The Power to Obey

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philemon 1:21-35 ESV

Paul’s use of the word “obedience” seems odd in light of the fact that this entire letter has been couched in terms of a request. Just a few verses earlier, Paul had admitted that he could have used his authority as an apostle and simply issued a command to Philemon but he had refused to do so. He wanted this to be Philemon’s decision.

…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you… – Philemon 1:8 ESV

Because all of this revolved around a relationship, Paul had not wanted to dictate the terms of Philemon’s decision or to use coercion to force his hand. He knew that any healing between the two men would have to come from the heart and not the head.

I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. – Philemon 1:14 ESV

So, what prompts Paul to bring up obedience at this point in his letter? And why does he express such confidence that Philemon will do the right thing? I think it goes back to what Paul knew and believed about Philemon. He had every confidence that Philemon would respond positively and correctly because of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember what he said about his friend earlier in his letter: “I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” (Philemon 1:5  ESV).

Philemon had a track record of doing the right thing. And Paul was confident that his friend would face this latest test with the wisdom and strength of the indwelling Spirit of God. Philemon was not left to his own devices or relegated to operating according to his sinful flesh. He was a new creation. He had a new heart. He had a supernatural power available to him that would enable him to respond with justice, mercy, grace, and love.

Paul’s confidence was in the power of God to reform the hearts of men. He knew that the reconciliation of these two men was God’s will and that God would equip Philemon with the strength to obey that will. Paul knew from personal experience that, because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, nothing was impossible. He confidently told the believers in Philippi,  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).

His prayer for the believers in Ephesus had been that God would “from his glorious, unlimited resources…empower you with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16 NLT). And Paul had been confident that God would answer that prayer, boldly claiming, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).

Paul believed that Philemon would obey the will of God because Paul believed in the power of God. His job had been to present the facts of the case to Philemon and then leave the result up to the Spirit of God. The resolution of the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus was going to have to be divinely empowered. It had to be a “God thing.” If Philemon tried to accomplish this in his own strength, he would fail. If he attempted to muster up the resolve to free Onesimus from slavery and treat him as a brother in Christ, only to please Paul, he would end up having regrets and harboring resentment over his financial losses.

If Philemon’s motivation to do the right thing came from an external source, his decision, no matter how righteous in nature, would be shortlived. It wouldn’t last. But Paul had every confidence that God was going to work a miracle of heart-transformation between these two men. And, as a result, God would get the glory. The news of their reconciliation would spread. The paradigm-shifting precedence of Philemon emancipating his former slave and treating him as his social and spiritual equal would leave an indelible mark on the community. And the only explanation would be the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Paul rested in the knowledge that God would accomplish far more than even he could imagine. Philemon, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, would far exceed Paul’s words of counsel and his hopes for reconciliation.

He closes his letter by asking Philemon to prepare a room for him. He fully expected to be released from his house arrest at any moment and had every desire to visit his friends in Asia Minor. And, as always, Paul was grateful for the prayers of all those who had been praying for him during his confinement in Rome. Never one to take the petitions of others lightly, Paul found great encouragement in the knowledge that his needs were being lifted to God’s throne in heaven. And he believed that God would answer those prayers.

Finally, Paul provides Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus with greetings from some of their mutual friends. He includes Epaphras, an evangelist whom Paul describes as “my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:23 ESV). This doesn’t mean that Epaphras was imprisoned with Paul in Rome, but that as a fellow minister of the Gospel, he shared the risks that Paul did. He was “imprisoned” or held captive to his role as an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

Paul adds the names of four other individuals and then closes his letter with the words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 1:21 ESV). And it’s hard to imagine that Paul did not have in mind the words spoken to him by God regarding the empowering nature of His grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Philemon had all the power he needed to do all that God was calling him to do.

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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A Model Prayer.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer simply to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every prayer we pray. It provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He is responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinityand our own humanity. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We should never fail to remember that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later boldy claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God:

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. An individual’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to Him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Despite what we may believe, prayer is not primarily an opportunity to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and when we get to provide Him with a lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are unable to make requests of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

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 Matchless Grace of God.

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.

“‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” Joshua 24:1-13 ESV

The last chapter revealed that “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (Joshua 23:1 ESV). He knew his days were numbered and his time for leading the people of Israel was coming to an end. So, in this closing chapter of the book of Joshua, we see him attempting to prepare them for the next phase of their spiritual and physical journey with God. And he chose to prepare them for the future by looking at the past. Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem. This was an important location that held significant memories for the Israelites. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to God, in response to the promise made to him by God: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). At that point in time, Abraham had no children, a barren wife, and the land was filled with Canaanites. But it was a promise made to him by God and Abraham took God at His word. 

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. – Genesis 15:6 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua and the offspring of Abraham stood on the very same spot where Abraham had built his altar to God. It was at this strategic location that Joshua chose to give the people a brief, but vital history lesson. But from the outset, he let them know that this was actually a message from Yahweh, prefacing his remarks, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2 ESV). This was a message from God Himself, reminding His people of the role He had played in their founding as a nation. And the entire timeline concerning God’s interactions with the nation of Israel is filled with exampled of His unmerited grace and favor. He began with the call of Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolatrous pagan living beyond the Euphrates River in the land of Ur. God had chosen Abraham, not the other way around. God, in His grace and according to His sovereign will, had picked Abraham out of all the other inhabitants on the earth at the time. Notice that God mentions Nahor, the brother of Abraham, but that he was not the one selected. God’s choice was Abraham, and in spite of his idolatrous background. God had plans for Abraham, and those plans included a long and arduous journey to the land of Canaan. It was in Canaan that God provided Abraham with a son, Isaac. And, once again, this abbreviated version of the story stressed God’s matchless grace. It fails to mention Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barrenness. It doesn’t point out their failure to trust God and their attempts to bring about His promise through human means. Abraham had tried to convince God to accept his manservant, Eliezer, as his heir. Sarah had tried to help God out by convincing Abraham to have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. But God had something far greater in mind. He was the God of the impossible and His promise was not going to be fulfilled through human cunning and cleverness. Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, another example of God’s grace. And from this one son came Jacob and Esau, from whom would come the nations of Israel and Edom. And while the Edomites would settle in the land of Seir, it was God’s sovereign will that the Israelites end up in Egypt, just as God had promised to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 14:13 ESV

Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, ended up in Egypt where he became the second-highest ranking official in the land. And a famine in the land of Canaan forced his father and brothers to turn to Egypt for aid, reuniting the family and fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Jacob would remain in Egypt for 400 years, until God sent Moses to set them free from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh. Once again, a picture of God’s grace, because they had long ago stopped worshiping Him as God. During their four-century stay in Egypt they had begun to worship the false gods of Egypt. But God graciously delivered them, using a series of plagues to prove to them that He was the one and only God. God had told Moses:

6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

And their exodus from Egypt had culminated with God’s gracious deliverance of the people of Israel from certain death at banks of the Red Sea. They had walked out of Egypt, only to find themselves standing at the shore of the sea with the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on them. And the people saw their situation as hopeless.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:11-12 ESV

But God had graciously delivered them that day. And He had led them through the wilderness. He had taken to the land of Canaan. He had provided them with victories over their enemies. He had defeated Balak, thwarted the plans of Balaam, handed over the city of Jericho, and given them possession of the land, just as He had promised to do nearly half a century earlier. Over and over again, God stressed His role in their corporate story.

I took… (vs 3)

I led… (vs 3)

I made… (vs 4)

I gave… (vs 4, 8, 11, 13)

I sent… (vs 5, 12)

I plagued… (vs 5)

I did… (vs 5)

I brought… (vs 5, 6)

I destroyed… (vs 8)

I delivered… (vs 10)

And God summarized it all with the statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). From the moment God had called Abraham to the day they had begun to occupy the land and enjoy the fruits it provided, God had been actively, graciously working on their behalf. Their entire history had been His story. He had done it all. From beginning to end. And it had all been an act of grace of God’s part – totally undeserved and unmerited. And God had done it all so that He might fulfill His divine plan to send His Son as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had preordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. God’s plan was far greater in scope than just the occupation of a land somewhere in the Middle East by a particular people group. It was about the redemption of mankind and the future restoration of His creation. It was about the ultimate defeat of sin and death, not just the conquest of Canaan. Each and every part of Israel’s story was an expression of God’s grace and mercy, as He orchestrated His plan for the salvation of mankind. God was reminding His people that the many blessings they enjoyed were the result of His grace, not their inherent goodness or greatness.

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

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

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

An Unexpected Ally.

1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out. – Joshua 2:1-7 ESV

JerichoYou would think that Joshua would have learned from Moses’ experience from 40 years earlier. It was at that time that Moses had sent spies into the land of Canaan. Upon their return, the spies had good news and bad news. They had found the land to be rich in produce and abundant in natural resources, but it was also occupied by well-armed nations living in well-fortified cities. And while the spies had brought back proof of the kinds of fruit available in the land, the people only heard the bad news and chose to rebel against Moses and Aaron, refusing to enter the land God had given them.

27 “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” – Numbers 13:27-29 ESV

But, in spite of what had happened four decades earlier, Joshua sent in two spies. Their mission was to reconnoiter the area surrounding the city of Jericho. Jericho was not a large city, but it was located on the eastern border of the land of Canaan and would have been one of the first cities the Israelites encountered as they entered the land from the east, passing across the Jordan River.

One might argue that Joshua showed a lack of faith in God by sending in the two spies. After all, God had assured Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Joshua 1:3 ESV). He had given Joshua a guarantee his success. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” (Joshua 1:5 ESV). So, why was Joshua intent on sending in spies? It seems that Joshua’s purpose for this mission was not to gather information in order to determine whether or not to enter the land. He was simply seeking news regarding the fortifications of the city of Jericho. He was doing what any good military leader would do – he was assessing the capabilities of his enemy.

We are told that the two spies entered the city of Jericho and chose the house of a woman named, Rahab, in which to spend the night. The Jewish historian, Josephus, describes Rahab as having been an innkeeper. The text tells us she was a prostitute. It could be that Rahab owned and operated a brothel in the city of Jericho. This kind of destination would have provided the spies with a certain amount of anonymity, since it was the kind of place where men’s secrets were well kept and jealously guarded. But the important thing to note is that Rahab’s name is mentioned at all. This obscure woman, who practiced one of the oldest and least respected occupations in human history, has her name included in the story of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. And Rahab’s role in the Israelites victory over Jericho would be just the beginning of her influence over and association with God’s people. She is included in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, a section often referred to as the “Great Hall of Faith.”

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

Not only that, we see her name appear in Matthew 1, in the genealogy of Jesus. Rahab would go on to marry a Hebrew named Salmon, and the two of them would have a son named Boaz. Boaz would become the father of Obed. Obed would father a son named Jesse, and Jesse would become the father of David, the eventual king of Israel. But most importantly, from David’s line would come Jesus the Messiah. So, Rahab would not only play an important role in the salvation of the two spies, but in the redemptive plan of God to bring salvation to mankind through the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

It seems that news about the people of Israel had gotten out. The people in Jericho had heard about their presence beyond the Jordan River. The size of the Israelite nation had obviously grown over the 40 years they had been wandering in the wilderness. It has been estimated that there were as many as 3.5 million of them by the time they reached the Jordan. It would have been impossible to disguise the movements of a group of that size, so it is no wonder that Rahab knew exactly who the spies were when they arrived. She also knew why they were there. News of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and their conquests in the land east of the Jordan had spread. And Rahab seems to have concluded that it was only a matter of time before this massive force of people made their way into the land of Canaan, wiping out anyone who stood in their way. And from what she ends up telling the two spies, Rahab feared the God of the Jews more than she feared their army.

“…the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” – Joshua 2:11 ESV

Rahab took a great risk in providing shelter for the spies. And the danger inherent in her decision became apparent when the king of Jericho heard about the presence of the two spies and sent soldiers to Rahab’s house in order to find and arrest them. And this sets up a scenario that has raised all kinds of ethical questions over the centuries. When the soldiers asked Rahab about the spies, she lied. She had hidden them in her house, but told the king’s soldiers that they had left and she had no idea where they had gone. Was Rahab wrong in doing this? Did her motive to protect the two spies justify her decision to lie on their behalf? Interestingly enough, in his chapter on the relationship between faith and works, James includes Rahab as an example.

