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

God Is Faithful.

In that day their strong cities will be like the deserted places of the wooded heights and the hilltops, which they deserted because of the children of Israel, and there will be desolation.

10 For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
    and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge;
therefore, though you plant pleasant plants
    and sow the vine-branch of a stranger,
11 though you make them grow on the day that you plant them,
    and make them blossom in the morning that you sow,
yet the harvest will flee away
    in a day of grief and incurable pain.

12 Ah, the thunder of many peoples;
    they thunder like the thundering of the sea!
Ah, the roar of nations;
    they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!
13 The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
    but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
    and whirling dust before the storm.
14 At evening time, behold, terror!
    Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
    and the lot of those who plunder us. – Isaiah 17:9-14 ESV

Long before God gave this oracle against Israel and Syria, He had freed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan, the land He had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants. Then, under the leadership of Joshua and with the help of God, the people had taken the land. Years later, as Joshua neared the end of his life, he had called the people together, and God reminded them of what He had done for them.

“When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. – Joshua 24:11-12 NLT

God gave them victories over their enemies. This rag-tag group of people who had spent 40 years crossing the wilderness, had arrived in Canaan with little in the way of weapons and no formal military training. But, with God on their side, they were virtually invincible. Their very presence in the land terrified those who lived there. But God made it clear that it wasn’t their weapons that brought them success, it was Him. In fact, He went on to tell them:

“I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.” – Joshua 24:13 NLT

This statement by God is extremely crucial to understanding the oracle spoken by God through Isaiah against the people of Israel. Notice what God told their ancestors. He had literally given them entire cities and towns they had played no part in building. He had provided them with lush vineyards and orchards, fully cultivated and fruitful, that they had not tilled, planted or cared for. It had all been a gift from God.

But the people of Israel had poor memories. It had been a long time since Joshua and the people had conquered the land of Canaan. And the people had forgotten all that God had done for them. Which is exactly what God had warned them would happen before they crossed the Jordan and entered the land under the leadership of Moses.

“When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NLT

God went on to warn the people not to become prideful, thinking that they had been the key to their own success. It was He who had freed them from captivity. He is the one who had led them through the wilderness, feeding and clothing them. He had provided them with water, manna and quail to eat. And Moses told them exactly why God had done all this for them.

“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NLT

But even by the time Joshua was nearing the end of his life and attempting to motivate the people of Israel to keep on trusting God, he knew that they had begun to forget the one who had done so much for them. Which is why he delivered to them a stirring challenge.

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 NLT

But fast-forward to the days of Isaiah. Here in the divine oracle leveled against the people of Israel, God reveals that they had long ago forgotten Him.

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation
    and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge. – Isaiah 17:10 ESV

And notice what is provided as evidence of their forgetfulness. They were planting and sowing. They were cultivating and caring for the vineyards and orchards they had created. And the text mentions them sowing “the vine-branch of a stranger.” They had been importing grape vines from outside the area. The vines God had given them were not enough. They wanted more. They were no longer relying on God for their needs. They had become self-sufficient and confident in their own ability to provide for their own needs. But God warns them:

They may sprout on the day you set them out;
    yes, they may blossom on the very morning you plant them,
but you will never pick any grapes from them.
    Your only harvest will be a load of grief and unrelieved pain. – Isaiah 17:11 NLT

Their efforts would appear to be fruitful and profitable, but they would lack long-term sustainability. The harvest they reaped would not be what they expected. Rather than plump grapes and delicious olives, they would harvest grief and pain. And it would come in the form of a mighty nation that would deluge them like a flood.

And yet, God promises that He “will silence them, and they will run away. They will flee like chaff scattered by the wind, like a tumbleweed whirling before a storm” (Isaiah 17:13 NLT). In spite of Israel’s refusal to trust God, He would spare them. Israel was guilty of forsaking God, but He woult not forsake them. Because He has plans for them.

Eventually, Israel fell to the Assyrians. God allowed them to be taken into captivity. So, it would be easy to question how tne promise found in this passage was fulfilled. Did God keep His word? Isaiah 37 lets us know that God did fulfill His promise. When Sennacherib and the Assyrians came against Jerualem, God spared the city by providing a miraculous victory over the enemy. Once again, God did for the people of Israel what they could not have done for themselves.

“And this is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria:

“‘His armies will not enter Jerusalem.
    They will not even shoot an arrow at it.
They will not march outside its gates with their shields
    nor build banks of earth against its walls.
The king will return to his own country
    by the same road on which he came.
He will not enter this city,’
    says the Lord.
‘For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David,
    I will defend this city and protect it.’” – Isaiah 37:33-35 NLT

When the Assyrians woke up the next morning, they discovered 185,000 dead comrades, killed by an angel of God. So, Sennacherib and his troops abandoned their siege and returned home, leaving Jerusalem unscathed. And it was God who provided the victory.

