Confidence In God’s Commitment

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old. – Micah 7:18-20 ESV

God’s response to Micah’s prayer had a profound impact on him. Hearing Yahweh state that He would once again show His chosen people “marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 ESV), and restore the nation to its former glory, caused Micah to express his gratitude in worship. He acknowledges that God is totally unique and without equal, asking rhetorically, “Who is a God like you?” For Micah, the answer is clear: No one is like God. The false gods, byproducts of man’s fertile and sinful imagination, were all vengeful, unforgiving deities who ruled over mere mortals in anger and judgment, and for their own vainglory. But not Yahweh. He “pardons the guilt of the remnant,  overlooking the sins of his special people” (Micah 7:18 NLT).

This thought blew Micah away because he was well aware of the guilt of his people. He had witnessed it firsthand and had personal experience with their stubborn refusal to admit and confess that guilt. The people of Judah deserved all that was coming to them. They had repeatedly rejected the pleas of men like Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, calling them to repent and return to the Lord. And yet, God had graciously expressed His intent to redeem and restore a remnant of them.

And Micah knows that this gracious response from God is totally undeserved and unmerited. Any future forgiveness and restoration the people of God experience will be due to His mercy and love.

You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. – Micah 7:18 NLT

Micah’s words reflect his familiarity with the writings of Moses, found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded his encounter with God on top of Mount Sinai. This was his second trip to the top of the mountain. His first had resulted in God giving him the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone. But when Moses had returned to the Israelite base camp with God’s law in hand, he had discovered the people of God celebrating and worshiping in front of a golden calf, constructed for them by Aaron, his own brother.

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. – Exodus 32:15-16 ESV

And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. – Exodus 32:19-20 ESV

God had just given Moses the law, His code of conduct for His chosen people. But when Moses had returned to camp, he found the people of God worshiping a false god, displaying the true condition of their hearts. When Moses had not returned in a timely fashion, they had feared the worst and decided to replace Moses with Aaron and the God of Moses with one of their own making.

And God punished all those who took part in the rebellion against Him by subjecting them to a devastating and deadly plague. The rest of the nation, those who had refused to take part in the idolatry and insubordination, He forgave. And when Moses had returned to the top of the mountain to receive the second set of tablets inscribed with God’s commands, He had received the following message from Yahweh.

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

This message from God was in direct response to a request from Moses that he might see God’s glory. Moses had heard from God. He had seen manifestations of God’s glory in the form of the burning bush and the pillars of fire and cloud. But with this request, he was asking to see God face to face. And God had told him, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19 ESV). But God made it clear that His glory was too great for Moses to handle.

“…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:20 ESV

When Moses had returned to the top of Mount Sinai, God kept His promise and allowed Moses to get a fleeting glimpse of His glory. And it was then that He described Himself as the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. God’s character is the true essence of His glory. And Micah seemed to understand the reality of that sentiment.

He was completely blown away by God’s mercy and love. This great God who had made the universe and all it contained, was going to graciously forgive the sins of His rebellious people. And the thought of it left Micah struggling to put into words just how amazing this grace of God really was.

Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean! – Micah 7:19 NLT

Micah knew his people deserved nothing but the wrath of God. He was not blindly optimistic, somehow hoping that they would one day get their proverbial act together and return to God on their own accord. No, he knew that their pattern of stubbornness and spiritual infidelity would continue. And yet, he also knew that God would forgive. He knew what Zechariah, his fellow prophet, knew. God was going to show compassion on His wayward and sin-prone people.

“I will strengthen the house of Judah,
    and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
    and they shall be as though I had not rejected them,
    for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. – Zechariah 10:6 ESV

Micah was confident in the compassion of God because he believed in the trustworthiness of God. He was intimately familiar with the promises that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:7-8 ESV

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 ESV

Over and over again, God had recommitted Himself to Abraham and his descendants, guaranteeing His intentions to keep His promises. In spite of all their sinful ways, God had never reneged on His covenant promises. While they had proven themselves to be unfaithful, He had remained completely faithful and unwavering in His commitment to do all that He had said He would do. And Micah had taken God at His word. Which led him to boldly and confidently exclaim:

You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:20 NLT

For Micah, it wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. He knew that God was going to keep His word. He was completely confident that every single promise God had made would come to fulfillment – at just the right time and in just the right way. Because he knew this about his God:

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

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

Don’t Count God Out

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
    when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets.

11 A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
12 In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
13 But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. – Micah 7:8-13 ESV

In verse 7, Micah expressed a personal word of faith and hope in God. In spite of all the sin and wickedness taking place around him, he was going to continue to trust in the Lord.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

But Micah’s words were also meant as a call to the remnant of the faithful within Judah to follow his example. As a prophet and ruler in Judah, he was setting a precedent. And this entire scene is reminiscent of the one in which Joshua, nearing death, spoke a word of encouragement to the people of Israel.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 ESV

Joshua had led the people of Israel in their initial conquest and occupation of the land of Canaan. But his life was coming to an end and the Israelites had not yet completed their God-ordained job. There were still enemies living in the land and their false gods were going to be a constant temptation for the people of Israel until they were completely eradicated. So, Joshua prefaced his words of personal commitment to God with a challenge to the Israelites.

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” – Joshua 24:14-15 ESV

Joshua, like Micah, was calling the people of God to make up their minds. And both men were setting themselves up as examples to follow.