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? – James 2:24-25 ESV

James indicates that Rahab was showing her faith in God by taking in the two spies and helping them escape. This in no way justifies her decision to lie. Lying is always a sin. God was not dependent upon the lies of a prostitute in order to protect the spies. The truth is, Rahab put herself and her family at great risk for doing what she did. But God protected her in spite of her decision to lie. God did not ask her to lie. That was not part of His plan. But God used this woman, in all her human frailty, to accomplish His divine will for the spies and, eventually, for the fall of Jericho. Not only that, God would include this less-than-stellar individual in the lineage of His Son, Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

To Caesar You Shall Go.

1 Now three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews laid out their case against Paul, and they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea and that he himself intended to go there shortly. “So,” said he, “let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them bring charges against him.”

After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” Acts 25:1-12 ESV

Paul had been held in what amounts to a state of suspended animation for two years by the governor, Felix. A trial had been held, but no decision made. No clear charges had been brought against Paul worthy of his execution, but, rather than release Paul and face the wrath of the Jewish leadership, and a potential riot by the Jewish people, Felix had chosen to leave Paul in Roman custody. Somewhere around 57 A.D., the emperor Nero recalled Felix and replaced him with Porcius Festus, the former procurator of Palestine. He became the new governor of the province of Syria, which included Judea and, therefore, the city of Jerusalem. Luke indicates that three days after having arrived in Caesarea, Festus made a trip to Jerusalem and met with the chief priest and other religious leaders of the Jews, most likely referring to the Sanhedrin or high council, the very same group who had brought charges against Paul two years earlier. The Jews brought Festus up to speed on their complaints against Paul and even begged him to allow them to conduct a trial on their home turf, which would have required that Paul be transferred from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Once again, they had an ulterior and sinister motive, They intended to have Paul ambushed and murdered along the way. Two years earlier, there had been more than 40 men who had vowed to neither eat or drink anything until they fulfilled their pact to put Paul to death. Their plot had been exposed and had resulted in Paul being transferred under Roman armed guard to Caesarea. Obviously, these men had been forced to break their fast, but their hatred for Paul had never diminished. It seems that they were more than willing to renew their vow and recommit themselves to Paul’s destruction when given the opportunity.

But Festus refused the Sanhedrin’s request, instead demanding that they bring a delegation to Caesarea, where he would conduct yet another trial so that he could hear the specifics of the case for himself. This at least reveals that Festus was going to give Paul a fair hearing, rather than simply turn him over to the Jews to do with as they saw fit. Festus most likely had looked into the case enough to have known that Paul was a Roman citizen and, therefore, according to law, deserving of a fair trial.

About a week later, the Jews arrived in Caesarea, and the trial was begun. Once again, the Jews had come prepared to paint Paul in the worst possible light. In fact, Luke records that “the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him” (Acts 25:7 ESV), but he also states that they had no proof. Their charges were all fabricated and fictitious. And when Paul was given a chance to defend himself, he simply stated, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (Acts 25:8 ESV). Now, it seems obvious that there was much more to this trial than Luke records. But it was likely a repeat of all that had been said in the trial that had taken place two years earlier before Felix. And there would have been court records from that previous trial to which Festus had access. At this point in his chronicle, Luke doesn’t appear interested in providing a word-for-word record of all that was said in the trial, but in showing that nothing had changed. Two years had passed, but the facts remained the same. The Jews were determined to see Paul put to death, and Paul was convinced of his own innocence.

Now, at this point, we see the political nature of the situation. Festus was a new governor, appointed by the emperor, Nero. He wanted to make a good impression. And, as the former procurator of Palestine, Festus was well acquainted with the volatile nature of the Jewish situation. He also knew that Rome preferred peace over rioting and insurrection, so, seeing an opportunity to throw the Jews a bone and give in to their request to have Paul tried in Jerusalem, he broached the idea with Paul. As a Roman citizen, Paul had a say in the matter and it is clear that Paul knew his rights. He responded to the governor’s request boldly and clearly:

10 “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews. 11 If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!” – Acts 25:10-11 NLT

There is no indication in the text that Paul had been directed by the Spirit of God to demand a trial before Caesar. It would appear that Paul knew there was still the likelihood of a plot against his life, and he was doubtful that a trial in the city of Jerusalem, where hatred against him was high, would result in a fair and unbiased outcome. Paul was a Roman citizen and knew his rights. He also knew he was innocent and that his hopes of receiving a fair and unprejudiced trial would be under Roman jurisdiction, even if that meant he had to travel all the way to Rome. One of the things that should strike us is that Paul’s Roman citizenship plays a huge factor in this entire portion of Paul’s life story. Had he not been a Roman citizen, he would never have made it out of Jerusalem alive. The Roman tribune who had rescued him two years earlier from the Jewish mob that had been trying to beat him to death in the temple courtyard, would have flogged Paul and allowed him to undergo trial by the Jews. He would never have sent Paul to Felix for trial. And whether we recognize it or not, Paul’s citizenship was part of God’s sovereign will over Paul’s life. Paul was born in Tarsus, not by chance, but because of the preordained plan of God. Paul would state as much in his letter to the church in Galatia: “But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace” (Galatians 1:15 NLT). God had chosen Paul. God had determined the time and place of his birth, and the parents to whom he would be born. Paul’s Roman citizenship was not a coincidence or some form of blind luck. It was a part of God’s plan for Paul’s life and, more importantly, for God’s predetermined plan to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul was appealing to go to Caesar, to stand before the most powerful man in the world at that time, and he had the right to do so. Not only that, he had the God-ordained responsibility to do so.

