God Will Provide

Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10 In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11 This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you. 13 The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the Lord, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 18 But their flesh shall be yours, as the breast that is waved and as the right thigh are yours. 19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.”  Numbers 18:8-19 ESV

After having dealt decisively with the rebellious leaders of Israel, God reiterates the priestly duties of Aaron and his sons. Despite the demands of Korah and his dissatisfied co-conspirators, God had not budged one inch. He had not compromised His sovereign will that the priesthood belonged to Aaron and his offspring. And this chapter opened with God reiterating His instructions to Aaron.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood. – Numbers 18:1 NLT

With the privilege of service in God’s house came the burden of responsibility. God was going to hold Aaron and his sons accountable for any sins the people might commit in conjunction with the tabernacle or the sacrificial system. Maintaining the holiness of the tabernacle and every object it contained was up to these men. And they were required to follow God’s strict and stringent rules concerning their own moral purity in order to act as His servants and the peoples’ mediators.

God wanted Aaron to consider the priesthood as a gift that should be carefully maintained and painstakingly protected. Purity was essential. And adherence to God’s commands concerning the tabernacle were to be non-negotiable.

“I am giving you the priesthood as your special privilege of service.” – Numbers 18:7 NLT

And this incredible gift would come with unparalleled blessings. The amazing thing about serving God is how He graciously blesses His servants. Aaron and his sons would enjoy the fruit of their labors in the form of a “portion of all the most holy offerings—including the grain offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings” (Numbers 18:9 NLT). All their dietary needs would be met as they feasted on the gifts given by the people as sacrifices to God.

As part of the requirements for offerings and sacrifices, the people could only bring the best of the best. They had to bring the first-fruits – “the best of the olive oil, new wine, and grain” (Numbers 18:12 NLT). No damaged goods or expired fruit allowed.

“All the sacred offerings and special offerings presented to me when the Israelites lift them up before the altar also belong to you. I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters as your permanent share. Any member of your family who is ceremonially clean may eat of these offerings. – Numbers 18:11 NLT

Any gifts given by the people to God would automatically become the property of the priests. Once an offering was made and accepted, a portion of the sacrifice would be reserved for the priests. This included the meal, sin, and trespass offerings. In this way, the priests and their families would always have plenty of food to eat. As part of God’s plan, the Levites would own no property within the land of Canaan. As a result, they could grow no crops of their own or raise flocks and herds from which they could expect to receive milk and meat to eat or skin and fleece with which to clothe themselves. They were completely dependent upon the gracious provision of God. He would willingly share a portion of the gifts given to Him by the people.

“All the first crops of their land that the people present to the Lord belong to you. Any member of your family who is ceremonially clean may eat this food.” – Numbers 18:13 NLT

They would enjoy luxury of good food thanks to the goodness of their generous God. And God reminded Aaron of the significance of this arrangement.

“Everything in Israel that is specially set apart for the Lord also belongs to you.” – Numbers 18:14 NLT

God even made provision for the dedication of the firstborn, both human and animal. Technically, every firstborn male child belonged to God. And when that child’s parents dedicated him to God, they could offer a special redemption price to buy his freedom.

“When the firstborn of all living things were offered to God, they became, in part, the property of the priests, God’s representatives. When people or animals were redeemed, the priests received the payment (the redemption price). When a firstborn animal was sacrificed, the priest received a portion. The contributions from all these offerings helped compensate the priests for not being allowed to own land (15-20).” –  Bridgeway Bible Commentary

That redemption price became yet another means by which God provided for the priests of Israel. He would have a multitude of ways in which He could meet their needs. But there were certain animals that were off-limits and intended for God’s use only. They could not be redeemed or paid for.

“However, you may not redeem the firstborn of cattle, sheep, or goats. They are holy and have been set apart for the Lord. Sprinkle their blood on the altar, and burn their fat as a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. – Numbers 18:17 NLT

But God still allowed His priests to enjoy a portion of the meat from these sacrificial animals.

The meat of these animals will be yours, just like the breast and right thigh that are presented by lifting them up as a special offering before the altar. Yes, I am giving you all these holy offerings that the people of Israel bring to the Lord. They are for you and your sons and daughters, to be eaten as your permanent share.” – Numbers 18:18-19 NLT

God refers to this arrangement as a covenant of salt. This helps to convey its longevity and perseverance. Salt was a preservative used to prolong the viability of meats. And by declaring His arrangement with the priest in these terms, God was declaring His intentions to meet their needs for generations to come. He was faithful and could be relied upon to feed and care for His priests. They had nothing to worry about.

“It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” – Numbers 18:19 NLT

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

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

When God Leads, Follow

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. But if they blow only one, then the chiefs, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall gather themselves to you. When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow a long blast, but you shall not sound an alarm. And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. 10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God.” Numbers 10:1-10 ESV

God was leading His people. In chapter nine, Moses recorded how God had chosen to manifest His glory and presence in the form of a pillar of cloud that would rest over the tabernacle. It was to serve as a visual reminder of God’s presence among them and as a means by which God directed their journey through the wilderness.

…when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. – Numbers 9:21 ESV

But in the opening verses of chapter 10, Moses records a secondary source of divinely ordained directional aid: Two silver trumpets.

Now the Lord said to Moses, “Make two trumpets of hammered silver for calling the community to assemble and for signaling the breaking of camp.” – Numbers 10:1-2 NLT

“The last directions given at Sinai deal with the manufacture and use of two silver trumpets to co-ordinate the movements of the tribes on their march through the wilderness. Though they were to be guided by the cloud, more precise means of control were necessary if the people were to march in the tight-knit formations envisaged in chapters 2-3.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

From the moment God delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way, and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn’t veer to the right or the left. They couldn’t go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences.

