God of the Impossible

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”  Genesis 15:7-21 ESV

Abram “believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). In other words, he trusted that God would fulfill the promise He had made. Abram’s attempt to number the stars in the night sky had been quickly followed by God’s bold assertion, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).  And Abram had taken God at His word.

Then, after declaring His plan to give Abram innumerable descendants, God reiterated His promise to provide Canaan as their future homeland.

“I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” – Genesis 15:7 ESV

God was simply reminding Abram of the promise that He had earlier made.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 NLT

But while Abram believed that God could and would fulfill those promises, he was still filled with apprehension and nagging doubts. As a finite human being, he couldn’t help but look at the circumstances surrounding his life and wonder how God was going to pull off what appeared to be an impossible feat. From Abram’s limited perspective, it appeared as if the odds were against him. He was old and his wife was barren. And, while he had successfully defeated the armies of the four kings of Mesopotamia, he knew the land of Canaan was occupied by more nations than he could ever hope to defeat with his small militia. In fact, God would even accentuate the impossible odds that Abram faced when He later declared, “To your offspring I will give this land…the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 ESV). 

That’s a formidable list of potential foes that will have to be defeated before Abram can occupy the land. And, according to Genesis 14:14, Abram had only 318 trained fighters at his disposal. The deck was stacked against him. And add to that the problem of Sarai’s infertility, and it is no wonder that Abram had questions for God.

“O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” – Genesis 15:8 NLT

Abram needed proof. It wasn’t that he no longer believed God, it was just that he desperately needed a tangible sign to help fortify and solidify his belief. Abram’s struggle was normal and natural, and he was not the only God-follower who needed a sign to bolster their faith. Moses, the man who was recording the life of Abram, knew what it was like to struggle with doubts. When he had received his call to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, Moses had declared his doubts that the people would believe he had been sent by God.

“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

In response, God told had Moses to take his shepherd’s staff and throw it on the ground. When Abram obeyed, the staff transformed into a snake. Then, God told Moses to pick the snake up by the tail. Once again, Moses did as he was told.

So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.” – Exodus 4:4 NLT

This “sign” was meant to provide Moses with faith and it was to serve as proof to the people of Israel that Moses had been sent by God.

“Perform this sign,” the Lord told him. “Then they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—really has appeared to you.” – Exodus 4:5 NLT

Belief and unbelief can actually coexist at the same time. And nowhere is this idea better illustrated than in the gospel of Mark. He records an encounter between Jesus and a man whose son was possessed by a demon. In Jesus’ absence, the disciples had attempted to cast out the demon but had failed. So, Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been possessed. To which the father replied, “From childhood…it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:21-22 NLT). This man was desperate. He wanted to see his boy set free from this devastating and life-threatening disorder. And he hoped that Jesus might be able to do what the disciples had failed to do.

While the man had sought out the rabbi from Nazareth, believing that He had the power to heal and cast out demons, Jesus sensed the man’s lingering doubt. In earshot of the man, the disciples, and the rest of the crowd that had assembled, Jesus declared, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NLT). To which the father immediately responded, “I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24 NLT).

This honest statement from a grieving father represents the heart cry of every child of God. Saddled by a finite perspective and equipped with a faith that is burdened down by a sinful nature that is predisposed to doubt and disobey God, every believer finds himself struggling with unbelief. But God the Father, just like God the Son, is always willing to bolster unbelief. And so, rather than chastising Abram for his request for a sign, God patiently and powerfully obliged His reluctant servant.

But God didn’t simply perform a miracle like He had with Moses. Instead, He involved Abram in the process, by ordering him to gather “a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon” (Genesis 15:9 NLT). After checking off all the items on his God-ordained shopping list, Abram brought the animals to God and proceeded to prepare them for sacrifice.

God was commanding Abram to prepare a covenant ceremony. This would have been a common occurrence in Abram’s day that was meant to seal a bilateral covenant between two parties. The animals were killed then split down the middle. The two halves were then separated, forming a pathway between them. To seal their agreement, the two parties would walk together between the lifeless bodies of the sacrificed animals, signifying their commitment to remain faithful to the covenant agreement or face the same fate as the animals. It was a blood covenant.

But after completing his assignment, Abram had to spend the next hours fending off the birds of prey that were attempting to consume the carcasses of the sacrificed animals. Exhausted by the effort, Abram eventually fell asleep. His attempts to drive off the “unclean” scavengers proved too much for him. And this failure to preserve the sacrifice was meant to reveal Abram’s complete dependence upon God. As Abram slept, “a terrifying darkness came down over him” (Genesis 15:12 NLT). Even in his unconscious state, Abram sensed a feeling of dread. Something terrible was about to happen. He had fallen asleep with the disturbing image of the dismembered animals being attacked by ravenous birds seared in his brain. And this seemed to conjure up a foreboding sense of dread.

“…Abram driving off the birds of prey from the dismembered pieces portrays him defending his descendants from the attacks of foreign nations. Genesis itself tells of a number of attacks by foreigners against the children of Abraham and it already looks forward to the sojourn in Egypt.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

In the midst of Abram’s fitful and fearful sleep, God spoke to him, affirming that his feelings of dread were well justified. There were difficult days in store for His descendants. God’s fulfillment of the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants would be delayed by a seeming tragedy.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. – Genesis 15:13 NLT

This was probably not the sign Abram had been seeking. It only seemed to confirm his lingering doubts and fears about the promises of God. But God followed this dose of bad news with a confident assurance of a glorious outcome.

But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:14-16 NLT

God was letting Abram know that His plans and His promise were long-term in nature, and their fulfillment was not up to Abram. In fact, as Abram slept, God ratified the covenant between them. In a normal covenant ceremony, both parties would have walked together between the carcasses, forming a bilateral agreement. But this covenant was unilateral in nature. When the sun went down and darkness descended on the land, “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Genesis 15:17 ESV). The presence of God, symbolized by smoke and fire, passed along the pathway and ratified the covenant. God was holding Himself accountable to keep the covenant He was making with Abram and his descendants. And this imagery of smoke and fire would become a recurring theme for the Israelites as God led them from Egypt to the promised land by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day (Exodus 13:21).

God gave Abram a glimpse into the future. And while it would have its fair share of dark days, Abram could rest in the knowledge that God was in full control of the outcome. It would all happen according to His sovereign will and by virtue of His unwavering faithfulness. None of it hinged on Abram’s faith. God was going to do what He promised to do. His plan was perfect and infallible. The promise of a seed and an inheritance would be fulfilled, whether Abram believed or not. The covenant ceremony was intended to assure Abram that the outcome was completely up to God, and He would not disappoint. Yes, the future would be filled with dark days and disappointing setbacks, but they were all part of God’s plan. A barren wife, a 400-year delay, and the presence of powerful foes would not be enough to thwart the plans of God.