And, after conferring with his counselors, Festus announced to Paul: “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go” (Acts 25:12 ESV). After a two-year delay, Paul was going to see his dream of going to Rome fulfilled. But it would not be exactly as he had imagined it. Paul had longed to visit Rome for some time. He had a deep desire to minister to the congregation of believers who had formed there. A year or two earlier, Paul had written a letter to the church in Rome, while he was in the city of Corinth, and he had told them:

God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. – Romans 1:9-12 NLT

Now, Paul was going to get his prayer answered. Not in a way that he would have imagined or even desired, but according to God’s sovereign will. He was going to get to minister to the believers in Rome, as a prisoner. And while in Rome, Paul would write four of his other letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul’s stay in Rome would end up providing him with time to minister and to put his thoughts in writing, ultimately providing the universal church with the vast majority of the content that makes up the New Testament. God had a plan for Paul. He had a purpose for the life of Paul. And that plan included a trip to Rome.

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

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

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

All According to Plan.

1 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” Acts 23:1-11 ESV

Paul had caused a riot in the temple. Actually, it would more accurate to say that it was his presence that had led to a riot in the temple. The riot was the result of a contingent of Jews from Asia who, upon seeing Paul in the temple, had wrongly assumed that he had been accompanied by one of his Gentile companions, a violation of the Mosaic law. Their accusation had caused the Jews in the temple grounds to react vehemently and violently to Paul, nearly beating him to death before the Roman guards stepped in. Paul was given a chance to address the crowd, but when it went south, he was taken to the Roman barracks in chains, where the Romans made plans to flog the truth out of him. When Paul announced to them that he was a Roman citizen, he was immediately released and apologized to profusely. But the Roman tribune still had a problem: He needed to know the nature of the crime for which Paul was guilty. When he had rescued Paul from the mob in the temple courtyard, he had been unable to discern what it was that Paul had done to make the Jews so angry. Luke recorded: “He inquired who he [Paul] was and what he had done. Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks.” (Acts 21:33-34 ESV).

So, the Roman tribune had determined to bring in the big guns: the Jewish high council or Sanhedrin. He assumed that these religious rulers could help him get to the truth of what was going on. The following day, Paul was brought before the high priest and the council and given an opportunity to speak. But this would prove to be a less-than-receptive audience. No sooner had Paul begun his address, he was slapped in the face by order of the high priest. All Paul had said was, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day” (Acts 23:1 ESV). This simple opening statement had incensed the high priest so much that he had commanded Paul to be publicly humiliated. Luke does not provide us with any details as to why Paul’s words were so upsetting to the high priest. It could have been a number of things. Perhaps he was offended that Paul addressed them as his brothers. Paul had at one time been a Pharisee and, according to his own testimony, had been given letters of authority by the high priest to pursue and arrest Christians in Damascus (Acts 9:2). So, at one time, he had enjoyed a close relationship with the high priest. But it is likely that the high priest was well aware of the radical change that had come over Paul and how he had switched sides and become a follower of the Way. He would no longer have considered Paul a brother.

There is also the likelihood that Paul’s claim of having a clear conscience before God also raised the ire of the high priest. Paul was claiming moral and ethical innocence as it pertained to his actions. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing he had done that was outside of the will of God or in violation of the Hebrew Scriptures. He had done nothing to deserve being beaten or arrested. The high priest most likely sensed that Paul was trying to seize the moral high ground and was not going to allow him to proceed.

Finally, there is a strong chance that the high priest was well aware that Paul was getting ready to launch into the story of his conversion and of his ministry among the Gentiles. He would have remembered what had happened when Stephen was on trial before them and how he had lectured them on their own history and accused them of killing Jesus. The slap might have been an attempt to put Paul in his place and to prevent him from using this forum as an opportunity to spout his heresy. Whatever the case, the indignity of the high priest’s reaction angered Paul and he responded accordingly.

“God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” – Acts 23:3 ESV

Paul’s words seem uncharacteristically angry. It almost appears that he lost his cool and allowed the tension of the last 24 hours to get to him. His words were harsh and vindictive, accusing the high priest of being a whitewashed wall. This statement is very similar to that of Jesus when He had referred to the scribes and Pharisees as whitewashed tombs.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs–beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

Paul was accusing the high priest of hypocrisy. He was supposed to be the keeper of the law, but in ordering Paul to be struck, he was in direct violation of the law. Now, this is where it gets a bit interesting. Immediately after his verbal tongue lashing, Paul was informed that he had been addressing the high priest. This appears to have come as a shock to Paul, because he immediately claims ignorance, stating, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest” (Acts 23:5 ESV). And Paul makes it clear that, had he known, he would not have said what he said, because to do so would have been in violation of God’s law as well. He even quotes from Exodus 22:8: “You must not dishonor God or curse any of your rulers.” So, it would appear that Paul had been unaware that his words, spoken in anger, had been addressed to the high priest. But that begs the question: But would it have mattered? According to Exodus 22:8, Paul would have been guilty no matter which one of the men had ordered him to be slapped. As members of the high council, they were all considered leaders over the people of Israel. So, there is a likelihood that Paul was being a bit sarcastic. In saying that he didn’t know it was the high priest, he may have really been inferring that the high priest had not been acting like a high priest when he had ordered Paul to be slapped. So, how was Paul to know he was addressing a leader of the people of Israel. He hadn’t acted like one, so Paul had addressed him appropriately.

We’ll never know exactly what went on at that moment. But we do know that the tensions were high, and Paul sensed an opportunity to take advantage of what he knew to be the divisive nature of the council’s makeup. The members of the high council were made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul, as a former Pharisee, knew well the differences between the two groups. The Sadducees denied the very idea of the resurrection. This was a major point of disagreement between themselves and the Pharisees and, as a former Pharisee, Paul would have been well aware of this fact. So he exploited it by saying, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6 ESV). Once again, he addressed them as brothers, but this time he directs his attention to the Pharisees in the room. He was dividing his audience and setting up a confrontation. And, for the benefit of the Roman tribune, Paul cut to the chase and established the true reason for his so-called trial: The resurrection of the dead. Specifically, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But he purposefully doesn’t mention Jesus. He simply raises the controversial issue of bodily resurrection and the room explodes. Luke records that, “when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). Paul just sat back and watched the fireworks. And the Roman tribune got a first-hand glimpse of Jewish religious politics in action. Paul’s little ploy worked to perfection. Luke states that “a great clamor arose” and at one point, some of the scribes who were Pharisees, shouted that they saw no reason for Paul to be on trial – he was innocent. Then things began to get violent – so much so, that the Roman tribune had to rescue Paul once again and return him to the barracks, so he wouldn’t be torn to pieces by the religious leaders.

