come from God. The content of their dreams painted a false view of God. In their minds, God was not going to judge the people of Judah, but bless them. He wasn’t going to send the Babylonians to defeat them. He was going to miraculously deliver them from their enemies, just as He had done so many times before. But the thing they were overlooking was the sinful state of the people. They were minimizing the seriousness of their spiritual condition. And in doing so, they were painting a false view of God as an all-loving, always tolerant God who either was oblivious to their sins or unable to do anything about them. Their false prophecies concerning God were causing the people to continue to turn their backs on God.

By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me…” – Jeremiah 23:27 NLT

Their words, compared to those of Jeremiah, were like straw versus grain. One had no nutritional value. It provided no lasting benefit, except for dumb animals. The truth which Jeremiah proclaimed, while difficult to accept, would prove to be beneficial in the long-run.  He was calling the people to repentance. He was warning them of God’s pending judgment. He was telling them the truth, not only about the future, but about God. He was holy, powerful, righteous, all-knowing, all-seeing, and obligated by His very nature to deal with the sins of His people.

And just in case the false prophets don’t get it, God makes His view of them quite apparent. “I am against these false prophets. Their imaginary dreams are flagrant lies that lead my people into sin. I did not send or appoint them, and they have no message at all for my people” (Jeremiah 23:32 NLT). They have made themselves His enemies. By speaking falsehood in His name and leading His people to sin against Him, they have turned God against them.

In the closing section of this chapter, God declares that these false prophets had become a burden to Him. While they saw the messages of Jeremiah as burdensome and hard to accept, God lets them know that they are the real problem. They saw the covenant of God as too difficult to keep. They viewed God’s commands as onerous and burdensome. They declared Jeremiah’s messages as objectionable and so they simply tossed them aside. But God told them, You are the burden, and I will cast you away” (Jeremiah 23:33 NET). They had become a burden to God, something God had stated through the prophet Isaiah:

“Do not bring any more meaningless offerings;
I consider your incense detestable!
You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations,
but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations!
I hate your new moon festivals and assemblies;
they are a burden
that I am tired of carrying.” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

Even earlier in the book of Jeremiah, God had declared, “I, the Lord, say: ‘You people have deserted me! You keep turning your back on me.’ So I have unleashed my power against you and have begun to destroy you. I have grown tired of feeling sorry for you!” (Jeremiah 15:6 NLT).

God was fed up. While they found His laws burdensome and too difficult to keep, He had become weary of putting up with their incessant rebellion against Him. And He had had His fill of people speaking on His behalf whom He had not sent. He had some sobering words for these people: “If any prophet, priest, or anyone else says, ‘I have a prophecy from the Lord,’ I will punish that person along with his entire family” (Jeremiah 23:34 NLT). God told the people that they should be concerned about what He was saying. They should want to know what God has said to them. “You should keep asking each other, ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What is the Lord saying?’” (Jeremiah 23:35 NLT). But they needed to listen to God’s word as spoken by God’s prophet. Jeremiah had spoken on behalf of God and had been confirmed by God as having been sent by Him. Anyone who contradicted the words of Jeremiah was contradicting the words of God, and they were to be ignored at all costs.

Today, we have those who are claiming to speak on behalf of God, but their words contradict the very words of God as found in Scripture. They deny the reality of hell, even though it is clearly taught in the Word of God. They deny the deity of Christ, while still claiming to be Christians. They debunk the resurrection of Christ, while promoting themselves as believers in Christ. These individuals are false prophets. They offer themselves up as representatives of God and present their words as having come from God. But they are liars and deceivers. Their words are false because they do not agree with the truth of God as found in the Word of God. And the same warning God gave to the false prophets of Judah applies to them:

“I will make you an object of ridicule, and your name will be infamous throughout the ages.” – Jeremiah 23:40 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

Failure To Listen.

