God Will

15 The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:15-21 ESV

The people of Judah were between a rock and a hard place. They were guilty of sinning against a holy God and were suffering the consequences. And their sinful state left them incapable of doing anything about their condition. They were like blind men groping around in darkness, with no sense of where they were or what to do. Even the prophet’s calls to repent were met by deaf ears and a stubborn determination to continue living their lives just as they had for centuries. In fact, they had fooled themselves into believing that they were righteous because they still made a vain attempt to keep maintain the religious rites and rituals of their faith. But their hearts were not in it.  They were simply going through the motions.

And while they demanded justice and deliverance from God, their lives were marked by injustice and the misuse of their rights that resulted in their abuse of the weak and helpless among them. It was so bad, that Isaiah pictures God looking down from heaven and was far from happy with what He saw.

The Lord looked and was displeased
    to find there was no justice.
He was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed. – Isaiah 59:15-16 NLT

The spiritual state of affairs in Judah had reached an all-time low. And while there were those in the country, like Isaiah, who remained faithful to God, the reality was that the vast majority of the people were living in open rebellion to Him.

This indictment against the spiritual condition of Judah is echoed in the words of God recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. It is yet another case revealing the the divine disappointment of God with the state affairs among His chosen people.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one. – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

God could find no one to stand in the gap. He could find no one practicing justice and intervening on behalf of the oppressed. And it wasn’t as if God had not made His requirements known to them. The prophet Micah had declared the expectations of God quite plainly and succinctly.

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

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, had said virtually the same thing.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

And Hosea had recorded the words of God expressing His expectations of His people.

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6 NLT

But sadly, there was no one in Judah willing to do what God wanted. They were all busy living according to their own agendas and  pursuing their own selfish passions and desires. Justice was nowhere to be found. Love of self had replaced love for others.

But God was not willing to allow things to remain as they were. While there was no one to step in the gap and rebuild the walls of righteousness, He was not content to leave things in that sorry state. And Isaiah describes God’s determination to do what no man was willing to do.

…then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. – Isaiah 59:16 ESV

God was not going to accept the status quo. He was not about to leave His chosen people in a state of helplessness and hopelessness. What is important to see here is that God was about to intervene on behalf of the weak. The people of Judah, while guilty of their sin, were helpless to do anything about it. They were incapable of living in keeping with the laws of God. They were unable to obey the commands of God. And they were helplessly succumbing to the attacks of the enemy. So, God determined to enact His form of divine justice and intercede for them. And Isaiah describes God as a warrior preparing for battle.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. – Isaiah 59:17 ESV

The result will be justice in the form of God repaying each and every oppressor of Judah for their mistreatment of God’s people.

He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 59:18 NLT

God will leave no sin unpunished. Every inequity will be dealt with and the justice of God will once again be established in the land. If God could not find a man to rebuild the walls of righteousness, He would do it Himself. If He could not find a single individual to dispense justice, He would take care of it.

And when all is said and done, the world will fear the name of the Lord and give Him glory. It will be painfully obvious that God has done something great and totally beyond the capabilities of mere men. This passage is obviously prophetic in nature, speaking of an event sometime in Judah’s future. And it was fulfilled in part with the coming of Jesus. God sent His Son into the world in order to redeem the world from its slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that came as a result of their rebellion against God. But the Jews rejected their Messiah, eventually demanding that He be crucified. But God is not done with His chosen people. There is a day coming when He will fulfill all that Isaiah has recorded in this chapter.

God will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he will put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrap himself in zeal as a cloak. And He will bring justice to the land of Israel and to His people. He will restore His helpless and hopeless people to a right relationship with Him, doing for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:20 NLT

And the result of all this will be a radically new relationship between God and His chosen people. He will deliver them from their rebellion and restore them to prominence as His people. And He provides them with the following promise as a guarantee of His faithfulness and an encouragement to trust Him – even now.

“My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 59:21 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

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No More Gloom.

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV

The last chapter ended on a rather somber note.

And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:22 ESV

The people of Judah would find themselves living in darkness, having rejected the word of God. Rather than seek Him, they would turn to mediums and the necromancers, in a vain attempt to gain insight into the dire circumstances surrounding them. But they will be left in the dark, mentally and spiritually. Isaiah even describes them as having no dawn – no hope for the future. Then God provides the good news. And He delivers it in the past tense, as if it has already taken place.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. – Isaiah 9:2 ESV

The apostle John gives us further clarification about this light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. – John 3:19 ESV

Jesus, born to Mary, was the Son of God and the light of the world. In His incarnation, His entrance into our world in human form, Jesus became a light shining in the spiritual darkness that had pervaded the land of Israel for more than four centuries. During that 400-year period of time, God had been silent. The prophets had stopped writing and speaking. There was a spiritual void in the land. And the spiritual darkness was palpable. Then the dawn came. The Light broke through the darkness.

