No Rest for the Wicked

26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

36 And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— 37 the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. 38 Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.

39 When Moses told these words to all the people of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 And they rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” 41 But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the Lord, when that will not succeed? 42 Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies. 43 For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.” 44 But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.  Numbers 14:26-45 ESV

God essentially told the Israelites that the worse-case-scenario they had conjured up in their minds was going to take place. Their greatest fears were going to become reality. In an attempt to rationalize their rebellion against Moses’ leadership, they had predicted a foreboding future if they stayed where they were.

“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. – Numbers 14:2-3 ESV

And God let them know that their projections of doom and gloom would come true.

“As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. – Numbers 14:28-30 NLT

As punishment for their rebellion, God revealed their fate. They would not be returning to Egypt and they would never enter the land of Canaan. Instead, they could die in the wilderness. They wouldn’t have to worry about dying in battle because they would never make it to the promised land. No, their deaths would be from old age as they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness; a year for every day the spies had spent in Canaan.

There would be no supernatural cosmological display of fire and brimstone to consume the wicked. The ground wouldn’t open up and swallow all those who were guilty. In fact, for the next 40 years, God would continue to provide for their physical needs; providing them with manna, quail, and fresh drinking water. They would continue to live, raise their children, and live out their days in relative peace and security. But they would never enter the land that God had promised as their inheritance.

“Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 1:25 NLT

Canaan was to have been their final destination. It was a rich and fertile land, just as the spies had discovered. And even before God had leveled a single plague against Egypt, He had promised to lead the descendants of Jacob to their new homeland.

“I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.” – Exodus 3:17 NLT

But as a result of their stubborn refusal to trust God, they would spend 40 years wandering on the wrong side of the border of Canaan. In time, one by one, they would succumb to old age and die, and their bodies would be buried in the wilderness. And the author of Hebrews uses their rebellion and punishment as a warning to a new generation of Jews who had been offered another promise of future inheritance by God.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Hebrews 3:7-11 NLT

Canaan was to have been their place of rest. That doesn’t mean Canaan was going to be a stress-free environment, devoid of difficulties. There actually were enemies in the land and the Israelites would have to do battle with each of them in order to make the land their own. But God had promised them victory. He was going to use them to purge the land of all the wickedness, immorality, and godlessness that had filled it since their departure more than 430 years earlier.

Yet, rather than obeying God and doing battle with those who opposed Him and had desecrated the land He had given them, the Israelites ended up having God for an enemy.

“Because your men explored the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day, suffering the consequences of your sins. Then you will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy.” – Numbers 14:34 NLT

What makes this story so painful and impactful is that it involved the people of God. These were His chosen ones. He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. He had graciously offered them freedom and a permament home of their own where they could enjoy His presence, power, and provision. Yet, because the conquest of the land appeared to be more difficult than they had imagined, they turned their back on God’s gracious offer. And the author of Hebrews emphasizes the disbelieving nature of God’s chosen people.

And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. – Hebrews 3:16-19 NLT

And he warns his fellow Jews to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. – Hebrews 3:12 NLT

For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:14 NLT

God’s promise of rest required obedience. The land was theirs, but they were going to have to do battle in order to take full possession of it. They would have to cleanse the land from all its impurities, and that would require hard work and faith. Any effort they put forth would have to be based on their faith that God would go before them and provide them with victory. But for the Israelites, a long march back to Egypt and the promise of certain enslavement were more appealing than doing the will of God. And, as a result, they would never enter His rest.

And, as for the ten spies, they would face a more immediate and unpleasant end for their leadership in the rebellion.

The ten men Moses had sent to explore the land—the ones who incited rebellion against the Lord with their bad report—were struck dead with a plague before the Lord. – Numbers 14:36-37 NLT

God had not changed His mind. His promise of providing an inheritance for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained just as firm as ever. But there would be some who would never get to enjoy it. They had forfeited that right.

But when the people heard the news of God’s judgment against them, they were grieved and attempted to repent for their rebellion.

“We realize that we have sinned, but now we are ready to enter the land the Lord has promised us.” – Numbers 14:40 NLT

But it was too little, too late. Moses even warned them that they were only making matters worse by attempting to escape God’s judgment through further rebellion. They were suggesting immediate entrance into the land, even though that is not what God had ordered. They thought a show of enthusiasm might temper God’s anger. But Moses warned them against making such a dangerous and ill-fated decision.

“Why are you now disobeying the Lord’s orders to return to the wilderness? It won’t work. Do not go up into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the Lord is not with you. When you face the Amalekites and Canaanites in battle, you will be slaughtered. The Lord will abandon you because you have abandoned the Lord.” – Numbers 14:41-43 NLT

But stubborn as always, the people rejected Moses’ counsel and attempted to enter Canaan – without God’s approval or help – and they failed miserably. They had forfeited their right to the inheritance. The land would never be theirs and they would never enjoy the rest that God had promised. And the apostle Paul provides a powerful application of this story for those who long to enter the eternal rest that comes through faith in Christ.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 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. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-7 NLT

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.

His Righteousness Draws Near

1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
    and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
    and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
    that I might bless him and multiply him.
For the Lord comforts Zion;
    he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
    her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
    and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
    my salvation has gone out,
    and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
    and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
    and my righteousness will never be dismayed.

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
    nor be dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
    and the worm will eat them like wool,
but my righteousness will be forever,
    and my salvation to all generations.”

Awake, awake, put on strength,
    O arm of the Lord;
awake, as in days of old,
    the generations of long ago.
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
    who pierced the dragon?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made the depths of the sea a way
    for the redeemed to pass over?
11 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

12 “I, I am he who comforts you;
    who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
    of the son of man who is made like grass,
13 and have forgotten the Lord, your Maker,
    who stretched out the heavens
    and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
    And where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14 He who is bowed down shall speedily be released;
    he shall not die and go down to the pit,
    neither shall his bread be lacking.
15 I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord of hosts is his name.” Isaiah 51:1-15 ESV

Three times in the first eight verses, God calls on His people to hear what He has to say. But He specifically addresses the small remnant made up of those who remained faithful to Him – those who still knew and pursued righteousness.