In verses 8-10, Micah speaks in the first person, because what he describes had been his personal experience. But his words are also meant to represent those of the entire nation. He is acting as a spokesperson for his people. Micah’s enemies had mocked him. But the day was coming when the enemies of Judah would do the same to them. And while Micah had learned to trust God, no matter how bleak the circumstances may have been, he wanted the people of Judah to do the same.

when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me. – Micah 7:8 ESV

God would be with them. Even though the judgment they were about to experience would be coming from the hand of God, He would not abandon or desert them.

In verse 9, we see more clearly Micah’s attempt to speak on behalf of his people. He includes himself in their guilt as if he had personally committed the sins for which God is about to punish them.

I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication. – Micah 7:9 ESV

In a sense, Micah is challenging his fellow Judahites to acknowledge their sin and accept their punishment. He also wants them to turn to the only one who can vindicate and rescue them: God.

Like all the other prophets, Micah was going to end up suffering alongside the very people he had been trying to save. He would not escape the effects of the Babylonian siege or receive divine immunity from suffering. In a way, Micah would receive vindication when the Babylonians finally destroyed Jerusalem. All of his messages warning of pending judgment would be fulfilled and the people of Judah would know he had been telling the truth.

Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets. – Micah 7:10 ESV

But this statement will also apply to the nation of Judah when God redeems them from captivity in Babylon and restores them to their land. In the midst of their captivity, the people of Judah will have to listen to their enemies as they mock them and their God. But Micah assures them that the day will come when the tables are turned and the victors will become the vanquished.

Micah describes a future day when the city of Jerusalem will be restored to its once glorious splendor and the nation of Israel will enjoy a time of unparalleled growth.

A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended. – Micah 7:11 ESV

And in that future day, the nations of the earth will make their way to Jerusalem, seeking to worship the God of the Israelites: Yahweh.

In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain. – Micah 7:12 ESV

Micah is speaking of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation, when Christ returns to earth, conquers all the enemies of God, and sets up His Kingdom in Jerusalem where He will reign for 1,000 years. The prophet, Amos, records the words of God Himself, describing the glory of this future day.

“I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 ESV

But Micah points out that, while the land of Israel will enjoy a time of fruitfulness and abundance, the rest of the world will exhibit the damage incurred from all the judgments of God that will take place during the Great Tribulation.

But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. – Micah 7:13 ESV

Micah, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, is revealing aspects of God’s plans for Israel that stretch into the distant future. Micah and his fellow Judahites will not live to see these events take place, but he fully believes they will happen. Like the psalmist, Micah had faith in his God, and that faith gave him the confidence he needed to keep trusting and waiting on His salvation.

But I will keep on hoping for your help;
    I will praise you more and more.
I will tell everyone about your righteousness.
    All day long I will proclaim your saving power… – Psalm 71:14-15 NLT

And it was the prophet, Jeremiah, who wrote:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:22-24 NLT

It is always dangerous to judge the faithfulness of God based on a single moment in time. Things do not always turn out the way we think they should. The circumstances surrounding us can leave the impression that God is nowhere to be found. Dark days can convince us that there is no light on the horizon. But our God is faithful. And His plans for us are reliable. In time, we will see the vindication of the Lord. If we wait, He will come through. He always does. Because He has given us His word.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 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

Fleecing the Flock

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. – Micah 3:9-12 ESV

Micah’s indictment is aimed at all the leaders of Israel, including those in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The problem he was addressing was not an isolated or recent one. Poor leadership had been an issue for the nation of Israel all the way back to the days of King Solomon.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

It was Solomon’s failure to remain faithful to God that had led to the split of the kingdom. And the kings who eventually reigned over Israel and Judah proved to be, for the most part, just as unfaithful as Solomon had been. But the nation of Israel had always been governed by a triumvirate that included prophets, priests, and the king. So, Micah’s words are directed at all three.

But since Jerusalem had been the original capital of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, he gives it special emphasis. From the palace to the courtroom, the leaders of God’s people were guilty of ruling unjustly and unethically. The prophets, who were supposed to be speaking for God, were busy telling the people what they wanted to hear and charging them for it. The judges, the God-appointed arbiters of justice, were guilty of settling cases based on bribery and extortion. The priests, who were supposed to be serving as God’s undershepherds, were guilty of fleecing the flock, using their position to line their own pockets.

Micah accuses them all of hating justice. Their actions gave evidence of their disdain for God’s ways. Even David, the man after God’s own heart, recognized the presence of unjust leaders in his own day.

Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?
    Do you judge the people fairly?
No! You plot injustice in your hearts.
    You spread violence throughout the land.
These wicked people are born sinners;
    even from birth they have lied and gone their own way. – Psalm 58:1-3 NLT

As far as Micah was concerned, the actions of these men were antithetical to the ways of God. The prophets, priests, and kings were actually working against God, rather than for Him. Micah flatly accuses them of detesting justice and making crooked all that is straight. It wasn’t that they practiced injustice, it was that they actually hated the justice of God. And they were going out of their way to pervert and twist the ways of God, making that which was straight or right, crooked. Their efforts were not inadvertent or innocent. They were deliberately working against God, and the prophet Isaiah points out that, one day, God will step in and straighten the mess they have made.

Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
    and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
    and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!” – Isaiah 40:3-5 NLT

The problem Micah is addressing in this passage would persist for a long time. In fact, more than a century later, the prophet, Jeremiah, would reference these verses when warning the people of Judah that God’s judgment, while delayed, was still inevitable. He quoted the words of Micah, attributing them to God.