God’s leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply states, “Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.”

The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God’s presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV).

God led and the people followed. The trumpets blew and the people gathered to receive their marching orders. As the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, it signaled that it was time to break camp and follow wherever God led.

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirements. They would have to follow obediently.

God could have miraculously transported them straight to the promised land. He could have eliminated the need for a journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God’s prescribed plan for His people. God didn’t just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. When the silver trumpets sounded, they were to heed the call and follow God’s lead.

Following God requires faithful adherence to His commands. From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have failed to realize just how good they had it. They seem to have been slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God’s actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands.

The psalmist writes, “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted him  in the desert! They again challenged God,and offended  the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV).

But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We too are on a journey. We’re walking through this life on our way to another “land” that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has demanded that we live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God’s law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in.

Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of his followers fled. Believing in Christ was easy. Following Him would prove to be difficult and sometimes risky. His 12 disciples would learn this.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But Jesus repeatedly condemned them for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn’t want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God’s Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Word of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. The Kingdom is to be our future home. Yet we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth.

We are living in what Paul Tripp calls “the gospel gap.” Our salvation is in our past. The eternal Kingdom is in our future. And, for now, we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility, and service. It is during our time on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible and practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ. We do so by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our faithful following of Christ is to result in our reflection of His nature to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

The silver trumpets were to be used to call the people to action. Whether they were a signal for gathering, celebrating, traveling, or going to war, the trumpets were to be obeyed. God was leading and He expected His people to follow. He was declaring His will and they were to submit to it – willingly and faithfully.

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.

God’s House Movers

1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things. When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles. And over the table of the bread of the Presence they shall spread a cloth of blue and put on it the plates, the dishes for incense, the bowls, and the flagons for the drink offering; the regular showbread also shall be on it. Then they shall spread over them a cloth of scarlet and cover the same with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. And they shall take a cloth of blue and cover the lampstand for the light, with its lamps, its tongs, its trays, and all the vessels for oil with which it is supplied. 10 And they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of goatskin and put it on the carrying frame. 11 And over the golden altar they shall spread a cloth of blue and cover it with a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. 12 And they shall take all the vessels of the service that are used in the sanctuary and put them in a cloth of blue and cover them with a covering of goatskin and put them on the carrying frame. 13 And they shall take away the ashes from the altar and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 And they shall put on it all the utensils of the altar, which are used for the service there, the fire pans, the forks, the shovels, and the basins, all the utensils of the altar; and they shall spread on it a covering of goatskin, and shall put in its poles. 15 And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry.

16 “And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering, and the anointing oil, with the oversight of the whole tabernacle and all that is in it, of the sanctuary and its vessels.”

17 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 18 “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, 19 but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, 20 but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.”

21 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 22 “Take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers’ houses and by their clans. 23 From thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, all who can come to do duty, to do service in the tent of meeting. 24 This is the service of the clans of the Gershonites, in serving and bearing burdens: 25 they shall carry the curtains of the tabernacle and the tent of meeting with its covering and the covering of goatskin that is on top of it and the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting 26 and the hangings of the court and the screen for the entrance of the gate of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and their cords and all the equipment for their service. And they shall do all that needs to be done with regard to them. 27 All the service of the sons of the Gershonites shall be at the command of Aaron and his sons, in all that they are to carry and in all that they have to do. And you shall assign to their charge all that they are to carry. 28 This is the service of the clans of the sons of the Gershonites in the tent of meeting, and their guard duty is to be under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.

29 “As for the sons of Merari, you shall list them by their clans and their fathers’ houses. 30 From thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, everyone who can come on duty, to do the service of the tent of meeting. 31 And this is what they are charged to carry, as the whole of their service in the tent of meeting: the frames of the tabernacle, with its bars, pillars, and bases, 32 and the pillars around the court with their bases, pegs, and cords, with all their equipment and all their accessories. And you shall list by name the objects that they are required to carry. 33 This is the service of the clans of the sons of Merari, the whole of their service in the tent of meeting, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.”

34 And Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of the congregation listed the sons of the Kohathites, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, 35 from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty, for service in the tent of meeting; 36 and those listed by clans were 2,750. 37 This was the list of the clans of the Kohathites, all who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the Lord by Moses.

38 Those listed of the sons of Gershon, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, 39 from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty for service in the tent of meeting— 40 those listed by their clans and their fathers’ houses were 2,630. 41 This was the list of the clans of the sons of Gershon, all who served in the tent of meeting, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the Lord.

42 Those listed of the clans of the sons of Merari, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, 43 from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come on duty, for service in the tent of meeting— 44 those listed by clans were 3,200. 45 This was the list of the clans of the sons of Merari, whom Moses and Aaron listed according to the commandment of the Lord by Moses.

46 All those who were listed of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chiefs of Israel listed, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, 47 from thirty years old up to fifty years old, everyone who could come to do the service of ministry and the service of bearing burdens in the tent of meeting, 48 those listed were 8,580. 49 According to the commandment of the Lord through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying. Thus they were listed by him, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Numbers 4:1-49 ESV

Kohath, Gershon, and Merari were the three sons of Levi and the grandsons of Jacob (Genesis 46:11). The descendants of these men comprised the clans of Levi. whom God had appointed to serve alongside Aaron and his sons, the God-ordained priests of Israel. These three Levitical families were responsible for the care and transportation of the tabernacle and in Numbers 4, Moses records the very precise details concerning their responsibilities. Each clan was assigned a different set of tasks that left nothing to the imagination or allowed room for confusion. Yahweh was a God of order and His dwelling place was to be considered holy and treated with reverence.