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
    you who seek the Lord.” – Isaiah 51:1 ESV

“Give attention to me, my people,
    and give ear to me, my nation.” – Isaiah 51:4 ESV

“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
    the people in whose heart is my law.” – Isaiah 51:7 ESV

And God explains why the should listen to Him. First of all, He is the one who made them. He called one man, Abraham,  and from him created a great nation. Then God blessed them, providing them with Zion, the mountain on which Jerusalem sat and from which David reigned. Secondly, they should listen to Him because He is the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He is powerful and fully capable of sending His salvation to rescue them. And that same power He used to create the universe will be used to destroy all the He made. It all will be part of His redemptive plan for His creation. Finally, God explains that they should listen to whata He has to say because He is not yet done. They have no reason to fear man because God is on their side and He has an infallible plan of salvation already in place. He assures them, “my righteousness will last forever” (Isaiah 51:8 ESV).

That small, but faithful remnant of those who still believed in and waited on God, were being encouraged to keep their eyes focused on Him. Even though things looked bleak and the prospects for Judah were anything but good, God was faithful. They were His chosen people and He had promised to protect and provide for them. But He had also promised to punish them if they refused to obey Him. They were going to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians, but God would restore them. He would return them to the land and, while they would be small in number, He would once again bless them and multiply them. All in keeping with His promise to Abraham.

Their greatest danger would not be the Babylonians, but their tendency to look at their temporary circumstances and draw the wrong conclusions. Once they found themselves in captivity in Babylon, even the faithful would be tempted to question God’s covenant promises. But God tells them to see things from His perspective.

“Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment,
    and they who dwell in it will die in like manner.” – Isaiah 51:6 ESV

The apostle Peter warned of this coming day.

But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. – 2 Peter 3:10-13 NLT

Isaiah prophesied about this coming day of judgment. He described the future destruction of the earth and heavens in chapter 24.

The earth mourns and dries up,
    and the land wastes away and withers.
    Even the greatest people on earth waste away.
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
    for they have twisted God’s instructions,
violated his laws,
    and broken his everlasting covenant.
Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.
    Its people must pay the price for their sin. – Isaiah 24:4-6 NLT

Then the glory of the moon will wane,
    and the brightness of the sun will fade. – Isaiah 24:23 NLT

The things we can see with our eyes are temporary in nature. They are not meant to last. Even our circumstances are fluid, constantly changing from the pleasant to the painful, from moments of joy to seasons of sorrow. But God is eternal and so is His plan for His people. That is why they were to focus their attention on Him and not their immediate surroundings and circumstances. And again, Isaiah has already addressed this issue with the people of Judah.

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” – Isaiah 40:6-8 NLT

But verse nine reveals that even the faithful remnant were wondering if God had fallen asleep at the wheel. They were busy looking at their circumstances and questioning whether God had dosed off. So, they called on Him to awake.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

These righteous ones still believed God could save them. Their faith, while small, was focused on the right thing: God Almighty. They weren’t calling on the Assyrians or Egypt to be their saviors. In fact, they remind God of when He defeated Pharaoh and his army at the Red Sea. They knew that God could save and they express their confidence in His saving power.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 51:11 NLT

This is an amazing expression of faith in the midst of uncertainty and overwhelming signs of pending doom. Their words convey their belief in the faithfulness of God and His power to deliver, no matter how bad the circumstances may appear.

Yet, God seems to know that they still harbored doubts. He was aware that their bold-sounding words of faith were accompanied by unexpressed thoughts of fear. They were wrestling with questions about what was going to happen when the Babylonians showed up on the scene in overwhelming strength and numbers. So, God asks them, “So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear?” (Isaiah 51:12 NLT). “Will you remain in constant dread of human oppressors? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies?” (Isaiah 51:13 NLT). Faith and fear make lousy playmates. They don’t go well together. Fear is horizontally focused and fixated on the temporal, while faith is vertically focused and centered on the eternal. As the author of Hebrews put it:

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

And the apostle Paul put the same thought in his own words.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

God was revealing to the faithful remnant in Judah that He had plans for them that they could not see. They were blind to the salvation strategy He had in place for them. And, while they might find themselves oblivious to His plans, they could rely upon His character. He was their God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea, causing its waves to roar.
    My name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 51:15 NLT

The seeming reality of our circumstances is nothing when compared to the unquestionable actuality of God’s matchless power and unwavering faithfulness.

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

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

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

Ignorance of God.

Oh that my head were waters,
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
    for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Oh that I had in the desert
    a travelers’ lodging place,
that I might leave my people
    and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers,
    a company of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like a bow;
    falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
    and they do not know me, declares the Lord.

Let everyone beware of his neighbor,
    and put no trust in any brother,
for every brother is a deceiver,
    and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
Everyone deceives his neighbor,
    and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
    they weary themselves committing iniquity.
Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit,
    they refuse to know me, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:1-6 ESV

Once again, we have two contrasting perspectives provided for us in these verses. The first belongs to Jeremiah, the prophet. It is found in the first two verses. He has already expressed his dismay over the fate of his people.

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me. – Jeremiah 8:18 ESV

 I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. – Jeremiah 8:21 ESV

He knows full well that they deserve what is coming to them. But he can’t help but feel pity for them. They are his people. He cares for them deeply and longs to see them spared the destruction headed their way. He expresses his deep grief in very descriptive terms.

If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered. – Jeremiah 9:1 NLT

It is because of this statement and others that Jeremiah has often been referred to as “the weeping prophet.”

But if you will not pay attention to this warning,
I will weep alone because of your arrogant pride.
I will weep bitterly and my eyes will overflow with tears
because you, the Lord’s flock, will be carried into exile. – Jeremiah 13:17 NLT

And God knew how much Jeremiah suffered. He was well aware of Jeremiah’s love for his people and even encouraged him to share his grief with the people in order to convince them that what he was saying was really true and was going to happen.

