Trust God

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
    and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
    and taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
    behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
    nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
    chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
    to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
    and because he is strong in power,
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:12-31 ESV

This chapter opened with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people.” And the next ten verses revealed the form that comfort would take. God was going to intervene on behalf of Judah. Isaiah was given a vision of a future day in which the Lord God will appear in glory and might.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. – Isaiah 40:10 NLT

God will one day come as Shepherd of Israel, carrying his lambs in His arms and “holding them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11 NLT). But how can the people of Judah know for certain that all of this will take place? What assurance do they have that this future revelation of God’s glory and deliverance will happen? Isaiah has already provided an answer to these questions. It is because “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 ESV). He is trustworthy and true, and His word is as immutable as His holy character.

But God knows that the people of Judah have their doubts. They are still obsessed with God’s declaration that the city of Jerusalem is going to fall to the Babylonians. So, any news of God’s future redemption sounds a bit hollow and too good to be true. The immediate prospect of defeat carries far more weight with them than any promise of future restoration. So, God addresses their apprehension with a series of 13 questions. And these queries from God are meant to reveal His greatness and the everlasting nature of His nature. God is eternal. He stands outside of space and time. Which is why He speaks of future events as if they have already happened. He is without equal and beyond comparison, and Isaiah stresses His incomparability with three rhetorical questions:

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?

Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?  

The answer to all three questions is the same: No one. There is no one else like God. He doesn’t need advice or instruction. He doesn’t require anyone else to tell Him what is right or wrong. Compared with God, the “the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket” (Isaiah 40:15 NLT). Like dust on a scale, they are infinitesimal and inconsequential. Their weight or glory doesn’t even register. In contrast, God’s glory is so great and His power, so beyond comparison, “He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand” (Isaiah 40:15 NLT). To put it bluntly, “The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes, they count for less than nothing—mere emptiness and froth” (Isaiah 40:17 NLT).

This series of questions is reminiscent of an exchange that took place between God Almighty and His servant Job. After having lost virtually everything near and dear to him, including his children, his wealth and his health, Job was confused by the dire nature of his circumstances. He questioned the nature of his suffering and defended his own righteousness before God. In a sense, he expressed his doubts concerning God’s justice. And God responded with a series of questions for Job that contrasted His own character with that of Job’s. For two chapters, God bombards Job with a series of questions designed to juxtapose God’s glorious deity with Job’s humanity.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much. – Job 38:4 NLT

“Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!” – Job 38:17-18 NLT

“Can you shout to the clouds
    and make it rain?
Can you make lightning appear
    and cause it to strike as you direct? – Job 38:34-35 NLT

And two chapters later, God wraps up his inquisition of Job with the stinging words:

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
    You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” – Job 40:2 NLT

This was all about a mere man questioning the integrity of the God of the universe. Job may not have liked his circumstances, but that gave him no right to doubt the goodness or greatness of God. Which is what led God to ask:

“Will you discredit my justice
    and condemn me just to prove you are right?
Are you as strong as God?
    Can you thunder with a voice like his? – Job 40:8-9 NLT

There is no situation that provides justification for man’s questioning of God’s integrity. Our first reaction, when faced with difficult circumstances, is to measure God’s character by human standards. We tend to analyze His actions by using our own flawed sense of right and wrong. But Isaiah asks, “To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?” (Isaiah 40:18 NLT). God is not a man so He cannot be judged like one. And He is not a false god, made by human hands. He is uncreated. He has no maker. And He owes no one an answer or explanation for His actions.

So, God repeats Isaiah’s previous question:

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. – Isaiah 40:25 NLT 

And the answer remains: No one.

Yet, God knows that His people still have their doubts about Him. So, He confronts them with the real issue behind their refusal to believe His word.

“O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? – Isaiah 40:27 NLT

There were convinced that God was blind to their current circumstances. Not only that, they were questioning God’s integrity by accusing Him of ignoring their rights. In essence, they were labeling God as unjust and unrighteous. They were measuring God by their circumstances, rather than viewing their circumstances through the lens of God’s character. So, Isaiah gave them a much-needed reminder of how just and righteous, good and gracious God is.

He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion. – Isaiah 40:29-30 NLT

Notice the circumstances in which God reveals His power and strength. It is in the midst of our weakness and powerlessness. It is when we are tired and exhausted that God tends to show up in all His glory. God told the apostle Paul, “My power works best in weakness” and Paul responded by saying, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

How could Paul take pleasure in weakness? It was because he trusted God. He knew from experience that God tended to show up when things were looking down. God’s power was best manifested when Paul’s weakness was on full display. Which is why Isaiah reminded the people of Judah:

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Trust is the greatest antidote to trials. Relying on the incomparable, unquenchable power of God when our strength is gone is the key to surviving and thriving in this world. But we must trust what He has said. We must not question His word or doubt His integrity.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 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

Whom Will You Trust?

1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

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. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord God:

“‘It shall not stand,
    and it shall not come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
And within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.
And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you are not firm in faith,
    you will not be firm at all.’” – Isaiah 7:1-9 ESV

This section of chapter seven sets up a long discourse regarding the lack of faith among the people of Judah, and it began at the top, with their king. Isaiah summarizes the situation, mirroring the words found in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 ESV

Ahaz was a wicked king who proved unfaithful to Yahweh. And, through his leadership, he led the people of Judah to practice all kinds of idolatry. In doing so, he emulated the actions of the northern kingdom of Israel, where they had long ago replaced Yahweh with their false gods.

It was the northern kingdom of Israel that made an alliance with Syria in hopes of mounting an attack against Judah. And when new of this plan reached the royal court in Judah, “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isaiah 7:2 ESV). They were terrified.

