Set Apart By God

10 “He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
    that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
    bearing them on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him,
    no foreign god was with him.
13 He made him ride on the high places of the land,
    and he ate the produce of the field,
and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,
    and oil out of the flinty rock.
14 Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
    with fat of lambs,
rams of Bashan and goats,
    with the very finest of the wheat—
    and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape.

15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deuteronomy 32:10-18 ESV

The Lord’s song continues. It recounts how God discovered Jacob and his family, the nation of Israel, in Egypt, a desert land. God rescued the descendants of Jacob from their captivity in Egypt, where they had served as the slaves of Pharaoh for hundreds of years. God had heard their cries of despair and had sent Moses to be their deliverer.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. – Exodus 2:23-25 NLT

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saw the plight of His chosen people and responded with compassion. He protected them like a mother eagle would its chicks. Using Jacob as a synonym for Israel, the poem describes how God cared for His own.

he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye” – Deuteronomy 32:19 ESV

Centuries of captivity in a foreign land had not changed God’s feelings about Jacob and his descendants. The circumstances surrounding their years in Egypt were not to be seen as proof of God’s abandonment of them. The promise He had made to Abraham still held. In fact, it was during their stay in Egypt that the family of Jacob increased in number from just over 70 people to a great nation numbering in the millions.

But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:7 ESV

And this meteoric growth was exactly what God had promised Abraham so many years earlier when He had called out of Haran.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

God had kept His promise. But His ways are not man’s ways. His methods don’t always make sense to us. The nation of Israel was born out of adversity. It grew up in the context of slavery and servitude. It was a nation in bondage, enslaved by the enemy and incapable of delivering itself from its predicament.

And it was in the midst of their darkest moment that God stepped in and did for them what they could not do for themselves. He delivered them from bondage. He set them free from captivity. And their rescue is indicative of what God has done for all those whom He has rescued from slavery to sin.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Paul describes us as having been “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20). And Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 NLT). But He has set us free. And “if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).

The Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt. God guided them out of their captivity, having delivered from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. And when they left the land of Egypt, they did so with God alone as their guide and companion, having left the false gods of the Egyptians behind them. And God led them, fed them, and protected them all the way through the wilderness. But more than that, He taught them about obedience and faithfulness, using trials and difficulties to increase their trust in Him.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5 NLT

God was gracious and good to the people of Israel, providing them with an abundance of blessings in the form of tangible and practical resources intended to prolong and improve life.

…produce of the fields
…honey for from the cliffs
…olive oil from the hardest of rocks
…butter from the herd
…milk from the flock
…the fat of lambs
…rams and goats of Bashan
…the best of the kernels of wheat
…the juice of grapes

Even in the wilderness, they enjoyed the blessings of God. They ate well and were well-cared for by God. Even their wilderness experience was better than the years they had spent in captivity in Egypt. Walking with God in the wilderness is always better than living in slavery without Him.

God had set apart Israel as His own precious possession. They had done nothing to earn or deserve His gracious deliverance of them. And Moses had made this point quite clear earlier in the book of Deuteronomy.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

The blessings of God were undeserved. His love for them was not based on any inherent worth in them. And He would continue to love them, in spite of them.

But this song was intended to bring witness against the Israelites, convicting them of their unfaithfulness to God. And to do so, it accentuates the unmerited favor of God. When they had been helpless slaves, God heard their cries and rescued them. He set them free from their oppression and misery, making them His own chosen possession, “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV). But would they remain so? Were the Israelites going to honor the one who set them free by keeping His commands and living in obedience to His will for them?

Even as they stood on the edge of the promised land, preparing to cross over and claim it as their own, God was revealing the sad truth about their fate. They would become slaves yet again. The people whom God had set free would once again find themselves living in bondage and surrounded by false gods and foreign overlords. They had been set apart by God but would choose not to live that way. They had been made His precious possession but would end up as little more than the property of their enemies. And the next verses of the song will explain how this dramatic change in circumstances will happen.

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

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

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

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Love, Bless, and Multiply

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, 10 and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.

12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. 13 He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. 15 And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. 16 And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God will give over to you. Your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.– Deuteronomy 7:7-16 ESV

Moses desperately desired that the people of Israel come to understand just how much God loved them. And this radical, unfathomable love was totally undeserved. They had done nothing to earn the favor of God and, yet, He had chosen them as His own. It had not been their spiritual superiority or strength and size as a nation that had caused  God to single them out and shower them with His love and attention. No, according to Moses, they had been “the smallest of all nations!” (Deuteronomy 7:7 NLT). In fact, when God called Abram, they had not even existed as a nation. They had come into being because of the love, mercy, and will of God. They existed because God had promised Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation…” (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV).

And God had kept that promise to Abraham.  The book of Genesis records the fateful day when the family of Jacob (Israel) sought to escape a famine in Canaan by seeking refuge in Egypt where Jacob’s son, Joseph, had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land.

The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants who went with him to Egypt, not counting his sons’ wives, was sixty-six. In addition, Joseph had two sons who were born in Egypt. So altogether, there were seventy members of Jacob’s family in the land of Egypt. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT

But by the time the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt some 400 years later, God had transformed that family of less than 100 into a massive nation that numbered in the millions. We know from Exodus 12:37, that when the people began their journey from Egypt to the land of promise, that “There were about 600,000 men, plus all the women and children.” This would have been able-bodied men of adult age and qualified to fight in the army. So, if you factor in young men, women, and children, the number of Israelites who left Egypt could have been as high as 2.4 million people. God had clearly kept His promise to Abraham. And Moses drove home that point.