“Tell these people this, Jeremiah:
‘My eyes overflow with tears
day and night without ceasing.
For my people, my dear children, have suffered a crushing blow.
They have suffered a serious wound.’” – Jeremiah 14:17 NLT

But another part of Jeremiah wanted to run and hide. He was saddened, but also sickened by the actions of his people. So much so, that he expresses his desire to give up his role as prophet and find remote place in the wilderness where he could find relief from the constant presence of sin.

Oh, that I could go away and forget my people
    and live in a travelers’ shack in the desert.
For they are all adulterers—
    a pack of treacherous liars. – Jeremiah 9:2 NLT

Their behavior repulsed him. It sickened him to have to watch their hypocrisy as they went through the motions of worship, feigning allegiance to God, while they worshiped false gods on the side. Their actions were inexplicable and disgusting to him. But he had persistently given his time and energy to try and turn them back to God, all with nothing to show for his efforts.

And then God speaks up. He gives His assessment of the people of Judah and summarizes it all in one very short statement: “They do not know me” (Jeremiah 9:3 ESV). That says it all. It provides us with a succinct explanation for their sinful behavior and stubborn refusal to repent. They didn’t really know God. They may have been known as the children of God, but they had no real knowledge of Him. They may have believed in His existence, but they had no concept of who He really was. Their knowledge of Him was academic rather than personal and intimate. They had heard the stories about Him told to them by their parents and grandparents, but they had no personal relationship with Him or first-hand experience of His power. And this was not the first time this kind of thing had happened among the people of Israel. In the opening chapters of the book of Judges, we have a similar statement made regarding the spiritual status of God’s people. Under the direction of Joshua, the people had conquered the land of Canaan, the land promised to them by God, and had taken up residence there. But Joshua died, along with the generation that had taken part in the conquest of the land. Then we read these sobering words.

And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

The next generation had no first-hand knowledge of God. All they had were the stories and the personal anecdotes of their parents and grandparents. And their ignorance of God led to rebellion against Him.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. – Judges 2:11-12 ESV

The knowledge of God is essential. And that knowledge has to be far more than head knowledge. It is not about having information regarding God. It is about having an intimate understanding of His true nature and a firm belief in His existence. Over in the book of Hebrews, the author reminds his Jewish readers:

Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 NLT

That chapter in the book of Hebrews is often referred to as “the Hall of Faith.” It contains references to many Old Testament characters like Ahab, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, and others. And they are commended for their faith in God. They believed in His existence, but they also believed His words. They placed their hope and trust in His promises.

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight. – Hebrews 11:33-34 NLT

And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. – Hebrews 11:39 NLT

In other words, they believed in God and trusted in the promises of God, but for the most part, they never lived to see those promises fulfilled. Abraham never had the pleasure of having a home in the land God had promised to give him. Moses never set foot in the promised land. Sarah never lived long enough to see God’s promise fulfilled that she and Abraham would have a host of descendants. But they knew God. They had faith in God. And they were willing to suffer the temporary setbacks that came from living in obedience to God, because they knew He could be trusted to what He said.

There is an interesting statement made by Jesus that reflects the importance of knowing God. It is found in the prayer He prayed to His Father on the night He would be betrayed.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

The essence of eternal life is knowing God. It is not a place. It is not about heaven. It is about a relationship with God the Father. An intimate, personal, loving relationship with the God of the universe. And Jesus came to make that kind of relationship possible.

The people of Judah had no excuse for their behavior. They had a long-standing relationship with God Almighty. He had been their faithful God for generations. He had led them, protected them, repeatedly forgiven them, patiently put up with them and faithfully rescued them from the consequences of their own sinful behavior. But His patience had run out. He had determined that enough was enough.

“They all fool and defraud each other;
    no one tells the truth.
With practiced tongues they tell lies;
    they wear themselves out with all their sinning.
They pile lie upon lie
    and utterly refuse to acknowledge me,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 9:5-6 NLT

Their lack of knowledge of God showed up in their behavior. They lived as if He didn’t even exist. There was no fear of Him. They showed no respect for Him. They treated Him with contempt and acted like He was powerless to do anything about their rebellious behavior. The true essence of life is knowing God. If heaven represents unbroken fellowship with God, unhindered by sin; then the life we should long for on this earth should be of a similar, though obviously incomplete, nature. We should long for fellowship with God. We should desire to know Him. We should seek to live in constant communication with Him, listening to His every word and doing everything in our power to live in obedience to His divine will for us. Knowing God is knowing that he can be trusted. It is knowing that He is loving, kind, gracious, merciful, all-knowing, and all-sufficient to do what He has promised. In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul told them that they were constantly in his prayers.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. – Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

We grow to know God better as we learn to trust Him more. Reliance upon God produces a growing knowledge of God. Trust produces intimacy. Faith results in deepening love for and knowledge of God.

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

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

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

When Getting Back Means Letting Go.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. – Hebrews 11:23 ESV

We read it Exodus 1, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 ESV). Joseph was gone. Time had passed and the preferential treatment received by his family was about to be a thing of the past. The descendants of Jacob had been fruitful during their peaceful stay in Egypt and their dramatic increase in number got the attention of Pharaoh and raised alarm bells in his mind. What if we go to war and they decide to turn against us and side with our enemies, he reasoned in his mind. Paranoia set in and he determined to turn them into slaves in order to control them. The book of Exodus tells us exactly what happened:

…the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:13-15 ESV

But that wasn’t enough for Pharaoh. It was their sheer numbers that worried him, not their military might. After all, they were predominantly shepherds. So he came up with a plan. He commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children as soon as they came out of the womb. He was going to take care of his perceived problem by infanticide. But fearing God, the Hebrew midwives refused to obey the command of Pharaoh and when he confronted them about their blatant lack of follow through, they said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19 ESV). They practiced an early form of civil disobedience and God blessed them for it. So when Pharaoh’s initial plan failed, he came up with another one.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