Every piece of wood, metal, or cloth used in its construction was to be considered sacred and handled with extreme care and caution. To drive this point home, God provided Moses with two severe warnings concerning the improper treatment of His house.

“And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:15 ESV

“Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:18-20 ESV

Even in its disassembled state, the tabernacle remained holy and sacred. Every item, regardless of its significance or size, was to be handled with care.

The tabernacle, while not large in size, was a complicated structure that required careful planning to construct. Along with all the structural components that made up the building itself, there were a great many utensils and tools required to perform the sacred duties associated with the sacrificial system. These items were also considered holy and required painstaking care to ensure that their consecrated status was protected from potential desecration or defilement.

So, God provided detailed instructions to the three Levitical clans, ensuring that they clearly understood their particular areas of responsibility. He put the Kohathites in charge of caring for the objects associated with the sanctuary (Numbers 3:4-14). This included the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of Showbread, and other holy items.

The Gershonites were responsible for the decorations in the sanctuary, including the curtains, ropes, and coverings (Numbers 4:24-26). Finally, the Merarites had the task of maintaining and transporting the structural components of the tabernacle, including the pillars, bases, frames, pegs, and cords.

Each clan had its particular responsibility as ordained by God. Nothing was left to chance. God provided them with a well-ordered and structured plan that, if carefully followed, would ensure the physical and spiritual integrity of the tabernacle and the safety of those responsible for its care.

God even prescribed the proper means of transporting every element of the tabernacle. Anything associated with the Holy Place was to be carried on poles by the Kohathites. They were not allowed to utilize a cart and oxen to transport these holy objects. And 1 Chronicles 13 records what happened when David attempted to skirt this prohibition by transporting the Ark of the Covenant using a cart pulled by a team of oxen.

And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. – 1 Chronicles 13:9-10 ESV

David’s failure to obey God’s command resulted in the death of an innocent man. A well-meaning Uzzah inadvertently touched one of the holy objects and paid for it with his life.

God allowed the Gershonites and Merarites to utilize ox carts to move the larger items under their care (Numbers 7:6-9). But even these objects were to be treated with reverence and handled with extreme care and caution.

One can get an idea of just how massive an undertaking the transportation of the tabernacle was by adding up the numbers of men set apart for the task. Between the three Levitical clans, there were 8,580 men chosen to pull off this recurring assignment. There is no way of knowing how many times the tabernacle was disassembled, moved, and reconstructed, but each time it was a large-scale effort that required careful planning and meticulous coordination. Each clan had a God-ordained role and every member of that clan had a particular part to play. In a sense, these men had the formidable task of ensuring the ongoing presence of God in the midst of the camp of Israel. Each time they had done their job well and the tabernacle was rebuilt on its new site, the Shekinah glory of God came to rest above the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. The faithful execution of their God-given responsibilities helped assure the nation of God’s ongoing presence and power.

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 Heaviness of Holiness

1 These are the generations of Aaron and Moses at the time when the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. But Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of Aaron their father.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. 10 And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.”

11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” Numbers 3:1-13 ESV

God set apart the entire tribe of Levi to assist Aaron and his four sons, whom He had anointed to serve as priests. All adult males were exempt from military service but were expected to care for the maintenance and transportation of the tabernacle.

“Call forward the tribe of Levi, and present them to Aaron the priest to serve as his assistants. They will serve Aaron and the whole community, performing their sacred duties in and around the Tabernacle. They will also maintain all the furnishings of the sacred tent, serving in the Tabernacle on behalf of all the Israelites. – Numbers 3:6-8 NLT

While some of the Levites served as priests alongside Aaron and his sons, many were assigned the important task of caring for the tabernacle. They were divided into specific units with instructions to maintain the various elements that comprised the tabernacle and made the worship of Yahweh possible. The entire tabernacle was designed to be portable so that it could be transported from one place to another as the Israelites made their way to the land of promise. When it came time to move, the various clans of the tribe of Levi were assigned different sections of the tabernacle to disassemble and carry to the next location. Once there, they were responsible for the reconstruction of the tabernacle and for the maintenance of the items under their care.

Service in the priesthood was a high honor and was not to be taken lightly. It came with great responsibilities and God held all those who served as priests to an exacting standard.

They must be set apart as holy to their God and must never bring shame on the name of God. They must be holy, for they are the ones who present the special gifts to the Lord, gifts of food for their God. – Leviticus 21:6 NLT

One of the greatest responsibilities given to Aaron and his sons was that of providing the offering of atonement for the people of Israel. These men were expected to keep themselves morally and ceremonially pure so that they might intercede before God on behalf of the people. Moses instructed Aaron:

“Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering to purify yourself and the people. Then present the offerings of the people to purify them, making them right with the Lord, just as he has commanded.” – Leviticus 9:7 NLT

For Aaron and his four sons to effectively mediate between God and the Israelite people, they had to maintain a holy lifestyle. Leviticus 22 outlines just how careful they had to be in order to keep from offending a holy God through personal impurity or disobedience to His commands.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord. – Leviticus 22:2 NLT

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:9 NLT

They were expected to take their role seriously, knowing that God would hold them accountable for any indiscretion or hint of physical or spiritual impurity. And Moses reveals that two of Aaron’s sons had been put to death for disobeying the commands of God.

Nadab and Abihu died in the Lord’s presence in the wilderness of Sinai when they burned before the Lord the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. – Numbers 3:4 NLT

Leviticus 10 records what happened to Aaron’s two eldest sons.