“Micah of Moresheth prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,

“‘Zion shall be plowed as a field;
    Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ – Jeremiah 26:18 ESV

God would not put up with this problem forever. These men could continue to abuse their God-given authority, but the day was coming when He would deal with them once and for all. Sadly, these very same men were guilty of claiming to have God on their side. While they were busy misleading and abusing the people of God, they were claiming to have the full power and protection of God.

“No harm can come to us,” you say,
    “for the Lord is here among us.” – Micah 3:11 NLT

One of the reasons Micah emphasizes Zion or Jerusalem was because of the misguided perception the leaders held regarding the sacred city that was home to God’s temple. They viewed the temple as the dwelling place of God and as long as the temple stood, they believed the presence and protection of God were guaranteed. And as long as they continued to offer the requisite sacrifices and keep all the sacred feasts and festivals, they would be immune to disaster and defeat.

And their leaders were guilty of perpetuating this false narrative. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah would attack this dangerous misperception, delivering a stinging indictment from God Himself.

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the Lord’s Temple is here. They chant, “The Lord’s Temple is here! The Lord’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again?’” – Jeremiah 7:3-10 NLT

And the prophet, Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah’s, would level a similar charge from God against the people of Judah.

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

They were guilty of going through the motions. They were doing all the right things, keeping all the prescribed feasts and festivals and offering the sacrifices just as God had commanded, but their hearts were not in it. They were not doing any of it out of a love for God. They had become nothing more than religious rule-keepers, adhering to a perfunctory list of regulations but without any heart for the Rule-Giver.

And Micah points out that there will be consequences for their actions.

Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. – Micah 3:12 ESV

Lousy leaders produce flawed followers. And the nation of Israel had experienced a long line of poor-quality prophets, priests, and kings, who had spawned generations of disobedient, unfaithful sheep who were no longer capable of hearing the voice of their Shepherd. Faithless leaders produce faithless followers. Leading the flock of God is a high calling that comes with grave responsibilities and serious consequences for those who use their authority selfishly or unjustly. God cares for His own and He holds His shepherds to a high standard when it comes to the care of His flock.

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

Committed At All Costs

1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV

Preach the word.

This three-word summary says it all. Paul greatly desired to hear that his young protégé was faithfully fulfilling his God-ordained commission as a minister of the gospel. Paul had poured his life into Timothy; mentoring and instructing him, and providing his own life as a model of dedication and perseverance. Paul had let nothing deter him from his divine calling and he longed for Timothy to follow his example. For Paul, this was a matter of great importance because he knew his time of ministry was drawing to a close. He was writing from prison in Rome, facing trumped-up, yet serious charges that could result in his death. In the very next verse, Paul states, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6 ESV.

The gospel must continue to be preached and Paul was convinced of Timothy’s role in that divine endeavor. His words are intended to provide Timothy with a gentle, yet sobering boost of moral courage and spiritual conviction. And he provides his words with added weight by using the Father and His Son as witnesses. Paul may have been the one who chose to make Timothy his disciple, but he wanted Timothy to understand that calling was by the sovereign will of God. In the opening lines of his letter, Paul recalled the day when Timothy was ordained. He had placed his hands on his young acolyte, using his apostolic authority to commission him for ministry. But it had been God who poured out His Spirit on Timothy, divinely gifting him for service.

I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands – 2 Timothy 1:6 ESV

And Paul wanted Timothy to know that God and Christ Jesus were both witnesses to his ministry. They had a vested interest in his work because it involved the proclamation of God’s gracious gift of salvation, made possible through the sacrificial death of His Son. The very same Jesus whom Timothy preached as having been resurrected from the dead will one day return and “judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1 ESV). Timothy needed to constantly remind himself that Jesus was going to show up a second time and establish His Kingdom on earth. And when He does, all the ungodly, who appear to be prospering and profiting from their immoral behavior in this life, will face judgment at His hands.

With that thought in mind, Timothy was to “Preach the word of God” (2 Timothy 4:1 NLT).  The Greek word Paul used is kēryssō, which means “to herald” or “proclaim.” Knowing that Jesus will one day judge and condemn all those who remain unbelieving, Timothy was obligated to declare the good news of salvation through faith in Christ. He was to preach the gospel boldly and powerfully, motivated by his awareness of its life and death implications.

to officiate as herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; always with a suggestion of formality, gravity, and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed – Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

But for Timothy to be effective, he was going to have to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV). Timothy could not afford to be a fair-weather preacher. He couldn’t wait until things were more convenient or the atmosphere was more conducive to his message. Regardless of the circumstances he faced, Timothy had to be prepared to preach the word unapologetically, faithfully, and with equal doses of encouragement and correction. Timothy was to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV).

The danger in preaching the “good news” is that it can easily leave people believing that the Christian life is a trouble-free existence – a kind of heaven on earth. But nothing could be further from the truth. Salvation does not guarantee a lack of trials or suffering in this life. It offers a way to avoid eternal suffering in the life to come. When Jesus promised His disciples life more abundantly (John 10:10), He wasn’t offering them a life filled with ceaseless pleasure, abundant possessions, and perfect health. In fact, He warned them that they could expect just the opposite.

“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time.” – Matthew 10:16-19 NLT

Jesus went on to tell them, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39 NLT).

The abundant life is one in which the believer lives with their eyes focused on eternity. The trials and troubles of this life pale in comparison with the joys to come. That’s exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

So, Timothy was to preach a well-rounded gospel message, clearly communicating the future glories to come, while also warning of the dangers inherent in this present life. Jesus Himself warned that “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT). The decision to follow Christ is a costly one, requiring the disciple to reprioritize everything else in their life so that nothing competes with or distracts from their calling.