So, God commanded Isaiah to deliver a message to Ahaz, and he was to take his son, Shearjashub (“a remnant shall return”), with him. It is not clear why God had Isaiah take his son, but it could be that the presence of this young boy was intended to help calm the fears of Ahaz. The message God gave Isaiah to deliver to Ahaz was simple and clear.

“Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.” – Isaiah 7:4 NLT

After delivering God’s call to cease fearing, Isaiah was to provide Ahaz with insight into the plans of the kings of Syria and Israel.

“We will attack Judah and capture it for ourselves. Then we will install the son of Tabeel as Judah’s king.” – Isaiah 7:5 NLT

This two-fold message from God had to confuse and disturb Ahaz. How was he supposed to remain calm when two nations had allied against him and were planning to depose him? But this is where Ahaz had a choice to make. He could either look at his circumstances and lose hope, or he could look to God and trust Him. Which is why God had Isaiah provide Ahaz with a powerful assurance.

“This invasion will never happen; it will never take place.” – Isaiah 7:6 NLT

While Ahaz saw the kings of Israel and Syria as formidable foes and a real threat, God describes them as nothing more than burned-out embers. Ahaz and the people of Judah had nothing to fear from these two nations. Their plans would come to nothing. God even exposes the limited sovereignty of the king of Syria. He was the head of a single capital (Damascus) in a solitary nation (Syria). He was nothing compared to the Almighty God who rules and reigns over all. And God went on to provide Ahaz a prophecy concerning Israel’s fate: “within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed” (Isaiah 7:8 NLT). Within 13 years, Israel would fall to the Assyrians. And about 62 years after this conversation between Isaiah and Ahaz, the king of Assyria would begin relocating people from other conquered nations into the former land of Israel, making repopulation by the Israelites virtually impossible.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

God knew what was going to happen to Israel, so He let Ahaz know that the entire nation of Israel was no stronger than their king and, therefore, there was no reason for Ahaz and the people of Judah to fear.

This is where Ahaz was faced with a choice. Would he trust the word of God, delivered by the prophet of God? Or would he allow the circumstances surrounding him to overwhelm him with fear? From Ahaz’s perspective, the news of Syria and Israel’s plans to depose him were real and deserving of his concern. He was facing attack from two powerful enemies, and God had even confirmed their plans. But God had also told him that it would not happen. Their plans would not to nothing.

And sensing Ahaz’s fear and anxiety, Isaiah gave the king one more message from God.

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

Ahaz was going to have to trust God. Essentially, God was warning Ahaz that without faith in Him, they would fall. Fear and faith are not meant to co-exist. The presence of fear in the life of a child of God is evidence of a lack of faith. It reveals a distrust of God and doubt regarding His power and His promises.

As Moses was nearing the end of his life and the people of Israel were preparing to enter the promised land, under the leadership of Joshua, he told the people:

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

The circumstances facing the people of Israel were formidable and frightening. They were getting ready to enter a land filled with fortified cities protected by powerful armed forces. But Moses had told the people, “the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land” (Deuteronomy 31:3 NLT). And they had a choice to make. Would they cross over, putting shoe leather to their faith? Or would they remain on the wrong side of the Jordan, giving evidence of their lack of trust in God?

Ahaz had a decision to make, and it was not an easy one. The threat was real. The fears were justified. But His God had spoken. He had the word of God Almighty assuring him that nothing was going to happen. But he was going to have to take God at His word and trust Him.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. – Psalm 3:5-6 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

To the End of the Age.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:11-20 ESV

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Of all the gospel authors, Matthew provides us with the most abbreviated version of the events associated with Jesus last hours on earth. For whatever reason, he chooses to leave out all the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection. We know from the accounts penned by John, Luke and Mark, that Jesus appeared repeatedly to His followers during the hours between His resurrection and His ascension. He had appeared to the two distraught disciples walking on the road to Emmaus discussing the recent death of their master (Luke 24:13-32). Those two had made a beeline to the room where the 10 of the disciples were gathered together, informing them of their encounter with Jesus. And at the very moment when they had shared the exciting news, Jesus had suddenly appeared among them (Luke 24:33-40). John records that Thomas had not been in the room that day, and when his fellow disciples told him what had happened, he had his doubts. So, eight days later, Jesus made yet another surprise appearance, telling Thomas, “Do not disbelieve but believe” (John 20:27). The apostle Paul gives us a succinct summary of all of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.

He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. – 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NLT

But Matthew chose to leave all of this out. Not only that, He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. Dr. Stanley Toussaint provides us with a compelling explanation for Matthew’s decision to leave out this seemingly vital part of the narrative.

The reason for Matthew’s diligence in approaching the resurrection in such an apologetic manner is evident since so much is dependent upon the resurrection of the Messiah. It authenticated His person. To the nation of Israel, His resurrection was the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:38-39) attesting the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. The reason Matthew says nothing about the ascension is bound up in this point. If Jesus is the Messiah, then an account of the ascension is both unnecessary and self-evident to the Israelite. He would yet come in clouds of glory. What mattered to Matthew was that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah and the resurrection proved that fact; therefore he goes no further. – Toussaint, Stanley D. Behold the King: A Study of Matthew. Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah Press, 1980.

For Matthew, the resurrection said it all. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, which Matthew clearly believed, then His ascension would have been an undisputed fact. Matthew’s primary point was to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. That’s because, as a Jew, Matthew had aimed the content of his gospel on a Jewish audience. He had been ought to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And, for him, the resurrection was clear evidence and conclusive proof of that claim.