“…it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:8 NLT

God hadn’t just rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, He had transformed them into one of the largest people groups in that corner of the world. It was because of their sheer numbers that Pharaoh had begun to persecute and enslave them.

Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. – Exodus 1:8-11 NLT

But God had thwarted the plans of Pharaoh, by miraculously delivering the people of Israel from their bondage and leading them all the way to the land of promise. And Moses wanted the people to fully comprehend the amazing nature of their very existence and the unbelievable reality of God’s love for them.

“Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” – Deuteronomy 7:9 NLT

They were not to take God’s love lightly. It was essential that they not assume they had somehow earned His love and merited His favorable treatment of them. God’s love for them was an expression of His faithfulness. He had kept the promise He had made to Abraham, and all that He had done for the people of Israel up until that point was God being God. God is love and, by keeping His covenant, He was displaying His loving nature to not only the Israelites, but the rest of the world.

But while God is love, He is also righteous, holy, and just. And, because He is faithful, He takes covenant-making seriously. He keeps His covenants, and He fully expects those who covenant with Him to do the same. That included Israel.

So, back at Mount Sinai, when God had given His commandments to the people of Israel, He had told them:

“Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And when Moses had delivered God’s message to the people, they had responded:

“We will do everything the LORD has commanded.” – Exodus 19:8 NLT

They had agreed to keep the covenant God had made with them. And now, more than 40 years later, Moses was reminding them that God still expected them to keep that commitment. And he warned them that failure to do so would be catastrophic.

“…he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 7:10-11 NLT

The covenant God had made with Israel was conditional in nature. In other words, if they wanted to enjoy God’s continued blessings, they were going to have to keep their end of the agreement. They had promised to do everything God had commanded and He was going to hold them to their word. And if they did, He would bless them. In fact, Moses told them, “You will be blessed above all the nations of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:14 NLT).

And the blessings of God would manifest themselves in tangible and practical ways. They would be prolific, continuing to grow in number as they enjoyed God’s blessing of fertility. Even their flocks and herds would multiply under God’s loving hand. Barrenness would be non-existent and sickness would be virtually eliminated. None of the plagues they witnessed in Egypt would ever afflct them. God would protect and preserve them. But when it came to the occupants of the land of Canaan, God expected the Israelites to destroy them all, removing every single one of their false gods as they did so. God had set apart Israel as His own. He had deemed them to be holy. And He had set apart the land of Canaan as well. It was His land now and His people were to treat it with honor and reverence. Just as God would not tolerate unholiness among His people, they were not to tolerate the presence of unholiness in His land.

Just a few chapters later, Moses will clarify for the people of Israel why God expected them to remove all the nations from the land of Canaan.

“…it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness.” – Deuteronomy 9:4-5 NLT

And Moses will go on to drop a bombshell on the people of Israel, brutally informing them, “God is not giving you this good land because you are good, for you are not—you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:6 NLT).

The whole reason God wanted the land cleared of all the wicked who occupied it was because He knew that the presence of wickedness in the land would cause His chosen people to become unfaithful. Which is why Moses told them, “You must destroy all the nations the Lord your God hands over to you. Show them no mercy, and do not worship their gods, or they will trap you” (Deuteronomy 7:16 NLT).

God wanted to love, bless, and multiply His chosen people. But they were going to have to remain faithful to Him. He would not tolerate their disobedience of His law or their failure to keep the covenant they had made with Him. He was loving, but He was also holy, just, and righteous. He had proven His love for them. Now, He was demanding that they respond in loving obedience to Him.

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

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

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

 

 

 

Clay In Need of a Potter

Isaiah 64:8-12

Isaiah, fully aware of the corporate sins of the people of Judah, and his shared guilt as one of their number appealed to God to intervene. He knew that there was nothing they could do about their circumstances. They were facing God’s just and righteous judgment. He also knew that the likelihood of the people changing their rebellious behavior on their own accord and through their own strength was negligible. It wasn’t going to happen. And he had a long history of evidence to use in support of his premise.

So, Isaiah called out to God. He begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1 ESV). He knew the only hope they had was the supernatural intervention of God on their behalf. Unless He showed up like He did in Egypt when He released them from their captivity, the people of Judah would continue to live as slaves to sin and face their own exile in the land of Babylon.

And to paint an even bleaker picture, Isaiah describes Judah as being filled with sinners. In a rather blunt assessment, Isaiah states, “we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 NLT). Even if they were to dress up in their best efforts, wearing them before God like garments of righteousness, they would appear as filthy rags to God. In other words, Isaiah knew that the people of Judah were not going to earn their way into God’s good graces by self-produced righteousness. 

So, Isaiah addresses God as their Heavenly Father. He appeals to God’s divine parental instincts, and he utilizes a metaphor intended to illustrate God’s sovereignty and man’s dependency. Isaiah compares God to a potter and the people of Judah to a lifeless lump of clay. The relationship between the two, while symbiotic, is anything but co-equal. This real-world illustration is meant to juxtapose power with passivity and willfulness with submissiveness. And Isaiah wasn’t the one who came up with this compelling analogy. God had used the potter/clay comparison to drive home a point to the prophet Jeremiah.