And Matthew, quoting from this very passage, wrote of Jesus beginning His ministry in the region of Galilee.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:12-16 ESV

Once humiliated under the judgment of God, this region would be blessed with the presence of the Son of God. Naphtali and Zebulun were located in the north around the Sea of Galilee. These would have been the first regions within the northern kingdom of Israel to fall to the Assyrians. And yet, God was promising that this region would be one of the first places in which His Son would minister.

But it’s important that we notice the aspects of this prophecy that appear as yet unfulfilled. Jesus did come. And He began His ministry within the regions of Naphtali and Zebulun. And He delivered a very specific message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV).

But John makes it clear that His message was heard, but unheeded.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

The Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah. His own rejected Him. And yet, God seems to promise tremendous blessings to the people of Israel as a result of this light.

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
    and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest
    and like warriors dividing the plunder.
For you will break the yoke of their slavery
    and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
    just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
The boots of the warrior
    and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
    They will be fuel for the fire. – Isaiah 9:3-5 NLT

None of these things happened. Jesus didn’t break their yoke of slavery to Rome. He didn’t remove the oppressor’s rod. The nation of Israel was not enlarged. Because Jesus came to offer spiritual emancipation – a release from their slavery to sin. He came to deliver them from the oppression of spiritual death or eternal separation from God.

The arrival of Jesus on this planet, in the physical form of a man, was intended to provide atonement for the sins of manknd, and to make their right standing before God a reality. He did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or to establish Himself as the King of Israel. At least, not yet. And what the Jews viewed as His failure to come as their conquering king and deliverer from Roman oppression, was what caused them to reject Him as their Messiah.

And yet, God seemed to promise a coming king.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The prophecy speaks of His government, His rule, His throne and His mighty army. And that aspect of the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. The apostle John, through the vision given to Him by God, describes a future day in which Jesus will reign on this earth from the throne of His ancestor David.

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

And, as the angel revealed to Mary regarding the birth of her son:

“…behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:20-33 ESV

God’s promiise, made to the people of Judah through the lips of Isaiah, would one day come true. He did break through the darkness. But the people loved the darkness more than they loved the light. So, God took the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. But the day is coming when God will fulfill His promise to the people of Judah.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

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

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

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

A Healthy Fear of God.

15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” 

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel. Joshua 4:15-5:1 ESV

On the tenth day of the first month. The placement of that calendar notation may seem a bit odd or out of place, but it is actually quite significant, providing us with an important time marker. It lets us know that it had been 40 years to the day since God had told Israel to prepare to take the Passover, in preparation for their departure from Egypt.

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.”Exodus 12:1-3 ESV

This day was already a memorial for the people of Israel, commemorating their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by the hand of God. God had told the Israelites that their keeping of the Passover each year on that day was to act as a reminder and a teaching opportunity.

26 “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:26-27 ESV

Now, they would have another reason to remember the tenth day of the first month, and another story to tell their children about the greatness of God. Not only had He delivered them from captivity in Egypt, He had brought them into the land He had promised to give them. They were no longer slaves, but freemen. Rather than live as captives, they were to be conquerors, possessing the land promised to them by God by the very power of God.

Notice the similarities between what God told the people of Israel regarding their keeping of the Passover and what Joshua told the people about the stone memorial.

21 “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over… – Joshua 4:21-23 ESV

In Egypt, God passed over the houses of the Israelites. At the Jordan, Israel passed over the border of Canaan on dry ground. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites from death because of the presence of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. At the Jordan, God had provided a path to a new life through the presence of the ark, the symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness. And as soon as the feet of the priests stepped out of the Jordan and onto the western shoreline, the waters returned and overflowed their banks. God had faithfully kept back the waters until each and every Israelite had passed over. He had delivered them safely into the land of promise.

And Joshua provides two important reasons for this miraculous provision by God. First, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” This was to be a witness to the nations who occupied the land of Canaan. News of this miracle would spread. The drying up of the waters of the Jordan would not have gone unnoticed by others who lived in the land and who depended upon its waters for their well-being. We are not told how long it took the Israelites to cross over the Jordan, but however long it took, those living downstream would have noticed that the river had dried up at a time of the year when it should have been overflowing its banks. And in the very next chapter we see that the news of this miracle had its intended impact on the inhabitants of the land.

…their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel… – Joshua 5:1 ESV

But Joshua lets the people know there is a second and even more significant reason for the miracle they had just witnessed: “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” God had just revealed His power. He had displayed His sovereign control over the elements. Just as He had dried up the waters of the Red Sea 40 years earlier, He had dried up the waters of the Jordan. Nothing was too difficult for Him. And they were to fear Him. But it’s essential that we understand what this fear of God entailed. It was not to be a fear of Him, in the sense that they were to cower in His presence or live in fear of His wrath. The fear of God is an expression that communicates faith in God. It is a experiential understanding of His power and provision. God had just done a miracle on their behalf. He had just performed an inexplicable act of divine deliverance, and it was to produce in them a healthy reverence for Him and an emboldened faith in Him. So that, the next time He spoke, they would readily listen and quickly obey. Their God was powerful. Their God was faithful. And there was no other god like Him. The gods of the Canaanites and Amorites would prove no match for God Almighty.