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

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

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

The Flawed Hope of Self-Salvation

11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.  Genesis 12:11-20 ESV

Due to a severe famine in the land of Canaan, Abram was forced to seek refuge in Egypt. But upon his arrival, Abram immediately began to second guess the wisdom of his decision. He was far from home and way out of his comfort zone. Find himself in unfamiliar surroundings yet again. Abram quickly recognized that his new neighbors looked and sounded nothing like him. And his reaction to these uncomfortable circumstances reveals a great deal about Abram’s current mindset.

Even before arriving in the land, Abram began to develop a plan for dealing with what he believed would be a far-from-friendly welcome. Just as he was about to cross the border into Egypt, he came up with a strategy for dealing with what he expected would be a culture of questionable morals.

he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live.” – Genesis 12:11-12 ESV

Abram feared that his wife’s stunning beauty would make her an object of desire to the Egyptians. And he feared that once they discovered that Sarai was his wife, one of them would simply kill him so he could have her as his own. In ancient cultures, women were often seen as little more than the personal property of their husbands. It was usually considered illegal to take a man’s wife. But if the husband were to die “unexpectedly,” then she would become available for purchase.

So, fearing the worst, Abram orders Sarai to tell anyone who asks that she is his sister.

“Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” – Genesis 12:13 ESV

Notice Abram’s self-obsessed outlook. He can’t stop talking about the need to protect his personal well-being. He wanted things to “go well” for him, but he shows little concern for how his little ruse might impact the life of Sarai. And as soon as they crossed the border into Egypt, Abram’s worst fears were realized.

When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. – Genesis 12:14-15 ESV

Now, to be fair, when Abram commanded Sarai to say that she was his sister, it was technically true. According to Genesis 20:12, Sarai was Abram’s half-sister because they shared the same father but different mothers. And Abram would use this convenient half-truth as a clever means of self-protection when dealing with those of less scrupulous character. But little did Abram know that his plan would backfire in such a dramatic fashion. Pharaoh himself developed an eye for the lively Sarai and had her taken into his house. And, strangely enough, Abram actually benefited from his self-centered strategy.

And for her sake he [Pharaoh] dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 ESV

Believing Abram to be Sarai’s older brother and official guardian, Pharaoh offered Abram what was essentially a bride price for having taken Sarai into his harem. She became Pharoah’s property and Abram was reward for it. All along, it had been Abram’s hope that things would “go well” for him, and now it had. He had benefited greatly from Sarai’s compromising situation.

But, as has been the case all along in the book of Genesis, God was operating in the background, unseen by Abram, Sarai, or Pharaoh. But it wasn’t long before He made His presence known.

…the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. – Genesis 12:17 ESV

This leader of the nation of Egypt had used his great power and wealth to purchase another trophy for his harem. And Abram had experienced a sizeable boost to his financial net-worth. But both of these men were in for a shock. Pharaoh suddenly found  his royal house facing a series of devastating plagues. Unknowingly, he had taken the bride of Abram and enslaved her as one of his servants. She had gone from being the wife of Abram to just one of the many concubines in Pharaoh’s royal harem.

Once again, the original Jewish audience to whom Moses wrote this book would have sat up and taken notice upon hearing this story from the lives of Abram and Sarai. They would have immediately seen the parallels between the enslavement of Sarai and that of their ancestors. Years later, 70 descendants of Abram would seek refuge in the land of Egypt, attempting to escape a famine in the land. They would enter Egypt as the “bride” of Yahweh. But in time, they would become the personal slaves of Pharaoh. And God would bring upon Pharaoh and his royal house a series of ten plagues, each designed to force the release of His people. The prophet Isaiah would later remind the nation of Israel of their unique status as God’s bride.

For your Maker is your husband,
    the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5 ESV

So, there are tremendous similarities between the story found in Genesis 12 and that of the Israelites recorded in the book of Exodus. Unlike his successor, the Pharaoh in Abram’s day proved to be teachable and ready to rectify the grave mistake he has made.

So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” – Genesis 12:18-19 ESV

Pharaoh, suffering under the judgment of God, was ready to repent and make restitution. Rather than punishing Abram for his deceitfulness and the pain he had brought upon the royal house, Pharaoh released Sarai, and sent Abram on his way with his wife restored and his newly acquired wealth intact.

You would think that Abram learned a valuable lesson from this potentially devastating encounter with Pharaoh. But, amazingly, he would live to lie another day. Just a few chapters later, Moses records yet another incident where Abram pulled this highly flawed strategy out of his bag of tricks. Despite its highly questionable efficacy, Abram would utilize this same plan  years later when dealing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar. He seems to have learned nothing from his former attempt at self-preservation.

And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. – Genesis 20:2 ESV

As before, God intervened and delivered a terrifying message to Abimelech in a dream.

“Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” – Genesis 20:3 ESV

Fearful for his life, Abimelech declared his innocence to God and was told to return Sarai to Abraham. Essentially, God told the petrified king, “No harm done.” He had sovereignly protected Abimelech from doing anything to Sarai. But when the king confronted Abram and demanded to know why he had done such a thing, Abram was quick to justify his actions and explain his warped rationale.

“Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, ‘This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” – Genesis 20:12-13 ESV

And like the earlier story, Abram walks away blessed rather than chastened by God.

Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and male servants and female servants, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah his wife to him.  And Abimelech said, “Behold, my land is before you; dwell where it pleases you. – Genesis 20:14-15 ESV

God was not rewarding Abram for his deception and dishonesty. Nor was He condoning Abram’s methods. He was simply fulfilling the promise He had made to bless Abram (Genesis 12:2). And he was slowly teaching His stubborn servant a much-needed lesson about divine sovereignty and providential care. Even Abram’s ill-fated attempts to act as his own god could not jeopardize God’s plans or prevent God’s promise from being fulfilled. This was so much bigger than Abram. He was simply a conduit through whom God would bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And God was not going to allow Abram to derail the divine plan for mankind’s redemption.

Mankind’s constant attempts at self-salvation will always fall short. But God’s promise of future blessing will never fail to come to fruition.

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

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

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

A Glimpse of His Glory

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen. – Luke 9:28-36 ESV

Verse 27 of chapter 9 provides a link or bridge between Jesus’ teachings regarding the cost of discipleship and Luke’s account of the transfiguration.