The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Go down at once to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.” So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working at his wheel. Now and then there would be something wrong with the pot he was molding from the clay with his hands. So he would rework the clay into another kind of pot as he saw fit. – Jeremiah 18:1-4 NLT

Jeremiah was given a visual lesson on God’s sovereignty over His chosen people. Like a potter who fashions a lump of clay, God has the prerogative to do with His people as He sees fit. If He sees a flaw, He has every right to remake them according to His divine will. He doesn’t have to ask them for permission. It would be utterly ludicrous for a potter to seek advice from the clay. In fact, earlier in his book, Isaiah points out the absurdity of that image to the people of Judah.

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

And the apostle Paul picked up on the very same thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

We have no business casting doubt on God’s goodness or questioning His motives or intentions. But, like Isaiah, we can appeal to His sovereign will and humbly submit ourselves to His intervention in our lives. After all, as Isaiah puts it, we are all the work of His hands. He made us and He has every right to do with us as He sees fit. And we can rest in the fact that God does nothing in regards to us that is void of His love. As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT).

Isaiah acknowledges that God has every right to be angry with His rebellious people. They had repeatedly turned their backs on Him, practicing every imaginable form of idolatry. They had been unfaithful, and God was wholly justified in His anger towards them. Which is why Isaiah pleads with God, “Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever” (Isaiah 64:9 NLT). And He asks God to look down on their situation and recognize the sorry state of their condition. But all that Isaiah describes had not yet happened. He is painting a picture of Judah’s future as pre-ordained by God and prophesied by his very own lips. He describes their holy cities already as lying in ruins. Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was a burned-out shell of its former glory. All that had once been beautiful was an eyesore.

The fate of Judah was dark. And the hope of Judah was dim unless God intervened. So, Isaiah intercedes on behalf of his people, begging God, the potter, to take matters into His own hands.

After all this, Lord, must you still refuse to help us?
    Will you continue to be silent and punish us? – Isaiah 64:12 NLT

It is as if Isaiah had read Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:

…even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy. – Romans 9:22-23 NLT

Isaiah was counting on God’s patience and mercy. He was putting his hope in God’s character as a loving Father, and believing that He would once again make the riches of His glory shine bright on the people of Judah. No, they didn’t deserve it, but isn’t that the essence of mercy? It is God’s unmerited and undeserved favor, poured out by a loving God who does for His own what they could never have done for themselves.

Not only were they unwilling to change, but they were also incapable. Judah was were little more than a lump of clay in need of the hands of the potter. And Isaiah longed to see God refashion His people into vessels for honorable use (2 Timothy 2:20). He knew that their transformation would only happen through God’s power and, that way, God alone would get the glory. As Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

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

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

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

For My Own Sake, I Do It

1 Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel;     the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?     My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:1-11 ESV

This opening verses of chapter 48 are not pretty. In them, God is going to pronounce a series of stinging indictments against the people of Judah. In the preceding chapters, God has clearly articulated His unique status as the one true God. Repeatedly He has announced, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9 ESV). The false gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship in place of Him were nothing more than lifeless statues made by human hands. They were powerless and unreliable substitutes for the God of creation. And yet, God’s people, chosen by Him, were guilty of abandoning Him for false gods. Sure, they would have said that they still believed in Him, but their actions proved otherwise. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah:

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

God picks up that same theme in the opening verse of chapter 48, stating:

“Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.” – Isaiah 48:1

Don’t miss the significance of what God is saying here. God is reminding them that they are descendants of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. And His reference to the waters of Judah appears to be a figurative expression describing the nation’s birth through the tribe of Judah. Like the birth of a child being accompanied by water, the people of Judah were birthed by the divine will of God.  And these people, brought into being by the sovereign act of God and according to His mercy and divine favor, were quick to confess Him as their God, but “not in truth or right.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as, “not in an honest and just manner.” God is accusing them of blatant hypocrisy. They proudly proclaimed themselves to be children of God and residents of the capital city of Jerusalem. They even boasted of depending upon God. But the truth was quite different. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly told them about things that were going  to happen, and every one of these future events had taken place. And God explains that He told them in advance, so that when the prophecies took place as He decreed, they wouldn’t give credit to their false gods. Which He knew they would be prone to do.

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ – Isaiah 48:4-5 ESV

God had proven Himself reliable time and time again. He had provided them with ample evidence of His omniscience and omnipotence. He was all-knowing and all-powerful and yet, they continued to doubt His word and place their trust in worthless idols. So, now God tells them that He is going to reveal to them new things. This time they won’t be able to claim prior knowledge. He is about to do something never-before seen or spoken of.

“Now I will tell you new things, secrets you have not yet heard. They are brand new, not things from the past. So you cannot say, ‘We knew that all the time!’” – Isaiah 48:6-7 NLT

God exposes the people of Judah for what they were: Traitors, rebels, and over-confident, hard-headed children who refused to give God the glory and credit He deserved. They had a track-record of unfaithfulness and infidelity that stretched back to the very beginning. And yet, God informs them that He would preserve them. But God makes clear His reason for doing so. It would not be not because they deserved it, but because God was going to protect the integrity of His name. They were guilty of dragging His reputation through the mud. All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, God informed Moses and the people of Israel why He had chosen to rescue them from their captivity in Egypt.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-11 NLT

God rescued them because He had promised to do so. His integrity depended upon it. God cannot and will not lie. What He says, He does. What He promises, He fulfills. But the people of Judah had broken their commitments to God. They had disobeyed His commands, decrees and regulations – for generations. And prophet Ezekiel records the words of God spoken in accusation against the people of Israel.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV

And in Isaiah 48, God warns the people of Judah that He is going to refine them, purifying them like a metallurgist does silver – through intense heat. And He will do so for the sake of His own name.