Concerning the prophets:

My heart is broken within me;
    all my bones shake;
I am like a drunken man,
    like a man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
    and because of his holy words.
For the land is full of adulterers;
    because of the curse the land mourns,
    and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up.
Their course is evil,
    and their might is not right.
“Both prophet and priest are ungodly;
    even in my house I have found their evil,
declares the Lord.
Therefore their way shall be to them
    like slippery paths in the darkness,
    into which they shall be driven and fall,
for I will bring disaster upon them
    in the year of their punishment,
declares the Lord.
In the prophets of Samaria
    I saw an unsavory thing:
they prophesied by Baal
    and led my people Israel astray.
But in the prophets of Jerusalem
    I have seen a horrible thing:
they commit adultery and walk in lies;
    they strengthen the hands of evildoers,
    so that no one turns from his evil;
all of them have become like Sodom to me,
    and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
“Behold, I will feed them with bitter food
    and give them poisoned water to drink,
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
    ungodliness has gone out into all the land.”

Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord
    to see and to hear his word,
    or who has paid attention to his word and listened?
Behold, the storm of the Lord!
    Wrath has gone forth,
a whirling tempest;
    it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
    until he has executed and accomplished
    the intents of his heart.
In the latter days you will understand it clearly.

“I did not send the prophets,
    yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
    yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
    then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
    and from the evil of their deeds. Jeremiah 23:9-22 ESV

In this next section Jeremiah is going to deliver a series of six different messages from God to the false prophets of Judah. But he begins with a description of his own feelings as a true and faithful prophet of God. He describes himself as heartbroken over the stubbornness of his people and the knowledge of their coming judgment by God. He also feels like a drunk man, who staggers under the influence of alcohol. But Jeremiah’s stupor is the result of God’s message. He reels from the impact of God’s message of Judah’s coming destruction. It was difficult for him to accept that his fellow Judahites were going to fall by the sword or be taken captive by the Babylonians. The thought of Jerusalem falling and the temple being destroyed left him in a state of confusion, like a man who has drunk too much wine. But Jeremiah was not alone. Even the land itself was experiencing the curse of God because of the sins of the people.

For the land is full of adultery,
    and it lies under a curse.
The land itself is in mourning—
    its wilderness pastures are dried up.
For they all do evil
    and abuse what power they have. – Jeremiah 23:10 NLT

And the most shocking thing about Judah’s spiritual condition was that the priests and prophets had played a major role. God described their actions as despicable and deplorable. Their was no excuse for what they had done in leading the people astray.

“Even the priests and prophets
    are ungodly, wicked men.
I have seen their despicable acts
    right here in my own Temple,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 23:12 NLT

God makes it clear that these men would suffer on account of their failure to shepherd His flock well.  They had led the way in idol worship, even setting up idols in the temple that had been dedicated by Solomon to God. When King Josiah had attempted to institute religious reforms in Judah, he had to order the priests to remove all the idols from the temple and destroy them.

The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the high-ranking priests, and the guards to bring out of the Lord’s temple all the items that were used in the worship of Baal, Asherah, and all the stars of the sky. – 2 King 23:4 NLT

He removed the Asherah pole from the Lord’s temple and took it outside Jerusalem to the Kidron Valley, where he burned it. He smashed it to dust and then threw the dust in the public graveyard. He tore down the quarters of the male cultic prostitutes in the Lord’s temple, where women were weaving shrines for Asherah. – 2 Kings 23:6-7 NLT

He removed from the entrance to the Lord’s temple the statues of horses that the kings of Judah had placed there in honor of the sun god. The king tore down the altars the kings of Judah had set up on the roof of Ahaz’s upper room, as well as the altars Manasseh had set up in the two courtyards of the Lord’s temple. – 2 Kings 23:12 NLT

The very temple dedicated to Yahweh had been desecrated by the very ones who were dedicated to serve Him alone: the priests. And the prophets, who claimed to speak on God’s behalf, where just as bad. In fact, God describes them as being worse than the prophets of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, which had fallen to the Assyrians because of their sins against Him.