But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God. – Luke 9:27 ESV

Jesus made this rather cryptic statement immediately after declaring, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26 ESV). And this had followed close behind Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for refusing to accept God’s will concerning Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection. Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ but then had balked at the idea of Jesus dire pronouncement that “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22 ESV). He had actually rebuked Jesus for saying such things.

The discussions recorded in chapter 9 reveal the growing tension among Jesus’ disciples as they try to reconcile their understanding of His identity as the Messiah with His speech and actions. They were confused by all His talk of suffering and death because it made no sense. When they heard Him tell the crowd, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV), they had been stunned.

Jesus knew His disciples well, so He was fully aware of their apprehensions and fears. It’s likely that some of them were having second thoughts about their decision to follow Him. His arguments with the religious leaders had become embarrassing. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about Jesus and His followers. People pointed fingers at them. The disciples must have cringed every time someone said Jesus was crazy or possessed of a demon. His habit of speaking in parables left many confused, including them. So, when Jesus said, “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38 ESV), it was a not-so-subtle reference to their doubts and fears.

And that is why Jesus quickly added, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!” (Mark 9:1 NLT). He was not done providing His disciples with further proof of His identity and mission. He was about to confirm Peter’s earlier confession with incontrovertible evidence that He truly was the Messiah. A handful of His disciples were going to get a glimpse behind the curtain, providing them with front-row seats to a spectacular display of Jesus’ glory. Rather than the plainly-clad, thoroughly-human Rabbi they saw every day, they were going to see the glorified Son of God.

Luke’s buildup to this remarkable event is somewhat disappointing. He simply states that about eight days later, Jesus took three of His disciples “and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:28-29 ESV). Not exactly a riveting description of what must have been a momentous and life-changing experience for Peter, James, and John. Mark simply states that Jesus was transfigured before them. The Greek word is metamorphoō, and it means “to change into another form, to transform.”

Jesus’ appearance was suddenly and radically changed. We’re not told how it happened, or long it took for the transformation to take place. But Mark does give us a brief description of the final result: “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). This imagery brings to mind John’s description of Jesus in the opening of his gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

The fact that John was one of the three disciples who were privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus helps to explain the nature of his description of Jesus as light.

And both Luke and Mark’s accounts of the transfiguration seem to provide a subtle link to another spectacular event where God’s glory was put on full display. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.

Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. And the glory of the Lord settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from inside the cloud. To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. – Exodus 24:15-18 NLT

The gospel authors seem to be tying the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses on Mount Sinai to the manifestation of Jesus’ glory to His disciples. Jesus, the Son of God, appeared to them like a dazzling light, like a consuming fire. And accompanying Jesus was Moses himself along with the prophet Elijah.

Just imagine this spectacular scene. The three disciples are looking on in stunned silence as they witness Jesus, ablaze with glory, talking with two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. We’re not told how the disciples recognized these two men, whom they had never seen before. It could be that as the disciples overheard the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, their names were mentioned, or some clue was given as to their identity. Luke provides a bit more detail concerning the content of their discussion with Jesus.

Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. – Luke 9:30-31 NLT

Peter, James, and John were given the privilege of listening in as Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed His “exodus.” The Greek word Luke used is exodos, and it means “departing.” There were no two people better qualified to discuss the topic of departing than Moses and Elijah. Moses had led the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. But He also had “departed” this life in a rather extraordinary manner.

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab and climbed Pisgah Peak, which is across from Jericho…So Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, just as the Lord had said. The Lord buried him in a valley near Beth-peor in Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact place. Moses was 120 years old when he died, yet his eyesight was clear, and he was as strong as ever. – Deuteronomy 34:1, 5-7 NLT

When Moses’ work was done and his life’s days were finished, his burial service was conducted by God Himself.

And the account of Elijah’s “exodus” from this life is no less spectacular. The book of 2 Kings records that Elijah was walking along with his successor, Elisha, when something remarkable took place.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. – 2 Kings 2:11-12 NLT

These two “experts” had personal “exodus” experience and were sharing their insights with Jesus. They discussed with Him the events that would surround His coming exodus from this world. And their words would have supported all that Jesus had told the disciples. They discussed the very events Jesus had predicted would happen in Jerusalem and that Peter had rebuked Him for sharing. And that’s when Peter spoke up. He couldn’t remain silent any longer.

As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” – Luke 9:33 NLT

Nervous excitement got the better of him. And whether he realized it or not, Peter stuck his foot in his mouth yet again. In a desire to prolong the moment, Peter suggested that he, James, and John build three small shelters for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses to live in. The Greek word he used is skēnē, which translates into “tabernacle.” It was almost as if Peter wanted to set up three little temples or holy structures to house these three extraordinary individuals. We can only speculate what was going through Peter’s mind, but it could be that he viewed the appearance of Elijah and Moses as the sign that Jesus was about to set up His Kingdom on earth.

The prophet Malachi had recorded the following promise of God:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” – Malachi 4:5 ESV

And Moses had predicted that God would raise up another prophet like him.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him…” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

And God gave Moses further insight into the role of this coming prophet.

“I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The final words in God’s prophecy are particularly pertinent to what happens next. Peter had expressed his misguided desire to prolong this holy convocation on the mountain top. But God interrupts his little speech and declares, This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

In essence, God was telling Peter to shut up and listen to what Jesus was trying to tell him. He had no business rebuking Jesus. There was no need for Peter to build tabernacles. He simply needed to listen.

And just as quickly as it had all started, it was suddenly over. The glory diminished, Elijah and Moses vanished, and the three disciples found themselves standing alone with Jesus. The two Old Testament prophets had made their exodus from the scene. Now, all that was left was for Jesus to face His own exodus from this world. He still had to face the reality of the cross. In a very short period of time, Jesus would find Himself alone. There would be no Elijah or Moses to comfort Him. His disciples would abandon Him. And rather than being cloaked in glory, Jesus would be mockingly draped in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. He would be ridiculed, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. And later, He would make His exodus from this life. All according to the sovereign will of His Heavenly Father.

God would have Peter remember: “I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf” (Deuteronomy 18:19 NLT). And it seems that Peter and his companions took God seriously because “they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36 ESV). This once-in-a-lifetime experience had improved their hearing and increased their receptivity. From that moment forward they couldn’t help but see Jesus in a different light.

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

Salvation, Revelation, and Redemption

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-38 ESV

Once again, Luke presents us with a detailed timeline of events. Eight days after His birth, Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be circumcised, in accordance with the Mosaic Law.

“‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised. Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity.’” – Leviticus 12:2-4 NLT

According to the law, the mother was considered to be unclean because of her contact with blood during the birth process. At the end of the prescribed period of purification (40 days), Mary was required to go to the temple in Jerusalem in order to present an offering before the Lord so that she might be declared clean.

“‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest. The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood.’” – Leviticus 12:6-7 NLT

But strangely, Luke reports that “when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22 ESV). Notice that Luke uses the plural pronoun, “their,” while the Leviticus passage used the singular pronoun, “her.” It could be that Joseph also required purification because he had been required to assist Mary in giving birth. But it could be that Luke is hinting that this human couple required atonement (cleansing from sin) before they could begin the process of raising the Son of God. They were both being purified for the daunting task of parenting the Messiah.

As part of their trip to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph also consecrated their newborn son to the Lord. The Mosaic law required that all firstborn sons be set apart or consecrated to God.

“Set apart to me every firstborn male—the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal; it is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 NLT

“…then you must give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. Every firstling of a beast that you have—the males will be the Lord’s. – Exodus 13:12 NLT

The reason behind this ritual was tied to the final plague that had eventually secured the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. God sent an angel throughout the land of Egypt with orders to strike dead the firstborn males of both man and beast (Exodus 12:12). But God also ordered every Israelite household to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house. When the angel saw the blood, he passed over that home, sparing all the firstborn males of that family. This became known as the Passover Celebration. And God told the Israelites how to explain this annual celebration to each succeeding generation.

“When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release us, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of people to the firstborn of animals. That is why I am sacrificingto the Lord the first male offspring of every womb, but all my firstborn sons I redeem.” – Exodus 13:15 NLT

So, Mary and Joseph obediently consecrated their new son to the Lord. But Luke informs his readers that there was something special that took place that day. God had arranged for a specific priest to be on duty that day. His name was Simeon and Luke describes him as “righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25 ESV). This man had lived his entire life longing to see “the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” is paraklēsis in Greek and it means “to comfort or refresh” Simeon believed that God was going to send the Messiah to redeem and restore the spiritual fortunes of Israel. And, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Simeon believed this long-anticipated event would take place in his lifetime.

God ordained that Simeon would be the priest on duty that day. Led by the Spirit of God, Simeon made his way to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph showed up to consecrate Jesus. With the Spirit’s help, Simeon immediately recognized that Jesus was the one for whom the nation of Israel had been looking and hoping. While just over a month old at the time, Jesus was the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. And in a state of ecstatic joy and gratitude, Simeon took the infant in his arms and offered up a heartfelt blessing to God.

“Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permityour servant to depart in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32 NLT

Simeon’s greatest desire had been fulfilled. He had lived to see the coming of the anointed one of God, the Messiah of Israel. And under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he describes Jesus as the salvation of God and then adds that He will be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. This statement was a direct reference to the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

This Messianic passage speaks of the commissioning of the Servant of God who would redeem and restore the rebellious nation of Israel but who would also bring the salvation of God to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he was holding this Savior and Redeemer in his hands. Jesus was the very same Servant whose words Isaiah had recorded centuries earlier.

“The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.” – Isaiah 49:1 NLT

And this Servant would have a two-fold mission to accomplish.

“…the one who formed me from birth to be his servant—
he did this to restore Jacob to himself,
so that Israel might be gathered to him;
and I will be honored in the Lord’s sight,
for my God is my source of strength—
he says, “Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?
I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT

Yes, Jesus would be the Messiah of Israel, restoring them to a right relationship with God. But He would also be a light to the nations, shining the glory of God’s goodness and grace to all the nations of the world. But Simeon, as a faithful Jewish priest, understood the words recorded by Isaiah to be primarily a promise of God’s future restoration of the nation of Israel. They were experiencing difficult days. They had no king. The Romans ruled them with a heavy hand and burdened them with oppressive taxes. He, like all the other faithful of Israel, longed for the day when the Messiah would appear on the scene to set things right. And he must have had the words of Psalm 98 in mind when he composed his own song of thanksgiving to God.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he performs amazing deeds.
His right hand and his mighty arm
accomplish deliverance.
The Lord demonstrates his power to deliver;
in the sight of the nations he reveals his justice.
He remains loyal and faithful to the family of Israel.
All the ends of the earth see our God deliver us. – Psalm 98:1-3 NLT

For Simeon, God’s faithful restoration of Israel would be the light that would illumine the minds of the sin-darkened nations of the earth. But little did he know that God had something different in mind. The future restoration of Israel will take place, but it was not going to take place at the first coming of Jesus. Simeon had no way of knowing that his people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. The young baby Simeon held in his hands would end up crucified and rejected by those He came to save.

And Simeon, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pronounces a blessing on Mary and Joseph the meaning of which he probably did not fully comprehend.

“Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” – Luke 2:34-35 NLT

He prophetically announces that Jesus will have a decisive, yet divisive influence. There will be those who fall by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, and others who will rise by recognizing Him as the anointed one of God. Jesus will divide the nation by exposing the hearts of the people. And Simeon prophetically predicts that Mary will have her own heart pierced by the events she will be forced to witness. Her son, the Savior and Redeemer of Israel will be rejected and destroyed by His own people.

But this somewhat depressing statement of blessing by Simeon was followed up by a declaration of joy and thanksgiving by an elderly Hebrew prophetess named Anna. Luke indicates the timeliness of her appearance by stating that she showed up “at that very hour.” This was all part of God’s sovereign plan. And Luke adds that “she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38 NLT).

Their legal requirements fulfilled, Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and returned to Nazareth, with the words of Simeon and Anna still ringing in their ears. And for the next 12 years, they would raise their son in relative obscurity and silence, not knowing exactly how His future would unfold.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Love Them No More

15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their princes are rebels.

16 Ephraim is stricken;
    their root is dried up;
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will put their beloved children to death.
17 My God will reject them
    because they have not listened to him;
    they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:15-17 ESV

For the second time, Hosea mentions the city of Gilgal. It was located just north of Jericho on the western side of the Jordan River. Back in chapter 4, Hosea warns the southern kingdom of Judah about emulating the sinful behavior of its northern neighbor, Israel.

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
– Hosea 9:4 ESV

Hosea will bring up the city of Gilgal one more time before closing out his book.