“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11 ESV

When God eventually redeems the nation of Judah, there will be only one explanation: He did it. No false god will be able to take credit for it. And the salvation that God brings for His people will get the attention of the nations. They will see His sovereign power revealed in His miraculous redemption of His chosen people, and be amazed.

“And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

But there is far more to God’s message of redemption and restoration than the eventual return of the people of Judah to the land of Canaan. That would happen just as God had said. But Ezekiel goes on to state that God has something even more significant in store for His stubborn and stiff-necked people.

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 ESV

The day is coming when God will fulfill this promise. He will do for the people of Israel and Judah what they do not deserve and what they could never have accomplished on their own. It is the essence of redemption that the Redeemer purchase the release of those who had no chance of redeeming themselves. The apostle Peter reminds us, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). The faithfulness of God as opposed to the faithlessness of the people of God. That’s what these 11 verses stress. The people of Judah did not deserve to be God’s chosen people, but they were. They didn’t deserve His favor and had not earned His redemption. But because God cares about the integrity of His own name, He will do for them all that He has promised to do.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.”

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

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

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

The Favor of God.

 1 And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.”

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. – Isaiah 4:1-6 ESV

The opening verse of chapter four ties directly to the coming judgment of God revealed in chapter three. Because of the rebellion of the people of Judah and their refusal to place their trust in God, He would bring devastating, yet well-deserved judgment upon them. And this would come about through the Babylonian empire. God would cause this powerful pagan nation to place Jerusalem under siege, eventually destroying their capital city and taking captive many of the most wealthy and influential of its inhabitants. They would also take all those who had skills or abilities that could benefit the Babylonian nation, not to mention thousands of Judah’s finest warriors.

And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. – 2 Kings 24:16 ESV

This would leave a dearth of able-bodied men back in Judah. Which is why Isaiah describes seven women fighting over a single eligible bachelor to claim as their husband so that they might not face the reproach of being unmarried in a patriarchal society. Isaiah describes the degree of their desperation by having them barter for a man by offering to provide their own food and clothing. In other words, they would be willing to reverse the normal roles in marriage by acting as the provider.

The phrase, “in that day” appears repeatedly in the book of Isaiah, and can be a reference to the coming fall of Judah to the Babylonians. But as we have seen before, the prophecies of this book carry a now/not yet aspect to them. They will be fulfilled in the not-so-distant future. In this case, it refers to the fall and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC to the Babylonians. But “in that day” also refers to a much more significant fulfillment to the prophecies of this book. There remain aspects of Isaiah’s prophetic pronouncements that remain unfulfilled, and the rest of this short chapter deal with that coming day.

Up until this point in Isaiah’s book, the future described for Judah has been a bleak and foreboding one. It involves the wrath and judgment of God. It will include the fall of Judah to the Babylonians, but also even greater devastation and divine discipline that will come at a much later date – a time that has not yet come.

And in verses 2-6, God reveals that the future for Judah is not all doom and gloom. While they will face His judgment, they will also enjoy His divine favor. God has a glorious future in store for them, in spite of all their unfaithfulness and their refusal to place their trust in Him. And it seems perfectly clear that this promise from God remains unfulfilled. It has not yet taken place. Isaiah writes:

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. – Isaiah 4:2 ESV

While some see the phrase, “the branch of the Lord” as a messianic statement, referring to Jesus Christ, it is better translated as “the vegetation of the Lord.” The NET Bible translates verse two as “the crops given by the Lord will bring admiration and honor.” The land left desolate and devoid of vegetation by the judgments of God will be renewed and restored by God. While aspects of this prophecy were fulfilled after the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians, they were incomplete. This is referring to a far-more-distant point in time, at the end of the period of Tribulation. At that time, God will enact a scorched-earth policy on the world, bringing devastating, never-before-seen judgments in the form of plagues, famines and meteorological disturbances that will impact the earth’s food supply.

And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. – Revelation 8:7 ESV

…and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. – Revelation 8:8-9 ESV

A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. – Revelation 8:11 ESV

The land of Judah will suffer greatly, along with the rest of the world. But God promises to restore the land to its original fruitfulness. The land of Israel will become a land flowing with milk and money yet again. It will be used by God to supply the physical needs of the people of God. But there is more.

God is going to restore His people spiritually. He is going to do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. God’s judgments will have resulted in the purging of the stains of sin from His people. And Isaiah states that those who remain in the nation of Israel and the city of Judah will be called holy or set apart by God once again, “when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning” (Isaiah 4:4 ESV). Not only will He restore the land to fruitfulness, but He will also restore His people to faithfulness. And the prophet Ezekiel wrote about this coming day.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 ESV

It is quite obvious that this prophecy remains unfulfilled. But it will be – in the future. God will keep His promise. Isaiah further describes the unique nature of “the day:”

Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5 ESV

God will restore His presence among them, revealing Himself in the same two forms He had used during their exodus from Egypt.

The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. – Exodus 13:12 ESV

No more fires of judgment from the throne room of God. Rather than rain down fire from heaven in judgment, He will reveal Himself as a guiding and protecting flame.

And Isaiah reveals that God’s glory will cover His people, just as it had filled and covered the tabernacle during their days in the wilderness.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.… For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys. – Exodus 40:34, 38

God will be their protector and provider. While the human leaders in whom they had placed their hope and trust had failed them, God would not. This future day will be like none other the people of Judah had ever experienced. And the book of Revelation provides us with a glimpse of just how glorious it will be.

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:2-4 ESV

God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He always does what He has promised to do. And while He would punish Judah for its sins, He would also restore them because of His everlasting, neverending love and abundant grace and mercy.