This is where our passage for today comes in.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:1-10 ESV

The couple involved in this story were Amram and Jochebed. They were just an obscure couple who, like all the other couples living at that time, were struggling with fear and apprehension due to the edict of the Pharaoh that their male children should be sacrificed to the Nile. And I believe it was Pharaoh’s intent that each and every Hebrew male child thrown into the Nile was to have been a sacrifice to Hapi, their water and fertility god. The symbols for Hapi were the lotus and papyrus plants. Papyrus was a reed that grew along the banks of the Nile and it was used for everything from paper, rope, furniture and boats. Hapi was believed to be the greatest of the Egyptian gods and was thought to be the make of the universe and the creator all all things. Each year, at the time of the flooding of the Nile, the people would throw amulets, sacrifices and other offerings into the river to appease Hapi and to ensure a fruitful season of planting and harvest.

In the story, Jochebed makes a small boat made of reeds and places her newborn son in the river in order to protect him from Pharaoh. But rather than seeing her act as a sacrifice to Hapi, she was placing him in the hands of Yahweh, the God of the people of Israel. The author of Hebrews seems to indicate she and her husband somehow knew that there was something special about this child. The New International Version translates the phrase as “they saw he was no ordinary child.” Luke records in the book of Acts, “At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house” (Acts 7:20 ESV). The word, beautiful is the same Greek word used in the Hebrews passage. Somehow God communicated the uniqueness of this child to his parents and they determined to save his life. Jochebed made a reed boat and placed him in the river, trusting in the sovereign will of God to protect him. And God did just that. Luke goes on to record, “and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:21-22 ESV). When Jochebed set the basket in the river she had no idea what was going to happen. But she had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). She placed her faith in God and He came through. Somewhat ironically, but not coincidentally, Moses was rescued into Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family of the very man who was out to destroy him. God was at work.

Amram and Jochebed did not know what God had planned. They simply knew that their son was somehow unique and special. They placed him in river fully trusting in God to do with him as He saw fit. What they did, they did by faith. And like Abraham with Isaac, when these two parents entrusted their son to God, they received him back. Jochebed would be given the unbelievable opportunity to nurse the very son she had placed in the basket, not knowing what would happen to him. She had been willing to give up that which she loved to Him in whom she believed. And she would live to see her son become more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. God would use her child to set His people free from their captivity and fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham all those years ago. The very act of placing their son in that reed basket and setting him afloat on the Nile was an act of faith in God. They were trusting in the One whom they could not see to do what they could only hope for – the preservation of the life of their son.

God-Focused Faith.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

There will be times when the life of faith seems illogical. By definition, it involves “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith has a future orientation. It looks ahead. It maintains an eternal perspective. And because of those things, on this earth, it will be tested. Abraham had been promised a son by God. There would be no plan B, not adoption of an heir, no acceptance of another son born through a slave girt. God had promised a son born by Sarah, in spite of Abraham’s old age and her barrenness. But God had also promised a multitude of descendants and a land in which they would live. And God kept His word.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7 ESV

God came through. When Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday, God provided him with a son. He and Sarah had to have been beside themselves with joy and a deep sense of relief. They had waited so long. They had hoped for a son and now God had delivered on His promise. And they would enjoy every moment of every day with their young son, Isaac. Every time they looked at him, they would remember the faithfulness of God and realize that this young boy was the hope they had been waiting for for so long. Or was he? The day came when God gave Abraham the hardest choice he would ever make.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-2 ESV

Can you imagine the shock? Can you begin to feel the sense of incredulity Abraham must have felt? As God acknowledged in His statement to Abraham, this was his only son, the son he loved. And now God was asking, no He was commanding Abraham to offer him up as a sacrifice. He was telling Abraham to take the life of his own son, his only son, the one who was the key to Abraham becoming the father of a multitude of nations. Or was he? You see, as much as we may be appalled at the idea of God commanding Abraham to make a human sacrifice, we must keep in mind that, as the Scriptures say, this was a test. It was God’s way of determining if Abraham had transferred his hope in God to his son. Had the gift he had been given become more important than the Giver of the gift? It is interesting to note the response of Abraham to this shocking news from God. The Scriptures somewhat matter-of-factly record: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3 ESV). He didn’t argue. He didn’t remind God of His promise. He didn’t accuse God of unfairness or injustice. He simply obeyed. While he probably did not understand all that was going on, he kept trusting God. When his young son asked him, “My father, behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV), Abraham calmly replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). Whether Abraham was simply hiding the grim reality from his son in order to protect him or if he truly believed that God would provide a substitute lamb, we are not told. The very fact that Abraham ended up binding his son, placing him on the altar and raising the knife to take his life, gives us ample evidence that he was willing to go through with God’s command. In his heart of hearts, Abraham trusted God and believed that He could still keep all His promises even if Isaac had to die. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).

Abraham passed the test. God sent an angel to stay his hand and prevent the death of Isaac. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12 ESV). And then God miraculously provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, to act as substitute sacrifice. Isaac was spared. Abraham had shown that his faith was in God, not his son. He had proven that he trusted the Giver more than he did the gift. His hope was in God and he had full assurance and a strong conviction that God was going to do all that He had promised, and nothing, even the death of his own son was going to prevent it from happening. He had faith in God.

God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. He had commanded Abraham to take the life of his only son, his most precious possession. Isaac had not been simply the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream, but he was the hope of God’s promise of multitude of descendants taking place. Or was he? You see, the problem we all face is the tendency to take our eyes off of God and place them on things other than Him. Isaac was not to be Abraham’s hope. He was just a boy, who would grow up to be a man. But Isaac would not bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. Only God could do that. No man or woman will ever be able to bring to fruition the promises of God. For the divine will of God to happen, it must be accomplished by God Himself. We must never take our hope off of God and place it on anyone or anything else. Abraham’s test was one of allegiance. It was a test of his hope and, ultimately, a test of his faith. Now that he had a son, was he going to transfer his hope to Isaac and off of God? He passed the test. His faith was in God. His assurance of things hoped for was in God. His conviction of things not seen was in God. He had an eternal perspective that would not allow the illogical and seemingly unthinkable to deter his faith in his faithful God.