The tomb was empty and news of that reality had already begun to spread. In fact, the temple guards who tasked with protecting the tomb had made their way to the Caiaphas the high priest and his father-in-law, Annas, to break the bad news. These guards had been charged by the high council with the task of preventing the disciples from stealing the body of Jesus. The high priest and his fellow Sanhedrin members knew of Jesus’ claim that He would rise again and they feared His disciples would attempt to steal the body and boast that Jesus was alive.  And much to their surprise and chagrin, that exactly what the guards reported. And Matthew records that the guards told the high priest “all that had taken place.” That would have included exactly what Matthew had reported.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

These men would have feared for their lives. They had no reason to lie and every reason to tell the truth – as crazy as it may have sounded. Not only had they failed to secure the tomb, but they had also fallen asleep on the job. So, they most likely told their bosses exactly what had happened, in great detail. But Matthew records that Caiaphas, having heard the unwelcome news from the guards, assembled the rest of the high council. Amazingly, Caiaphas determined that the best strategy was to pay off the guards and spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body – the very thing he had hoped to prevent. It seems clear that he knew something else had happened, and this decision was nothing more than a poor attempt at a coverup. The last thing he wanted was news spreading throughout the city that Jesus was alive.

And yet, that fact was Matthew’s primary point. Jesus was alive. He had risen from the dead, just as He had promised He would. He was the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Matthew had opened up his gospel with the encounter between Joseph and the angel.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

He had followed that story with the one involving the arrival of the wise men who had asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?(Matthew 2:2 ESV). He recorded Herod’s attempt to eliminate Jesus as a threat by having all the male babies executed. He reported Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and the divine pronouncement from God, stating, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV).

Matthew had been out to prove that Jesus was Immanuel, when means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). And the resurrection of Jesus was the final, conclusive piece of evidence.

Jesus had directed His disciples to meet Him at a mountain in Galilee. We are not told which mountain, but it may have been the very place where Jesus had given His sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. But regardless of the exact location of their place of rendezvous, Jesus appeared yet again to His followers. Matthew reports that while all 11 of the disciples worshiped Him, some still harbored doubts. He doesn’t explain what he meant by this. Were they doubting Jesus’ resurrection? That seems hard to imagine, based on the fact that He was standing right in front of them. Did they doubt that He was the Messiah? Perhaps. It could be that they were still harboring hopes that He would reveal Himself to be the king they had long hoped for.  The Greek word translated as “doubted” is edistasan and it refers to a spirit of hesitation. They were unsure of all that was going on. They were probably fearful of all that was going to happen next. What would Jesus’ next steps be? What would happen to them? The Sanhedrin had already proven just how far they would go to eliminate Jesus as a threat, and they were not going to give up easily.

But Jesus attempted to calm their fears and doubts by telling them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). This statement was meant to assure His wavering, fear-focused disciples that He was in complete control of the situation. The very fact that He was standing before them alive and well was proof that He had authority from God Almighty. He had done what no other man had ever done before – He had conquered death and the grave. And they had no reason to fear.

But they did have work to do. And Jesus, according to His God-given authority, authorized His followers to continue His work in His absence.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

No more hiding. No more fearing. They were to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Messiahship. He was the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us. He was the King of the Jews and the Savior of the world. And that news was to be spread around the world. While the temple guards and the Sanhedrin were busy spreading lies, the disciples were to spread the truth about who Jesus was and is.

And Jesus promised them that He would be with them. This promise was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them at Pentecost. The Spirit would be their constant companion and source of divine power. And, while Jesus would soon depart and return to His Father’s side in heaven, the Spirit of God would remain with them all the days of their lives. And He will remain with the followers of Christ, His bride, the church, until the end of the age.

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

Why Did You Doubt?

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34 And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:22-36 ESV

The apostle John provides us with an important detail to this story that Matthew chose to leave out. It seems that Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowd had left quite an impression on them.

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:14-15 ESV

Having had their physical needs met in such a spectacular way, the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. Perhaps they envisioned a welfare state where their newly crowned king would use His miraculous powers to eliminate all hunger and disease. One can only imagine what went through their minds as they considered the endless possibilities of Jesus as their Messiah. But they were not thinking of the same kind of king or kingdom Jesus had in mind. Their focus was fixed on an earthly kingdom where their physical needs would be met and all their problems taken care of by “the Prophet” turned king.

The prophet to whom they referred was the one Moses had predicted would come.

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV

18 “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18 ESV

Moses had been the prophet who had led the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt, using miraculous powers to defeat Pharaoh and his armies. He had fed the people with manna from heaven and an endless supply of quail. He had provided water from a rock. Under his leadership, the clothes and sandals of the Israelites had never worn out. And when the crowd had watched as Jesus had fed more than 10,000 of them with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fishes, they couldn’t help but make the connection.

But Matthew records that Jesus “immediately” sent His disciples away and dismissed the crowds. He wasn’t interested in becoming their king – at least not the kind they had in mind. He had far greater aspirations based on the will of His heavenly Father. So, having dispersed the crowd and sending the disciples away by boat, Jesus spent time alone in prayer with His Father.  We are not told the content of Jesus’ prayer, but the High Priestly Prayer found in John 17 provides us with some idea of how Jesus communicated with the Father. It was personal and intimate, yet it also communicated His concern for His disciples. Jesus focused on finishing the task assigned to Him by the Father. But He also prayed for those who would carry on the ministry after His work was done.