Many years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of promise, Moses had given them a powerful reminder concerning the fear of God.

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

The fear of God was to have an outward expression. It was to be visible and tangible in nature. And it was to be characterized by obedience and faithfulness.

20 “You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.” – Deuteronomy 10:20-22 ESV

The Israelites were to fear God, because He was their covenant-keeping, miracle-working, grace-bestowing God. The Amorites and Canaanites would learn to fear God, but for completely different reasons. They were going to learn that He was God, and they would come to fear His power and presence, but they would never bow down and worship Him as their God. But for the Israelites, their interactions with God were to produce a reverence for Him that would increase their dependence upon Him.

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

A Wake-Up Call.

Thus says the Lord,
“Though they are at full strength and many,
    they will be cut down and pass away.
Though I have afflicted you,
    I will afflict you no more.
And now I will break his yoke from off you
    and will burst your bonds apart.”

The Lord has given commandment about you:
    “No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
    the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.”

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him
    who brings good news,
    who publishes peace!
Keep your feasts, O Judah;
    fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you;
    he is utterly cut off. Nahum 1:12-15 ESV

Nahum now addresses the people of Judah directly. Despite the overwhelming power of the Assyrians and their seemingly limitless numbers, God assures the people of Judah that He is going to deal with this centuries-old menace once and for all. The Hebrew literally says, they will “trickle away” like the last remnants of a great flood that has done its damage, but has slowly receded to nothing. Their power will be no match for God. While He has allowed them their moment in the sun, He will also see that this once great nation is judged for its many atrocities and condemned to defeat at the hands of other nations. They will go from a once great nation-state to virtual oblivion, all because God has deemed it so.

But as for the people of Judah, God tells them that He is going to provide them with a break from the affliction brought upon them by the Assyrians. It must be noted that God’s promise to the people of Judah to bring an end to their affliction, only referred to their suffering at the hands of the Assyrians. Because it is clear from Scripture that God continued to bring affliction on the people of Judah from other sources, including the nation of Babylon, which, in 586 B.C., destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many of the people of Judah captive. But God promised to eliminate Assyria as a threat, and He did so. This should have caught the attention of the people of Judah. They should have realized that their God is all-powerful and incredibly merciful. They had done nothing to deserve this reprieve, yet God had brought it about. They should have recognized that “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7 ESV). But the sad reality will be, that the people of Judah, who will see the hand of God move on their behalf, will continue their stubborn rejection of Him as their God. Yes, they will continue to worship Him, but as God said through the prophet Isaiah:

They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Their deliverance at the hand of God should have been a wake-up call. It should have driven them to their knees in gratitude and reverence to God for His mercy and grace. But God will be forced to replace the Assyrians with yet another foreign power that will act as His instrument of judgment upon His disobedient people.

But as for the present problem of the Assyrians, God assures the people of Judah, “now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart” (Nahum 1:13 ESV). What a bold claim for God to make. This seemingly impossible claim would have been hard for the people of God to accept. It would have seemed far-fetched and too good to be true. The Assyrians had been around for centuries. They were a powerful dynasty and the alpha predator of their era, with no known competitor strong enough to unseat them. How was God going to accomplish what Nahum was saying? This all sounded great, but it would have seemed like such an impossibility. But as Nahum has already reminded them:

His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers
– Nahum 1:3-4 ESV

God was all-powerful. He was the God of the universe, the creator of all things. The Assyrians would be no problem for him. And so, Nahum changes his focus yet again and addresses the Assyrians directly.

The Lord has given commandment about you:
    “No more shall your name be perpetuated;
from the house of your gods I will cut off
    the carved image and the metal image.
I will make your grave, for you are vile.” – Nahum 1:14 ESV

Their false gods will prove to be no match for the one true God. They will be exposed for what they are: false and powerless. God will see to it that their posterity of the Assyrians ends. They will cease to exist as a nation-state. Their rise to power was great, but their fall will be even greater. Their seeming invincibility will end with with their virtual invisibility. They will cease to be. Again, what a bold claim. But what is interesting to note is that the Medes, who would be part of the coalition force that conquered the Assyrians, would see to it that the gods of the Assyrians, found in the capital city of Nineveh, were completely destroyed. The Assyrians had a policy of collecting the images of all the gods of the nations they defeated. They would bring them back to their capital and put them on display as an illustration of the superiority of their own gods. But when the time came for Nineveh to fall, all the gods of Assyria would be captured and destroyed, just as God had promised.