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them. In this way, they disobeyed the Lord by burning before him the wrong kind of fire, different than he had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord. – Leviticus 10: 1-2 NLT

The text doesn’t explain the exact nature of their sin but it makes it clear that they had violated the command of God. They had failed to take seriously God’s holiness and their own call to moral purity. Their offer of “strange fire” was outside the will of God. They had chosen to make an offering that was unsanctioned by God and, therefore, unacceptable. And Moses explained to Aaron that his sons’ unacceptable sacrifice had failed to bring glory to God.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when he said,

‘I will display my holiness
    through those who come near me.
I will display my glory
    before all the people.’”

And Aaron was silent. – Leviticus 10:3 NLT

It seems apparent that these two men had tried to glorify themselves. They had chosen to do God’s will their own way and their punishment was death. It’s interesting to note that Nadab and Abihu were executed by the very same heavenly fire that had consumed the offering that Aaron had offered up to God on behalf of the people.

After that, Aaron raised his hands toward the people and blessed them. Then, after presenting the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the peace offering, he stepped down from the altar. Then Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle, and when they came back out, they blessed the people again, and the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole community. Fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When the people saw this, they shouted with joy and fell face down on the ground. – Leviticus 9:22-24 NLT

It seems that Nadab and Abihu had seen the reaction of the people to their father’s sacrifice and now desired to elicit a similar response by offering up their own unsolicited offering to God. But rather than the people falling on their faces before them, the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed them.

So fire blazed forth from the Lord’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the Lord. – Leviticus 10:2 NLT

According to Leviticus 21:8, God considered each and every priest to be holy and they were to be treated as such. They belonged to Him and He expected their actions to reflect their status as His chosen servants.

“You must treat them as holy because they offer up food to your God. You must consider them holy because I, the Lord, am holy, and I make you holy.” – Leviticus 21:8 NLT

And even the Levites were expected to take seriously their status as God’s chosen tribe. They had been set apart by God for His use and they were to treat their role with a healthy dose of reverence and respect.

“Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me…” – Numbers 3:12 NLT

And just so they understood the gravity of their position and the danger of taking it lightly, Moses warned them, “any unauthorized person who goes too near the sanctuary must be put to death” (Numbers 3:10 NLT). Their set-apart status would put them in close proximity to the tabernacle, but they were not to take that privilege lightly. Unlike Nadab and Abihu, there were to treat God with honor and reverence at all times. Their behavior mattered. The manner in which they treated His tabernacle was important. They had their God-given role to play and they were to honor Him through their obedience and faithfulness.

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.

Fatalism Versus Faithfulness

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:7-18 ESV

According to Solomon’s way of seeing things, there are two things that can make a man’s life miserable and meaningless: Time and chance. He makes that point clear in verse 11.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV

From his experience, these two things played irrefutable roles in the lives of men, determining their destinies far more often than ability, intelligence, or preparedness. Solomon supports his assertion with a series of observations about life.

The fastest runner doesn’t always win.

The most powerful army isn’t always the victor.

Wisdom won’t necessarily put food on the table.

A surplus of intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth or success.

And those with know-how aren’t always appreciated or given a chance to show what they know.

Sometimes it’s all in the timing, or it’s simply a matter of chance. Things just happen. The faster runner trips and falls, leaving a slower runner to win the race. The smarter one fails to get the job. The one lacking discernment gets the promotion. It’s like a grand cosmic crap shoot, where no one knows what the outcome will be. It just happens. So, once again, Solomon offers up the sage advice to “So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT).

As noted in an earlier post,, this is not a recommendation to embrace unbridled hedonism or to spend your days in a drunken stupor. It is counsel designed to encourage the enjoyment of what you already have – your job, spouse, children, and life. Solomon knew what it was like to spend his life in pursuit of what he didn’t have. He had an abundance of God-given wisdom, but he was never satisfied. He had plenty of houses, but he kept building more. He had hundreds of wives and concubines but his harem continued to grow. He spent so much time adding to his already overstocked life, that he never took time to enjoy all that he had. So, writing the book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he passed on what he had learned: Enjoy what you have while you have it because no one knows what tomorrow holds. In a sense, he is telling us to stop and smell the roses. And his advice is supported by a story Jesus told His disciples.

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 NLT

There is a danger in always living with our hopes set on tomorrow. This doesn’t preclude planning for the future, but if we do plan, we should not short-change the present day. None of us know what tomorrow holds. In that sense, Solomon is right. But notice the emphasis behind the story Jesus told. His point is that the man in the story was neglecting his relationship with God. He found his significance and satisfaction in material things. And it was only when he thought he had enough, that he believed he would be able to enjoy life. There is a certain dissatisfaction and discontentment portrayed in the man’s decision-making. And that same problem seemed to have plagued Solomon.

But in his latter years, Solomon appears to have learned the lesson of being satisfied with what he had. He recommends seeing your spouse as a gift from God and a reward for all your hard work in this life. He strongly advises that we take time to enjoy good food, the feel of clean clothes, and the fragrance of fine perfume. But there remains a certain sense of nagging pessimism in his words.

Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom. – Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT

In other words, this is all there is., so enjoy it while you can. Because once you’re dead, you won’t get the opportunity again. Solomon never qualifies or clarifies his views on the hereafter, but he gives a distinct impression that he prefers the here-and-now. All his emphasis is on what he can see, touch, and feel. He was a man driven by his senses. The pursuit of pleasure was important to him. Enjoyment was a high priority for him. And he seemed to operate on the premise that death would bring all of that to an abrupt stop.

So, he learned to live in the present, taking in all that he could while there was still time. And what drove that mentality was the recognition that “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12 ESV). He compares man to a fish caught in a net or a bird trapped in a snare. When we least expect it, our end comes. Which led Solomon to resort to his quest for immediate gratification. He seems to have lived his life based on the old Schlitz Brewing Company slogan from the mid-1960s: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.”

But as Jesus warned, what a waste of time if you don’t seek a right relationship with God.