But Paul warns Timothy that not everyone will embrace the Christian life with the level of zeal and unbridled enthusiasm that is required. They’ll confuse the “good news” with the “good life” and demand that their preachers support their wrong assumptions with false messages that replace the truth with pleasant-sounding lies.

…a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

But while there will always be those who are little more than people-pleasers willing to offer pious-sounding platitudes in place of truth, Timothy was to remain fully committed to God’s Word.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. – 2 Timothy 4:5 NLT

Truth-telling and ear-tickling are antithetical. You can’t please God and please people at the same time. A ministry motivated by a desire for popularity and focused on earthly rewards may garner a following and appear successful, but it will be devoid of God’s presence and power. Timothy’s reward would not come in this life. The true measure of his success would be revealed when he stood before the Lord and heard Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23 ESV).

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

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

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

Remain Diligent and Vigilant

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 24:32-51 ESV

fig-tree.jpg

Jesus is attempting to open the eyes of His disciples and help them develop a long-term perspective regarding His Kingdom. They were focused on the here-and-now, and having trouble understanding that the talk of His coming death in Jerusalem was anything but bad news or something to be avoided at all costs. This entire chapter contains the surprising and difficult-to-comprehend words of Jesus as He reveals the bigger picture regarding God’s plan of redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross would be just the beginning of the much larger, comprehensive plan of God. It would also include His resurrection as well as His return to His Father’s side. But, even more importantly, it would require His eventual return to earth as the conquering King.

And while Jesus knew that there would be a long delay before His return would take place, He wanted His disciples to live with a sense of eager anticipation. If they expected it to happen and kept their eyes open, looking for the signs of its approach, they would be able to endure the struggles that were coming their way.

Jesus used the visual lesson of a fig tree in order to help the disciples understand that there would be visible, recognizable signs associated with His coming. The budding of a fig tree is a natural indication that summer is near. It is unmistakable and irrefutable. In the same way, Jesus stated that the signs of His return will be undeniable. He even assures His disciples that “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 ESV).

But what does that mean? Was He saying that the events associated with the end times would take place during the lifetimes of His disciples? The answer would seem to be no. But while they were alive, they would begin to see the early signs of His return. The budding of a fig tree provides a premonition or portent of something to come. The buds do not mean summer has arrived, but that it is coming. In the same way, the disciples would live to see signs that would point to Jesus’ coming. They would be alive when He returned, but they would be given clear indications that it was going to happen.

Each generation of believers has been given signs that His coming is imminent and inevitable. These signs act as assurances of God’s faithfulness and are meant to encourage us to continue to wait eagerly and hopefully.

The earth would continue to go through all kinds of struggles, including earthquakes, famines, floods, disasters, and even wars. The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth: “Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away” (1 Corinthians 7:31 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave” (1 John 2:17 NLT). Even Jesus, earlier in this very same discourse, warned His disciples:

“…you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.” – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

But while there will be clear signs along the way, the actual day and date of the Lord’s return will remain a mystery. We will be given assurances of its coming, but we will not know the exact time. Jesus indicated that even He did not know the day or the hour. God the Father alone has access to that information.

The second coming of Jesus will be a surprise. And it will catch the majority of people living on earth at the time completely off-guard and unprepared. Jesus used the days of Noah as an apt point of comparison. In a way, Noah’s building of the ark was a clear sign that something was coming. And Peter seems to indicate that Noah warned his neighbors of God’s coming judgment and the availability of salvation made possible by the ark.

[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness… – 2 Peter 2:5 ESV

The New Living Translation reads: “Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment.” But the people in Noah’s day ignored the signs and refused the message of Noah. Instead, they busied themselves, “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark” (Matthew 24:38 ESV).

They went on with their lives, oblivious to the warning signs and ignorant of what was about to happen, until “the flood came and swept them all away” (Matthew 24:39 ESV). And Jesus made it clear to His disciples that the same thing was going to happen when He finally returned. It would catch the world unprepared and completely off-guard.

The next few verses have created a great deal of controversy over the ages. Some have attempted to use them as proof for the eventual rapture of the church. But it is important that we keep them within their context. Jesus has been talking about His second coming, not the rapture. And so the context is one of judgment, not salvation. When Christ returns the second time, He will be coming as a righteous judge to deal, once and for all, with sinful mankind. His coming will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation. During that time, there will be those who come to faith in Christ and endure intense persecution at the hands of the Antichrist. But when Christ returns, He will defeat the Antichrist and his ungodly followers, and He will cast Satan, Antichrist, and the false prophet into the lake of fire or hell.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And all those who are living on the earth at that time will be judged as well, with their ultimate destination being hell.

It would seem that, based on the context of the second coming, that those whom Jesus describes as being “taken” are those who remain unbelievers. They will be judged and condemned, then sent to the destination God has prepared for them. And any who are “left” are meant to symbolize those who came to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation.

Jesus appears to be stressing the need to remain prepared and fully expectant. This is why He said, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 ESV). He added, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44 ESV).

We are to live our lives with a sense of eager expectation and conduct ourselves as if it could be today. The waiting is difficult. The delay can easily cause us to lose hope and take our eyes off the prize. And Jesus provided His disciples with a warning in the form of yet another parable.