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

Why Do You Wonder?

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” Acts 3:11-16 ESV

When reading the book of Acts, it is easy to focus on the miracles that are described within it: The tongues of fire and the sound of roaring wind that accompanied the coming of the Spirit, the disciples speaking in foreign languages, and the remarkable acts of healing and casting out of demons that took place on a regular basis. In this chapter, Luke records Peter’s healing of a man who had been unable to walk since the day he had been born. He had been relegated to begging for alms at the Temple gate. But, in the name of Jesus, Peter restored this man’s ability to walk, right in front of the crowds gathered for the hour of prayer at the Temple. And as the news of this incredible miracle spread and the crowd grew, Peter took advantage of the situation. He used the miracle of the man’s healing as an opportunity to speak to the crowd that had gathered, and this becomes the real focus of Luke’s retelling of this event.

The context is extremely important. Luke makes it clear that they are on Temple grounds, and that Peter delivers his message in Solomon’s Portico. This is important, because it clearly establishes the fact that the makeup of the crowd to which Peter is going to speak is predominantly, if not, exclusively Jewish. There may have been Gentiles in the audience, but the majority would have been converts to Judaism. Solomon’s Portico encompassed what was called the Court of the Gentiles, a large open area the surrounded the Temple precinct. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were allowed in this area, but were forbidden to enter the main Temple area, under penalty of death.

Luke states that Peter, recognizing the huge crowd that had gathered, and their astonishment at the news of the lame man’s healing, spoke these words: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12 ESV). His entire attention was focused on his fellow Jews who, like him, had come at the ninth hour for prayer. They had come at the regularly scheduled hour to offer their prayers to Yahweh but, instead, they had witnessed the unexpected. Their normal habits and daily duties had been interrupted by something miraculous and out-of-the-ordinary. And Peter knew what they were thinking. He was fully aware that the crowds were whispering and pointing at he and John, wondering who they were and how they were able to heal the lame beggar. But Peter makes it clear to the crowd that the miracle they had just witnessed had not been their doing, but God’s. He refers to “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers” (Acts 3:13 ESV), attributing to their own God the power behind the miracle. And he reminds them that this same God had “glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13 ESV).

Peter takes an abrupt, but fully intentional turn in the focus of his talk. He gets the attention off of the healing of the lame man on onto the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And, it’s at this point, we must recall another occasion, when Jesus and His disciples found themselves at this very same spot in the Temple grounds, speaking to a gathering of Jews,

22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

31 Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”

33 They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.” – John 10:22-32 NLT

Jesus had proved His claim to be the Messiah through the many miracles He had performed. But the people of Israel had refused to accept Him as their Messiah. He had accused them of not being His sheep. He had declared that only those whom God had given to Him would receive eternal life. And this had infuriated the crowds that day. So much so, that they had picked up stones to kill Him.

And the amazing thing is that they eventually did kill Him, but not with stones. They turned Him over to the Roman authorities and had them do their dirty work for them. And Peter pulls no punches in accusing the Jews in the crowd standing before him that they were guilty of killing their own Messiah – “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15 ESV). The crucifixion of Jesus would have still been fresh on the minds of all those in Jerusalem. It had been a well-documented and well-attended event. Jesus had become a popular and well-known figure throughout the land of Israel. And news of His triumphal entry and subsequent death would have spread to every corner of the city. There would have also been plenty of rumors regarding the supposed resurrection of Jesus. News of the mysterious disappearance of His body would have circulated and the claims that He had been seen alive by His disciples would have spread like wildfire. And Peter takes advantage of the situation to boldly claim that Jesus was indeed alive and it was by the power associated with His name that the lame man had been healed.

“And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” – Acts 3:16 ESV

Do you see what Peter is doing? For the Jews gathered in Solomon’s Portico, Jesus had been exposed as a fraud and a fake. While they may have at one time believed He was the Messiah, those beliefs had died along with Him as He hung on the cross. He was not what they had been expecting. He didn’t come in power and set up His kingdom on earth. For all intents and purposes, this Jesus had been nothing more than a man who made bold, even blasphemous claims, to be the Son of God. But He had died. And Peter reminds them that, “you denied the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14 ESV) and “you killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15 ESV).

And yet, here were Peter and John, two of this dead man’s disciples, performing the very same kind of miracles He had done. Here they were, standing in Solomon’s Portico, where Jesus had been accused of blasphemy and threatened with stoning for claiming to be God. And Peter and John must have recalled the words of Jesus, spoken to the crowds that day.

36 “why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. 37 Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. 38 But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

Jesus had proven who He was. His miracles had given ample evidence of His deity. He had adequately proven His divinity and God-given role as the Messiah. But the Jews had refused to believe. They had put Him to death for being exactly who He had claimed to be. And Pilate had prophetically ordered that a sign be placed over His head on the cross, that read, “King of the Jews.” Jesus had been put to death for being the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But Peter points out that God raised Him from the dead. He restored Jesus to life and glorified Him by returning Him to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And it was because Jesus had gone that the Spirit had come. And because the Spirit had come, the disciples had received power from on high. They were able to perform the same miracles Jesus had done while He lived on this earth. They preached the same message of repentance. He was not gone. He was alive and well, revealing His presence and power through the lives of His followers.