Solomon next provides us with a real-life example of wisdom on display, but unappreciated. He tells the story of a city that was besieged by a powerful army. The citizens of the city were few in number and their fate seemed sealed. But help and hope came from an unexpected source: A poor wise man.

There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. – Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 NLT

Notice Solomon’s emphasis. The man was wise but poor. Remember Solomon’s earlier point: “The wise sometimes go hungry.” And yet, this impoverished man’s wisdom saved the day. Solomon doesn’t explain how, but this man used his wisdom to rescue the city from destruction. And yet, his efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded.

But afterward no one thought to thank him. – Ecclesiastes 9:15 NLT

So Solomon concludes: “even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long” (Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT).

The plight of poverty trumps wisdom. The man saved the day but went to bed that night still poor and forgotten. And what insight does Solomon provide us from this story?

So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long. – Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT

Wisdom could be beneficial but it couldn’t guarantee food on the table or replace the stigma of poverty. Yet Solomon warns that it’s better to listen to one man speaking quiet words of wisdom, than to the shouts of a powerful king who rules over fools. The citizens of the besieged city had been saved because they listened to the wisdom of a poor man. But once victory was assured, they turned their back on the one whose wisdom had saved them. And Solomon reaches a rather sad conclusion. While wisdom is more beneficial than weapons, it just takes one sinner to destroy all the good that wisdom brings. There was a good chance that the city’s victory celebration would end up being short-lived due to the sinful actions of a single fool.

Once again, you can sense Solomon’s cynicism. The advice of the wise isn’t always heeded. Their efforts aren’t always appreciated. And it only takes one foolish, unrighteous sinner to undermine all the efforts of the wise.

You can see why Solomon repeatedly went back to the recommendation: Eat, drink and be merry. To him, the world was controlled by time and chance. Man is the unwilling occupant of a canoe hurtling through rapids without a paddle. The best he can do is hang on and enjoy the scenes along the way. He knows there’s probably a less-than-pleasant ending around every bend, but he has no way of knowing when it will come. So, Solomon had determined that the best thing to do was to sit back and enjoy the ride. But what a defeatist attitude.

Yes, there is some value in living for the moment. There is truth in Solomon’s assessment that the strong don’t always win and the fastest runner doesn’t always come in first. But the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with Solomon’s assessment, arguing instead: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT). And he supports that argument even further in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. – Philippians 3:14-15 NLT

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

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

The Insatiable Thirst For More

1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Pleasure, laughter, wine, work, possessions. Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for meaning in life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of being able to afford all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. Enough was never enough. Despite all of his purchases, possessions, and pleasures, he remained discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction.

So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the contributing factors to Solomon’s dilemma was likely the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a time in Israel’s history when the nation enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation, and his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he went on a building spree. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built a temple for Yahweh, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon didn’t stop there.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects brought him lasting satisfaction. So, he set his sights on the pursuit of pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism. His pleasure quest was well orchestrated and the byproduct of an inquiring mind. Like a scientist in search of a cure for a deadly disease, Solomon was looking for the source of man’s satisfaction and significance.

Being king was not enough. He had discovered that great wealth and unparalleled wisdom were insufficient sources for providing satisfaction. So, he attempted to fill the void with pleasure. He dabbled in wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to satisfy his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers.

Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived by the motto: “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it brought lasting satisfaction. He describes his efforts as producing nothing more than vanity or futility. It had no more profitable than trying to chase and capture the wind. It had all ended in a dead end of frustration and futility. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but the void in his life remained. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but Solomon was a lonely and discontented man.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was probably satisfying, for the moment. But the satisfaction didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content.

Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation are lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign were marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant and began to fill his life with everything but God. He even began to worship other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them.

Solomon forgot God and he lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. The minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like a man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awestruck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that possessions always end up possessing their owner. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus, a descendant of Solomon, would speak these powerful words of warning:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and made the fateful mistake of placing his hope in anything and everything but God. He found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ends in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

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

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

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

Friends and Fools

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also,
    and with dishonor comes disgrace.
The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
    the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
    or to deprive the righteous of justice.
A fool’s lips walk into a fight,
    and his mouth invites a beating.
A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
    and his lips are a snare to his soul.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
    they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Whoever is slack in his work
    is a brother to him who destroys.
10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
11 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
    and like a high wall in his imagination.
12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
    but humility comes before honor.
13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
    it is his folly and shame.
14 A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?
15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
    and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
16 A man’s gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.
17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
18 The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
    he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
    and those who love it will eat its fruits.
22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing
    and obtains favor from the Lord.
23 The poor use entreaties,
    but the rich answer roughly.
24 A man of many companions may come to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
– Proverbs 18:1-24 ESV

Fools make lousy friends. Sure, they can be the life of the party and a lot of fun to be around but their lack of wisdom and discernment make them a poor choice for companionship. As verse one points out, fools are inherently selfish and self-centered, focusing most of their energy and thoughts on themselves.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment. – Proverbs 18:1 ESV

Fools can be manipulative, using others for their own self-aggrandizement. To a fool, people become little more than resources to be used and discarded. They have no real need for friends and even less desire for friendly counsel.

Fools have no interest in understanding;
    they only want to air their own opinions. – Proverbs 18:2 NLT

A true friend is willing to say the difficult things that need to be said. They point out our flaws and lovingly correct our failings. But a fool has no desire to have his faults exposed and the opinions of others are of no interest to him. In fact, he prefers the sound of his own voice.

Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels;
    they are asking for a beating.

The mouths of fools are their ruin;
    they trap themselves with their lips. – Proverbs 18:6-7 NLT

Fools tend to be combative and confrontational because they don’t like to have their point of view challenged or their way of life critiqued. Their subjective opinion always trumps objective truth. And they display a strong penchant for putting their mouth in gear before their brain is engaged.