But there is another day coming, when God will provide an even greater victory over the enemies of Israel. It is recorded in the book of Revelation. We are told of a day when God will send His Son back to earth to defeat Satan and all those who have joined him in his ill-fated rebellion against God and the people of God. He will fail. The godless nations will fall. And God will restore His holy people, the nation of Israel.

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
    the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
    but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
    and reward your servants the prophets,
    as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
    from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
    all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:17-18 NLT

God is faithful.

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

Escape From Tribulation.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 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. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Revelation 3:7-13 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapTo the church in Philadelphia, Jesus addresses Himself as “the holy one, the true one.” These two divine attributes are inseparable. His holiness and truthfulness go hand in hand, each being impossible without the other. As the holy and true one, Jesus is more than qualified to address the church in Philadelphia. He is without sin and devoid of any falsehood or deception. And as a result, those who are called by His name should live in keeping with His character. We are sons and daughters of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus, so our behavior should reflect that reality.

…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. – Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV

Jesus’ reference to the key of David ties back to John’s description in chapter one, when he first saw his vision of Jesus. John fell to his feet as if dead, but Jesus said to him, ““Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18 ESV). With His death, burial and resurrection, Jesus unlocked the doors of death that had held men captive. No longer would men and women be subject to the inescapable prison of condemnation for their rebellion against God. His resurrection provided victory over death. Which is what led Paul to write, “But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

His reference to the key of David is also a direct tie to Isaiah 22:22, which states, “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” This passage was speaking of Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who had the key to all the king’s treasures. Jesus is appropriating this passage for Himself, claiming to hold the keys to all the treasures of God. It is He alone who can open and shut the doorway to God’s goodness, grace, mercy and love. And according to Jesus, He not only holds the key, He is the door.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV

And as Jesus has done with each of the churches so far, He lets the congregation at Philadelphia know that He is fully aware of their works. And in keeping with His emphasis on the key and His ability to open and shut, He states, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (Revelation 3:8 ESV). He seems to be assuring the faithful believers in Philadelphia that their ministry will be successful in spite of the opposition and persecution they faced. While they had “little power” due to their relatively small number, they would continue to have a powerful influence on their city. In the midst of much hostility, they had kept the word, the message of Jesus Christ. They had refused to deny the name of Jesus, even in the face of intense pressure and persecution. There were obviously those in the “city of brotherly love” who had expressed intense hatred for this fledgling group of faithful believers. And Jesus names one such source as “the synagogue of Satan.” He describes them as those “who say that they are Jews and are not” (Revelation 3:9 ESV). These members of the local Jewish synagogue proudly proclaimed their Hebrew heritage and their status as children of Abraham, but Jesus saw them simply as those who rejected Himself as the Messiah. In the gospel of John, we have recorded a confrontation between Jesus and the Jews of His day. John makes it clear that Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews who had expressed belief in Jesus. He said to them, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV).

They responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). To which responded, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (John 8:36-37 ESV). Jesus was letting them know, that while they had expressed belief in Him, they were going to attempt to kill Him. Jesus accused them of doing the deeds of their father, and when they responded that their father was Abraham, Jesus exposed the truth to them.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” – John 8:39-41 ESV

And Jesus left no doubt as to who their father was:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” – John 8:44-45 ESV

And Jesus declares the Jews in Philadelphia to be a synagogue of Satan for the very same reason. They were rejecting the truth regarding Jesus being the Messiah. They were attacking the believers in the church there, because they refused to believe the truth about salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But Jesus tells His faithful followers in Philadelphia that they will one day find themselves reverenced by these very same Jews. The day was coming when the tables would be turned and the oppressed would become the exalted. Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia that there will be a reward for their faithful service to Him. And one of the greatest rewards He has to offer them is their escape from the coming day of tribulation.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” – Revelation 3:10 ESV

While they were suffering tribulation and trials in their day, they would not have to endure the coming great day of tribulation. This is a reference to the seven years of tribulation that will come on the earth as part of the end times. The book of Revelation will go on to describe those days in great detail. But Jesus is assuring the believers in Philadelphia, and every other believer who has ever lived, that they will escape this coming judgment on the earth, because of the reality of the rapture. Paul describes this great event in the book of 1 Thessalonians.