Paul was not out of the woods. He was still under arrest and had no idea what was going to happen to him. But the following night he was given words of assurance from Jesus Himself.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” – Acts 23:11 ESV

Paul was on his way to Rome. He had longed to go to Rome for some time. He had even written to the believers in Rome, telling them, “I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News” (Romans 1:15 NLT). And now, after a lengthy delay, he was going to get his opportunity. But while Paul had long harbored a desire to go to Rome, he had not let that sway him from doing his job. He told the believers in Rome:

20 My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. 21 I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says,

“Those who have never been told about him will see,
    and those who have never heard of him will understand.”

22 In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. – Romans 15:20-22 NLT

But there would be no more delay. God was sending Paul to Rome. It would not be quite the way Paul had probably envisioned it, but it was the will of God. The timing was perfect, because it was God’s timing. The means by which Paul would make his way to Rome might appear less-than-ideal, but it was the sovereign plan of God. Paul’s very presence in Jerusalem had been the will of God. His presence in the temple had been part of God’s divine plan. His beating and arrest were as well. And all that had taken place in his trial before the Sanhedrin was just another example of God’s providential plan for his life. Paul was going to enjoy the opportunity of a lifetime: To testify about Jesus in the capital of the Roman empire.

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

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

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

Between Two Worlds.

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. Acts 22:22-30 ESV

Paul, having been saved by Roman soldiers from being beaten to death by the Jewish mob, was given an opportunity to address his accusers. And as Paul shared his conversion story with them, they gave him their undivided attention, until he relayed the words spoken to Him by Jesus: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21 ESV). It was at that very moment that the crowd lost their composure yet again. As soon as they heard him speak those words, they responded, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live” (Acts 22:22 ESV). But what was it that caused this extreme reaction? Why had they listened so quietly and intently up until this particular moment? There were probably a number of factors involved. First of all, Paul was claiming to have heard directly from Jesus Himself, the very one the Jews had plotted to have put to death by the Romans. Paul referred to him as “Lord”, a designation most often reserved for God Himself. On top of that, Paul infers that Jesus told him to take the message of salvation to the Gentiles. This would have angered the believing Jews in the audience, who were already upset with Paul because he had been converting Gentiles without requiring them to submit to the rite of circumcision and obey the Mosaic law. It is important to remember that part of what had gotten Paul in trouble in the first place was the accusation that he had brought Gentiles into the Court of Israel at the temple. This would have been a crime punishable by death. When Paul had showed up at the temple to complete his ceremonial cleansing, some Jews from Asia had seen him and riled up the crowds against him.

“This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” – Acts 21:28 ESV

So, when Paul mentioned that Jesus had spoken to him and had commanded him to take the gospel concerning the Messiah to the Gentiles, the Jews became enraged. Those who were unbelieving Jews were upset that Paul spoke of Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. Those in the crowd who were believing Jews were angry because they believed that Gentiles must first become law-abiding Jews before they could receive salvation in Christ. Both groups were angry with Paul. So much so, that Luke describes them as “shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air” (Acts 22:23 ESV). What a scene. Complete confusion and chaos, mixed with uncontrollable rage. And the Roman tribune ordered Paul to be taken to the barracks inside the Fortress of Antonio, which was immediately outside the temple grounds. His plan was to flog Paul until he got to the truth of what was really going on.

It’s interesting to note that Paul allowed the soldiers to go so far as to have him stretched out, ready to be flogged, before he spoke up and revealed his status as a Roman citizen. It is as if Paul was going to let them get right up to the point of no return before he stopped them from committing a crime. This would certainly would have gotten their attention. And Luke proves that this little, last-minute revelation by Paul had its desired impact.

The soldiers who were about to interrogate Paul quickly withdrew when they heard he was a Roman citizen, and the commander was frightened because he had ordered him bound and whipped. – Acts 22:29 NLT

They had been stopped in the nick of time. As a Roman citizen, Paul was legally protected from scourging. It was against the law for any Roman to undergo this kind of punishment without access to due process. Paul had been accused, but nothing had been proven. He had been arrested, but there had been no trial. And the very fact that the Roman tribune had commanded Paul to be bound by chains, was a violation of Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen.

The Roman commander was surprised that Paul had Roman citizenship, because he had seen him in the temple and had heard his testimony. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3 ESV). And because Paul was a Jews, the Roman tribune had just assumed that he was not a Roman citizen. He even hinted that Paul must have purchased his citizenship somewhere along the way. But Paul assured him that he had been born a Roman citizen, with all the attendant rights and privileges.

While the Roman tribune had learned of Paul’s Roman citizenship, he was still in the dark as to why Paul was being accused by the Jews and what had prompted them to try and kill him in the first place. So, the next day, he arranged a meeting with the religious leadership.

30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them. – Acts 22:30 ESV

This was going to set up a unique situation, in which Paul, a Jew and Christ-follower, would find himself standing before the Jewish chief priests and religious leaders, as well as a representative of the Roman government. He would have his feet firmly planted in two different worlds, both of which would prove integral to his entire life and ministry. Paul was a devout Jew and proud of his Hebrew heritage. He was a Pharisee and a former student of one of the leading rabbis of the day. He was knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures and highly intelligent. And yet, Paul was comfortable in the pagan world as well, easily able to mix and mingle with people from all walks of life and from every imaginable ethnic background. Paul was comfortable within the context of Jerusalem, but he would one day find himself living in Rome, under house arrest, and sharing the gospel with all those he had a chance to meet, including his Roman guards.