A faithful and wise servant will stay vigilant and diligent while his master is away, conducting himself as if the master could walk in the door at any minute. But the wicked servant will use the delay as an excuse to sow his wild oats. His true, sin-prone, self-centered nature will manifest itself.  And Jesus warns that the servant’s master, like the Messiah, will return when everyone least expects it. And when he does, he will bring just judgment on the wicked servant.

Again, Jesus was trying to get His disciples to understand that there was much more to the Kingdom than they ever imagined. His first coming was just the beginning. And His eventual departure would not be the end. He was coming again. He had promised to do so, and they needed to live their lives as if it could and would happen. They were to stay diligent and vigilant. They were to remain faithful and wise. Unlike the wicked, followers of Christ are to stay alert and awake, fully prepared for His return.

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:11-13 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.

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

Contentment Versus Covetousness

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matthew 6:25-34 ESV

If, as Jesus has suggested, we are supposed to be laying up treasures in heaven and not on earth, why do we spend so much time to worrying about the stuff down here? And if, as He has already pointed out, our hearts are to focus on heaven, where our treasure is, then shouldn’t the things of this earth have far less appeal to us than they actually do? And yet, as followers of Christ, we find ourselves just as anxious about and attracted to the things of this earth as anyone else. We have financial concerns. We worry about how to pay the bills and put food on the table. We get anxious about everything from the brand of clothes we buy to where we’re going to take our next vacation. But Jesus reminds us “not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.” Then He asks us, “Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 NLT).

Those people sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus’ message were probably a lot more justified in worrying about these kinds of things than we should be. They were most likely common laborers, farmers, and fishermen. Their daily life was a struggle to provide food and decent clothes for their families. For the fishermen, the next catch was never a sure thing. For the farmer, his hard work preparing the soil and planting the crops was never a guarantee of a good harvest. He was at the mercy of the weather and the whims of nature. So, when Jesus tells them not to worry about life, it is as if He is telling them not to breathe. 

The real issue Jesus seems to be addressing here is faith or the lack of it. He even refers to them as “you of little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Their worry and anxiety reveal their lack of trust in God. Part of their problem was that they were putting all their stock in the things of this earth. They were consumed by worry over material matters. Their “treasure” was not in heaven but on this earth. They were expecting all of God’s blessings here and now, in the form of earthly treasures. But they weren’t even trusting Him to provide those things. They worked for them and worried about them. They struggled to provide for themselves, rather than trusting God to give them what they needed. And like so many of us today, they believed the solution to their problems was always more money.

Yet, Jesus told them, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24 ESV). In their culture, money was a sign of God’s blessing. It was tangible proof that you were approved by God. But Jesus is telling them something quite different. Followers of God are to put their trust in Him. They are to turn to Him for their needs, whether it be for clothes or food.

While God may choose to provide money as a means to meet those needs, money is not to be seen as our savior. God alone provides what we need. He may choose to bless us with little or with much. He may determine that our needs are far less than we believed them to be. The clothes God provides for us may not be the brands or styles we prefer. But if our real worry is about being clothed, the label on the garment should not matter to us.

The problem seems to be that our worry revolves around status, not survival. Few of us are anxious about where we are going to get our next meal. But we do get concerned about how many times per week we get to dine out. Our worry is not about putting food on the table, but about the quality of life we desire.

Our constant anxiety over things reveals our lack of faith in God. It also exposes our love affair with the things of this earth. Too often, we seek our satisfaction in material goods. We attempt to find our self-worth in the quantity and quality of our possessions. Our houses, clothes, and cars become outward symbols of our status. And yet, Jesus would ask why we worry about all these things. He would want to know why we don’t trust God to meet our needs. God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers in the field, so what are we so worried about?

Jesus even reminds us that thoughts of food and clothing “dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32 NLT). God knows our needs. So, maybe the problem is that we have failed to ask God what it is we really need. We have our list and He has His. We bring our lengthy catalog of concerns to Him and demand that He provide every item on it and on our timelines. And when He doesn’t, we get concerned and, sometimes, even angry. We wonder why He doesn’t love us, why He doesn’t provide for us. But too often, we have simply turned wants into needs. We have allowed our love for the things of this earth to replace our love for God and our faith in Him. We measure His goodness based on what we believe to be His generosity. The more He gives us, the more we think He loves us. But Jesus reminds us that God promises to meet our needs. And our attitude should be like that of Paul:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Contentment versus covetousness. That’s the problem. We must learn to trust God, to put our faith in Him, knowing that He loves us and has our best in mind. God has promised to meet our needs. And He has also assured us that our greatest treasure is laid up for us in heaven, not on this earth. We are citizens of another kingdom. This world is not our home, and the things of this earth that we spend so much time coveting and worrying about will not last. They will rust, decay, and fall apart because they are temporal. They are what the unbelievers seek and desire.

But as children of God, our treasure is to be elsewhere. Our trust is to be in something other than the things of this earth. We are to trust Him – for everything. Which is why Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). We are to long for His kingdom, not our own. We are to seek His brand of righteousness, as made available through faith in Christ. The quantity of our treasures on earth is not an indicator of our right standing with God. The number of material blessings we seem to enjoy on this earth is not to make us think we are somehow blessed by God. Our treasures are in heaven. Our hopes are in God. And our faith should be strong because our God is faithful.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. – Colossians 3:1-2 ESV

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

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

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

There Is None Like God

23 And of Naphtali he said,

“O Naphtali, sated with favor,
    and full of the blessing of the Lord,
    possess the lake and the south.”

24 And of Asher he said,

“Most blessed of sons be Asher;
    let him be the favorite of his brothers,
    and let him dip his foot in oil.
25 Your bars shall be iron and bronze,
    and as your days, so shall your strength be.