As Nahum prepares to transition to a new train of thought, he appeals to the people of Judah directly, calling them to rejoice in the inevitable salvation of God. He speaks as if the destruction of Nineveh has already happened and the deliverance of the people of Judah is complete. He calls them to “Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows,
for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (Nahum 1:15 ESV). God’s word is so powerful, that you can go ahead and celebrate before it has even been fulfilled.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

God will bring about what He has promised. He will accomplish what He has said. And He is calling the people of Judah to do their part. They are to remain obedience to Him, keeping His appointed feasts and fulfilling the vows they had made to Him. God will do His part, but they must do theirs. God will remove the false gods of the Assyrians, but the people of Judah must remove the false gods they worship and return to faithful, unadulterated allegiance to Yahweh. After all God has promised to do, you would think that this would have been easy for the people of Judah to pull off. But they would prove to be ungrateful to God for His undeserved mercy and grace. He would do exactly what He promised, removing the yoke of the Assyrians, but they would continue to live their lives in open rebellion to Him. They would worship them with their lips, but their hearts would be far from Him. And God would be forced to bring yet another nation against His people, to prove to them that He is serious about their holiness. He not only demands obedience, He will do what He has to do to see that it happens.

This entire section of Nahum’s oracle, should have been a stark reminder to the people of Judah that their God was actively involved in their lives. He was blind to their spiritual condition or oblivious to their suffering at the hands of their enemies. As a matter of fact, the Assyrians were nothing more than tools in His hands, accomplishing His divine will concerning His judgment against the people of Judah. But God had promised to defeat the Assyrians and deliver the people of Judah. All He wanted in return was their faithfulness. He wanted their obedience and willful submission to His sovereign will concerning their lives. He had promised them blessing after blessing if they would only remain faithful to Him. And to prove both His power and mercy, God promised to destroy the very ones He had sent to persecute His people. He would remove the threat of destruction, but He desired the repentance of His people in return.

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

Rock of Escape.

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.

Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. – 1 Samuel 23:15-29 ESV

Verse 14 of this same chapter stated that Saul sought David every day. He was on a relentless, obsessive mission to destroy David because he knew that as long as David was alive, his crown was in jeopardy. He had even warned his son, Jonathan, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31 ESV). And it seems that Jonathan had taken those words to heart. He risked the wrath of his father and his own life by covertly arranging to see David one more time. And at that reunion with his best friend, he disclosed to David, “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware” (1 Samuel 23:17 NLT). Jonathan had seen the handwriting on the wall. He somehow knew that David was to be the next king and that it would be the will and work of God. The text tells us that Jonathan “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16 ESV). He encouraged David to trust God. Not even his father, Saul, was going to be able to stop what God had ordained. Jonathan knew his father was in the wrong and would eventually fail in his attempt to thwart the will of God. It had become increasingly clear to him that Saul’s obsession with David’s death was not only uncalled for, but would prove to be unsuccessful. These words from his best friend and the rightful heir to the throne had to have encouraged David greatly. Jonathan was abdicating any right he had to be the next king because he believed David to be God’s choice for the role.

It is interesting how God sometimes uses others to reveal to us information regarding us that has escaped our notice. All David seemed to know was that Saul was out to kill him. It would seem that he had not yet put two and two together and arrived at the conclusion that Saul’s obsessive-compulsive behavior toward him did have a reason: Saul knew David was God’s choice to be the next king. It took Jonathan to add up the facts and present David with what should have been an obvious conclusion: He was going to be king of Israel. Jonathan assured David that even Saul was well aware of this fact. We are not given insight into David’s reaction at this news, but it had to have been an epiphany for him, a light-bulb-illuminating-over-the-head moment. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. The anointing, spear-throwing, raging, and running all began to come together into a clear picture of what God was going. The last time the two of them had met, David had asked  Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). Now he knew the answer. He was Saul’s God-appointed replacement. No wonder Saul was acting the way he was.

But even with this eye-opening, riddle-solving news, David’s lot in life didn’t undergo any kind of remarkable change. Jonathan would return home and David would find himself still living as a wanted man. In fact, it wouldn’t take long for reality to set back in as David’s location in the wilderness of Ziph was disclosed to Saul by the area’s residents. They ratted David out, informing Saul of his whereabouts, and promising to turn him over to the king.

To get an idea of what David was thinking at this stage of his life, all we have to do is turn to Psalm 54, which was written at this very time. In this psalm, David bears his heart to God. He calls on God to save him. And he promises to offer sacrifices to God when He does finally provide him with deliverance.

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

One of the revealing statements in this psalm is David’s conclusion that those who were seeking him and those who would betray him “do not set God before themselves.” The New Living Translation phrases it this way: “They care nothing for God.” The actions of Saul and the Ziphites had nothing to do with the will of God. David describes them as strangers, ruthless, and enemies; and he refers to their actions as evil. David realized that this was a spiritual battle between those who care nothing for God and God Himself. So David calls on God to do what only He can do. He pleads with God to save and vindicate him, to avenge and deliver him, to hear and help him. David knew that his life was in God’s hands. God had anointed him and would be God who would have to protect and deliver him.