Spouting off before listening to the facts
    is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13 NLT

One of the lessons a fool finds difficult to learn is that his words have consequences. A fool finds it easy to speak his mind but fails to understand that his words can be damaging and deadly. Even the closest friends of a fool will find themselves suffering the withering onslaught of their tempestuous character.

An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city.
    Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars. – Proverbs 18:19 NLT

Because the fool lacks wisdom and discernment, his words can be devastatingly destructive. His impulsive knack for speaking his mind puts his wisdom deficit on full display for all to see. And, in the end, his words take their toll on all those around him.

The tongue can bring death or life;
    those who love to talk will reap the consequences. – Proverbs 18:21 NLT

Yet, Solomon reminds us that the opposite is equally true.

Wise words satisfy like a good meal;
    the right words bring satisfaction. Proverbs 18:20 NLT

So, why would anyone befriend a fool? What would possess someone to willingly associate with such a self-centered and narcissistic individual? The answer is that fools are typically charismatic and highly influential. They appear successful and popular. The biblical fool is rarely a stumbling, bumbling imbecile who suffers from a low IQ or a learning disability. They are usually intelligent and even highly successful. Their innate talent and persuasive powers can make them wealthy and well-liked. But somewhere along the way, the fool has rejected the idea of God.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Their foolishness stems from their refusal to fear and reverence God. Because they have determined to reject the reality of God, they are doomed to live their life without His wisdom. The fool is not ignorant but he is unenlightened and spiritually devoid of divine guidance. And that is what makes him such a lousy friend.

A fool is essentially godless and operating under his own power and according to his own fallen nature. Without God, he is destined to make unwise choices, pursue unrighteous ends, and do irreparable damage to all his relationships.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24 NLT

Fools are fairweather friends. When the going gets tough, the fool gets going. In times of difficulty, a fool will bail on his friends and go into self-protective mode. But, according to Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Godly friends make great companions. When things heat up, they show up. In times of adversity, they prove the depth of their love by displaying their unfailing commitment to the relationship. Godly friends are faithful friends. They tend to mirror the character of God Himself. Wise friends have learned to trust in God. Through their own life experience, they have proven the faithfulness and reliability of God.

The name of the Lord is a strong fortress;
    the godly run to him and are safe. – Proverbs 18:10 NLT

In times of difficulty, a fool will place all his trust in his wealth and resources. He will make a god out of his

The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense;
    they imagine it to be a high wall of safety. – Proverbs 18:11 NLT

While a fool will abandon his friends and turn to his own resources for salvation, a wise friend will point the way to God. He knows from experience that God can be trusted even when times are tough. A wise friend encourages faithfulness. He models godliness. He promotes a life of obedience and trust in God. And Solomon goes on to point out that one of the greatest relationships a man can develop is that of a godly wife.

The man who finds a wife finds a treasure,
    and he receives favor from the Lord. – Proverbs 18:22 NLT

A godly mate is one of the greatest gifts that God can bestow on a man.

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
    She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
    and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life. – Proverbs 31:10-12 NLT

And a woman who finds a godly husband has received one of the most precious rewards that God can give. A godly marriage is only possible through the grace and mercy of God. He alone has the ability to perform math that can make two into one.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24 ESV

Two godly and wisdom-endowed individuals joined together by God in a permanent relationship that brings Him glory and honor. Two friends for life, blessed by their Creator with all that they need for living the godly life together. That is the essence of friendship on God’s terms. As Solomon would later record in the book of Ecclesiastes:

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12 NLT

Wise friends make great companions. But fools tend to make a fool out of everyone.

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

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

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

Life Lived On God’s Terms

13 Even in laughter the heart may ache,
    and the end of joy may be grief.
14 The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
    and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
15 The simple believes everything,
    but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
16 wise One is cautious and turns away from evil,
    but a fool is reckless and careless.
17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
    and a man of evil devices is hated.
18 The simple inherit folly,
    but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
19 The evil bow down before the good,
    the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
20 The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
22 Do they not go astray who devise evil?
    Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.
23 In all toil there is profit,
    but mere talk tends only to poverty.
– Proverbs 14:13-23 ESV

Life can be tumultuous and uncertain. It is filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and a wide range of disparate experiences that can make your head spin. And without godly wisdom, it will be difficult to make sense of it all. The diversity and seeming inequality of our life experiences can create an inner dissonance that is difficult to resolve. But wisdom can bring clarity and a sense of meaning to it all.

For instance, the wise person understands that laughter, while beneficial, can never fully alleviate pain and suffering. It is a temporary fix that can lift one’s spirits for a time but will never fully assuage the hurt and heartache that can accompany life in a fallen world. That’s why Solomon points out, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.

Laughter can make difficult times more bearable but it can’t change circumstances. As the proverb says, it can conceal a heavy heart, but it can’t heal one. Laughter may make you forget your troubles, but it can’t make them go away. There is nothing wrong with laughter. It is a gift from God. I think God has a sense of humor but laughter was never meant to serve as a replacement for guilt, a narcotic to deaden our pain, or an entertaining diversion to replace the joy and peace that can only come from God.

Think about how many times you’ve found yourself down in the dumps and turned on the TV in an attempt to find something that might make you laugh. Or you’ve gone to a movie to forget about your cares, if just for an hour or so. For a few brief moments, you were able to forget about your problems and laugh. But when the TV show ends or the movie is over, you find yourself right back where you started. Nothing has changed. “When the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Wisdom recognizes that God is the ultimate answer to our sorrow, weariness, lack of fulfillment, and longing for purpose in life. The person who makes God his highest priority will be rewarded for seeking to live according to His will (verse 14. The godly will know how to live prudently, conducting his life with discernment that is based on the wisdom of God (verse 15). The wise know the value of turning away from (verse 16) and have the God-given capacity to refrain from anger that produces foolish and sometimes fatal outcomes (verses 17-18).