26 “There is none like God, O Jeshurun,
    who rides through the heavens to your help,
    through the skies in his majesty.
27 The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
And he thrust out the enemy before you
    and said, ‘Destroy.’
28 So Israel lived in safety,
    Jacob lived alone,
in a land of grain and wine,
    whose heavens drop down dew.
29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,
    a people saved by the Lord,
the shield of your help,
    and the sword of your triumph!
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
    and you shall tread upon their backs.” Deuteronomy 33:23-29 ESV

The last two tribes to receive the blessing of Moses are those of Naphtali and Asher. Once Israel entered Canaan and began their conquest and occupation of the land, these two tribes would eventually settle in the northern region, encompassing the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Dan, the city that would become home to one of the golden calves set up by King Jeroboam in the northern kingdom of Israel.

These two tribes would eventually find themselves living on very rich and fertile land with Asher enjoying access to the Mediterranean Sea. The tribe of Naphtali would own the entire eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, providing it with easy access to fresh water and the abundance of fish it contained. The Dan River, emanating from Mount Herman, flowed into the Jordan and on to the Sea of Galilee, providing a ready source of fresh water year-round.  So, these two tribes enjoyed fertile land and access to ample natural resources. In his blessing of them, Moses made reference to their favorable circumstances, even before the Israelites had crossed the Jordan or the land had been allotted.

“O Naphtali, sated with favor,
    and full of the blessing of the Lord,
    possess the lake and the south.” – Deuteronomy 33:23 ESV

“Most blessed of sons be Asher;
    let him be the favorite of his brothers,
    and let him dip his foot in oil. – Deuteronomy 33:24 ESV

This last phrase is likely a reference to olive oil, a symbol of blessing and prosperity. The land the tribe of Asher would occupy in Canaan was abundant in olive trees and this commodity would be in high demand among the other tribes, providing Asher with a lucrative market.

The blessing Jacob gave to Naphtali is a bit vague and difficult to understand.

“Naphtali is a doe let loose
    that bears beautiful fawns.”
– Genesis 49:21 ESV

Their designation as a “doe let loose” seem to convey a certain freedom they would enjoy as a tribe. And the second half of Jacob’s blessing can best be translated as “he gives beautiful words” (NET). The tribe of Naphtali would live in a large, fertile region of Canaan, and they would have a positive influence on the rest of the tribes.

But for all the abundance of their lands and the positive qualities associated with these two tribes, the book of Judges reveals that neither Naphtali or Asher were successful in driving out the inhabitants of their allotted territories.

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them. – Judges 1:33 ESV

God would bless them abundantly, but they would fail to live fully obedient to His commands. The phrase, “so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites” is meant to convey shock and surprise. They would directly violate the revealed will of God, choosing instead to compromise their convictions and maintain a relationship with their enemies that was based on convenience and concessions. The tribe of Asher was supposed to have become the new inhabitants of the land, but their refusal to eliminate the Canaanites, left them as interlopers in a land that God had provided as their inheritance.

And the author of Judges states that the tribe of Naphtali fared no better, choosing to live among the Canaanites rather than do as God said and eradicate them from the land.

The book of Judges goes on to tell the story of a future leader from the tribe of Naphtali. This man’s name was Barak, and he had been commanded by God to raise an army of 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, in order to attack the Canaanites. But he refused. Instead, he waited for Deborah, the God-appointed judge over Israel to show up and lead the army. And when Deborah got word, she sent for Barak and questioned why he had refused to obey the Lord.

“Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  – Judges 4:6-8 ESV

Deborah agreed to fight alongside Barak and his army, but she delivered some less-than-encouraging news.

“I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” – Judges 4:9 ESV

God gave them the victory that day, but it was at the hands of a woman named Jael. During the battle, Sisera, a Canaanite general fled from the scene and sought refuge in Jael’s tent. He begged her to keep watch while he rested in her tent, but instead, Jael took matters into her own hands – literally.

But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. – Judges 4:21 ESV

As with the rest of the blessings Moses gave, they reveal that God was going to use these tribes in ways they could not imagine or fully predict. Even the blessings pronounced by Jacob hundreds of years earlier would be fulfilled, but in ways that he could have never understood. These blessings say far more about the sovereignty of God than they illuminate the future of the various tribes. Both Jacob and Moses knew that God was the key to whether Israel survived or thrived.

That is why Moses closes up this section with an emphasis on God and His greatness.

“There is no one like the God of Israel.
    He rides across the heavens to help you,
    across the skies in majestic splendor.
The eternal God is your refuge,
    and his everlasting arms are under you.
He drives out the enemy before you;
    he cries out, ‘Destroy them!’” – Deuteronomy 33:26-27 NLT

All the great things Moses had to say about the tribes were meant to reflect on the goodness of God. He is the one true God who operates from His heavenly kingdom, from where He controls all the affairs of earth. He was going to help Israel by providing them with refuge and driving out the enemies before them. But as Judges 1 reveals, the tribes of Israel would doubt the word of God, refusing to do their part in the elimination of the Canaanites. And their failure to remove the pagan nations from their midst would end up diluting their effectiveness and diminishing their faithfulness.

As Moses wraps up his oration to the people of Israel, his last will and testament, he reminds them that God was their help and hope.