And David would receive yet another timely example of God’s ability to deliver. When Saul heard that David and his men had relocated to the wilderness of Moan, he set out in hot pursuit. The passage tells us, “Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again” (1 Samuel 23:26-27 NLT). Just in the nick of time, God stepped in. It would be tempting to write this off as nothing more than a very timely coincidence. But for David, it would have been the very well-timed, miraculous intervention of God. Just when Saul and his men were closing in, God stepped in and provided a way of escape. And God would use the enemies of Israel to deliver the next king of Israel. The Philistines had chosen that particular moment in time to raid Israel, forcing Saul to abandon his pursuit of David and return home. The name of that place became known as the Rock of Escape. God had become a rock of escape for David, protecting him from his enemies and providing a miraculous, perfectly timed deliverance from his enemies. But notice that God did not eliminate Saul. He did not provide a permanent victory over Saul by allowing David to kill him in battle. He simply removed the immediate threat and gave David a glimpse of His capacity to save. God was not interested in removing the difficulties from David’s life as much as He was in getting David to trust the One for whom no problem was to difficult. Saul was not going to go away, but neither was God. David’s life was not going to be problem-free, but David was going to learn that nothing that happened in his life was free from God’s all-seeing eye. Which is why David, years later, would later be able to write these words:

You are my rock and my fortress.
    For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
    for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
    Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. – Psalm 31:3-5 NLT

 

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

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

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

A Real and Present Danger.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 ESV

Paul is still dealing with the problem taking place in Corinth. There is disunity in the fellowship over eating meat sacrificed to idols. Actually, it was about much more than that. There were those within the church who were most likely using their newfound freedom in Christ to excuse their continued participation in the sacrificial feasts or meals offered on behalf of false gods. These individuals saw nothing wrong with their participation in these pagan events because they rationalized that false gods don’t really exist. But there were others who once worshiped those same false gods, who felt that it was wrong for a Christian to have anything to do with idols. And while Paul agreed that the logic behind the first group’s argument was sound, their motivation was not. They were more concerned about their own rights than they were about the spiritual well-being of their fellow believers. He let them know that their rights needed to take a back seat to the spiritual health of the church, and he used himself as an example.

Now he lets them know that there is something even more dangerous going on that they are overlooking. The serious threat of falling into idolatry. While there were those in the church who pridefully felt free to associate themselves with others who worshiped false gods, Paul warns them that they are playing with fire. While idols are not really gods, idol worship is real and dangerously deadly. And their relationship with God as His chosen people was not an antidote or protection from the temptation of idol worship. Paul uses the people of Israel as a primary example and he utilizes five comparative illustrations to make his point. First, he talks about the pillar of cloud that guided them. It represented the glory and presence of God. He led, directed and protected them.

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:21-22 ESV

As they were leaving Egypt, the cloud came to rest between the people of Israel and the advancing armies of Pharaoh. God protected them throughout the night.

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 ESV

The next day, the people of Israel passed through the sea on dry ground. That is Paul’s second illustration. God miraculously provided a way of escape, delivering every one of the Israelites to the other side, while completely devastating the armies of Pharaoh. They were witnesses to the salvation of the Lord.

Next Paul refers to their “baptism” into Moses. In following the cloud and passing through the Red Sea, they were actually submitting to or immersing themselves under the leadership of God’s chosen deliverer: Moses. He was to be their God-ordained instrument of redemption, leading them all throughout their time in the wilderness. Next, Paul refers to the spiritual food and drink they ate in the wilderness – the manna and quail, as well as the water God provided from the rock. God miraculously provided for their physical needs, providing food and water when none was available. And in both cases, He did so in spite of their grumbling and complaining. Paul makes it clear that the rock was symbolic of Christ, the provider of living water.

But Paul brings all of these marvelous illustrations to a sudden and surprising close by stating: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:5 ESV). Regardless of their unique status as God’s chosen and redeemed people, and in spite of all that God had done for them, they were “overthrown in the wilderness.” In reality, they all died. An entire generation of Israelites would spend the rest of their lives wandering in the wilderness and never experience the joys of entering the promised land. And Paul is going to unpack just exactly why this was the case and how their mistake was to be a warning to the people of God living in Corinth.

One of the most significant moments in the history of the people of Israel took place early on in their wilderness wanderings. They had not been free from bondage very long, when God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to receive the law. While he was there, something happened back down in the valley. Moses records the tragic event for us:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play. – Exodus 32:1-6 ESV

Idol worship. They had been delivered by God, led by God, protected by God and were about to receive the law of God. They had also been given the instructions to build the tabernacle, a structure designed to house the very presence of God. But they returned all the favors of God with unfaithfulness. They had seen God perform ten miraculous plagues. They had seen Him part the waters of the Red Sea. They had walked across on dry land, then witnessed the devastating destruction of the armies of Pharaoh. And yet, they chose to put their trust in a false god rather than the one true God. And Paul tells us, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6 ESV). Their deadly mistake was to be a warning to us. Their ingratitude and unfaithfulness was to be a reminder to us. They enjoyed the presence, provision and protection of God as His chosen people, but that did not make them immune from the punishment of God. And that seems to be Paul’s point. As God’s chosen people, we must never think that we are incapable of sin or insusceptible to temptation. Unfaithfulness ia a real and present danger for each of us. As Paul warned the Ephesians:

For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:8-12 NLT

No Ransom. No Redemption.