While Jesus had been praying, the disciples had been caught in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. While many of these men were seasoned fishermen, this storm proved to be severe and the winds had driven them far out to sea. Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., in the darkness and as the wind and waves raged, Jesus appeared to them, walking on the water. He could have simply spoken a word and the storm would have subsided, but in this case, Jesus chose to do something even more spectacular. Rather than proving His power over the elements by controlling them, He simply showed their lack of influence over Him. The waves, the wind and the water had no effect on Him. In the midst of a raging storm, Jesus simply walked, calmly and casually, free from fear and displaying a kind of faith that His disciples did not yet possess.

Upon seeing Jesus walking on the water, their immediate response was fear, not faith. In their terrified state, they could only shout, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus called out to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” In essence, Jesus told them to stop fearing. He commanded them to replace their fear with faith – in Him. But Peter, revealing his lack of faith, responded, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28 ESV). He wasn’t convinced it was Jesus. But that doesn’t explain why Peter made this strange request. Why did he ask Jesus to command that he come to Him on the water? What was going through his mind? Keep in mind, the wind was still blowing and the waves were still rocking the boat, but Peter was asking Jesus to command that he step out of the boat and walk on the water. And Jesus obligingly said, “Come.”

Amazingly, Peter obeyed and made it all the way to where Jesus was waiting. But then something happened. Matthew records, “he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30 ESV). He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to focus on the circumstances around him. Remember, Jesus had not calmed the storm. He had walked to them in the midst of it. And when Peter attempted to do the same thing, he found that his faith diminished when he focused on the problem rather than the solution.

But Jesus was there, and He reached out His hand and rescued Peter from his own faltering faith, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31 ESV). Peter had displayed enough faith to step out of the boat and walk all the way to Jesus. But he had taken his eyes off the prize. It would seem that Peter had been more interested in walking on water than walking to Jesus. He had been enamored with the idea of replicating Jesus’ miraculous feat and, seeing that he was actually pulling it off, he had probably taken a look around him, amazed at what he was doing. He became cocky and over-confident. But seeing the wind, he became fearful. His faith turned to fear. And it’s interesting to note that wind is invisible. You can’t see it. But the author of Hebrews reminds us that faith is invisible too.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

You can’t see faith, but you can see the fruit it produces. The wind, while invisible to the human eye, is powerful enough to turn calm water into powerful waves and turn a boat full of seasoned fishermen into helpless, hopeless victims of a storm. The invisible faith that drove Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water was more than enough to get him to Jesus. But his mistake was allowing his conviction that Jesus was enough to be replaced by the fear that the wind was too much. And he sank like a rock.

And as soon as Jesus and Peter stepped into the boat, the wind and the waves ceased. The storm was calmed. Their fear subsided and was replaced with worship. What they had just witnessed convinced them that Jesus was the Son of God.

In the midst of the growing storm of opposition that swirled around Jesus and His ministery, He walked on in faith. He weathered the wind and waves of apathy and anger that battered Him on a daily basis. He kept His eyes on the will of His Father and the task He had been assigned to accomplish. The storms of controversy were going to rage. The tsunami of public opinion would blow this way and that, but Jesus would remain committed to His mission – walking in faith in the face of the storm.

And when the boat arrived at the other side of the lake, He went about His Father’s business.

35 And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick 36 and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. – Matthew 14:35-36 ESV

Why did Peter doubt? For the same reason we all do. He focused on the wind, the invisible source of the storm; when he should have kept his eyes on Jesus, the visible source of His faith.

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

No Doubt About It.

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

In these verses, Peter is going to deal with some specifics regarding the dangerous content of the message of the false teachers. First of all, they were disparaging the whole idea of Christ’s eventual return. In their estimation, the second coming of Christ was not going to take place. As far as they could tell, if it was going to happen, it already would have by this point. They took a look around and concluded, “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created” (2 Peter 3:4 NLT). In other words, nothing had changed. This was a case of overstatement, but as far as they could tell, the world just kept rolling along just like usual, with no indication that Christ’s return was eminent or even necessary. Their assessment led them to deny that Jesus was ever going to come back to earth. It was nothing more than wishful thinking propagated by the apostles. But Peter flatly denied this assertion and labeled these false teachers as scoffers or mockers. They were guilty of making fun of the whole concept of the second coming.

But Peter wants his readers to know that these false teachers were contradicting the very words of the prophets of God. These men had predicted the incarnation of Jesus, but also His return.

13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. – Daniel 2:44-45 NLT

3 Look! The Lord is coming!
    He leaves his throne in heaven
    and tramples the heights of the earth.
The mountains melt beneath his feet
    and flow into the valleys
like wax in a fire,
    like water pouring down a hill. –
Micah 1:3-4 NLT

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Isaiah 14:4-5 NLT

Not only does the Old Testament repeatedly speak of the return of Christ, so did the apostles.

12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. – 1 Thessalonians3:12-13 NLT

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. – Revelation 1: 7 ESV

Jesus Himself predicted His own return and promised the disciples that it was going to happen.

2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. – John 14:2-3 NLT

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. – Matthew 24:29-31 ESV

In spite of all of this, these “scoffers” sarcastically ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” “If He’s going to return, where is He?”, they mockingly ask. But Peter warns them that just because they don’t see any sign of His return, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. They can mock and scoff, but that doesn’t eliminate the reality of Christ’s second coming. They can doubt it’s validity, but it won’t do anything to lessen its inevitability. And Peter gives them a convincing illustration. In terms of the creation of the world, God used two essential things: His word and water. Genesis 1:2 tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis goes on to tell us that God separated the waters in order to create the sky.

Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.” And that is what happened. God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens. God called the space “sky.” – Genesis 1:6-8 NLT

Then He formed dry land out of the waters.

Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground “land” and the waters “seas.” And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:9-10 NLT

Then Peter fast-forwards to the flood. Once again, God used to means to accomplish His will. He used His word and water. But this time, rather than using these two things to create, He used them to destroy. God reversed what He had done at creation, and covered the dry land with water. He spoke, and it happened. And Peter warns that, one day, God is going to speak again. He will utter the word and the world, as we know it, will come to an end.

And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

This time, His word will be accompanied by fire, not water. This future judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ. The old earth will be replaced with a new and improved earth. God will make all things new. The creation, which is now groaning because of the curse of sin, will be made new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. – Revelation 21:1 NLT

20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. – Romans 8:20-21 NLT

These false teachers could mock the return of Christ, but it wasn’t going to keep it from happening. And Peter wants his readers to rest in the reality that Jesus was going to come back and that the redemption of mankind and creation would be finally completed. They could doubt it and even deny it, but they could do nothing to prevent it. And for us as believers, we hope in the return of Christ. And the apostle Paul tells us why we should.

23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) – Romans 8:23-25 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Fear of Losing Focus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Has Spoken.

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. The Lord said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?

“Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”

O Lord, you know;
    remember me and visit me,
    and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
    know that for your sake I bear reproach.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of revelers,
    nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
    for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
    but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” – Jeremiah 15:10-21 ESV

Jeremiah was fed up and burned out. He had come to an end of his rope and was ready to throw in the towel. His ministry had been anything but successful. The people were not responding to his message. And in spite of his intercession for them, pleading with God to spare them, God had completely rejected that idea. Their destruction was unavoidable and inevitable. So, it’s no wonder that Jeremiah felt like an abject failure. He even cursed the day he was born. After all, what had he accomplished in life? He was despised, rejected and an apparent failure at the one calling God had given him. And his frustration was aggravated by his knowledge that he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. He had just followed the commands of God. It wasn’t like he had cheated somebody out of their money or was about to kick someone out of their home for not being able to pay their mortgage.

“I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

All Jeremiah had done was faithfully proclaim the word of God. And he had absolutely nothing to show for it, except pain, rejection and failure.

But God had another perspective. He told Jeremiah, “I will take care of you, Jeremiah. Your enemies will ask you to plead on their behalf in times of trouble and distress” (Jeremiah 15:11 NLT). Little did Jeremiah know that God had plans for him. He would care for him, in spite of how bad things appeared. All Jeremiah could think about was the coming destruction and devastation of the land. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of that. He had forgotten the words of God, spoken to him when he had received his initial calling. 

For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

Nothing had changed, except that the date of Judah’s destruction had come closer. But God’s commitment to be with Jeremiah remained the same. While Judah and its fortified cities would fall to the Babylonians, Jeremiah would stand firm. He would come out of this stronger than ever. But it was difficult for Jeremiah to understand how any of this was going to be beneficial to anyone, himself included. And when God confirmed yet again that the destruction of Judah was eminent, that failed to help Jeremiah feel any better about his circumstances.

“At no cost to them,
    I will hand over your wealth and treasures
as plunder to your enemies,
    for sin runs rampant in your land.
I will tell your enemies to take you
    as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
    that will burn forever.” – Jeremiah 15:13-14 NLT

How was Jeremiah to accept that as good news? Why should that news give him any sense of peace or assurance that everything was going to be okay? It was because God was faithful to keep His word. What He promises to do, He does. And that not only applied to the fate of Judah, but to His promise to take care of Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to know that He would fulfill His commitment to provide for and protect Jeremiah, in spite of all that was going to happen. But Jeremiah was having a hard time seeing things from God’s perspective. All he could see was doom and disaster. He was stuck feeling like a failure and as if his days were numbered.

Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
    Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
    It’s for your sake that I am suffering. – Jeremiah 15:15 NLT

What Jeremiah feared most was death at the hands of his own people. He wasn’t sure he would live long enough to even see the coming of the Babylonians and the fall of Judah. He reminded God of his faithfulness and his refusal to take part in the sins of the people. And he couldn’t help but question God’s apparent unconcern and wonder about His seeming unreliability.

“Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.” – Jeremiah 15:18 NLT

And God responds to Jeremiah, but in a somewhat surprising way. Rather than tenderly answer Jeremiah’s questions, God demands that Jeremiah repent. His self-pitying was exposing his lack of faith in God. He was whining about his lot in life and refusing to trust the God who had given him life. When God had called Jeremiah, He had told him:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

God had made Jeremiah for a purpose. He had commissioned Jeremiah for a job, to act as His prophet and to convey His message to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah had lost focus. He was more consumed with being liked than being faithful. He was spending more time questioning God’s faithfulness than relying upon it. So, God demands that Jeremiah have a change of heart.

“If you return to me, I will restore you
    so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
    you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
    do not let them influence you! – Jeremiah 15:19 NLT

It is when we get our eyes off of God that we begin to lose sight of His goodness and grace. We begin to question His reliability and wonder about His power to save. One of the most powerful things God said to Jeremiah was “you just influence them; do not let them influence you!” The negativity of the people was rubbing off on Jeremiah. Their rejection of God was having an influence of the prophet of God. He began to doubt God’s goodness. He began to question God’s power. But God simply said, “Return to me.” And, if Jeremiah would do so, God recommitted Himself to taking care of Jeremiah.