14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 ESV

Jesus assures them that He is coming soon. He encourages them to hold fast. He will one day return for His bride, the church. And for all those who conquer, who remain faithful to Him to the end, He promises to make them a pillar in the temple of God. They will have a permanent place and play a significant role in the heavenly realm. There is a permanence to Christ’s promise. “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). They will never have to fear losing their rightful place in God’s Kingdom. They will bear the name of God, a sign of His ownership of them. Not only that, they will bear the name of the new Jerusalem, where they will find their permanent residence in His presence. And they will bear the name of Jesus, the name of the one they refused to deny.

And as usual, Jesus addresses this message to all churches of all times, assuring them that what is true for the believers in Philadelphia is true for all. The faithful are those who overcome, who will one day find themselves enjoying their role as fellow conquerors with Jesus. He holds the keys of David. He alone can open up the treasuries of God, providing access into the Kingdom of God, and offering up all the abundance of God’s blessings for those who trusted in His holiness and truth.

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

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

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

No King.

Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation. For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:

“‘You are like Gilead to me,
    like the summit of Lebanon,
yet surely I will make you a desert,
    an uninhabited city.
I will prepare destroyers against you,
    each with his weapons,
and they shall cut down your choicest cedars
    and cast them into the fire.

“‘And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them.”’”

Weep not for him who is dead,
    nor grieve for him,
but weep bitterly for him who goes away,
    for he shall return no more
    to see his native land.

For thus says the Lord concerning Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father, and who went away from this place: “He shall return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive, there shall he die, and he shall never see this land again.” Jeremiah 22:1-12 ESV

There is no king in Judah, and there has not been since Zedekiah was taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. From that moment on, the only king Israel would know would be the puppet-king, Herod, who reigned during the time of Christ. He had been given the title of king by the Romans, even though he was actually an Edomite and not a Jew. He was not a rightful heir to the throne of David and so, was not respected or accepted by the Jews. But other than Herod, there had been no one to carry the title of King of Israel since the days of Jeremiah. And it would appear that the covenant God had made with David had been broken. God had made a promise to David to give him an everlasting dynasty, a lineage of kings who would sit on his throne and rule from and over Jerusalem. When God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, He had told him:

When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” – 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV

But the kings of Israel had proven to be corrupt, immoral and unfaithful. Only a handful of them in both the northern and southern kingdoms could be deemed to have been good kings. And even during the decades that Jeremiah prophesied over the nation of Judah, all the kings were evil except for Josiah. He was the only one who attempted to bring Judah back into line by instituting religious, social and civil reforms designed to reestablish the nation’s dependence upon Yahweh. But his efforts would prove futile. The people’s hearts would be far too stubborn to accept his changes. And his successor to the throne would reverse many, if not most, of his reforms. Which is why God gave Jeremiah instructions to go to the palace of the king of Judah and deliver a message:

Listen to this message from the Lord, you king of Judah, sitting on David’s throne. Let your attendants and your people listen, too. This is what the Lord says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:2-3 NLT

God was making it clear exactly what the problem was. As we saw yesterday, it was a case of injustice. Their idolatry and sinful behavior was causing them to neglect the needs of the poor and oppressed in their midst. And in doing so, they were revealing that they had forgotten how they had once been poor and oppressed themselves. They had been slaves in Egypt, but God had shown them mercy. He had brought about justice and freed them from their captivity. And He had not done this because they had somehow deserved it. It was purely an act of grace and mercy on the part of God. Which is why God expected them to show grace, mercy and justice to all those around them – especially to the poor and helpless. And God told them:

“If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem. The king will ride through the palace gates in chariots and on horses, with his parade of attendants and subjects.” – Jeremiah 22:4 NLT

God said He would fulfill His covenant and continue placing kings on the throne of David. But He reminded them what would happen if they refused to obey Him.

“But if you refuse to pay attention to this warning, I swear by my own name, says the Lord, that this palace will become a pile of rubble.” – Jeremiah 22:5 NLT

And because the kings of Judah did not obey God, their dynasty would come to an end. The great palace constructed by Solomon would be destroyed and reduced to rubble. The power, wealth and fame of the Davidic dynasty would become a thing of the past. And it remains so to this day. There is no king in Israel or Judah and the once great palace of Solomon is nothing more than an archeological site on a map. It’s glory is gone. And God describes how people will wonder what happened to the former city of David.

“People from many nations will pass by the ruins of this city and say to one another, ‘Why did the Lord destroy such a great city?’ And the answer will be, ‘Because they violated their covenant with the Lord their God by worshiping other gods.’” – Jeremiah 22:8-9 NLT

Even the pagan nations will answer their own questions, knowing that unfaithfulness was the cause of Israel’s downfall. They knew that the breaking of a covenant was cause for revenge, especially a covenant with a deity. So, it would be no surprise to them that Israel and Judah fell because of the failure to remain faithful to their own God. They had witnessed the incredible rebellion of Israel against their own God, something the pagan nations would never have thought of doing. The idea of abandoning their own gods was unfathomable to them. But they had watched Israel and Judah do that very thing.