He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper. Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities? Where are all your rulers—those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in my anger, and I took him away in my wrath.

The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up; his sin is kept in store. The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb.

Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Though he may flourish among his brothers, the east wind, the wind of the Lord, shall come, rising from the wilderness, and his fountain shall dry up; his spring shall be parched; it shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:9-16 ESV

If God does not intervene, man is helpless and hopeless to do anything about his condition. Without God’s help, man is incapable of delivering himself from the inevitability of sin’s ultimate outcome: death. The Israelites, even before the division of the kingdom, had proven themselves unfaithful to God by exhibiting their ongoing unwillingness to honor Him as God. Soon after they had entered the land after their 40-year of wandering in the wilderness, they exhibited their propensity to disobey God. The book of Judges chronicles their repetitive cycle of sin, which started with their unwillingness to obey God and completely remove the pagan nations from the land.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages… – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco – Judges 1:31 ESV

And on and on it went. The entire book of Judges is a sad chronicle of their on-again, off-again relationship with God. The people would turn against Him, and God would punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat them. The people would cry out in despair and God would provide them with a judge to deliver them. There would be a short time of repentance, and then the cycle would repeat itself. The book of Judges ends with the sad statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV).

It was not long before they demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). And God gave them exactly what they asked for – King Saul. He would prove to be a faithless king who God would remove and replace with King David. And David would be followed by his son, Solomon, who would prove to be a wise and successful king, until the latter days of his reign, when he, because of his many pagan wives, allowed the worship of idols to make its way into the nation. God split the nation in two, and Israel, the northern kingdom, would end up with a king just like Saul. Jeroboam would prove unfaithful as well, leading the people into idolatry and away from the worship of Yahweh. And now that God’s judgement was coming, He sarcastically asked of them, “Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of me? In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away” (Hosea 13:10-11 NLT). God had given them ample opportunity to repent, but like a child in the womb, they refused to come out when the pains of delivery increased.

So God asked, “Should I ransom them from the grave? Should I redeem them from death?
O death, bring on your terrors! O grave, bring on your plagues! For I will not take pity on them” (Hosea 13:14 NLT). This verse should jump out at us. Because ransom and redemption is exactly what God has accomplished for those of us who are in Christ. He has paid the price for our sins and ransomed us from the death sentence that was hanging over our heads. He has redeemed us from death through the sacrifice of His own Son, who died in our place. As a result, we no longer need fear death or the grave. Paul quotes from this very passage when he writes,

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,j this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 NLT

It is God who ransoms and redeems. There is no help or hope without Him. The Israelites were going to learn that deliverance was impossible without God. Their kings would prove impotent. Their armies would be exposed as incompetent. When destruction came, their gods would be non-existent. They would learn the hard way that deliverance comes only through the Lord. Trusting in kings, chariots, allies, weapons, wealth, wisdom, false gods or anything other than God would prove fruitless and devastatingly deadly. Their destruction would be complete. No ransom. No redemption.

As Peter said in his defense at his trial before the high priest and the other religious leaders, “Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NLT). Salvation comes only through the Lord. There is no salvation through anyone or anything else.

Faith: Belief In Action.

By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. – Hebrews 11:28 ESV

The author of Hebrews skips over a large section of the biography of Moses, going straight from his departure from Egypt after killing another Egyptian to the days just prior to his second departure, this time leading the entire nation of Israel into the wilderness. The account in Hebrews leaves out large, seemingly significant sections of Moses’ life, including his call at the burning bush, his somewhat reluctant return to Egypt, his encounters with Pharaoh, and the first nine plagues. From the moment God called Moses in Midian and told him he would be the deliverer of God’s people, Moses had to have faith in the word of God. When God had appeared to him at the burning bush in Midian, He had told Moses:

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.– Exodus 3:7-9 ESV

This would have been good news to Moses. But then he heard the rest of God’s plan. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10 ESV). Moses was reluctant, even resistant, to God’s plan. But God told him, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12 ESV). God had given Moses a promise, an assurance that he was the one to do the job. God would be with him and God would bring he and the people of Israel back to this very same spot – Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. God went on to tell Moses the rest of His plan.