“I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
    for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 15:20 NLT

God had spoken, and that is all the reassurance that Jeremiah should have needed. God would do His part. But it was essential that Jeremiah remain committed to God and faithful to fulfill His God-given responsibility – in spite of the dire nature of the circumstances. Everything that had happened was according to God’s plan. God had told Jeremiah that he would be despised and rejected. He had warned him that the people would refuse to listen to his message. But He had also assured Jeremiah that He would be with him.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:7-8 NLT

God has spoken. That should be all the assurance we need. He is good for His word. He is faithful to fulfill what He has promised. He is not a liar. He never fails to come through. So, there is no reason we should ever doubt what He is doing or question His integrity for doing it.

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 can be trusted. Even in the midst of what appears to be devastating circumstances, we can trust that God loves us and has not forsaken us. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust them. He is the faithful one, at all times. But we must keep our eyes focused on Him. We must rest in who He is and trust that all He does flows from His all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful nature.
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

Why?

Righteous are you, O Lord,
    when I complain to you;
    yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
    they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
    and far from their heart.
But you, O Lord, know me;
    you see me, and test my heart toward you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
    and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
How long will the land mourn
    and the grass of every field wither?
For the evil of those who dwell in it
    the beasts and the birds are swept away,
    because they said, “He will not see our latter end.” Jeremiah 12:1-4 ESV

Jeremiah was a confused and conflicted man. One minute he is weeping for his people, longing for God to spare them the coming destruction he knows they so fully deserve. But here, we find Jeremiah praying that God would give the wicked exactly what they deserve – dragging them off like sheep to the slaughter. Jeremiah, though a prophet, was still human. He had feelings just like anyone else and he felt confident and safe in expressing those feelings to God. He was angry at the people of Anathoth for plotting his death. He was frustrated with the stubborn and persistent refusal of the people of Judah to listen to his words of warning and call to repentance. And though he knew that God was righteous and just in all his actions, Jeremiah still had questions for Him.

“Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” – Jeremiah 12:1 NLT

Why? It’s a common question aimed at God by His people. We can’t help but ask why, because we don’t understand the ways of God. From our perspective, things seem illogical and even unjust at times. He doesn’t appear to be acting fairly or with integrity. We look at our life circumstances and see injustice, but then wonder how that can be if God is just. Jeremiah looked around him and saw wicked people who were happy and prosperous. With all that he knew about God, that seemed difficult to understand or explain. So, he asked God to provide him with answers. And Jeremiah would not be the first or the last human being to have questions for God. Job, in the midst of all his sufferings, expressed similar words to God.

“Why do the wicked prosper,
    growing old and powerful?
They live to see their children grow up and settle down,
    and they enjoy their grandchildren.
Their homes are safe from every fear,
    and God does not punish them.” – Job 21:7-9 NLT

He went on to say:

“They spend their days in prosperity,
    then go down to the grave in peace.
And yet they say to God, ‘Go away.
    We want no part of you and your ways.
Who is the Almighty, and why should we obey him?
    What good will it do us to pray?’” – Job 21:13-15 NLT

It was Asaph who wrote in his psalm:

“For I envied the proud
    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
They seem to live such painless lives;
    their bodies are so healthy and strong.
They don’t have troubles like other people;
    they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.” – Psalm 73:3-5 NLT

The prophet Habakkuk expressed his confusion and complaint to God regarding His seeming indifference to the Babylonians and their treatment of the people of Israel.

“But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they?” – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

Things don’t always turn out like we think they should. Our expectations of God are sometime dashed on the rocks of reality. We expect deliverance and find ourselves suffering pain. We anticipate victory, but end up experiencing defeat. We attempt to follow God faithfully and then find ourselves inexplicably going through difficulties and trials. And like Jeremiah, we end up asking God, “Why?” We demand answers. From our human perspective, we see those who give God little but lip service seemingly prospering and skating through life unscathed. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem fair.

Jeremiah is incredulous. He can’t believe what he is seeing. He even tells God, “But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts” (Jeremiah 12:3 NLT). Jeremiah was no hypocrite and he was confident that God knew so. And yet, he was the one who was suffering, while his opponents were prospering. Nothing about that scenario seemed just, right or fair. How could God let that happen? Why would God let that happen?

Jeremiah suffered from a malady common among God’s people. It was a false assumption that community with God equaled immunity from suffering. As the children of God we too often assume that our lives will be trouble-free and painless. But the Bible paints such a different picture. We have the stories of Joseph, who was used by God to preserve a remnant of the people of Israel from starvation and provide them with food and shelter in the land of Egypt. But in order for that to happen, Joseph had to endure countless trials and repeated acts of injustice against him. It was all part of God”s plan for his life. Generations later, Moses was God’s chosen instrument to deliver the people from their captivity in Egypt. But first he had to run for his life, guilty of murder and a wanted criminal. Then he had to spend 40 years living as a common shepherd in the wilderness until God issued His call for Moses to be His deliverer. David was anointed by God to be the next king of Israel, but spent years running for his life in an attempt to escape the wrath of Saul, the current king who had placed a bounty on David’s head. Time after time and all throughout the Scriptures, we see the people of God suffering as part of God’s divine plan. Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders of Israel, accused of crimes He had not committed and executed like a common criminal. The apostles suffered constantly as they took the gospel to the nations. Paul described his life as a faithful messenger of the gospel in less-than-glamorous terms:

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul would later tell Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV). And it was Peter who wrote: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Jesus Himself told His disciples: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The life of the believer is not for the feint of heart. Jesus told His disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:24-25 NLT). Following Christ requires daily death to self. It demands a giving up of our rights and expectations in order to submit to the will of the Father. Jesus never promised us a trouble-free life. But He did promise abundant life – a life filled with the peace that passes all understanding. A life marked by the promise of God’s persistent presence. A life characterized by joy in the midst of sorrow, hope even in times of sorrow, strength when we are weak, comfort when we are suffering, and the promise of an eternity free from sin, sorrow, pain and death. It was Paul who reminded the believers in Rome: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

We are more than free to ask God, “Why?” But we already know the answer. He knows what is best. He has a plan. He can be trusted. And while His ways are not our ways and His methods may seem nothing short of madness, we must trust that He knows what He is doing and has a perfectly good reason for our suffering.