And God tells the people not to weep over those kings who are gone, either through death or as a result of captivity to the Babylonians. Because of God’s anger, the king of Judah would end up a slave in Babylon and die there. He would never return to the land of Judah or sit on the throne of David again. His fate would be in keeping with his faithlessness. The king, as a representative of the people, had spurned the pleas of God to repent and return and, as a result, he and his people would face the judgment of God.

But the one thing we must remember is that, while there is currently no king in Israel, that does not mean God has broken His covenant. He is the covenant-keeping God. He is faithful and true, and one day His Son will return to earth to sit on the throne of David and rule from the city of Jerusalem. In the very next chapter, we will see the words of the Lord, promising to fulfill His covenant to David.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” – Jeremiah 23:5 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

Good News. Bad News.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.” – Jeremiah 16:14-18 ESV

God is reliable. He can be counted on to do what He says. His character is unchanging and while His ways are difficult to understand at times, He is consistently faithful in all that He does. God had warned the people of Israel that if they failed to remain faithful to Him, He would bring curses upon them. They failed and He was going to faithfully keep His word. He was going to do exactly what He said He would do. He hadn’t been lying. He had meant what He said. And they were about to learn the trustworthiness of God the hard way. They were going to go into exile. And God compares their pending judgment to fish being caught by a fishermen or prey being stalked by a hunter. The prophet Ezekiel used this same kind of terminology when he described the pending fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the king, Zedekiah.

“And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.” – Ezekiel 12:13 NLT

Later on in his book, Jeremiah will chronicle the actual capture of Zedekiah after he attempted to escape from the city as King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:3-7 NLT

Exactly what God had said would happen took place. Zedekiah was taken captive to Babylon, but never saw it, because his eyes had been gouged out.

The prophet Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, had a hard time understanding why God was going to allow the Babylonians to take His people captive. And he uses the same imagery of fishermen catching fish to convey his concern.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?
Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:14-16 NLT

Judah was going to fall. They would be as helpless as fish caught in a net. Any attempt to escape their fate would prove useless because God had ordained it. It was going to happen just as He said it would. But that should also be a comfort to them. While it was difficult for them to see the good news in the midst of all the bad, God informed Jeremiah that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was not a train. It was the goodness and graciousness of God. He reminded His prophet that He had long-term plans for the people of Judah.

“As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel back to their own land from the land of the north and from all the countries to which he had exiled them.’ For I will bring them back to this land that I gave their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 16:15 NLT

Yes, they would go into exile. Because God had said they would. But they would also return from exile, because said they would. Both events would occur, because God said they would. He could be trusted to keep His word. And when we read these passages that contain examples of God’s judgment upon His people, rather than question the ways of God, we should be reminded of the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to follow through on what He has said. And when He tells the people of Judah that they will one day return to the land of promise, He means it. His word means something. His threats are never idle. His words are never cheap. His promises never prove false. Even before the people of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, promised to them by God, He had told them that if they failed to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and experience capture and exile. But He had also promised to restore them.

Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again. The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors!

“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” – Deuteronomy 30:4-6 NLT

This prophecy has been fulfilled in part. The people of Judah were restored to the land of Canaan. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record exactly how God kept His word. But there is a part of God’s promise that has yet to be fulfilled. He has not yet changed the hearts of the people of Israel so that they might love him will all their heart and soul. That part of His promise has yet to take place. The prophet Ezekiel provides us with further insight into what God has in store for the nation of Israel some time in the future.

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

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

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 NLT

That has not yet happened. But we can be certain that it will. Why? Because God has promised it. Jeremiah could rest on the certainty that God would one day return the people of Judah back to Jerusalem. Because He had promised it. And one day, God is going to give the people of Israel new hearts. He is going remove their stubborn hearts and replace them with tender, responsive hearts. He is going to put His Spirit within them so that they will love and serve Him faithfully. And the truly amazing thing is that God is going to do all this, not because they deserve it, but because He has promised it.

“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.’” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

But how can we know that this is going to happen? How can we be so sure that God is going to do what He has promised? He answers those questions for us.

“For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:36 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

Trust God.

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
    and the beam from the woodwork respond.