Peter asks the crowd, “Why do you wonder?” He wants to know why they are surprised at what they had just witnessed. This was nothing more than a continuation of the works of Jesus that He had performed while He had lived among them. And it was all in keeping with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the living fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. One day, in the city of Nazareth, reading from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus spoke these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Then, Jesus had made this bold claim: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). He was the Messiah. And Peter and John were once again providing ample proof that Jesus was exactly who He had claimed to be. He was alive and His name alone provided power to comfort the poor, provide release for the captives, healing to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the favor of God among men.

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

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

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

Relate Like It.

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

As Christians, our relationships are to be primary opportunities to live out our new relationship with Christ and to exhibit externally, the inner transformation that is taking place in our hearts because of the work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no more intimate and important relationship than the one between a husband and a wife. Peter was dealing with a situation where there were a growing number of individuals coming to faith in Christ who found themselves married to unbelieving spouses. Keep in mind the locations of those to whom he was writing: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were living in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern western Turkey. Not all of his audience would have been Gentiles, because there were literally millions of Jews who had relocated and settled in these very same provinces. But whether Gentiles or Jews, the recipients of his letter were believers who, in many cases, had become followers of Christ without their spouses. This important point will factor into what Peter has to say, because our behavior, as Christians, can have a significant impact on our lost relationships, especially with our unbelieving spouses.

Peter begins with the women. and his words continue to leave many modern-day women shaking their heads and labeling Peter as a male chauvinist. His counsel comes across as archaic and a product of some ancient cultural paradigm that has long lost its relativity. Peter begins his address to wives, saying, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). He would not be the only apostle to communicate this information. Paul would write virtually the same thing: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). He would repeat this statement to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Then, in his letter to Titus, Paul provides even more detail, when he challenges the older women in the church:

…train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. – Titus 2:4-5 NLT

Whether we like what these men have to say, we have to take their words seriously, because they speak for God – that is, if you believe they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which I do. These are not two 1st-Century Jewish males sharing their personal opinions about women. They are not misogynists. They don’t hate women and are not attempting to place them in a subservient position to their more superior male counterparts. And yet, this is how many modern-day Christians interpret these passages.

What we tend to miss is the definition of the word Peter and Paul use for submission. It is the Greek word, hypotassō, which means “to subject one’s self.” There is a willingness involved, a self-determination or personal decision to submit to another out of love and, in this case, obedience to the will of God. Remember what Paul said? Women are to do it “as to the Lord.”  He says, it is “fitting for those who belong to the Lord.” It is what those who belong to God should do. And Peter makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if the woman’s husband is a believer or not. There is a witness involved in all of this. He states that when wives willingly subject themselves to the leadership of their husbands, “Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). What Peter (and by extension, God) is interested in is godly living. This isn’t about rights and privileges, status and personal authority. It is about the cause of Christ, the name of God, and the witness of our lives in a lost and dying world.

But as if this wasn’t enough and Peter had not stepped on enough toes, he wades into even more deadly waters, giving advice on women’s clothing, hair and makeup. Was he just a glutton for punishment or was there a method to his madness? He gives his female readers the following Spirit-inspired counsel:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

The first thing we gravitate towards is the fashion advice. It seems that he is telling them how to dress. But what is his real point? “Clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within.” Peter is contrasting our natural obsession with the exterior aspects of our lives with that of the interior, spiritual dimension that reflects the nature of our heart. He talks of inner beauty and the spirit within. How we look is to be far less significant to us than how we behave. And our behavior is a product of our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23 NLT). 

Peter is simply reminding the women in his audience that dressing up the exterior of their lives means nothing if they give no importance to the interior condition of their hearts. They become little more than hypocrites, what Jesus called white-washed tombs. They look great on the outside, but their interiors are filled with death and decay. And that can be true of both women and men.

Peter gives additional insight into what he is saying by comparing the behavior of the “modern-day” women to whom he is writing with the “the holy women of old” (1 Peter 3:5 NLT). There are several points of interest in what he writes and they all relate to the subject of submission. First of all, he says these women of old made themselves beautiful by placing their hope in God. They trusted God for their lives, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lives. He uses Sarah as an example. She submitted to her husband, Abraham. But how? Remember, it was he who received the call of God to leave Ur and travel to a land yet to be named. And Sarah willingly followed her husband’s lead, even though it meant leaving her family behind. She was inherently trusting God, because her husband was not quite sure how all of this was going to work out. Even later on, when they found themselves moving to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, she went along with her husband’s counsel to pawn herself off as his sister. She trusted Abraham, because she was really trusting God.

Secondly, Peter points out that Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him “master.” Why? Because she believed he was following the leadership of Yahweh, God Almighty. So, she listened and obeyed. She showed him respect. She didn’t ridicule or belittle him, even when what he said didn’t work out for the best or seem to make any sense. She was trusting God. Third, Sarah was being transformed on the inside. She had her own set of issues. She struggled with doubt and disbelief. And by following her husband’s leadership, she was having her heart changed by God. Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example of someone who did what was right, according to the will of God. And he tells his female readers that they will be daughters of Sarah if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6 NLT). Submitting to a Christian husband is scary enough. Submitting to a lost one can be petrifying. But both situations require trust in God. There will be fearful days and moments of doubt. There will be situations that come up where the husband seems to lack any leadership skills or is devoid of common sense. But at the end of the day, believing women are to put their trust in God. They are to see themselves as those who “belong to the Lord” as Paul said. They are to submit, not because their husband deserves it or has earned it, but because it is fitting to the Lord. It reveals a heart that is submissive to God. And He finds that far more attractive than the outward beauty that comes from clothes, cosmetics or jewelry.