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

What Will You Do?

 

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your servant, saying, “Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then is Adonijah king?’ Then while you are still speaking with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.”

So Bathsheba went to the king in his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was attending to the king). Bathsheba bowed and paid homage to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?” She said to him, “My lord, you swore to your servant by the Lord your God, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ And now, behold, Adonijah is king, although you, my lord the king, do not know it. He has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army, but Solomon your servant he has not invited. And now, my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to tell them who shall sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. Otherwise it will come to pass, when my lord the king sleeps with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted offenders.”

While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in. And they told the king, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed before the king, with his face to the ground. And Nathan said, “My lord the king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? For he has gone down this day and has sacrificed oxen, fattened cattle, and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest. And behold, they are eating and drinking before him, and saying, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ But me, your servant, and Zadok the priest, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and your servant Solomon he has not invited. Has this thing been brought about by my lord the king and you have not told your servants who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” – 1 Kings 1:11-27 ESV

David is old and bed-ridden. His days on this earth are numbered and, once again, one of his own sons is plotting to take his kingdom from him. When David should be enjoying his final days in peace and quiet, he is suddenly confronted with yet another looming disaster. Until he breathes his final breath, David is still the king of Israel and he must deal with the situation facing his kingdom and protect the right of his son, Solomon, to rule in his place. But the only problem is that David knows nothing about what is going on. He is oblivious to the danger facing the kingdom. He is safely ensconsed in his bed within his royal chamber, being cared for by Abishag the Shunammite. He is completely unaware of the actions of Adonijah, Abiathar and Joab. But Nathan the prophet is on top of all that is going on and sends Bathsheba, David’s wife and the mother of Solomon, to inform David of the gravity of the situation.

One of the problems seems to be that David had made no preparations for his succession. It would appear that Adonijah, as the oldest living son (his three older siblings had all died), assumed that he was the legitimate heir to the throne. He was simply taking advantage of David’s old age and speeding up the transition process. But God had clearly told David that Solomon would be his successor.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace. I will give him peace with his enemies in all the surrounding lands. His name will be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel during his reign. He is the one who will build a Temple to honor my name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will secure the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.” – 1 Chronicles 22:9-10 ESV

And yet, it seems that David had done nothing to ensure that the transition of power to Solomon would take place. Once again, his inaction had produced some very negative consequences, and could even result in the death of Solomon, should Adonijah’s coup succeed. So Nathan sent Bathsheba to David, encouraging her to prompt him to take action. And she did just that. She not only informed him of what was going on, but warned him that all the eyes of Israel were on him. He was being watched and the people were waiting to see what he would do. Despite his old age, David was going to have to take action. What he did next was going to secure the future of his kingdom and that of his son, or seal Solomon’s fate.

Nathan saw the gravity of the situation and told Bathsheba, “let me give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon” (1 Kings 1:12 ESV). He knew there was no time to waste. Something had to be done and David was the one who had to do it. But he would need prompting and support. So Bathsheba’s job was to bring David up to speed and to beg him to do something about the situation. Then Nathan was to come in and corroborate her story and provide much-needed counsel to David. He was also to act as a second witness to anything David decreed in their presence.

Bathsheba was blunt with David. This was not a time for pleasantries and politeness. She knew that her son’s life was in danger. She even reminded David, “If you do not act, my son Solomon and I will be treated as criminals as soon as my lord the king has died” (1 Kings 1:21 NLT). And she was not going to leave David’s side until he took action. So, she boldly challenged him, saying,  “And now, my lord the king, all Israel is waiting for you to announce who will become king after you” (1 Kings 1:20 NLT). There was no time to waste. Inaction was not an option. And just as planned, Nathan followed Bathsheba into the king’s presence, confirming her words and challenging David to do something about this dire situation. The entire nation was waiting on pins and needles, wondering what David would do. A line had been drawn in the sand. Sides had been chosen. Adonijah had put together his team and secured what he thought to be his future. The only one who is conspicuously absent from this whole affair is Solomon himself. He had not been invited to Adonijah’s feast with all their other brothers, for obvious reasons. But he was also not present when Bathsheba and Nathan met with David. His fate was in their hands. His future and that of his kingdom was completely in the hands of his father. He would have to trust that his father would do the right thing. Solomon was at the mercy of David. He does not appear anywhere in the passage. He doesn’t show up, begging David to keep his word and give him the kingdom God had promised him. Perhaps Solomon was not aware of the word that God had spoken to David. But we will see in the next section of this chapter, that Bathsheba knew, and it is doubtful that she kept this news from Solomon. He most likely knew that he was the God-appointed successor to the throne, but he was not demanding his rights or whining about his fate. He had to have known what Adonijah was up to and that all of his brothers were at the feast, enjoying Adonijah’s hospitality and shouting along with all the other guests, “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25 ESV). But Solomon simply waited in the wings. Like all the rest of the people of Israel, his eyes were on David. What would he do? How would he respond?