In the end, the godly will come out on top. The wise will live to see righteousness win. It may not happen in this life but, eventually, the way of the wise will prove to be the victorious way.

Evil people will bow before good people;
    the wicked will bow at the gates of the godly. – Proverbs 14:19 NLT

When God’s grand plan of redemption is complete and His Son returns to establish His earthly Kingdom, the wicked will find themselves bowing down before Christ and having to confess that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13 BSB

Wisdom wins. The way of the righteous will culminate with the will of the Father bringing about the worship of His Son by all mankind. Even those destined for an eternity separated from God will be forced to acknowledge the sovereignty of His Son, Jesus Christ. And as the children of God, we will find ourselves enjoying our undeserved yet privileged position as fellow heirs of Christ in the coming Kingdom.

In this life, we have to witness the gross injustices that are part and parcel of a fallen world. The poor find themselves despised because of their poverty. Not only do they lack worldly goods but they find friends to be in short supply. But the wealthy seem to have no shortage of treasures or admirers. But it will not always be that way. One day, justice will be served and all the wrongs will be righted. The injustices will be dealt with once and for all.

But in the meantime, Solomon calls us to practice justice to the best of our ability. Rather than despise our impoverished neighbors, we are to love and care for them (verse 21). While the wicked makes plan to do evil, the wise come up with ways to do good. They use their God-given capacity to seek the well-being of others to display steadfast love and faithfulness to all (verse 22). They practice selflessness. They demonsrate compassion. They model the character of God to both the godly and the godless. And because they are doing the will of God, their efforts pay off (verse 23). Their reward is the blessing of God. He extends His grace, mercy, and love to His children so that they might continue to serve as His conduits of divine blessing to all those around them.

The book of Proverbs is all about two paths or ways of life. One is committed to living life according to God’s terms, while the other is pictured as the self-made, self-reliant, self-directed individual who rejects God’s way as the best way. The Proverbs are not presenting two equally viable alternatives to living life. You can’t expect to choose either option and get the same results. In the end, it all goes back to the fear of God. “Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him” (Proverbs 14:2 NLT). The fear of the Lord is all about humility in the face of God’s glory. It is an awareness of His majesty, holiness, and power and our own inadequacy. Only a fool would look at God and decide to run his own life because he knows better. Only a self-consumed egomaniac would reject God’s way for his own, arrogantly thumbing his nose in the face of God and stubbornly walking right into destruction. “The wise are cautious and avoid danger, fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence” (Proverbs 14:16 NLT).

Man is so prideful that he would rather suffer the consequences that come with self-rule than give up his precious autonomy. It reminds me of the lyrics to the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “I Did It My Way.” That song could be the official anthem of the human race. We stand before God and shout, “I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Doing it our way is more important to most of us than doing it the right way. We will stubbornly cling to our right to be wrong. We will painfully pound our heads against the wall of God’s righteousness rather than submit to His will and accept His way as the only right way to live. And in doing so, we miss out on His love, mercy, grace, and divine plan for a better life. Our obsession with self-rule ends up in our own self-destruction.

The closing lines of the song, “I Did It My Way” are sobering and provide a very insightful look at the stubbornness of sin.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way! Yes, it was my way

What a sad picture of the foolishness of man. Rather than kneel before God and admit His majesty and power, men would rather stand tall and take the blows – all so they could do it their way. They find God’s way restrictive and stifling. His offer of peace, rest, and salvation from sin appear unattractive and even unnecessary to them. They are deceived by the offers of this world and the lies of the enemy. They choose compromise over conviction every time. Jesus told us it would be this way. He warned us that few would choose the path God offers. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). The way God provides IS restrictive, narrow, and demanding. It demands that you abandon your own way and go His. It requires that you trust God’s way as the right way. It unapologetically expects you to fear God and humbly, dependently follow Him, believing He knows what’s best for your life. You can do it your way or you can kneel before God and do it His way.

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

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

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

The Wisdom of Experience

1 My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
    incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
    and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
    her ways wander, and she does not know it.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
    and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
    and your years to the merciless,
10 lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
    and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
11 and at the end of your life you groan,
    when your flesh and body are consumed,
12 and you say, “How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
13 I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
14 I am at the brink of utter ruin
    in the assembled congregation.”

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?
17 Let them be for yourself alone,
    and not for strangers with you.
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
    be intoxicated always in her love.
20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
21 For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
    and he ponders all his paths.
22 The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
    and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
23 He dies for lack of discipline,
    and because of his great folly he is led astray. – Proverbs 5:1-23 ESV

This sounds like strange, if not hypocritical, advice coming from a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). It would appear that wise sayings weren’t the only things that Solomon made a habit of collecting. This king with the overactive libido had an eye for the ladies. So, it seems a bit disingenuous for Solomon to be giving his sons a lecture on avoiding the “forbidden woman.” How could he presume that he was the right man to give counsel not to “drink water from your own cistern” (Proverbs 5:15 ESV).

Yet, Solomon was the perfect person to be passing on his life experiences to his as-yet-unmarried sons. He wasn’t simply spouting pious-sounding platitudes he had discovered along the way, but he was sharing the painful life lessons he had been forced to learn as a result of his own pride and stupidity. Verses 12-13 are actually Solomon’s personal testimony.

“How I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.”