These are not easy words for women to hear. They are counter-cultural and seem to go against the grain. But Peter is speaking of deep-seated heart issues. He is addressing matters of character and Christ-likeness. Because when all is said and done, Peter is concerned about our witness in the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and our lives are to be a testimony to His life-transforming, counter-cultural calling on our lives.

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

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

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

Why Have I Found Favor?

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Ruth 2:8-13 ESV

When Boaz had arrived on the scene, he immediately noticed the young woman following behind his reapers in the field. He didn’t recognize her, so he asked his foreman who she was. He replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab” (Ruth 2:6 NLT). He explained to Boaz how she had shown up and asked for permission to follow the harvesters and gather up any grain left on the grown. According to the foreman, Ruth had worked long and hard. “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Whatever business had brought Boaz to the field that day suddenly took a back seat as he became intrigued with this young Moabite woman. There is no sense of sexual attraction or love at first sight in the passage. Boaz had simply heard the stories about his young lady and was fascinated to find her gleaning in his field. He had obviously been positively impacted by what he had heard about her loss and her commitment to accompany Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem. And now, here she was gathering grain in order to feed her mother-in-law. He later told Ruth:

“I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

When Boaz first spoke to Ruth, he called her “daughter,” using the Hebrew term bath, which is a term of endearment. We know from Ruth 3:10 that Boaz was probably older than Ruth and so his use of this term makes sense. It was a common form of greeting used by older men to younger women. At this point in the story, it seems that Boaz’s interest in Ruth is purely platonic and he simply wants to show her compassion and do what he can to lighten the load she taken on of caring for her widowed mother-in-law. He gives her free reign to glean anywhere in his field and a guarantee of his personal protection.

The actions of Boaz leave Ruth a bit surprised. She is amazed at the incredible kindness and favor of Boaz. And yet, that very morning she had asked permission of Naomi, saying, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was chen and it refers to grace, favor or acceptance. And yet, when Boaz treated her the way he did, she fell on her face before him and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10 ESV). She used the same Hebrew word again. She had left that morning hoping to experience grace and favor, but she was surprised when she experienced it. It caught her off guard. After all, she was a foreigner. She was a widow. She was poor. Evidently, back in the land of Moab, the kind of response she had received from Boaz would have been rare or simply non-existent. The very fact that Boaz, a well-to-do Jew, would even acknowledge her presence, let alone show her favor, was mind-boggling to Ruth.

This story is reminiscent of another encounter between a Jewish man and a foreign woman. When Jesus was traveling through Samaria, He encountered a Samaritan woman drawing water at a well. He struck up a conversation with her, asking her for water. She too, was shocked that this Jewish man would notice her, let alone speak to her. She replied to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9 ESV). Jews not only viewed Samaritans as foreigners, but as the lowest of the low. They despised them. And yet, here was Jesus, a Jew, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. And just like Boaz, Jesus would go on to show this woman unexpected and undeserved favor, offering her “living water.” Jesus told her, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). That woman’s life was radically and permanently changed that day. She became a believer in Jesus Christ and discovered the living water that would remove her unquenchable spiritual thirst once and for all.

Ruth too, was about to have her life changed. She was just beginning to experience what grace and favor look and feel like. She was a foreigner. She was poor and had nothing to offer Boaz by way of payment for his kindness. Not only that, Ruth was a Moabite, and as such, she was looked down upon and despised by the Jews. She was even forbidden to enter the assembly to worship the God of the Jews. This poor woman was destitute, defenseless, despised and in desperate need of mercy. And she would find it in Boaz.

As this story unfolds, we will see many similarities between the kindness, grace, and mercy of Boaz and that which we have received from Christ. In fact, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, that we were once in a very similar state as that of Ruth.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

The undeserved favor of God. Those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior have experienced it firsthand. And it is partially the result of Boaz showing favor to Ruth that our Savior was eventually born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as a descendant of Ruth and Boaz. As Boaz showed favor to Ruth, he was actually extending the favor of God to all mankind, paving the way for the arrival of the Messiah and His offer of living water.

Just Lucky, I Guess.

Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.

When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity. – Esther 2:12-18 ESV

A year has passed. During that time, Esther, along with all the other young women who had been gather, has been receiving “beauty treatments.” This regimen of highly regulated dietary and cosmetic treatments was designed to make the young ladies as beautiful as possible. These women were the most beautiful in the land, but they were not yet “good enough” for King Xerxes. So they were being prepared to appear as what they were auditioning to be: The Queen of Persia.

After 12-months of preparation, which more than likely included classes in etiquette and royal protocol, each young lady was given her opportunity to appear before the king. The passage presents this encounter in a rather pedestrian fashion: “In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines” (Esther 2:14 ESV). It would be easy to read right through this and not notice that this “audition” lasted from sunset to sunrise. This was far more than a beauty pageant. Each woman was expected to be pleasing to the king, and would be judged by her beauty and, more than likely, for her ability to please the king sexually. Esther and her companions were part of the royal harem, not the serving staff. They were there to please and bring pleasure to the king. It is easy to gloss over this somewhat obvious point when reading the story of Esther. Yet, when the time came for Esther to go before the king, she would have been expected to do far more than look pretty and answer a few questions.