Better Promises.

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. – Hebrews 8:8-13 ESV

In this passage, the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament to prove his point and bolster his case. He quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. In this passage, Jeremiah, the prophet, tells the rebellious people of Israel that they day is coming when God will do four things for them. Back in verse six, the author of Hebrews refers to these four things as the “better promises”. Each of theses four promises fall under the new covenant, that will not be like the old covenant He had made with their fathers in the wilderness. God said that when the new covenant was enacted, He would put His law into their minds and write them on their hearts. In other words, their motivation for obeying God would be internal and not external. They would have the capacity to obey Him willingly and gladly. He also promised that they would be His people and that He would be their God. That speaks of a unique and special relationship, even better than the one they had enjoyed during their days in the wilderness and as His chosen people living in the land of promise. The history of the people of Israel was one marked by blessing and cursing, faithfulness and apostasy. And ultimately, God was forced to give them over into the hands of their enemies, as punishment for their failure to remain obedient and faithful to Him. That is why He says, “they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them” (Hebrews 8:9b ESV).

The third promise God said would come with the new covenant was an intimate relationship with Him – for all Jews. They would no longer need to be taught about God, because they would know Him closely and personally. Finally, God promised that the new covenant would bring complete and permanent forgiveness of their sins. No more sacrifices would be needed. No more threat of punishment, condemnation or death.

When God spoke these words through Jeremiah, He was indicating that the old covenant was on its way out. Not long after this the people of God would find themselves taken captive by the Babylonians and living in exile. There would be no more temple and therefore, no more sacrificial system. Jerusalem, the city of God, would be a wasteland, destroyed by the Babylonians. And even when they were graciously returned to the land by God 70 years later, the temple they rebuilt would be a shadow of its former self. The great city of Jerusalem would never achieve the glory or status it had once enjoyed in the days of King David and his son, Solomon. Over the following centuries, the Israelites would find themselves a conquered people, living under the heavy yoke of a long line of conquering kings, all the way up to the occupation of Rome in the days of Jesus.

But the promises God gave them in association with the new covenant were fulfilled, in part, with the coming of Jesus. His death, burial and resurrection made them possible. That is why Jesus, on the night He shared His last Passover meal with the disciples, told them, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The sacrificial death of Jesus made possible the new covenant. And with the coming of the new, the old became obsolete. Even at the time the letter of Hebrews was written, the old covenant, based on the Mosaic law, was passing away. With the destruction of the temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system was brought to an end. Jesus had predicted this event when He shared with His disciples, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NLT).

In using the passage from Jeremiah, the author of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that God is not yet done with the people of Israel. The promises found in Jeremiah were specifically for the people of Judah and Israel. But Gentile believers  have been grafted in to the family of God and have become descendants of Abraham. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV). Paul also wrote that “you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree” (Romans 11:17 NLT). But while the Gentiles have been included in to the promises of God found in Jeremiah 31, He fully intends to fulfill those promises made to His chosen people. That is the point the author of Hebrews is trying to make. There is no reason for them, as Jewish Christians, to fall back to their reliance on the old covenant with its rules, rituals and regulations. It could not save or sanctify anymore than it could back in the days of Moses, David and Solomon. He has been trying to get them to understand that Jesus has ushered in something far greater and better. A better high priest. A better covenant based on better promises. A better sacrifice. A better mediator. A better outcome altogether.

And to those Gentiles who enjoy a restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, the new covenant has brought freedom from law-keeping and self-righteousness. Obedience and faithfulness to God is no longer based on external motivators or the keeping of rules and ritual. It is based on the indwelling Spirit of God who encourages and empowers us to live in faithful service to God. We don’t have to earn His favor, we already have it. That is why Paul reminds us,

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT

The Cain Mutiny.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. – 1 John 3:12 ESV

John has a tendency to use terms and images that portray striking opposites. He loves the use of contrasts. Darkness and light. Sin and righteousness. Lies and truth. Old and new. Love and hate. The temporal and the eternal. Death and life. Abiding and forsaking. Then right in the middle of chapter three, he uses what appears to be a contrast between two Old Testament figures, Cain and Abel. At first glance, this is a very perplexing and difficult to understand passage. Seemingly, out of the blue, John brings up an event that happened all the way back in the story of beginning of the earth, recorded in the book of Genesis. The context is Jesus’ command that we love one another. Then, all of the sudden, John tells us, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12 ESV). That’s quite a contrast. John goes from talking about love to warning about murder. In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, Cain killed his own brother. But why? John says it was “because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12 ESV). So is John saying that Cain killed Abel because Abel was a righteous person? Did he murder his brother out of some form of jealousy or resentment? That was probably the surface cause. But there is something far deeper going on in this story, and we need to go back and look at the actual event to get a better handle on what actually happened and in order to see why John is using this story as an object lesson about love. Back in Genesis 4, we read, “Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,  but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:3-5 ESV). Both brothers brought offerings to the Lord. There is no indication that God had indicated the type of offering that was to be given, so God’s rejection of Cain’s offering does not appear to be about what he brought. But it clearly says, “but for Cain and his offering he [God] had no regard.” The word “regard” in the Hebrew means “to look on with favor.” So when it says God had “no regard” for Cain, it means He did NOT look on him with favor. Cain’s offering was an extension of his heart. The offering was not the issue, Cain was. There was something wrong with Cain that caused God to reject him and his offering. You have to go all the way to Hebrews 11 to discover what was going on behind the scenes. There we read, “By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV). Notice those two words, “by faith.” They are key to understanding the story and getting the point of John’s inclusion of this event in his discussion about love. The motivation behind Abel’s gift was faith. He believed in God. And his gift was directed at a God he had never seen. That is an important point. You have to remember that neither Cain or Abel had ever seen or heard God as their parents had. After the sin of Adam and Eve, they were banned from the garden and from God’s presence. Their sons had never seen Eden or had the joy of intimacy with God. What they knew about God they had been told by their parents. Both had heard the same stories, but it would appear that only Abel believed what he heard.