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 23:19-22 ESV

So Moses went. And everything went just as God had said. All the way up to the point to which the author of Hebrews refers in verse 28 of chapter 11. There was going to be one last plague that God would bring on the land of Egypt. And while the first nine had been troubling and even devastating at times, the last plague would be deadly. God warned Pharaoh through His servant Moses, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle’” (Exodus 11:4-5 ESV). While God had protected the people of Israel from most of the other plagues, this one was going to be nation-wide and non-discriminate. All the first-born males throughout the land would die, of both man and animal, including the firstborn of the Jews. Unless they followed God’s directions. On the tenth day of the month, every household was to select a lamb – a one-year old, unblemished male lamb. They were to “keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:6 ESV).

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:7-13 ESV

The people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of their lambs and sprinkle it on the doorposts and lentils of their homes. This final step was essential for their salvation. God had told them, “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23 ESV). The blood of the innocent lamb would protect them. But it required faith and obedience. Of all the plagues, this one hit the closest to him – literally. If the people of Israel failed to follow God’s commands, they would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians. Their protection and preservation required faith and action. And Moses led the way. He placed his faith in God and did what God had told him to do. The whole scenario had to have sounded bizarre to Moses. There was no precedent for killing a lamb and sprinkling its blood as a form of protection from death. The sacrificial system had not yet been given. This would have been a costly command, because as shepherds, the people of Israel put a high value on their livestock, especially one that was one-year old and without blemish. A male lamb would have been prime breeding stock. God’s plan probably sounded far-fetched and fairly sketchy to most of the Jews. They most likely had doubts as to whether it would work. You can imagine their fear and dismay as the “destroyer” passed over the city that night and they heard the cries coming from the homes of all those who had lost a firstborn. They would have wondered if the blood would work. But as the dawn came, the thing that saved them was not the quantity or quality of their faith, but the presence of the blood. The Lord looked for the blood. It was the blood that saved them, not their faith. It was God who protected them, not their faith. Their faith was simply an instrument through which they expressed their trust in God. Moses and the people had to put their faith in God’s plan of salvation. And when they did, it worked. 

It was Moses’ faith in the word of God that ultimately convinced the people of God to sprinkle the blood on their doorposts and lentils. He believed God. His faith was influential and infectious. By faith he obeyed the command of God. By faith he instructed the people of God. His faith in God was instrumental in saving tens of thousands of firstborn Israelites. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood. His faith showed up in action. He took God at His word and took steps to obey God’s word.

 

When Things Look Down, Look Up.

Then Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed because of this and cried to heaven. – 2 Chronicles 32:20 ESV

The psalmist asked the somewhat rhetorical question: “From where does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1 ESV). Then he gives what should be the obvious answer: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2 ESV). In times of trouble, the one who believes in God turns to Him for hope and help. When things are down, they look up. David, the great king of Israel, wrote, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2 ESV). The psalmist, Korah, echoes this sentiment. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 ESV). And it was with this thought in mind that King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah prayed to their God in heaven. They looked up and they cried out.

The situation was desperate. King Sennacherib of Assyria had invaded Judah with his armies and had Jerusalem surrounded and under siege. He had sent a message to the inhabitants of the city, saying: “Why are you so confident that you remain in Jerusalem while it is under siege? Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will rescue us from the power of the king of Assyria.’ But he is misleading you and you will die of hunger and thirst!” (2 Chronicles 32:10-11 ESV). He went on to threaten the people of Judah with annihilation and warned them that Hezekiah was simply trying to deceive them. He ridiculed the God of Israel and bragged that no other god of any other nation had been able to stand against his armies. “Who among all the gods of these nations whom my predecessors annihilated was able to rescue his people from my power?” (2 Chronicles 32:14 ESV). King Sennacherib even had some of his troops who spoke Hebrew call out to the people of the wall, attempting to demoralize them with threats of destruction. They purposefully ridiculed God. “They talked about the God of Jerusalem as if he were one of the man-made gods of the nations of the earth” (2 Chronicles 32:19 ESV).

Things were definitely looking down. The odds were stacked against Hezekiah and Isaiah. The people were beginning to have second thoughts about Hezekiah’s leadership. They were listening to the words of Sennacherib and wondering if their God was strong enough to stand up against such a great army. There’s no doubt that Hezekiah and Isaiah were hearing a lot of complaining. They were probably getting a lot of advice to simply give up and cave in to the demands of the enemy. Self-preservation was the watchword of the day. Rather than expect victory and deliverance, the people were willing to settle for surrender and submission in exchange for their lives.

But Hezekiah and Isaiah didn’t give up or give in. They looked up and they called out to God. In the darkest of moments they still saw a glimmer of hope, because they believed in the power of their God. They knew Him to be loving, faithful, and fully capable of delivering His people from the greatest of difficulties. Sennacherib and his armies were formidable, but they were no match for the God who had created heaven and earth, who had defeated the armies of Egypt, who had delivered the land of Canaan into the hands of His people by defeating the more powerful nations that lived there. The armies of Judah were nothing compared to those of the Assyrians, but that was inconsequential. It was David, the great warrior-king of Israel, who wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright” (Psalm 20:7-8 ESV). Here was a man who built his reputation on warfare, bravery, battlefield heroics and victories against his enemies. But even he knew that, ultimately, the battle was the Lord’s. Any success against the enemy was His doing.