So Israel will live in safety,
    prosperous Jacob in security,
in a land of grain and new wine,
    while the heavens drop down dew.
How blessed you are, O Israel!
    Who else is like you, a people saved by the Lord?
He is your protecting shield
    and your triumphant sword!
Your enemies will cringe before you,
    and you will stomp on their backs!” – Deuteronomy 33:28-29 NLT

They could trust God. And, as long as they did, they would experience the blessings of God. His provision and protection, as well as their prosperity, were tied to their trust in God. As long as they stayed fully reliant upon His power and fully committed to keeping His commands, they could enjoy His favor and faithfulness. But time would reveal that each of the tribes would turn their backs on the very one who had saved them and was ready, willing, and able to bless them.

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

And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.– Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

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 Faithful Few

Isaiah 65:8-16

There is a lot of bad news in the book of Isaiah. It is filled with indictments regarding the sins of the people of Judah. And it contains warnings concerning God’s pending judgment for those sins. God was not going to allow their unfaithfulness and disobedience to go unpunished. As the holy and righteous God, His character would not allow Him to do so. But as the book comes to a close, God has some good news to convey to His chosen people.

The cluster of grapes to which God refers in this passage is meant to represent Judah. It contains both good and bad grapes. And while the bad grapes were essentially good for nothing, God vows to protect entire cluster in order to spare the remnant of good grapes that contain “new wine.” While the entire nation was guilty of open rebellion against God, there were those who had remained faithful. So, God vows not to destroy them all. He will show great patience in dealing with His people, refusing to eliminate those who have remained His servants.

“I will not destroy all Israel.
    For I still have true servants there.” – Isaiah 65:8 NLT

The few who have remained true to God will be rewarded by Him, because they have chosen not to give into the pressure to compromise their faith in God. While all their friends and neighbors were worshiping false gods, these faithful few refused to turn their backs on God. And just to make sure that we know how difficult that choice was for them, God describes what they are up against. They are swimming against the prevailing current of their day. They are going against the popular perspective and risking everything to resist the moral sell-out of the majority. God speaks directly to the immoral majority:

“…the rest of you have forsaken the Lord
    and have forgotten his Temple,
and because you have prepared feasts to honor the god of Fate
    and have offered mixed wine to the god of Destiny…” – Isaiah 65:11 NLT

The crowd had long ago turned their backs on God, choosing to worship false gods with names like Gad, the Babylonian god of fortune, and Meni, the Babylonian god of fate or destiny. How ironic that these two gods were among the many idols the people of Jjudah worshiped. In doing so, they were displaying their hope that these false gods would somehow improve their fortunes and change their fate. While Yahweh had been pronouncing His coming judgment, the people of Judah were busy calling on gods whom they hoped would counter God’s will. But God throws cold water on their hopes for a positive outcome by telling them, “I will destine you to the sword” (Isaiah 65:12 ESV). He alone had control over their fortunes. He alone could determine their destiny. And it would not be pretty.

“…all of you shall bow down to the slaughter…” – Isaiah 65:12 ESV

Why? Because when God called, they had refused to answer. When He spoke, they had not listened. Their lives were marked by doing the exact opposite of what God had called them to do. It was a case of blatant disobedience, not innocent ignorance. They knew that what they were doing was in direct violation of God’s commands. But they did it anyway.

And, in verses 13-16, God describes the dramatic contrast between His treatment of the faithful remnant and the disobedient majority. His servants would eat, drink, rejoice, and sing songs of joy. But the rest would starve, thirst, be put to shame, and experience unimaginable sorrow. And the actions of the unfaithful majority would leave an indelible stain on the name and reputation of israel. Isaiah tells them:

Your name will be a curse word among my people,
    for the Sovereign Lord will destroy you
    and will call his true servants by another name. – Isaiah 65:15 NLT

But this is not the first time this promise has been made. Back in chapter 62, God had told them that the day was coming when he would call them by a new name.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give. – Isaiah 62:1-2 ESV

We are not told what that name will be. But the sinful actions of the people of Israel will leave their name unusable. If you recall, the name Israel was given to Jacob after he had wrestled with God, and that new name meant, “God prevails.” And God would later reinforce that name change, telling Jacob, “no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10 ESV). Then God followed up these words with a statement designed to provide proper gravity to this name change.

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 ESV

Now, generations later, God was letting the descendants of Jacob know that He was going to keep that promise. Even after the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity into Assyrian and the southern kingdom was exiled into Babylon, God promises that he will one day reunify His people, creating a single kingdom over which one King will rule.

“Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.” – Ezekiel 37:21-22 ESV

In His revelation to John, Jesus said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12 ESV). While Isaiah does not tell us what that name will be, Jeremiah does. He writes, “In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:16 NLT). Jerusalem and all Israel will know what it is like to experience the righteousness of God, not only in their midst, but in their lives, community, and the world.

This will not be the old Jerusalem restored, but a brand new city that comes down from heaven. All will be new. In fact, we are told that God will create a new heaven and a new earth and John provides us with a description of it.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

A new heaven. A new earth. A new city. A new name for the redeemed and restored remnant of God. The day is coming when God will put aside His anger and forget the evil of earlier days. The faithful few will enjoy the forgiveness of God and the incredible blessing of having their hearts made pure and new.

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

Until the Fury Has Passed.

10 If favor is shown to the wicked,
    he does not learn righteousness;
in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly
    and does not see the majesty of the Lord.
11 O Lord, your hand is lifted up,
    but they do not see it.
Let them see your zeal for your people, and be ashamed.
    Let the fire for your adversaries consume them.
12 O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,
    for you have indeed done for us all our works.
13 O Lord our God,
    other lords besides you have ruled over us,
    but your name alone we bring to remembrance.
14 They are dead, they will not live;
    they are shades, they will not arise;
to that end you have visited them with destruction
    and wiped out all remembrance of them.
15 But you have increased the nation, O Lord,
    you have increased the nation; you are glorified;
    you have enlarged all the borders of the land.