What is interesting is that the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Abel had faith and his offering was pleasing to God. Cain did not have faith and his offering was displeasing to God. Cain did not believe in God. When it says that Abel offered a “more acceptable sacrifice than Cain,” the word “acceptable” in the Hebrew refers to “greater in quantity, greater in quality.” But it was not the sacrifice that was the issue. It was Abel’s faith. His faith gave his sacrifice its value. His belief and trust in God was what made his sacrifice acceptable. And according the writer of Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abel had faith in a God he had never seen. He had hope and assurance in God and gave his sacrifice out of love and gratitude. Verse 6 of chapter 11 of Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please him,” but there is more, “for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Abel believed God existed. Cain did not. Oh, he gave a sacrifice, but it was not from the heart, and it was given in a spirit of doubt and disbelief. Interestingly, in early Jewish and Christian writings, Cain is used as a model for those who deliberately disbelieve in God. Cain lacked faith in God. Cain didn’t love God. He didn’t abide in God. Cain loved Cain. His inability to love God made it impossible for him to love his own brother. And John warns that we should not be like Cain. We need to abide in Christ. We need to remain dependent upon Him and believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Our faith in God will produce fruit. Our love for God will produce love for others. Cain didn’t love God. Cain loved Cain. And Cain was incapable of loving Abel. The lack of love is hate. Love is saying “No” to one’s own life so that others may live. The to key loving others is faith in God. It is when we believe in Him and know that He loves us that we will be able to love others more than we love ourselves.

Daniel 5-6, Revelation 19

An Instrument For God’s Glory.

Daniel 5-6, Revelation 19

He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions. Daniel 6:27 ESV

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God… – Revelation 19:1 ESV

The story recorded in chapter six of Daniel is a familiar one. It tells us of the time when Daniel was cast into the den of lions for having worshiped God rather than bow down and worship King Darius. The temptation, when reading this story, is to make much of Daniel and his faith. But the point of the story is not the faith of Daniel, but the God whom Daniel worshiped and in whom he had placed his faith. Daniel worshiped God. Darius wanted everyone to worship himself. In chapter five we read of the story of Belshazzar, the young son of the king who, while serving during one of his father’s long absences from Babylon, threw a party where he and his guests drank out of the sacred vessels that had been pillaged from the temple in Jerusalem years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar. These vessels, which had sanctified and set apart for the worship of God, were used by Belshazzar and his drunken guests to worship the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. Both Belshazzar and Darius were guilty of having worshiped something other than the Most High God. And in both of these stories, Daniel was simply an instrument through whom God displayed His greatness and glory. While Daniel was recognized for his “understanding and excellent wisdom” (Daniel 5:14 ESV), and we are told “an excellent spirit was in him” (Daniel 6:3 ESV), he is not the focus of this story. Daniel existed for God’s glory. He was used by God to deliver a powerful word of judgment against Belshazzar, condemning him of his pride, arrogance and for having lifted himself against the Lord of heaven. He accused Belshazzar of not honoring “the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways” (Daniel 5:23 ESV). And Daniel would be used by God to reveal His power and prominence over the king, his governmental representatives and even a pack of lions. Daniel had a reputation, but his life was intended to point others to God, not himself. While Daniel had received praise and a promotion, he remained dedicated and totally submitted to his God.    

What does this passage reveal about God?

Daniel knew that His God was great. He was fully aware that God was in control of the affairs of men, including the various kings who sat on the throne of Babylon, whether it was Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar or Darius. When chapter five opens us, Daniel would have been in his 80s, having served as part of the court in Babylon for well over 60 years. He had seen the rise and fall of Nebuchadnezzar. He would watch as Belshazzar was killed for his pride and profaning of God. He would live to see Darius come to power and watch as he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, forsaking the greatness of God and demanding the worship of man instead. Yet Daniel knew that God alone was to be worshiped. He warned Belshazzar, “And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored” (Daniel 5:23 ESV). When he was made aware of King Darius’ decree that all men should bow down and worship him, forsaking the worship of any other gods, Daniel “went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10 ESV). God is mentioned sixteen times in these two chapters. It was His hand that wrote on the wall, throwing a wet blanket on Belshazzar’s party. It was His hand that protected Daniel from the lions in the den. It was to Him that Daniel bowed and prayed, not to King Darius. It was God in whom Daniel trusted and placed His faith. And it was God of whom Darius would decree, “that all in my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (Daniel 6:26 ESV). Because Daniel was willing to be an instrument in the hands of God, this pagan king would end up exclaiming, “he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:26-27 ESV).  

What does this passage reveal about man?

We exist for God’s glory, not our own. Daniel was simply an instrument through whom God revealed His greatness, glory, and power, and proved His prominence over kings, nature, and the wisdom of men. As children of God, we are to be His instruments. We are to recognize that we exist for His glory. As we rightfully worship Him in the midst of a culture that worships anything and everything but Him, we provide Him with opportunities to prove His power and presence. We become vessels through whom He reveals His glory. Paul writes about this very thing in one of his letters to Timothy. “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21 ESV). Like those vessels that Darius used from the temple, we have been set apart as holy, useful to the Master. We are to be used for His glory and to bring Him honor. Daniel, in spite of his apparent success, had not lost sight of the fact that he existed for God and was intended to bring Him glory, being ready for every good work. He was even willing to die, as long as God was honored in the process. He knew that even his martyrdom would honor God because he would have remained faithful to the end. But should God spare him, God would receive honor as well. Living for God must include a willingness to die for Him, if necessary. Honoring Him is best achieved when I recognize my role as a vessel for His glory. My life exists for His glory, not my own. John the Baptist understood this. He revealed it in his simply statement regarding Jesus, in which he said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30 NLT).