“I saw that the prophets of Samaria were terribly evil,
    for they prophesied in the name of Baal
    and led my people of Israel into sin.
But now I see that the prophets of Jerusalem are even worse!
    They commit adultery and love dishonesty.
They encourage those who are doing evil
    so that no one turns away from their sins.
These prophets are as wicked
    as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once were.” – Jeremiah 23:13-14 NLT

God labeled these men as being worse than the inhabitants of the two most infamous cities in Old Testament history. They were violently destroyed by God for their rampant immorality, and God says the sins of the false prophets are even worse. And like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the false prophets would have to face the wrath of God.

“I will feed them with bitterness
    and give them poison to drink.
For it is because of Jerusalem’s prophets
    that wickedness has filled this land.” – Jeremiah 23:15 NLT

Their failure to speak for God was going to come back to haunt them. They had chosen to give the people words of false hope, telling them that God would not destroy them. They preferred to give the people messages that were more pleasing to hear. Unlike Jeremiah, they were not willing to tell the people of Judah what they desperately needed to hear. And to a certain degree, God was going to give them a taste of their own medicine, letting them feed on the same bitterness and poison they had given to the people.

God warns the people not to listen to these men. They were not His messengers. They didn’t speak for Him. And the pleasant-sounding messages they delivered were nothing but lies, fabricated by their own depraved imaginations. They were promising those rejecting the word of God that they would have know the peace of God. To those living in unrepentant sin, they assured that no harm would come to them. They were blatantly contradicting the words of God as spoken through Jeremiah. They were denying the truth of God and, essentially, calling God a liar. And God makes it painfully clear that their sin was one of presumption and pride. Because they bore the label as being prophets of God, they wrongly believed that their words were from God. But they had left out one thing: The need for intimacy with God.

“If they had stood before me and listened to me,
    they would have spoken my words,
and they would have turned my people
    from their evil ways and deeds.” – Jeremiah 23:22 NLT

They had not sought out God or attempted to listen to what He had to say. They were speaking what they knew of God from past experience. Their relationship with Him was not up-to-date or current. Their understanding was that, as the people of God, the Jews were assured the presence and protection of God. He would not leave them or forsake them. He would always forgive them because they were His chosen people. And this was the message they had delivered to the people. But they had been wrong, because they had not sought out the will of God. False prophets always provide false hope. Pastors who spend little time alone with God will have a difficult time speaking for God. Those who claim to be God’s messengers, but who rarely stand before Him to hear what he has to say, will always end up delivering spiritual-sounding words that may inspire, but that lack the inspiration 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.

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

Detours and Delays.

Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” So David arose and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to Achish the son of Maoch, king of Gath. And David lived with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow. And when it was told Saul that David had fled to Gath, he no longer sought him.

Then David said to Achish, “If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there. For why should your servant dwell in the royal city with you?” So that day Achish gave him Ziklag. Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day. And the number of the days that David lived in the country of the Philistines was a year and four months.

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. When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” And David would leave neither man nor woman alive to bring news to Gath, thinking, “lest they should tell about us and say, ‘So David has done.’” Such was his custom all the while he lived in the country of the Philistines. And Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”– 1 Samuel 27:1-12 ESV

David was human. He was a flesh-and-blood man who had a sin nature like anyone else and had to constantly struggle with his own inner fears, feelings of doubt, and the nagging questions regarding his fate. He loved God and wanted to do be obedient to the will of God, but he also was driven by an innate desire to stay alive. And the longer his feud with Saul continued, the more he must have struggled with believing God was going to one day make him king. In this chapter we are given a glimpse into one of David’s weaker moments. Nowhere in the chapter is God mentioned. At no point do we see David seeking the will of God. In fact, it would appear that David’s decision to find refuge in the land of the Philistines was made without any input from God. He might have received well-meaning advice from this men, but his choice to return to the very place where he had been forced to act like a madman to save his life, was most likely not something God had told him to do. But thankfully, God was still in control.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

David’s last journey into Philistine territory, recorded in chapter 21, nearly got him killed. In order to escape the pursuit of Saul, David had showed up in Gath, seeking refuge from Achish, the king of the Philistines. And it just so happened that David was carrying the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion he had defeated in battle. When the Philistine officers questioned the wisdom of providing sanctuary to David, and hinted to the king that he would be better off dead, David feigned madness and “pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard” (1 Samuel 21:13 NLT). Unwilling to kill a lunatic, Achish let David escape with his life.