There is a palpable and intended tension in this story. We are introduced to Esther in the opening verses of this chapter. Her Hebrew name is Hadassah. Her pagan or Persian name is Esther. She is an orphaned Hebrew living with her older uncle, who has adopted her as his own. They are part of a community of Jews living in the capital of Susa, who were originally taken captive when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Judah. The Babylonians were later defeated by the Persians and the Jews simply found themselves slaves with new taskmasters. Esther’s Hebrew heritage is a vital part of the story. When she was taken into the king’s custody as part of his edict to search for a new queen, her uncle instructed her to hide her true identity. She was to go by her Persian name. She was not to disclose the fact that she was a Jew. And it seems that Mordecai instructed Esther to go along with the flow, to submit herself to the king’s plans. At no point does she appear to have resisted the king’s command or attempt to escape her obvious fate. She knew she was part of the king’s harem. She knew what she was being prepared to do. And her uncle Mordecai knew as well.

In all of this, there appears to be a subtle hint at Mordecai’s belief in the sovereignty of God. He does not know exactly what is going on, but he seems to have a confidence that God is at work in some form or fashion. He believes that there is a reason behind Esther being chosen. Yes, he could have counseled Esther to resist the king’s command and she would have likely been put to death. Instead, he instructed her to submit to the king’s authority. There seems to be a silent submission to the will of God in all of this as well. Perhaps it is just a simple case of Mordecai hoping that Esther never gets chosen, that she somehow fails the test and is allowed to return home. But most likely, Mordecai knew that Esther would remain a permanent part of the king’s harem, whether she became queen or not. She was not returning. Her fate was sealed. And because of the rest of the story, it seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth sense that there was something divine going on in all of this.

We read, “Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). There is a striking similarity between the life of Esther and that of Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Both were Hebrew young people who found themselves living in a pagan land and thrust into unexpected and unwanted circumstances that were out of their control. And yet, both seemed to thrive. We read repeatedly that Joseph found favor with those for whom he worked. And Moses makes it clear that the reason behind Joseph’s favor was God. God was blessing Joseph in all that he did, and that divine favor was felt by Joseph’s superiors. The same thing seems to be happening with Esther. She found favor with “Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And then we are told that “when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17-18 ESV).

She was chosen queen. The contest was over. The tryouts were called off. Somehow Esther, the young Jewish girl, had caught the eye of the king and found herself wearing the royal crown. It would be so easy to read this part of the story and simply write it off to luck. Or to simply conclude that Esther must have been gorgeous. But there is that subtle thread of God’s sovereignty flowing throughout the story, from beginning to end. This is not a case of fate or kismet. This is the hand of God. And Mordecai seems to be aware that his God is doing something with the life of Esther, to prepare her for a purpose far greater than anything she could have ever imagined. Again, like Joseph, she finds herself in a place where questions outnumber the answers. Her head was swirling. Her mind was having a hard time grasping the significance of what had just happened. She had gone from obscurity to a life of wealth and royalty. She was the queen of Persia. But why? What was the purpose behind her favor with the king? What was it that God was doing? Why had she been chosen over all the other women in the king’s harem? In time, God would answer all those questions and more. He would reveal His will. He would divulge His plan and show her the part she was destined to play.

Once, For All.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. – Hebrews 7:23-28 ESV

The sacrificial systems of the Jews (and the priests who administered it) was designed to be temporary or impermanent, not only in its duration, but in its efficaciousness. As the author clarifies in chapter ten, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). Why? “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). He goes on to say that God never really wanted and was never pleased or satisfied by the sacrifices that consisted of the blood of bulls and goats – even though they were required by the law of Moses (Hebrews 10:12). They were intended to be a foreshadowing of something far greater to come. The blood offerings were meant to demonstrate the costliness of sin. Which is why the author says, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Even the priests who ministered under the old covenant, the covenant of law, were impermanent, hampered by the reality of their own mortality. And as long as they lived, they had to continually offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could come into God’s presence on behalf of the people. Their own susceptibility to sin and vulnerability to death made them less-than-perfect representatives for the people. They couldn’t stop sinning and they couldn’t keep from dying. And eventually, with the destruction of the Jerusalem and the captivity of the people in Babylon, the temple would become non-existent and the priesthood, non-essential.

So back to chapter seven. Jesus is a better high priest. And while there were many priests under the old covenant, there was only one necessary under the new. Jesus was enough. He was sufficient. And the sacrifice He made was a one-time sacrifice, never needing to be repeated. His offering, the spilling of His own blood, completely appeased or propitiated the requirements of a holy God. “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27 ESV). His sacrifice was efficacious or effective. It accomplished exactly what was intended, paying the penalty for man’s sin and securing a verdict of “not guilty” from the lips of the Judge of the universe.

Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice on His own behalf, because He was without sin. And the sacrifice He made was His own life. He was both the priest and the offering. He gave His life so that we might live and never die. Peter tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NLT). The bulls, goats and lambs that were sacrificed on behalf of the people of Israel died permanent deaths. But Jesus died only to be raised again to life by the power of the Spirit of God. Paul would remind us, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). Now that’s a better high priest. He has done what no other priest before Him had ever done. He has reconciled sinful men to a righteous, holy God. He made fellowship with a sinless God possible for sinful people. No more trying to earn our way into God’s good graces. No more striving to keep the law in an attempt to keep God satisfied. “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.” (Hebrews 7:25 NLT). But there’s the rub. We have to come to God through Him. It has to be based on His efforts, not our own. Salvation is the result of the work of Christ, not our human effort. As Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Jesus is our high priest. He has offered Himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice. He has paid the debt we owed. And as John so clearly reminds us, “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true God. We are in union with the one who is true, his Son Jesus the Messiah, who is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ISV). We need no other priest. God requires no other sacrifice. There is no debt still owed. Jesus has taken care of our sin problem, once for all.