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

The goal of my life should be that God and His Son be lifted up through me. My life should reveal the power of God. My life should reflect that transforming presence of Christ. I must continually see myself as an instrument in God’s hand. I am a vessel into which He has placed His glory and through that glory must be revealed to a lost and dying world. In the end, my life should be living proof of the reality that “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:1-2 ESV). As people look at my life, they should be able to see God’s power in me. My actions should point them to Christ as I live in dependence upon Him and place my faith in Him. Over in the book of Revelation, we are reminded that our great God is one day going to bring His plan of redemption to a close. He is going to send His Son one last time to the earth. The Word of God will appear one last time, and He will come in power, bringing judgment against all those who have chosen to worship someone or something other than God Most High. And He will bring with Him, “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14 ESV). Once again, God will use His people as His instruments, through whom He will accomplish His will and bring Himself glory. But the battle will be His. The victory will be His. It will be He alone who wears the title, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16 ESV). When all is said and done, the point of it all will revealed: “Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10 ESV). That is why we were created. It is why we exist. And it will be what we do for eternity. Because He has been, is, and always will be the point of it all.

Father, we exist for Your glory. We have one purpose and one purpose – to worship You and bring You glory as we allow You to work in and through our lives. May Your power be revealed in our lives. May Your presence be seen in our lives. May Your will be done in our lives. For Your glory and Your glory alone. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Isaiah 7-8, 1 Peter 3

Misplaced Allegiance.

Isaiah 7-8, 1 Peter 3

If you will not believe, you surely shall not lastIsaiah 7:9 NASB

Ahaz, the king of Judah, faced a predicament. The kings of Syria and Israel had made an alliance and were threatening to attack Jerusalem. The news was not received well in Judah. “When the house of David was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’ the heart of Ahaz and the heart of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2 ESV). But God sent word to Ahaz through Isaiah, the prophet. “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let you heart be faint…” (Isaiah 7:4 ESV). It seems that Ahaz’s real problem was not the threat of attack from Syria and Israel, but the danger of failing to trust God. Faced with eminent defeat at the hands of his enemies, Ahaz was encouraged to put his trust in His God. Isaiah warned him to place his hope in Yahweh alone. But it seems from the text that Ahaz had already come up with a plan of his own. He had probably made overtures to the Assyrians, turning to them as his real source of hope and help. But failing to trust God would prove to be far more risky than the mere presence of enemy armies outside the walls of Jerusalem. God said, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last” (Isaiah 7:9 NASB). God even offered to give Ahaz a sign as proof of His word. But when Ahaz turned down the offer, God provided a sign anyway. By refusing to trust God, Ahaz and the people of Judah would miss out on His divine intervention. God indicted the people of Judah for their lack of trust. “My care for the people of Judah is like the gently flowing waters of Shiloah, but they have rejected it. They are rejoicing over what will happen to King Rezin and King Pekah. Therefore, the Lord will overwhelm them with a mighty flood from the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria and all his glory. This flood will overflow all its channels and sweep into Judah until it is chin deep. It will spread its wings, submerging your land from one end to the other, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:6-8 NLT). Failure to trust God would have devastating consequences.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted to spare Judah. He wanted to rescue them from their enemies. But they were going to have to trust Him and allow Him to do it according to His plan and in His own timing. They could not afford to let their fears get the best of them and force them to take matters into their own hands. The presence of trouble in their lives should not have led to abandonment of their God. Instead, it should have driven them to a greater dependence upon Him. Amazingly, when they had the living God at their disposal, they would soon find themselves consulting the dead – using mediums and necromancers as a means to gain insight into their predicament. Loss of faith in God almost always leads to desperation and results in desperate measures. But God was there all along. He was ready to redeem and rescue. He was poised to act on their behalf. But it would require that they “Listen, calm down. Don’t be afraid. And don’t panic…” (Isaiah 7:4 MSG). Big problems require that we have a big perspective of God. Overwhelming odds can only be overcome when we understand the power of our God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Turning to something or someone other than God is almost a sport for most of us. We do it so easily and so often, that it has become second nature. Most of the time, we don’t even know when we’re doing it. Our tendency to panic in the face of difficulties has trained us to look elsewhere and seek alternative options for our rescue. Tim Keller calls them “counterfeit gods.” Anything or anyone we place our hope in or seek help from becomes a cheap replacement for the one true God. One of the greatest threats to our lives as believers is that we would stop trusting in God. We face that temptation every day of our lives. And we face it in practical, real life ways. Peter knew how difficult it was for the believers in his day to live out their faith in daily life. He knew that they faced trials, troubles, temptation and tests on a regular basis. And he knew that they would be tempted to turn away from God and seek help and hope elsewhere. That’s why he encouraged wives to conduct their lives in such a way that even their unbelieving husbands “may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). It would have been easy for a believing woman who found herself married to an unbelieving man to rationalize and justify behavior that Peter would have deemed ungodly. It would have been tempting for her to question whether she had to honor her husband at all because of his unbelief. But in a way, Peter warns these women to trust God. Rather than come up with their own solution to their problem, they were to trust God by living godly lives. He told them to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. In the same way, husbands were to show their wives honor, whether they deserved it or not. They were to live with them in an understanding and respectful way at all times. To fail to do so would result in a hindered prayer life. There would be times when a man would find it extremely difficult to honor his wife. He would find it easy to rationalize doing just the opposite. But he was to trust God and do things His way. 