In this scene, we get a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand as He orchestrated all the details of Paul’s life, from his birth into a Jewish home to his inheritance of a Roman citizenship. What if that had not been the case? What if Paul had not been a Roman citizen? He would have been flogged severely, a punishment that usually left its victim disfigured for life and, at times, dead. God had preordained Paul’s entire life story, from beginning to end. His training in the school of Gamaliel had equipped him with a tremendous understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew Scriptures. His status as a Pharisee gave him an unparalleled understanding of the Mosaic law. His childhood spent in Tarsus, the capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia, would have provided Paul first-hand experience with the Roman way of life. He was a man adept at living in two different worlds. And yet, Paul would live his life with the attitude that his real citizenship was elsewhere. He reminded the believers in Philippi, “we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). Paul was comfortable living in two worlds, while keeping his mind set on the Kingdom to come. He had been specially prepared by God for his life and ministry, having been born and raised a Jew, provided with a Roman citizenship, and having received a theological education that was second to none. He was God’s man for this moment in time.

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

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

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

The Deity Is In the Detail.

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:11-24 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyHaving revisited the cities in which Paul and Barnabas had ministered in their first missionary journey, Paul takes Silas and Timothy had heads across the Aegean Sea for Neopolis, the port of Philippi in Macedonia, a journey of 125 miles. Luke makes note of the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony. In an attempt to bring the strongly nationalistic and somewhat unruly Macedonians under control, The Romans had divided Macedonia into four distinct districts, with Philippi becoming an important operations hub of military and commercial importance. There was a large Roman population in the city, because Rome had a policy of filling its colonies with Roman citizens who would be faithful to the state, many of them former Roman soldiers and their families. So, not only was Paul going to encounter a Gentile population made up of pagan Macedonians with a strong sense of nationalistic pride, he was going to encounter a larger-than-usual contingent of Roman citizens, faithful to Rome and its pantheon of gods.

Luke records that, on the Sabbath, their party ended up searching for a place where any Jews might have gathered for the prescribed hour of prayer. The fact that they did not head for the local synagogue indicates that there must not have been one. For any city to have a synagogue, there had to be a required number of Jewish males living there. Before a synagogue could be built, the local community was required to have at least ten adult Jewish men of bar mitzvah age. So, it seems likely that Philippi had a very small contingent of Jews, far too small to justify the construction of a synagogue. In the absence of a synagogue, Jews were known to gather by the sea shore or a river for prayer. Luke reports, “we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13 NLT). There, they found a group of women who had gathered to pray. Notice that only women were mentioned. This corroborates the assumption that there were not enough Jewish males to justify a synagogue. There were no men present at the river at the time of prayer. But one of the women, who was names Lydia, struck up a conversation with Paul, Silas and Timothy. Luke would have been in Paul’s entourage as well. Lydia is described as a worshiper of God, which means she was a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. She was also a businesswoman, a seller of purple good, and it is likely that she was in Philippi on business, because Luke indicates that she was from nearby Thyatira. What we have here is yet another example of one of those seemingly chance encounters that the apostles had. They end up in Philippi and, on the Sabbath, they find themselves down by the river where they run into a woman who just happens to be in town on business and, because she is a Gentile God-fearer, she was at the river at the prescribed hour for prayer. There, her path crossed that of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and her life would be changed forever as a result. Lydia, upon hearing the gospel as declared by Paul, became a Christ-follower and was baptized. And Luke indicates that her salvation ended up impacting her entire household. because she implored the apostles to come to her home, and her family members and household servants ended up placing their faith in Christ as well and were baptized.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke had yet another “chance” encounter that day. They ran into a young slave girl “who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means” (Acts 16:16 NLT). As we will see, the source of her supernatural ability was demonic in nature. But that didn’t matter to her owners, because their only concern was that she made them a lot of money telling people their fortunes. This young woman began following Paul and his companions around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 NLT). And Luke indicates that she was very persistent in her efforts, carrying on for a number of days. Now, at first blush, it would seem that this would have been a positive thing for the apostles, like a form of free advertising. After all, what she was saying was true, and her words would have been like having a free ad campaign played over the local radio station. But Luke records that Paul became annoyed, and finally spoke to the demon who possessed her, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18 ESV). Paul cast the demon out and the publicity campaign came to an end. But we have to ask the question: Why did Paul become so annoyed? Why had the words the girl had been speaking ended up rubbing him the wrong way? It is important to keep in mind that this young girl’s ability came from a demon. The words she spoke concerning Paul and his companions were not hers, but were from the demon who possessed her. And it likely that this demon was causing the words to come out of her mouth in a sarcastic and demeaning manner. While what she was saying was true, it probably came out with more than a hint of disrespect and intended to ridicule not respect the apostles.

This demon had no intention of truly heralding and honoring the apostles. It was turning their ministry into a three-ring circus. No doubt, her efforts were attracting crowds, but it was making life difficult for Paul and his friends. But Paul set the girl free. Not only had she been a slave girl, she had been enslaved to the demon who had possessed her. But she had been spiritual emancipated. While this would have been a happy occasion for the young girl, it would prove to be a blow to the men who owned her. Without the demon, she was worthless. She had lost her ability to tell fortunes. And these men were so upset, that they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. They wanted justice and, most likely, financial compensation for their loss. But it’s interesting that their accusations against Paul and the others says nothing about what had happened. Instead, they say, “These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans” (Acts 16:21 NLT). Basically, they accuse Paul and his companions of proselytizing. They claim that these Jews were trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, a crime under Roman law. The crowd, which would have been made up of primarily Roman citizens, joins forces with the two disgruntled slave owners, and the magistrates are forced to beat Paul, Silas and Timothy with rods, then throw them into prison.

Once again, it would be easy to see all of these occurrences as nothing more than chance, the unforeseen, unplanned outcome of life. They just happened. No rhyme or reason behind them. But we have already seen too much take place in the lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept that conclusion. The lives of Paul, Silas and Timothy were being controlled and directed by God Almighty. Their destinations and even their interactions with others were under the divine direction of God. They didn’t just happen to end up in Philippi. Their encounter with Lydia wasn’t just some form of kismet. The presence of the demon-possessed slave girl wasn’t some strange kind of unlucky coincidence. It was the hand of God. And Paul, Silas and Timothy ending up in jail was not some unfortunate turn of events that had caught God off guard and left Him scrambling to intervene. It had all been part of His sovereign will and well-orchestrated plan for these men and their message. Only time would expose God’s purposes behind all of these things. We see only the immediate circumstances, while God knows their outcomes. We are restricted in our ability to recognize the handiwork of God, even in the dark days of our lives or the pedestrian circumstances that fill our lives. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. He never takes the day off. He is intimately involved in the details of life. Nothing escapes His notice and nothing is outside the purview of His sovereign will.