And now, here was David, once again, seeking to find refuge among the Philistines. His doubt and fear clouded his thinking and, evidently, erased his memory of what had happened the last time he attempted to use this particular strategy.

This time, David was welcomed by Achish with open arms and even given his own city, Ziklag, within the territory of the Philistines. David relocated his 600 men, along with their families, to their new base complete with houses, walls, and protection from Saul. This would have been a welcome upgrade from the caves in which they had been hiding for so long.

While living in the land of the Philistines, David employed a strategy that allowed him to go out and attack the enemies of Israel, of which there were many. The text mentions the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. All of these nations occupied the land of Canaan and were part of the people groups that God had commanded Joshua and the people of Israel to completely remove from the land when they occupied it. But they had failed to do so. Over and over again, in the book of Joshua, we read of the Israelites’ failure to fully obey the command of God.

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

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor. – Joshua 16:10 ESV

Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Joshua 17:12 ESV

Their unwillingness or inability to drive out the inhabitants of the land would leave them with a constant threat of war and the potential for idolatry. These nations would prove to be a constant source of temptation and trouble. So David used his new headquarters in Ziklag as an outpost from which he sent raiding parties against the enemies of Israel. And his strategy included the complete annihilation of every man, woman and child, so that no one could tell Achish what he was up to. In fact, David would leave Achish with the impression that he was actually fighting the enemies of the Philistines, falsely reporting the locations of his raids.

When Achish asked, “Where have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or, “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” – 1 Samuel 27:10 ESV

So what do we do with all of this? David appears to have gone to the land of the Philistines without God’s permission. Yet, while he was there, he continued to fight the enemies of Israel, clearing the Promised Land of the nations that Joshua and the people of Israel had failed to remove. But in order to do what he did, David had to lie to King Achish. Everything he did while living in Ziklag was based on subterfuge and deception. So was he in the will of God? Was he doing what God would have him do? The text doesn’t provide us with an answer. But in the very next chapter we’ll see that David’s plan was going to eventually place him in a very difficult position. It would seem that David’s decision to seek refuge among the Philistines was not the will of God, but it did not thwart or derail the plan of God. The Proverbs have much to say about our plans and God’s will.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? – Proverbs 20:24 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, prayed these powerful, self-disclosing words to the Lord:

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing. – Jeremiah 10:23-24 ESV

Years later, even David would pen these words:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand. – Psalm 37:23-24 NLT

We can’t thwart God’s plan, but we can certainly cause ourselves a great deal of pain and suffering when we attempt to circumvent his plan with our own. We can complicate our lives by introducing detours into His divine will for our lives. Abraham and Sarah came up with the great idea to use Hagar as a means to fulfill God’s promise to give them a child. But in doing so, they were trying to do God’s will man’s way. Saul tried to seek God’s aid by offering sacrifices to him. But he failed to do it God’s way, instead taking on the role of the priest himself and bringing down God’s wrath rather than His blessing. Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling God’s will that He die, by forbidding Him to do so. But Jesus accused him of siding with the enemy, seeking the will of Satan rather than that of God.

We must be very careful to keep our wills from taking precedence over that of God. It is not that we can stop what He has planned, but we can certainly make more difficult the path He has laid our for us. Like a driver who refuses to use his GPS, we can wander off the path and find ourselves seemingly lost and delayed in our journey, but God continues to recalculate our way, providing us with another way to reach the destination He has in store for us. Thankfully, many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

 

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