So often, we can find ourselves in similar, if not quite as dire, circumstances. We can come to a place where a decision is required, an important, potentially life-altering decision. And others are watching us to see what we will do. Perhaps our family is waiting on us to act, wondering how we will respond. Maybe our co-workers are anxiously watching to see how we will handle a difficult situation in the workplace. There are always others watching us, depending upon us to do the right thing, to make the right decision, and to give them peace and confidence that we can be trusted. Even the world is watching us. The church of Jesus Christ is to be salt and light in the midst of all the decay and darkness surrounding it. As the secular world presses in and the enemy continues his assault on the will and the ways of God, the world is watching to see how the church will respond. Will we do nothing? Will we be marked by inaction and complacency? Are we confident enough in the Word of God that we will confidently take our stand against all the forces lined up against us? What David did next was a matter of life and death. The future of his kingdom and that of his son were at stake. All eyes were on him. What would he do? But what about us? The world is watching and waiting to see what we will do?

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

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

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

The Lord Had Ordained.

Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, as the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom. – 2 Samuel 17:1-14 ESV

It is next to impossible to discern the will of God, unless He chooses to reveal it. All we can do is look at the external circumstances and wonder what it is that He is doing or whether He is doing anything at all. Paul to the believers in Rome, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). Solomon, David’s own son, would speak of the unfathomable ways of God in the book of Ecclesiastes. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). Sometimes it is clear what God is doing. Other times, it is almost impossible for us to even sense His presence. But the Bible paints a picture of God that shows Him intimately involved in His creation and within the lives of men. Because of our limited, earth-bound perspectives and our inability to see beyond the physical dimension in which we live, we fail to see God at work. And even when we sense He might be up to something, we question His ways. But He would have us remember:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

So when David found himself being forced to abandon the city of Jerusalem because of a military coup orchestrated by his own sin, he had no idea what God was up to. He was left to wonder if God was punishing him and had chosen to give his kingdom to another. Or perhaps, God had something else in store. David had no idea just what God was up to, but he was willing to believe that God was behind all that was happening to him and around him. He had even sent Hushai, one of his personal counselors, back to the city of Jerusalem, to act as a spy within the administration of Absalom. And this decision, while apparently David’s idea, would be used by God to accomplish His will concerning Absalom.

Ahithophel, another one of David’s former advisors, had betrayed him, having helped Absalom in his planning of the coup that would displace David as king. He had become a close confidant and advisor to Absalom. It was he who had given Absalom the advice to publicly humiliate David by sexually assaulting David’s ten concubines on the palace roof. But it is important for us to recall that this event had actually been foretold by God Himself. He had warned David that this very thing would happen, in exactly the manner it happened (2 Samuel 12:11-12). So Ahithopel’s advice to Absalom had actually been the will of God. The Almighty had used this unfaithful, wicked man to accomplish His will concerning David. And now, Ahithophel came to Absalom with yet more advice. But this time, God would choose to use another source to accomplish His will. Ahithophel most likely felt like he was on a role. He had the new king’s ear and it was to his advantage to make sure David was eliminated as a possible threat. So he asked Absalom for permission to take 12,000 men and hunt David down while he was weak and weary. He swore to kill only David and promised Absalom, “Then you will be at peace with all the people” (2 Samuel 17:3 NLT).
But God had other plans. So, while Absalom was pleased with the advice of Ahithophel, for some reason he decided to seek other counsel and turned to Hushai. It is important to remember that David had been the one to send Hushai back to Jerusalem, having told him, “Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice” (2 Samuel 16:34 NLT). And now, God orchestrated things in such a way, that David’s plan would actually happen. Hushai was able to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, but only because God gave him the opportunity. The text makes it perfectly clear that this was all God’s doing.
For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom! – 2 Samuel 17:14 NLT
Where did Hushai get the idea for his plan? God. Where had Ahithophel gotten the idea for Absalom to do what he did to the ten concubines of David? God. The Lord had ordained all that had happened. He was behind the events taking place. Absalom’s takeover of the kingdom could not have happened without God’s permission. Even Ahithophel’s betrayal of David was all part of God’s plan. And yet, these very thoughts cause a great deal of discomfort and confusion to many. They wrestle with the idea of God either causing or allowing evil to happen. They struggle with questions regarding the free will of man and seeming fatalism involved in the sovereign will of God. Did God cause Ahithophel to betray David? Was God behind Absalom’s plans to overthrow his father’s government? There are aspects regarding the will of God and how He brings it about that we will never fully understand. The ways of God are beyond our capacity to understand or figure out. The capacity to comprehend how He accomplishes His will is way beyond what our finite minds can handle. And yet, just because we can’t discern or explain the ways of God does not mean we should refuse to see Him at work. Moses would have us remember this important reality concerning God:
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT
We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even approve of how He does things. But who are we to question God? What right do we, the creation, have to disagree with or disapprove of the ways in which the Creator works? The apostle Paul warns us, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). The prophet Isaiah had a similar warning:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
In our desire for autonomy and self-sufficiency, we have bought into the lie that we are somehow in charge of our own fates. That is what led Absalom to do what he did. He had convinced himself to believe that he was a self-made man and in charge of his own future. But he failed to realize that it is God who directs the affairs of men. God does not cause men to sin, but He uses their sinful dispositions to accomplish His divine will. The prophet Isaiah provides us with yet more helpful insights into understanding how God works.

He boasts, “By my own powerful arm I have done this. With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it. I have broken down the defenses of nations and carried off their treasures. I have knocked down their kings like a bull. I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:13-15 NLT

Our natural tendency is to want to elevate the power of man and to negate the sovereign will of God. Man’s innate desire to be god, is what drives him to reject the power of God. And yet the story of David continues to remind us that our God is in control of all things and at all times. The Lord had ordained the events surrounding David’s life. And He had a perfectly good reason for all that was happening.

 

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