 

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

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

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

These Things.

12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 2 Peter 1:12-15 ESV

Peter is dead serious about the seven virtues he has just brought up. They weren’t just friendly suggestions that the readers of his letter were free to take or leave. No, Peter saw them as indispensable and unavoidable necessities for living the Christian life. They were the attributes of Christ Himself. And since growing in their knowledge of and intimacy with Christ was to be an objective of their relationship with Him, they should also grow in the likeness to Him. Their character of their lives should emulate His. So, Peter warns them that he is going to continue to lovingly nag them about these things. He knows that he has not told them anything they have not heard before. This was basic Christianity 101. But, he knew that they needed constant reminding because these things were easy to lose sight of in the midst of all the pressures of life and the temptations that come with living in a fallen world. Other things take precedence. Each of the seven virtues have competing alternatives that can tempt believers to display opposite character qualities that are destructive, rather than constructive. Instead of virtue or moral excellence, there is always the temptation to live in moral compromise or mediocrity. In other words, to live a slightly-less-than holy life. This usually happens when we begin to live according to human, rather godly standards.

If knowledge is the Spirit-empowered capacity to know right from wrong, how simple it is to silence that still, small voice of the Spirit and listen to the wisdom of this world. When we do, we begin to call good evil and evil good. Our sense of perspective becomes corrupted by the passions associated with our old sin nature. And instead of displaying wisdom based on a knowledge of God’s will and ways, we begin to act like fools, operating in ignorance, and all the while thinking we are wise.

Self-control is the ability to master one’s desires and passions. So, it doesn’t take a genius to understand what a lack of self-control looks like. When we stop adding self-control to our faith, we fall into the trap of operating according to our own fleshly desires. For the Christian, self-control is really about being controlled by the Spirit and not by our own flesh. And the apostle Paul makes it clear what happens when we let our old nature take back over the reigns of our life.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Steadfastness is patient endurance and perseverance, even in the face of difficulties and trials. The obvious alternative is impatience and impulsiveness. We find ourselves quickly running out of endurance and the stamina it takes to live Christ-like lives in this fallen and sin-filled world. The pressures of life mount up and we find ourselves giving up.

The opposite of godliness is ungodliness. But that doesn’t necessarily mean totally depraved, sinful behavior. Godliness is nothing more than behavior that reflects the character of God, so ungodliness is any and all behavior that fails to reflect His character. You don’t have to hate someone else to fail to reflect God’s character. You just have to refuse to love those He has called you to love. You can simply ignore others and refuse to give them the time of day. You don’t have to murder someone to reflect ungodly character. You simply have to slander them or spread damaging rumors about them. Even despising them in your heart is ungodly in the eyes of God. So, if we are not constantly adding godliness to our lives, the opposite will show up.

Brotherly affection is nothing more than love for a brother or sister in Christ. But it is more than a feeling of affection for them. It is an outward display of tangible care and concern. It is the ”one another” passages of Scripture lived out in real life. We are to encourage one another, admonish one another, carry one another’s burdens, accept one another, forgive one another, and patiently tolerate one another. You can easily see what the opposite of brotherly affection would look like.

Finally, there’s love – agape love – the kind of love by which God loved us. It is selfless and sacrificial, expecting nothing in return. It is other-oriented, not me-focused. And when our love of self overshadows our love for others, we are not living out this non-negotiable character quality of Christ Himself. We are not loving as He has loved us.

So, Peter tells his readers that he is going to continue to bring these attributes up, even thought he knows they are already familiar with them. Knowing them and living them out are two different things. Having a cognitive understanding of them is of no use if our lives fail to display a visible application of them.

In this passage, Peter says that he feels it is only right that he remind them of these things, and that he will do so as long as he is alive. Then he makes an interesting statement: “since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14 ESV). What is he talking about? What did Jesus makes clear to him regarding the putting off of his body or his death? If you recall, after the resurrection of Jesus, when He had made numerous appearances to the disciples, He had a particularly memorable encounter with Peter. Three separate times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. It is important to recall that Peter had denied Jesus three different times on the night that He had been betrayed and was being tried. The three questions Jesus asked Peter had been difficult for him to hear and answer. But each time, Peter answered in the affirmative. “Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’” (John 21:17 ESV). And, it was right after this that Jesus said to Peter:

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:18-19 ESV

Notice that last two words, “follow me”. Those were the same two words that had started Peter’s journey with Christ more than three years earlier. But this time, Jesus was indicating that Peter was going to follow Jesus in death. Tradition states that Peter was eventually crucified. His hands were stretched out and he was carried where he did not want to go. But at the time Peter wrote this letter, he had no idea when his fate would come. He simply knew that he was going to one day follow Jesus in death. So, he was driven by a sense of timeliness and urgency. And he tells his readers, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 2:15 ESV). In other words, Peter was going to leave them some form of written encouragement to continue to remind them about these seven character qualities.

Peter made “every effort” – he wrote down his thoughts, making them a permanent record of his feelings concerning these things. And that letter not only encouraged those who received it initially, it became a permanent part of Holy Scripture, providing all of us who have come to faith in Christ with words of encouragement and admonition. These seven virtues are as necessary today as they were the day Peter penned his letter. “These things”, as Peter calls them, are still a vital part of living the Christian life. Times have changed. Cultures have evolved and adapted themselves to new conditions. But there is still a need for virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. And only the body of Christ can display these characteristics, because they are spiritual in nature. They are Spirit-empowered. Apart from the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God, no man is capable of producing these qualities. We can fake it. We can display poor imitations of them. But these Christ-like character qualities begin with faith in Christ and are supplements to that faith. They are the marks of those who have been chosen by God and who have received new natures and a new capacity to live as His children in a lost and dying world.