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

It all boils down to behavior. It is our actions that reveal just how much we truly trust God. That’s why Peter calls on his readers to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV). Ahaz was encouraged to trust God – in spite of everything he saw happening around him. You and I are encouraged to trust God and live out our lives in such a way that our actions prove that we believe His way is the right way – whether it makes sense at the moment or not. Our trust in God must manifest itself in actions that prove we believe what He has promised. We must take Him at His word and live according to His standards, not our own. Peter reminds us, “but even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubles, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV). God did not promise Ahaz an immediate removal of his enemies. He simply said, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass…” (Isaiah 7:7 ESV). Ahaz was going to have to trust God for not only His deliverance, but for His timing. Sometimes the immediacy of our problems cause us to falter and faint. We grow desperate. We become doubtful. Then we start making plans of our own. But Isaiah’s words are a great reminder for all of us. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him” (Isaiah 8:17 ESV). 

Father, I want to learn to wait on You and hope in You. It is amazing how many times I turn to something other than You for help and hope. Please forgive me for my lack of trust. Help me to understand that the problems I face are simply opportunities to put my faith into action. I want to learn to listen, calm down, be unafraid, and not panic. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Isaiah 3-4, 1 Peter 1

Stay Focused.

Isaiah 3-4, 1 Peter 1

Tell the godly that all will be well for them. They will enjoy the rich reward they have earned! Isaiah 3:10 NLT

The opening chapters of the book of Isaiah are filled with God’s stinging condemnation of the people of Israel. Through His prophet, Isaiah, God predicts the judgments He is bringing for their unfaithfulness. He outlines their sins in great detail. “For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence” (Isaiah 3:8 ESV). Their words and actions were so wicked, it was as if they didn’t even believe that God existed. Their behavior seemed to deny the very presence of God. They were marked by pride and a lack of shame. So God was bringing judgment. But in the midst of all of God’s righteous anger and accusations of unfaithfulness, He addresses the righteous or godly. He indicates that there remained a faithful remnant who would continue to honor and worship Him. And He tells them not to worry – that it will be well with them. They will eat the fruit of their deeds. In other words, their faithfulness in the midst of all the unfaithfulness will be rewarded. These people would have to go through the same judgment as everyone else. They would have to endure the same circumstances as the rest of the nation of Judah, but God would be with them. He would somehow reward them for remaining faithful to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our God is fully aware of what is going on in our hearts – at all times. He knows who is faithful and who is not. While it would be easy to draw the conclusion that everyone in Judah was wicked and apostate, God indicates that there are still a few who have not forsaken Him. There was still a righteous remnant who had remained faithful to God and who were trying to stay morally and religiously pure in the midst of the rampant sin and idolatry that was taking place all around them. God is always right in what He does. He never punished unfairly or causes the innocent to suffer unjustly. One of the indictments He had against the people of Judah was their abuse of the poor and needy. He accused the rulers and elders, saying, “You have ruined Israel, my vineyard. Your houses are filled with things stolen from the poor. How dare you crush my people, grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?” (Isaiah 3:14-15 NLT). God was not blind to the injustices. He was not oblivious to the plight of the poor or the lonely condition of the faithful few who were trying to their belief in God alive while surrounded by runaway sin and moral decay. God was watching. He was fully aware of all that was going on. And the same is true in our day.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has always preserved a faithful remnant. There have always been a faithful few in all generations who have refused to turn their back on God. The temptation is to believe that we are all alone, that no one else is faithful, but us. The prophet Elijah faced that problem. He reached a point in his life and ministry when he believed he was the last man standing. After having witnessed a powerful miracle by God, and having personally defeated the prophets of Baal, Elijah received a death threat from Queen Jezebel. This bad news caused him to run for his life. Then, when confronted by God, he answered, ““I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). He was all alone. He was the only one left who remained faithful to God. Or so he thought. But God corrected his thinking, saying, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV). Elijah was not alone. There were others who shared his love for God and his desire to serve Him alone. God had preserved a remnant. But Elijah needed to be reminded that, for all his claims of belief and faith in God, for all his efforts on behalf of God, he had stopped placing His hope in God. He had let his circumstances dictate his conclusions about life and about God’s ability to intervene in his situation.

That small remnant of faithful Jews living in Judah had no idea what was going to happen. They could not argue with God regarding His assessment of their nation. They were fully aware of the sins taking place all around them. And they were not completely innocent themselves. While they were comparatively faithful compared to the majority of their peers, they were still sinful. They knew God was just in His pronouncement of judgment. But they didn’t know what the future held for them. They were going to have to continue to trust God.

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

Peter told the believers living in his day the same thing. They were living in a time of great persecution and difficulty. These relatively new believers found themselves facing all kinds of opposition. But Peter reminds them to keep their eyes focused on their future hope. He wanted them to remain faithful to God in the midst of all their difficulties. They were going to be tempted to take a look at their current conditions and give up. But Peter told them to look up. “Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see” (1 Peter 1:3-5 NLT). Something greater was coming. God was going to preserve them through their current difficulties because He had promised them something better in the future. Peter went on to tell them, “There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). The key to surviving the trials of life was to keep their hope focused on the faithfulness of God. And in the meantime to live their lives according to the reality of their future destiny. Peter told them, “So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as ‘temporary residents’” (1 Peter 1:17 NLT). They were to continue to live holy, set apart lives. Their future hope was to have a present reality to it. Their faith in God’s promise of future glorification was to be the impetus for their present conduct. “Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory” (1 Peter 1:21 NLT). Because Jesus died and was raised again, we can know that our future hope is secure – no matter what we see happening around us. The trials of this life test the purity of our faith. When things get tough, do we give up or do we look up? When difficulties come, do we focus on our circumstances or turn our eyes to our faithful, promise-keeping God?

Father, help me to keep my eyes focused on You. Don’t let me get distracted by the temporary trials of this world. The troubles of this life simply test where my hope and allegiances lie. While this world will constantly disappoint me, You never will. And while You may delay in bringing about Your future reward, help me not to grow weary or to give up. May I live with my eyes firmly focused on the hope that is yet to come. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men