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
    and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
    Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord‘s right hand
    will come around to you,
    and utter shame will come upon your glory!
The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
    as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“What profit is an idol
    when its maker has shaped it,
    a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
    when he makes speechless idols!
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
    to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
    and there is no breath at all in it.
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:6-20 ESV

In verse five, we get a glimpse of Babylon as it appears to Habakkuk and the people of Judah:

His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.

But God reveals to the prophet that things are about to change. Babylon’s stock is about to plummet. Its 15-minutes fame are about to come to an abrupt end. For years they had been forcing their will on weaker nations. Their wealth had grown through the accumulation of plunder and from the exorbitant interest rates they charged on loans. And God finally determines to answer one of Habakkuk’s first questions: When? But He does so by having the question posed by those who find themselves living under the heavy hand of Babylonian rule.

“But soon their captives will taunt them.
    They will mock them, saying,
‘What sorrow awaits you thieves!
    Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion,
    but how much longer can this go on?’ – Habakkuk 2:6 NLT

When is God going to do something? When will He finally bring about justice and give to the Babylonians what they deserve? And while God does not provide a specific time frame or give Habakkuk a firm date, He does let the prophet know that the day of Babylon’s judgment is fast approaching. He tells Habakkuk that the day is coming when the captives of Babylon turn against them in rebellion.

They will turn on you and take all you have,
    while you stand trembling and helpless. – Habakkuk 2:7 NLT

This would actually take place in 539 B.C., when the Medes and Persians, two nations who had suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, would rise up and destroy their oppressor. The Babylonians would find themselves at the receiving end of the violence and persecution they had meted out to others. The Babylonians had built a great city, but had done so on the blood of others. They had made themselves a great nation by greedily plundering other, weaker nations. They had showed no mercy in the process. And God warns them:

What sorrow awaits you who build cities
    with money gained through murder and corruption! – Habakkuk 2:12 NLT

God pronounces five woes on the Babylonians. And right in the middle of this section, God announces that all their efforts at glory and fame will amount to nothing, because God has deemed it so.

Has not the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised
    that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes?
They work so hard,
    but all in vain! – Habakkuk 2:13 NLT

All their efforts would prove fruitless in the end and go up in the smoke of the fires that burned throughout their destroyed capital. All their conquests and victories would ring hollow once God turned His wrath against them. Their walls and wealth would prove no match for God’s judgment. Like the water fills the seas, the earth will one day be filled with a knowledge of God’s glory. The people of Judah will know that the fall of Babylon was the work of God, not men. They will realize that Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, has brought about a great victory over their enemy. And this prophecy has a now/not yet aspect to it. While Babylon would fall in 539 B.C., there is a greater fall of a far more wicked Babylon to come.

And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath. – Revelation 16:18-19 ESV

This future Babylon is a representation of the wicked of the world. It will be a literal nation that sets itself against God, under the leadership of the Antichrist. It will be a world order that aligns itself in rebellion against God’s rule. But it will be destroyed once and for all when Jesus Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth. Ever since the fall of man in the garden of Eden, mankind has been in rebellion against God. And the greatest expression of man’s rebellion has been the desire to be as God – to their own god. At Babel, men joined forces in an attempt to build a tower to heaven. Their goal was to make a name for themselves.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

But God saw into their hearts and knew what they were attempting to do, so He confused their languages and dispersed them over the face of the earth. But the desire that drove their efforts to make a name for themselves and bring themselves glory has not gone away. Babylon was just another in a long list of nations that had tried to establish itself as the gods of this earth. But God warns them, “You will have your fill of shame instead of glory” (Habakkuk 2:16 ESV). Their days were numbered. They were going to get drunk on the cup of God’s judgment.

Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
    and all your glory will be turned to shame. – Habakkuk 2:16b NLT

The party was over. And their idols were going to prove incapable of standing up to the judgment of God. Those lifeless images made with their own hands would be exposed for what they were: Chunks of wood and lumps of clay.

What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,
    ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
    ‘Rise up and teach us!’
    Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside. – Habakkuk 2:19 NLT

But God was alive and well, dwelling in His holy temple. And He would prove to be anything but lifeless and helpless. He would bring down His judgment on the heads of the Babylonians, destroying their once-mighty city and bringing an end to their legacy of power and glory. Habakkuk and the people of Judah needed to be reminded that their God was great and all-powerful. He was on His throne and fully capable of dealing with a nation like Babylon. He had the capacity to raise up other nations. He could call down fire from heaven. He could sent the hosts of heaven. Dealing with the likes of Babylon was not a problem for God. But He wanted His people to trust Him. He wanted them to stop looking at their circumstances and assuming God was either not there or didn’t care. He was fully aware of what was going on and in complete control of the circumstances surrounding them. They needed faith and a reminder that their God was faithful.

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