 

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

Resisting God’s Will.

In the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. As they ate bread together there at Mizpah, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him rose up and struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him, whom the king of Babylon had appointed governor in the land. Ishmael also struck down all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there.

On the day after the murder of Gedaliah, before anyone knew of it, eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Samaria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing grain offerings and incense to present at the temple of the Lord. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah came out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he came. As he met them, he said to them, “Come in to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.” When they came into the city, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the men with him slaughtered them and cast them into a cistern. But there were ten men among them who said to Ishmael, “Do not put us to death, for we have stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.” So he refrained and did not put them to death with their companions.

Now the cistern into which Ishmael had thrown all the bodies of the men whom he had struck down along with Gedaliah was the large cistern that King Asa had made for defense against Baasha king of Israel; Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with the slain. Then Ishmael took captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who were left at Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites. Jeremiah 41:1-10 ESV

To full comprehend what is going on in this passage, we have to take a look back at an earlier part of the book where God had Jeremiah deliver a message to King Zedekiah. This was the occasion when God had commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke of wood and leather, put it around his neck and then prophesy the following words to the king:

“I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit. I have at this time placed all these nations of yours under the power of my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have even made all the wild animals subject to him. All nations must serve him and his son and grandson until the time comes for his own nation to fall.” – Jeremiah27:5-7 NLT

The presence of Nebuchadnezzar and his troops in Judah was by the decree of God. This wasn’t a case of happenstance or even the result of decision made by Nebuchadnezzar himself. Yes, he obviously had to issue the orders to invade Judah, but it was under the sovereign will and by the decree of God Almighty.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1 NLT

What Ishmael failed to realize was that Gedaliah’s role as the governor of Judah was part of God’s foreordained plan. He mistakenly saw the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of King Zedekiah to Babylon as an opportunity to seize the throne. As a member of King David’s family, he saw himself as a legitimate heir with every right to be king. But what he overlooked was that God had a plan for Judah and even the king of Babylon was being used by God to accomplish that plan. So, in essence, Gedaliah was God’s choice to rule over Judah after the fall of Jerusalem. And yet, Ishmael had other plans. He had no interest in what God might be trying to do. He saw an opportunity and he seized it – even if it meant committing murder and violating the will of God to do it.

It is important to note that Ishmael is clearly presented as a descendant of David. He is referred to in the passage as “Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family” (Jeremiah 41:1 ESV). Elishama’s name is found in the list of the sons born to David.

And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. – 2 Samuel 5:13-15 ESV

Why that is important is because it provides a stark contrast between Ishmael and his ancestor, David. If you recall, after David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, hand-picked by God to replace King Saul, he ended up spending several years of his life running from Saul. God had arranged for David to be anointed, but His plan did not include David’s immediate ascension to the throne. Saul remained king. And he greatly feared David and did everything in his power to see that he be eliminated. And on two separate occasions, David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, but he refused. On the first occasion, Saul happened to walk into a cave where David and his men were hiding. When David’s men encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Saul and take his throne, David responded:

“May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” – 1 Samuel 24:6 ESV

On the second occasion, David and one of his men made their way into the camp of King Saul and his troops as they slept. They were able to make it unnoticed right to the place where the king slept. Abishai, David’s companion, offered to kill Saul on the spot, but David once again responded:

“Don’t kill him! Who can extend his hand against the Lord’s chosen one and remain guiltless?” – 1 Samuel 26:9 NLT

David was unwilling to take Saul’s life because he had not been given permission to do so. He recognized that, until God chose to remove Saul, he would remain the king of Israel, and as a result, David was obligated to honor him as such.

David went on to say, “As the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him down. Either his day will come and he will die, or he will go down into battle and be swept away. But may the Lord prevent me from extending my hand against the Lord’s chosen one! – 1 Samuel 26:10

Now, compare the actions of David with those of his descendant, Ishmael. Gedaliah had been appointed the governor of Judah by the king of Babylon. But the king of Babylon, according to God Himself, was under His direct orders. And yet, Ishmael didn’t seem to care. Unlike his ancestor, Ishmael had no problem raising his hand against the Lord’s anointed. With careful planning and premeditation, he murdered Gedaliah. Not only that, “Ishmael also killed all the Judeans and the Babylonian soldiers who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah” (Jeremiah 41:3 NLT).

We know that Ishmael was operating under the influence and direction of the King of Ammon. He was taking his cues from an enemy of Judah rather than seeking what the Lord would have him do. There is little doubt that Baalis, the Ammonite king, had no love for the Babylonians. In fact, on that occasion when Jeremiah had been commanded by God to make and wear the yoke, he was also commanded to deliver his message to the king of Ammon regarding God’s plan to use Nebuchadnezzar as His tool of punishment.

“Make a yoke out of leather straps and wooden crossbars and put it on your neck. Use it to send messages to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Send them through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. Charge them to give their masters a message from me.” – Jeremiah 27:2-4 NLT

But Baalis and Ishmael didn’t care what God had to say. They didn’t approve of God’s plan and weren’t willing to submit to God’s appointed leader. Perhaps Baalis believed that if he could stir up trouble in Judah by having the Babylonian-appointed governor murdered, it would force Nebuchadnezzar to concentrate all his efforts and resources in Judah and leave the land of Ammon alone. But whatever his motivation, he was clearly violating the will of God. And the murdering rampage of Ishmael would continue, filling a cistern with the bodies of the slain.

Don’t overlook the significance of Ismael’s choice to throw the bodies of the dead into a cistern. Normally designed to provide life-sustaining water for the people of the city, this cistern was re-purposed by Ishmael to hold the lifeless bodies of those he had slain. Their corpses would end up polluting the water, making the cistern a place of death rather than life. This should bring to mind a stinging indictment from God, delivered earlier in the book of Jeremiah.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

Opposing God’s will brings death, not life. Refusing to submit to His divine plan for our lives will never result in an improved outcome. Ishmael would learn the hard way that God’s way is always the best 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.

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