But the people of Gilead are worthless
    because of their idol worship.
And in Gilgal, too, they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars are lined up like the heaps of stone
    along the edges of a plowed field. – Hosea 12:11 NLT

Gilgal was a city that should have held special significance to the people of Israel. It was at Gilgal that Joshua built a stone memorial to commemorate the Israelite’s successful crossing of the Jordan River. God had miraculously divided the waters of the river, allowing the Israelites to pass over on dry ground. Joshua had picked one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and commanded them to pick up one large stone from the middle of the river bed and carry it to the western side. When they arrived safely in Canaan, Joshua built the memorial with those stones.  Then he told the people:

“‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:7 NLT

Gilgal was intended to be a place of memorial, a site of remembrance. It was there that Yahweh proved Himself powerful and faithful to His chosen people – yet again. And Joshua had instructed the Israelites to pass on the meaning of the stone memorial to the succeeding generations.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21-24 NLT

But the Israelites had turned Gilgal into one more sacred site for the worship of its false gods. They had forgotten all about the powerful, gracious, and loving God who had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and provided them with the land of Canaan as their inheritance. The miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River had become a distant memory and their commitment to honor God had long ago been replaced by their infatuation with false gods.

Chapter 5 of the book of Joshua records another important aspect of Gilgal’s history that heightens the Israelites disrespectful actions there. It was Gilgal that Joshua commanded that the next generation of Israelite males be circumcised. The people had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, as punishment for their refusal to enter the land when they had first arrived on the shore of the Jordan River.

Those who left Egypt had all been circumcised, but none of those born after the Exodus, during the years in the wilderness, had been circumcised. The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.– Joshua 5:5-6 NLT

So, before crossing the Jordan River and entering the land of Canaan, Joshua had ordered the circumcision of all the males who had been born during the 40 year period.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day. – Joshua 5:9 NLT

By reinstituting the rite of circumcision, Joshua had faithfully obeyed God’s command and set apart the people of Israel as His chosen possession. This ordinance had been given to Abraham by God more than half a millennium earlier.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-13 NLT

Gilgal should have been a place of memorial. Its very presence should have reminded the people of Israel about their God and the covenant commitment to remain faithful to Him. But they had desecrated this place of remembrance, proving yet again that they had no intentions of honoring their covenant commitments to Yahweh. And God delivers His ultimatum against His chosen people.

“All their wickedness began at Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
I will drive them from my land
    because of their evil actions.” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

Gilgal was to have been a place where the people could go and recover the rich heritage of their history. It was intended to be a visual and tangible reminder of God’s grace and power in their lives. They belonged to Him. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt and delivered them to the land He had promised to give to Abraham as his inheritance. God had helped them cross the Red Sea on dry ground, so they could leave the land of Egypt. Then He had repeated the very same miracle so they could enter the land of Canaan. He had given them victories over their enemies, including the nearby city of Jericho. He had provided them with kings and prophets, the sacrificial system, and His holy law. It was at Gilgal that they had celebrated their first Passover in the land of promise.

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. – Joshua 5:11 NLT

And from that point forward, the people never had to eat manna again.

The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. – Joshua 5:11-12 NLT

Yet, the people of Israel had failed to appreciate all that God had done for them. Now, God was warning them that His patience had run out, and He described His change of relationship in startling terms.

I will love them no more…” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

These words do not indicate that God no longer loved the people of Israel. That would require a change in His character, which is immutable and unchanging. But it does indicate that God was no longer going to express His love for them in tangible ways. They would receive no more blessings from His hand. They would enjoy no more of His bounty and provision. He would remove His protection and provision. If they wanted to live as if God did not exist, they would experience exactly what it was like to no longer enjoy His many blessings.

They would learn the painful lesson of what it feels like to live without God in their lives. They would be struck down, dried up, fruitless, and bereaved of their children. The one who had redeemed them would now reject them. Rather than living in the land of promise, they would become homeless wanderers. And all because they had refused to obey their loving, compassionate, and covenant-keeping God.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Is On God’s Side

13 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
    that they might enlarge their border.
14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
15 and their king shall go into exile,
    he and his princes together,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:13-15 ESV

The next nation on Amos’ “naughty” list is Ammon, a relatively small country located north of Edom and east of the Jordan River. Like the Edomites, the Ammonites had blood ties to the Israelites. Their relationship goes back to the days of Abraham and Lot and is recorded in the book of Genesis. When Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland of Ur and go to Canaan, he brought his nephew, Lot, with him. During their time in Canaan, both men became “very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents” (Genesis 13:5 NLT). When Abraham offered his nephew the choice of land on which to settle, “Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram” (Genesis 13:10-11 NLT). It just so happened that this area included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, infamous for their immorality. And Lot settled his family, flocks, and herds within the vicinity of Sodom.

Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. – Genesis 13:12-13 NLT

As the story goes, Lot ended up actually moving into the city of Sodom, and later had to be rescued by two heavenly messengers. After narrowly escaping the city before God rained down judgment upon it, Lot found himself without a wife and caring for two adult daughters whose husbands had stayed behind and died in the destruction of the Sodom. Lot and his widowed daughters took up residence in a cave. But the story does not end there.

One day the older daughter said to her sister, “There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

It seems apparent that these two women had been negatively influenced by their time in Sodom. Their immoral plan provides ample evidence to that fact. And they carried it out. The result being that both daughters became pregnant by their own father. One gave birth to a son, Moab, who became the progenitor of the Moabite people. The other daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Ben-ammi (son of my kinsman). He would become the father of the Ammonites.

With this as background, it’s easy to see how the relationship between the Israelites and Ammonites was going to end up strained. Fast-forward to the days of Moses, and you find the Israelites, Ammonites, and Moabites reunited after more than 400 years of separation. While the Israelites had been suffering in captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters had settled and been living in the land east of the Jordan River. When Moses attempted to lead the nation of Israel through the lands belonging to their distant relatives, they were met with resistance. As a result, God ordered Moses to ban them from ever reentering the assembly of Israel.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NLT

With the story of Lot and his daughters as a backdrop, it’s not difficult to understand how the Ammonites eventually became paganized by the culture around them. It seems that they were predisposed to immorality and apostasy, and they eventually embraced Milcom and Molech, the false gods of the Canaanites.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, the Ammonites would remain a constant source of trouble. God had forbidden the Israelites to intermarry with them and had declared, “As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites” (Deuteronomy 23:6 NLT). King Solomon would violate God’s command, marrying an Ammonite princess named Naamah. Her son, Rehoboam, would be the successor to Solomon’s throne. Under his leadership, “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT).