Solomon is offering up a painful confession. And yet, Solomon’s admission would not have been news to his boys. In fact, it is likely that, while they all shared Solomon as their father, they each had a different mother. They suffered from no delusions that their father was a one-woman man. Each knew that their dad had been less-than-faithful to their own mother. And the older they became and the more knowledge they gained about the Word of God, they would have known that their father’s actions were out of step with the will of God.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 ESV

Somewhere along the way, Solomon had made the decision to violate the command of God. His personal preferences and passions took precedence over God’s will. He would have been very familiar with God’s command concerning the kings of Israel.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon had decided that he knew best and he began to fill his home and his harem with beautiful women, collecting them like treasures to showcase his power and prestige.

But over in Proverbs 14:12 we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” That phrase “in the end” seems to pop up on a regular basis in the Proverbs. It refers to a day of accountability, not necessarily the day of the judgment of the Lord, but of a day of consequence. Every action has an outcome. Every path we take in life has a destination or an end. If a young man or woman chooses a life of immorality, it will have an outcome, and probably not the one they were expecting. Sin never does.

Solomon is speaking from experience when he states, “the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil – in the end she is as bitter as poison” (Proverbs 14:3-4 NLT). He knew what he was talking about and he wanted his sons to know that what appears to be tempting and tantalizing doesn’t always turn out quite as advertised.

One of the characteristics of foolishness or a lack of godly wisdom is the inability to foresee consequences. We are either oblivious to them or simple choose to ignore them. But more than likely, it is just a case of ignorance. A child touches a hot stove because they don’t know any better. They are ignorant of the consequences. But there comes a time in all of our lives when we become aware of the consequences of sin and still stubbornly continue to commit them. We think those consequences won’t apply to us. We refuse to consider “the end.” We choose to live in the pleasure of the moment, putting off any thought of the consequences, or simply refusing to believe there will be any negative ramifications for our actions. But to think that way is not only foolish, it’s deadly. We can end up losing everything – our honor, all we’ve achieved in life, the fruit of all our labor, the blessings of God, and the love and respect of those we once held dear. Like Solomon, we will find ourselves sadly looking back at our actions and saying, “How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace” (Proverbs 5:12-14 NLT).

In the end, you will have regrets because the path you chose had consequences. But nobody thinks about the potential consequences when facing the alluring temptation of sin – except the godly. But obviously, Solomon is an example of the godly man who took his eyes off the Lord and began to seek satisfaction and significance somewhere else. It began with the allure of the forbidden fruit of many wives, but it wasn’t long before that sin produced an even greater one: the worship of their false gods. Solomon’s lust for women turned into a loss of love for God.

Sin is so tempting, and it’s allure is real, making it a constant problem for men and women alike. And while Solomon wrote his proverbs a long time ago, some things never change. We still need to hear his words of wisdom and warning. He spends an entire Proverb warning his sons against the dangers of the immoral woman or prostitute. It was a problem then and it remains a problem today. Promiscuity is alive and well, and it may be even more acceptable today than ever before. The increase in casual sex and a growing comfortableness and complacency with sex outside the confines of marriage make this message particularly timely for our sex-saturated society. Solomon’s warning to his sons was necessary in his day and it is needed in ours as well. But it sounds so antiquated and puritanical! At least that’s what many in our society would say. But it is a warning against the lies of all temptations. Satan is the father of lies and the great deceiver. He loves to package his product in such a way that it hides the dangers within. He is the master of manipulation and deception, creating the allusion of pleasure, but all the while hiding the true consequences. The prostitute is a perfect illustration of his methodologies. She is attractive, flattering, enticing, and appeals to man’s basic instincts. She knows man’s weakness and aims right for it. The apostle John warned us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT).

That is Satan’s strategy. Everything he offers is designed to appeal to what we crave and desire, to fulfill our insatiable need for pleasure, and to satisfy our hunger for significance. A prostitute goes out of her way to make her “client” feel wanted, important, and significant. She offers to provide him with physical and emotional pleasure and to satisfy all his needs. But in the end, “her feet go down to death.” Like all sin, the consequences are dangerous and deadly. It never delivers as promised. It is the ultimate in false advertising, yet we fall prey to it each and every day in so many ways. We take the bait and suffer the consequences of broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, destroyed reputations, and shattered lives.

So what’s the solution? Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment. Solomon warns his sons in graphic detail of the dangers facing them. He doesn’t sugarcoat or ignore it. He paints a vivid and compelling picture of the dangers of sin. He talks openly about the consequences. He wanted them to know the truth and he was willing for his sons to learn from his own mistakes.

Our congregations need to hear the truth. The enemy is filling their minds with lies day after day, and he has more resources available than ever before. The media provides him with a constant venue for propagating his lies and distributing his message of falsehood. We need to speak truth. We need to share the wisdom of God’s Word. We need to promote the non-negotiable requirement of living according to God’s way – unapologetically and boldly. The dangers are real. The consequences are devastating. Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment are needed more than ever before.

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

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

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

 

Peace, Love, and Faith

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:21-24 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turns his attention to himself. He has written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of allegedly bringing Gentiles into the temple and defiling it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they wanted to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up having to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and King Agrippa. Eventually, he was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So, while under house arrest, he wrote this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being because he knew they were under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage, and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul was also aware that the believers to whom he had ministered so faithfully worried about him as well. They were concerned with his well-being and felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly them about his circumstances. With everything else going on in their lives, he didn’t want them worrying about him. So, he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Timothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He knew that they didn’t need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. But he could also be deeply compassionate, encouraging them in their weaknesses, and calling them to remain faithful. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. He shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love, and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the Ephesian church because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. And that kind of love is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love but is a natural expression of the love that God expressed to us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

All three of these attributes – peace, love, and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closes his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God.

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:24 ESV

The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserved or earned His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible and it is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving Him and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!

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

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

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