16 O Lord, in distress they sought you;
    they poured out a whispered prayer
    when your discipline was upon them.
17 Like a pregnant woman
    who writhes and cries out in her pangs
    when she is near to giving birth,
so were we because of you, O Lord;
18     we were pregnant, we writhed,
    but we have given birth to wind.
We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
    and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
    You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
    and the earth will give birth to the dead.

20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
    and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
    until the fury has passed by.
21 For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
    to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
    and will no more cover its slain. – Isaiah 26:10-21 ESV

The opening verses of this chapter record the joyful song of the people of God who will live through the Tribulation and be alive when Christ returns to the earth. They will experience the salvation of God as He sends His Son to earth a second time, to defeat the enemies of God and redeem a remnant of the people of God – the people of Israel. And yet, in verse 9, Isaiah communicates his deep longing to see this day fulfilled.

In the night I search for you;
    in the morning I earnestly seek you.
For only when you come to judge the earth
    will people learn what is right. – Isaiah 26:9 NLT

Isaiah, as a prophet of God, fully realizes that the people of earth will never give God the glory, honor, and worship He is due until His Son returns to judge the world. In fact, he makes note of the fact that the universal grace of God, experienced by all who live on the earth, does nothing to change the way they treat God.

Your kindness to the wicked
    does not make them do good.
Although others do right, the wicked keep doing wrong
    and take no notice of the Lord’s majesty. – Isaiah 26:10 NLT

As Jesus Himself said, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). And yet, the wicked ignore God’s goodness and continue to rebel against Him. From Isaiah’s vantage point as a prophet of God, he sees the enemies of Judah gloat over the fallen state of God’s people. These pagan nations don’t know what Isaiah knows, that God is going to bring down His judgment. And Isaiah pleads with God to do just that.

Show them your eagerness to defend your people.
Then they will be ashamed.
    Let your fire consume your enemies. – Isaiah 26:11 NLT

Speaking on behalf of the people of God, Isaiah acknowledges a trust in God’s faithfulness: “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12 ESV). While the current conditions surrounding Judah were bleak, Isaiah knew that God had future plans that would include a time marked by peace and blessing. The entire history of the people of God had been the result of God’s gracious mercy and grace. He had been their ruler all along. Every other king had faded from the collective memory. Every nation and its king who had ever threatened to destroy them would be forgotten as well.

Again, speaking on behalf of a remnant of those who had remained faithful to Yahweh, Isaiah states, “O Lord, you have made our nation great; yes, you have made us great. You have extended our borders, and we give you the glory!” (Isaiah 26:15 NLT). There were still a few in Judah who recognized that their very presence in the land of Canaan had been God’s doing. It had been God who had given them victories over their enemies and had allowed them to inhabit cities they had not built and enjoy the fruit of vineyards and olive groves they had not planted. 

Looking back over his peoples’ history, Isaiah knew that there had been times when they had sought God in the midst of their trials and tribulations, but He seemed nowhere to be found. The nation had suffered like a pregnant woman going through labor pains, but without experiencing the joy of giving birth. “We, too, writhe in agony, but nothing comes of our suffering” (Isaiah 26:18 NLT). In fact, Isaiah admits that Israel, as a nation, had done nothing to usher in salvation, for themselves of the world.

We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
    and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. – Isaiah 26:18 ESV 

But Isaiah expresses his hope in God. He fully trusts in the goodness of God and is assured that even physical death will prove to be no problem for Almighty God.

But those who die in the Lord will live;
    their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth
    will rise up and sing for joy!
For your life-giving light will fall like dew
    on your people in the place of the dead! – Isaiah 26:19 NLT

Isaiah seems to be expressing a belief in the resurrection of the dead. He knows that His God is more powerful than death and is fully capable of restoring to life all those who died while believing in God. The author of Hebrews wrote of the Old Testament saints like Noah, Abraham, Rahab, and David, who placed their faith in God and yet died in their faith.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16 NLT

They all eventually died, but their deaths were not the end. God will one day resurrect all the faithful who have died and fulfill His promise of eternal life. And as Isaiah so eloquently puts it:

…those who die in the Lord will live;
    their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth
    will rise up and sing for joy! – Isaiah 26:19 NLT

So, with that assurance in mind, Isaiah tells the people of Judah:

Go home, my people,
    and lock your doors!
Hide yourselves for a little while
    until the Lord’s anger has passed.
Look! The Lord is coming from heaven
    to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
The earth will no longer hide those who have been killed.
    They will be brought out for all to see. – Isaiah 26:20-21 NLT

Don’t panic. Don’t stop trusting God. Be patient and believe that God will one day do what He has promised to do. Isaiah tells his fellow citizens to keep their eyes open and their focus on the future. The Lord is coming from heaven. And the apostle John was given a vision of what that glorious day will look like.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

Things looked bleak in Judah, but the future of the nation was bright. There were going to be difficult days ahead. Judgment was going to come. The nation of Judah would eventually fall to the Babylonians, and the people would end up in captivity for 70 years. They would one day return to the land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, but they would remain without a king for generations, even until this very day. But God is not done. His plan is not yet complete. The day is coming when His fury will pass by, and He will once again extend His grace and mercy to His people.

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