But whether from without or from within, the influence of the Ammonites was particularly devastating to the people of Israel. They were a prideful people who harbored jealousy for their more prosperous and populace relatives to the west. In an effort to expand their borders, the Ammonites would make raids into Israelite territory. But on one such raid, they overstepped their bounds, brutally butchering civilians, including pregnant women. And all for the sake of material gain, not self-preservation. This attack was unprovoked and unnecessarily violent. And God is unsparing in His judgment of the Ammonites because “they ripped open pregnant women with their swords” (Amos 1:13 NLT).

God would hold the Ammonites responsible for their actions, eventually sending judgment in the form of foreign armies who would destroy their cities and take their people captive. Even the king of the Ammonites would end up in exile, living as a slave to his enemies. And all of this would begin in 734 B.C. with the invasion of Ammon by Tiglath-Pileser III. But the final fulfillment of God’s prophetic word would take place nearly 150 years later when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded the region in 586 B.C.

Because He is eternal, God has time on His side. He is in no rush. He never has to hurry or respond in haste. For hundreds of years, the Ammonites had lived in the land of Canaan, worshiping their false gods and harassing the people of Israel. And whether they realized it or not, God had given them the land on which they lived. He had made that point perfectly clear to Moses when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

And for centuries, the Ammonites had enjoyed the benefits of living on the land provided to them by God. But when they arrogantly chose to slaughter innocent Israelites in a self-aggrandizing effort to expand their borders, God would not tolerate it. They would pay dearly for their mistake. And while it might take hundreds of years for their judgment to come, it was not because God was impotent or disinterested. It was simply because He had a plan and that plan had a timeline. God had no reason to hurry because He has all the time in the world. And while the centuries may pass, God’s plan is always accomplished – in His time and according to His will.

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

That You Might Know

32 “For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. 36 Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because he loved your fathers and chose their offspring after them and brought you out of Egypt with his own presence, by his great power, 38 driving out before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is this day, 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. 40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:32-40 ESV

Ever since the day God had appeared to Abraham and called him to leave his ancestral homeland and travel to the land of Canaan, God has been revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham. Time and time again, the invisible God made Himself known in miraculous ways. It was while Abraham was in Haran, that God spoke audibly to him and said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV).

And while Abraham was never given the privilege of seeing God with his own eyes, he would regularly hear God’s voice and even receive visions from the Almighty. And through it all, Abraham was learning to trust in God’s invisible, yet unmistakable presence and power. His repeated encounters with God ended up solidifying his trust in and reliance upon God. So much so, that when God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.…So shall your offspring be,” that Abraham “believed the Lord, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV).

Abraham believed God, even though his wife was barren and the two of them were  well-advanced in years. He believed God because he had seen God – not with his eyes, but as he watched God work in and around his life in countless, miraculous ways. And the same would be true for Isaac and Jacob. These men would also have personal encounters with the invisible God. They would never look upon Him with their eyes, but they would experience His presence and power as God manifested Himself in a variety of miraculous and inexplicable ways.

This pattern of God revealing Himself to the descendants of Abraham would continue throughout the years. And God would eventually show up in the land of Midian, in the form of a burning bush, in order to issue His call to Moses to deliver the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This amazing scene is recorded for us in the book of Exodus.

Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. – Exodus 3:2-6 NLT

This would be the first of many extraordinary encounters between Moses and God. And each of them were intended to prove the reality and reliability of God. Moses was learning the invaluable lesson that, while God could not be seen, He could be known.

And when God informed Moses of His plan to release the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He revealed one of the important outcomes:

When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

The ten plagues that God would command Moses to bring upon the people of Egypt would eventually leave them fully convinced that the god of the Israelites was not a figment of their corporate imagination. He was real and very powerful. And He was greater than every one of the false gods they worshiped.

But from the day the Israelites had walked out of Egypt and crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground, God had been revealing Himself in countless ways. He had been demonstrating His power and presence, appearing in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had shown up on Mount Sinai, accompanied by smoke, fire, thunder, and lightning. And Moses reminded the people of Israel of their unique status as the only nation privileged to experience God’s presence in such spectacular fashion.

“Has any nation ever heard the voice of God speaking from fire—as you did—and survived? Has any other god dared to take a nation for himself out of another nation by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts? Yet that is what the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, right before your eyes.” – Deuteronomy 4:33-34 NLT

And Moses made it painfully clear why God had chosen to reveal Himself to His chosen people.

“He showed you these things so you would know that the Lord is God and there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35 NLT

These miraculous displays of His power were intended to convince the people of Israel that their God was real and fully reliable. He may have been unseen, but He was far from nonexistent. They didn’t need an idol or some kind of man-made representation of God to prove that He existed. He had proven His reality “by means of trials, miraculous signs, wonders, war, a strong hand, a powerful arm, and terrifying acts.”

By this time in their faith journey, the people of Israel should have had more than enough proof that their God was real and reliable. He had proven Himself so, time and time again. And yet, Moses felt compelled to tell them, “So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:37 NLT).

As they prepared to enter the land of Canaan, they needed to be convinced of God’s pervasive presence and power. The days ahead were going to be filled with countless obstacles. The enemies in the land were real and formidable. The temptations to doubt God’s presence and question His power were going to be constant. So, they were going to have to place their faith in their invisible, but highly powerful God.

The author of Hebrews, discussing the faith of the Hebrew patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, wrote: “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT).

One of the greatest dangers the Israelites faced as they prepared to enter the land of Canaan was not the enemy forces that occupied the land. It was the temptation to lose faith in God. Moses knew that the first time the Israelites encountered a circumstance where the odds were stacked against them, they would assume that God was not with them. As soon as they found themselves in a situation that appeared hopeless, they would be tempted to see themselves as helpless and their God as powerless.

But they had no reason to doubt God. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy. He had displayed His power in countless ways. And all God asked in return was that they believe He exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him and faithfully serve Him. Which is why Moses challenged them:

“If you obey all the decrees and commands I am giving you today, all will be well with you and your children. I am giving you these instructions so you will enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you for all time.” – Deuteronomy 4:40 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

 

He Has Done Great Things.