So Hezekiah and Isaiah cried out to God. And He answered. We’re not told what they prayed. We’re not told how long they prayed. But we are told that God answered, and in a big way. “The Lord sent a messenger and he wiped out all the soldiers, princes, and officers in the army of the king of Assyria. So Sennacherib returned home humiliated” (2 Chronicles 32:21 ESV). God didn’t even have to show up Himself. He simply sent a messenger, much like Sennacherib had done. But God’s messenger brought more than threats and insults. He brought destruction on the enemy and deliverance for His people. In fact, when Sennacherib arrived home, he went into the temple of his god and was murdered by his own sons. His own god wasn’t powerful enough to protect him.

But God proved Himself faithful, powerful, and fully capable of delivering His people from the greatest of difficulties. Sennacherib had boasted, “no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to rescue his people from my power or the power of my predecessors” (2 Chronicles 32:15 ESV). But he didn’t know the God of Israel. He had yet to come up against the God of the universe, the one and only true God, the maker of heaven and earth. Like Hezekiah and Isaiah, may we learn to trust God even in the darkest of moments. May we learn to call out to Him even when all looks lost. Like David, may we be able to say, “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand” (Psalm 20: 6 ESV).

The Joy of Salvation.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. – Psalm 51:12-13 ESV

Psalm 51

David had experienced the joy of God’s salvation on more than one occasion in his life. He had known what it was like to have God step into his circumstances and perform a miracle of deliverance. Now he was asking God to do it yet again. The NET Bible translates verse 12 this way: “Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance!” David had had a front-row seat when God delivered him from the giant Goliath; his own king and employer, Saul; and on numerous occasions from the Philistines. David knew what it was like to be in a difficult spot and then to have God do the seemingly impossible. He also knew the joy that always followed those events. There was nothing like watching God work and realizing just how much he loved and cared for him. He was not alone. He was not defenseless or helpless, no matter what his circumstances might say otherwise. God was good and far greater than any individual or incident. So David asked God to restore to him the joy that accompanies God’s salvation. He wanted to experience the incomparable euphoria that comes from knowing that the God of the universe has been your deliverer. God’s deliverance is permanent, not partial. It accomplishes the impossible.David was asking God to save him from his own sin. He was miserable as a result of his moral failure. He had confessed, but he need God’s forgiveness and deliverance from his own sinful nature.

David knew that deliverance from God produced a highly beneficial byproduct: a willing spirit. When David prayed, “uphold me with a willing spirit,” he was asking God to transform him into a person who willingly obeys. When we see God work miraculously in our lives and deliver us from difficult circumstances, we are much more prone to obey. God’s deliverance tends to breed increased dependence and obedience. But if we’re not careful, it can be short-lived. It is so easy for us to forget what God has done and fall back into our patterns of willful disobedience. David knew that God’s salvation tended to produce in him a more willing spirit. And that willing spirit became a witness and testimony to all those around him. When we live in dependence upon God, allowing Him to fight our battles for us, we have the joy of seeing Him work. That life of willing reliance upon God becomes a walking testimony to all those around us. David knew that if God could forgive him of what he had done, others would take notice and be more willing to return to God for forgiveness and salvation from their own sins.

But it is so easy for us to forget what God has done. His times of deliverance can be quickly forgotten and the joy experienced during those times can fade away. The Bible is full of stories illustrating that reality. In Psalm 106, the psalmist recalls God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. “So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise” (Psalm 106:10-12 ESV). God saved them and they sang His praises. But then they forgot. “But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel. But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (Psalm 106:13-15 ESV). Their joy quickly turned to sorrow. Their songs of praise turned to moans of agony and pain. The bottom line is that “t
hey forgot God, their Savior” (Psalm 106:21 ESV). It is so easy to do. God had even warned the people of Israel not to forget Him. When they stood on the edge of the land of Canaan, waiting to enter into it and take possession of it, God warned them, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that David’s prayer was the result of his sin with Bathsheba. But his sin with Bathsheba was the result of his unwillingness to go to war. Instead of leading the armies of Israel against the enemies of God, he chose to stay home. And his decision led to his immoral actions. In essence, he got fat and happy, choosing to enjoy the luxuries of kingship rather than risking his life ridding the land of enemies of God. His heart was lifted up and he soon forgot God. But God used David’s disobedience to bring him back. He got David’s attention. And now David longed for God’s salvation and the joy that accompanies it. Oh, that that would be the desire of every Christ-follower today. What a difference it would make if we longed to see God work in our lives, delivering us from our own self-inflicted pain and rescuing us from our enemies. We would know the joy of God’s salvation, and be able to tell others of His unfailing love and ability to deliver mightily.