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
    for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
    that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord,
    call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 12:1-6 ESV

Isaiah has been talking about a future period of time, one he refers to as “that day.” This is a prophetic designation, describing a day in the future when God would accomplish great things on behalf of His chosen people, the northern tribes of Israel and the southern tribes of Judah. Out of the once-great tree of the Davidic dynasty, relegated to a stump of its former glory because of the judgments of God, will come a shoot. That seemingly insignificant byproduct of the “root of Jesse” will be Jesus, the Messiah. He will appear on the scene, sent by God the Father, to be born of a virgin, and into the house of David. He will be the legal heir to David’s throne and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

There is a certain sense in which Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when He took on human flesh in His incarnation. But when Jesus came the first time, while He was born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), He was not recognized or accepted as king by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

They rejected Him as their king. In fact, they demanded that the Romans crucify Him, accusing Him of blasphemy for His claims to be the Son of God. When Pilate had attempted to release Jesus to the Jews, seeing no fault in Him worthy of death, he had said, “Look, here is your king!” (John 19:14 NLT). But the people scoffed at the idea of Jesus being their king.

“Away with him,” they yelled. “Away with him! Crucify him!” “What? Crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the leading priests shouted back. – John 19:15 NLT

So, when Isaiah announces the arrival of the Messiah or king of Israel, he is talking about another event that has yet to happen. Jesus will appear a second time, at the end of the age, and He will set up His kingdom on earth. He will rule and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. And He will restore the people of Israel to power and prominence. Isaiah describes exactly what He will do.

He will…assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth.
– Isaiah 11:12 NLT

All of this will happen “in that day.” It is a day that lies in the future, as yet unfulfilled. But it will be. And in that day, the people of Israel and Judah will recognize the hand of God. They will know that He has shown them mercy and grace.

In that day you will sing:
    “I will praise you, O Lord!
You were angry with me, but not any more.
    Now you comfort me.” – Isaiah 12:1 NLT

It will be a day of rejoicing and gladness because they will recognize that God has redeemed and restored them. Not because of them, but in spite of them. They will know what it is like to trust God fully. They will experience His peace and rest in His protection. And Isaiah tells his audience that, when the day comes, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3 ESV). 

It’s impossible to read this statement and not recall another time in the lives of the people of Israel when water played a significant role in their relationship with God. It’s recorded in the book of Exodus. They had escaped captivity in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise, when the arrived at a place called Rephidim. The only problem was, there was no water there. “So the people contended with Moses, and they said, ‘Give us water to drink!’” (Exodus 17:2 NLT). The text describes them as being “very thirsty” and they let Moses know about it.

“Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt—to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” – Exodus 17:3 NLT

Moses, sensing that the people were ready to stone him, feared for his life. But God gave Moses a solution.

“Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 NLT

God was going to be there. He would be on top of the very rock Moses was commanded to strike. And from that rock would flow life-giving water. Paul would later describe that rock as Jesus Himself.

All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 NLT

And Jesus, the source of that physical water, would also be the sole source of spiritual refreshment. In His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus told her:

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:13-14 NLT

Isaiah predicts a day when the people of Israel will enjoy the water of life – Jesus Himself. Not only will they enjoy salvation in the form of their restoration to the land, but they will experience a renewal of their hearts.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

God is going to do something for the people of Israel that is far greater than supplying them with clean drinking water. It will be far more valuable than their return to the land. It will be of much greater significance than their restoration to a place of prominence on the world scene. They will have new hearts and a new capacity to serve God faithfully. They will be obedient. They will trust Him fully. No more false gods. No more falling away in apathy and apostasy. In that day, they will be His people and He will be their God.

And in that day, they will give God all the glory, because it will all be His doing.

“Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.
Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy!
    For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you.” – Isaiah 12:5-6 NLT

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

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

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

The Matchless Grace of God.

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.

“‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” Joshua 24:1-13 ESV

The last chapter revealed that “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (Joshua 23:1 ESV). He knew his days were numbered and his time for leading the people of Israel was coming to an end. So, in this closing chapter of the book of Joshua, we see him attempting to prepare them for the next phase of their spiritual and physical journey with God. And he chose to prepare them for the future by looking at the past. Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem. This was an important location that held significant memories for the Israelites. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to God, in response to the promise made to him by God: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). At that point in time, Abraham had no children, a barren wife, and the land was filled with Canaanites. But it was a promise made to him by God and Abraham took God at His word. 

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. – Genesis 15:6 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua and the offspring of Abraham stood on the very same spot where Abraham had built his altar to God. It was at this strategic location that Joshua chose to give the people a brief, but vital history lesson. But from the outset, he let them know that this was actually a message from Yahweh, prefacing his remarks, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2 ESV). This was a message from God Himself, reminding His people of the role He had played in their founding as a nation. And the entire timeline concerning God’s interactions with the nation of Israel is filled with exampled of His unmerited grace and favor. He began with the call of Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolatrous pagan living beyond the Euphrates River in the land of Ur. God had chosen Abraham, not the other way around. God, in His grace and according to His sovereign will, had picked Abraham out of all the other inhabitants on the earth at the time. Notice that God mentions Nahor, the brother of Abraham, but that he was not the one selected. God’s choice was Abraham, and in spite of his idolatrous background. God had plans for Abraham, and those plans included a long and arduous journey to the land of Canaan. It was in Canaan that God provided Abraham with a son, Isaac. And, once again, this abbreviated version of the story stressed God’s matchless grace. It fails to mention Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barrenness. It doesn’t point out their failure to trust God and their attempts to bring about His promise through human means. Abraham had tried to convince God to accept his manservant, Eliezer, as his heir. Sarah had tried to help God out by convincing Abraham to have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. But God had something far greater in mind. He was the God of the impossible and His promise was not going to be fulfilled through human cunning and cleverness. Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, another example of God’s grace. And from this one son came Jacob and Esau, from whom would come the nations of Israel and Edom. And while the Edomites would settle in the land of Seir, it was God’s sovereign will that the Israelites end up in Egypt, just as God had promised to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 14:13 ESV

Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, ended up in Egypt where he became the second-highest ranking official in the land. And a famine in the land of Canaan forced his father and brothers to turn to Egypt for aid, reuniting the family and fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Jacob would remain in Egypt for 400 years, until God sent Moses to set them free from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh. Once again, a picture of God’s grace, because they had long ago stopped worshiping Him as God. During their four-century stay in Egypt they had begun to worship the false gods of Egypt. But God graciously delivered them, using a series of plagues to prove to them that He was the one and only God. God had told Moses:

6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

And their exodus from Egypt had culminated with God’s gracious deliverance of the people of Israel from certain death at banks of the Red Sea. They had walked out of Egypt, only to find themselves standing at the shore of the sea with the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on them. And the people saw their situation as hopeless.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:11-12 ESV

But God had graciously delivered them that day. And He had led them through the wilderness. He had taken to the land of Canaan. He had provided them with victories over their enemies. He had defeated Balak, thwarted the plans of Balaam, handed over the city of Jericho, and given them possession of the land, just as He had promised to do nearly half a century earlier. Over and over again, God stressed His role in their corporate story.

I took… (vs 3)

I led… (vs 3)

I made… (vs 4)

I gave… (vs 4, 8, 11, 13)

I sent… (vs 5, 12)

I plagued… (vs 5)

I did… (vs 5)

I brought… (vs 5, 6)

I destroyed… (vs 8)

I delivered… (vs 10)

And God summarized it all with the statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). From the moment God had called Abraham to the day they had begun to occupy the land and enjoy the fruits it provided, God had been actively, graciously working on their behalf. Their entire history had been His story. He had done it all. From beginning to end. And it had all been an act of grace of God’s part – totally undeserved and unmerited. And God had done it all so that He might fulfill His divine plan to send His Son as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had preordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. God’s plan was far greater in scope than just the occupation of a land somewhere in the Middle East by a particular people group. It was about the redemption of mankind and the future restoration of His creation. It was about the ultimate defeat of sin and death, not just the conquest of Canaan. Each and every part of Israel’s story was an expression of God’s grace and mercy, as He orchestrated His plan for the salvation of mankind. God was reminding His people that the many blessings they enjoyed were the result of His grace, not their inherent goodness or greatness.

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

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

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

Revisionist History.

Then all the men who knew that their wives had made offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you. But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster. But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” And the women said, “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?”

Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: “As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day. It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.” Jeremiah 44:15-23 ESV

This passage provides a remarkable glimpse into the mindset of an individual whose heart is set on sin. When a lifestyle of sin or rebellion against God becomes habitual, the individual involved in that sin will do everything he or she can to justify and rationalize their behavior. The truth is, they enjoy their sin and want to keep on doing it. They have grown accustomed to their disobedient lifestyle and any attempt by anyone, including God, to stop them will be met by stiff resistance, even anger. If they feel their sin, which they love to commit, is threatened in any way, they will become defensive and combative. And that’s exactly what we see in these verses.

The remnant of the people of Judah, led by Johanan, had fled to Egypt in order to escape the Babylonian occupation of their land. But they did so against the command of God. They had been warned not to go to Egypt, but had done so anyway, and they took Jeremiah with them by force. And now, after they had settled into their new lives in Egypt, Jeremiah had given them a word from God:

“I will take this remnant of Judah—those who were determined to come here and live in Egypt—and I will consume them. They will fall here in Egypt, killed by war and famine. All will die, from the least to the greatest.” – Jeremiah 44:12 NLT

This dire warning from God didn’t produce its intended effect. Rather than fear God and repent of their sins against Him, they responded with blame and indignation. They justified their actions and told God’s spokesman, the prophet Jeremiah, that they were not going to listen to his words any longer.

“We will not listen to your messages from the Lord! We will do whatever we want.” – Jeremiah 44:16-17 NLT

And they gave him their reasons why.

“We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!” – Jeremiah 44:17 NLT

As far as they were concerned, it was going to be business as usual. When they served their false gods everything had gone well for them, or so they claimed. Their memories, clouded by the fog of time and the mist of sin, were less-than-accurate in their portrayal of how things had been, but that was going to be their justification. It’s all very similar to the story of their ancestors as they made their way from Egypt to the promised land. God had fed them manna and provided them with water from a rock. But the day came when they were dissatisfied with God’s provision and took their complaint to Moses.

“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-6 ESV

They had foggy memories of how things had been back in Egypt. They recalled their former days of slavery with fondness and saw their current circumstances under God direction as burdensome and unpleasant. They preferred captivity to freedom. They wanted their old way of life back. And the remnant of Jews who had fled to Egypt were expressing the same sentiment. They preferred their sin in Egypt over obedience to God in Judah. And they gave the credit for any joy or happiness they had enjoyed back in Judah to their false gods, not Yahweh. Once again, their sin-soaked memories were a bit vague on the actual details of how things had gone when they were still in Judah. They seem to recall a time when they had given up their false gods.

“But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.” – Jeremiah 44:18 NLT

But even during the days of King Josiah, the last king who tried to bring spiritual reform to Judah, the people had not fully given up their false gods. Their efforts at reform and repentance had been nothing more than window dressing. All along, they had continued to worship and offer up sacrifices to the Queen of Heaven and all their other idols. What they failed to remember was that their “dying from war and famine” had been God’s punishment on them for NOT turning from their false gods. It was their disobedience and unfaithfulness that had gotten them in trouble in the first place, and now they were doing it again. And they were adamant about it, boldly claiming, “We will do whatever we want.

But Jeremiah wasn’t going to let them play fast and loose with the facts. He wasn’t going to allow them to use their revisionist history to distort the reality of what had happened. And he let them know that God had always known that their so-called efforts at reform had always been a sham and a show.

“Do you think the Lord did not know that you and your ancestors, your kings and officials, and all the people were burning incense to idols in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? – Jeremiah 44:21 NLT

Was God blind? Had He not seen what was going on behind closed doors? Was He unaware of what they had been doing in secret while they had been feigning allegiance to Him? Jeremiah let them know that their problems were the result of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh, not their unfaithfulness to their false gods. They had never really given up their idolatry. Had they been willing to do so and had they turned back to God in true repentance, He would have spared them from judgment and restored them to a right relationship with Himself. But Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he tells the people unvarnished truth about their past unfaithfulness and present predicament.

“It was because the Lord could no longer bear all the disgusting things you were doing that he made your land an object of cursing—a desolate ruin without inhabitants—as it is today.” – Jeremiah 44:22 NLT

The state of affairs back in Judah was God’s doing, not the work of the Queen of Heaven or any other false god. They were under God’s judgment and not that of some other non-existent deity. But the truth is, the people of Judah were simply trying to justify their sin and rationale their disobedience to God. They didn’t want to be led by Him. They didn’t want to live according to His rules and obey His commands. They wanted to worship gods they had created on their own. But it was their stubborn demand for autonomy and their refusal to willingly submit to the leadership of God in their lives that had brought all the pain and suffering on them. So, they had no one to blame but themselves.

“All these terrible things happened to you because you have burned incense to idols and sinned against the Lord. You have refused to obey him and have not followed his instructions, his decrees, and his laws.” – Jeremiah 44:23 NLT

They could attempt to revise history, but the facts would remain unchanged. Their sin was still worthy of judgment. Their rebellion against God was still deserving of His punishment. No amount of justification or rationalization was going to change their status before God. They were guilty. God was holy.

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