Prayer Changes Us, Not God

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

“This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined. – Isaiah 38:1-8 ESV

A key to understanding chapters 38-39 and their place in the chronology of the book of Isaiah is the first three words of verse one of chapter 38: “In those days…” This is a clear reference to the events surrounding the siege of Jerusalem as described in chapters 36-37. Isaiah is providing additional information that will help shed light on all that took place in those dark days, but he is also prefacing the remaining chapters of his book.

During the height of the Assyrian invasion of Judah, King Hezekiah became deathly ill. We are not told the extent of his condition, but the prophet Isaiah delivered a divine prognosis that was anything but good news.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’” – Isaiah 38:1 NLT

So, along with the pending invasion of the Assyrian forces and the likely fall of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had to deal with the threat of a terminal illness. All of this had to have weighed heavily on Hezekiah’s heart. He must have been confused by this unrelenting wave of bad news. After all, he had been one of the few kings of Judah who had tried to do the right thing, instituting a series of drastic religious reforms in an effort to restore the peoples’ worship of Yahweh.

Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, who was the poster-boy for unfaithfulness and apostasy. The book of 2 Chronicles gives a summary of some of his exploits.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

But when Hezekiah took the throne at the age of 25, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2 NLT). One of the first things he did was to reopen the temple and recommission the Levites so that the sacrifices to Yahweh could begin again. He also revived the celebration of Passover and called the people to worship Yahweh alone. As a result, “they smashed all the sacred pillars, cut down the Asherah poles, and removed the pagan shrines and altars” (2 Chronicles 31:1 NLT). 

Yet, in spite of all his reforms and his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh in Judah, God sent the Assyrians.

After Hezekiah had faithfully carried out this work, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified towns, giving orders for his army to break through their walls. – 2 Chronicles 32:1 NLT

And to make matters even worse, Hezekiah was told he was going to die. If anyone had the right to ask God, “Why?” it was Hezekiah. But rather than questioning God’s actions or doubting His love, Hezekiah simply asked that his acts of faithfulness be remembered.

“Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” – Isaiah 38:3 NLT

Hezekiah was not bragging or boasting, but merely expressing his confusion over this latest bit of bad news. Isaiah describes the king as weeping bitterly. He was devastated by all that was happening to him and around him. The nation of Judah was under siege. It was just a matter of time before the Assyrians arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem. And now, he was facing imminent death. It was all more than he could handle. So, he took his hurt, confusion, and despair to God. And his prayer was heard. God gave Isaiah a second message for Hezekiah.

“This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. Yes, I will defend this city.” – Isaiah 38:5-6 NLT

This raises the often-debated question: “Can the prayers of men change the mind of God?” Was God’s prescribed will somehow altered by the prayer of Hezekiah? The text is clear that, as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God extended his life by 15 years. So, it would appear that Hezekiah’s death date was postponed because he prayed. But at the heart of the question lies the sovereignty of God. There is also the issue of God’s omniscience. He knows all. There is nothing that escapes His notice or that lies outside His awareness. While there are many occasions recorded in Scripture where it appears that God “changed His mind” because of the prayers of men like Moses, Abraham, David, and others, it is essential that we understand that God’s will is never altered by anyone. In fact, the book of Numbers tells us that God never changes His mind.

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

So, what is going on here? Why did God determine to extend Hezekiah’s life? One of the things we need to always bear in mind is God’s complete and unwavering knowledge of all things. God knew Hezekiah’s heart. He was fully aware of how Hezekiah would respond to the news of his pending death. Hezekiah’s prayer didn’t change the heart of God, it changed the heart of Hezekiah. The king, faced with the news of his terminal illness, unknowingly prayed within the will of God, revealing his desire that his life be extended because he cared for the glory of God and the good of the people of Judah. God, because He is all-knowing, knew exactly how Hezekiah was going to respond and His “decision” to extend the king’s life had been part of His will all along.

God used the announcement of Hezekiah’s death to bring the king to the point of total dependence upon Him. The terminal prognosis was meant to get Hezekiah’s attention, not God’s. It was intended to bring the king to a place of total reliance upon the will of God and to remind the king of his own faithfulness. So much of this is about perspective. We see things from our limited vantage point as human beings. From our earth-bound, time-controlled view, we are incapable of seeing into the future. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But God does. He knew all along that Hezekiah was going to live an additional 15 years because He knew how Hezekiah was going to respond to the news of his illness. Hezekiah didn’t change the mind of God, but Hezekiah’s mindfulness of God was dramatically altered. God wanted Hezekiah to know and not forget that faithfulness was the key to God’s graciousness. In a time when it could have been easy for Hezekiah to turn away from God and restore the former alters to the false gods, he remained faithful to Yahweh. He did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.

Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him, for he said, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them.” – 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 NLT

In a sense, the news of Hezekiah’s terminal illness had been a test. Not of God, but of Hezekiah. And God knew that Hezekiah would pass the test with flying colors. Hezekiah’s death date did not really change. But his view of God did. And in the remaining verses of this chapter, Hezekiah will reveal the profound impact this situation had on his life and his heart. He was drawn closer to God. His reliance upon and love for God deepened. And this enhanced understanding of God’s love and faithfulness was going to be needed in the days ahead.

One of the more interesting aspects of this story is the proof that God gave Hezekiah to assure that all He had said was true.

“‘And this is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun’s shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!’” So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. – Isaiah 38:7-8 NLT

We know from the parallel story found in 2 Kings, that Hezekiah had asked God for a sign.

“What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” – 2 Kings 20:8 ESV

This was not necessarily an expression of doubt on Hezekiah’s part, but a request for some form of reassurance on God’s part. The news was almost too good to be true. So, Hezekiah asked God to provide him with a tangible sign that what He had promised would indeed take place. And God graciously and miraculously obliged.

What’s truly interesting is that God used something built by and named after wicked King Ahaz to provide faithful King Hezekiah with proof of His word. God caused the shadow of the sun to reverse itself. In a sense, time reversed itself. We are not told whether the sun itself moved backward in the sky or whether the shadow moved contrary to the position of the sun. In either case, God provided a miracle, a supernatural sign that provided Hezekiah with all the proof he required. And again, the impact of all of this on Hezekiah was profound, resulting in his penning of a poem of praise to God.

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

 

Nowhere to Run or Hide.

11 The oracle concerning Dumah.

One is calling to me from Seir,
    “Watchman, what time of the night?
    Watchman, what time of the night?”
12 The watchman says:
“Morning comes, and also the night.
    If you will inquire, inquire;
    come back again.”

13 The oracle concerning Arabia.

In the thickets in Arabia you will lodge,
    O caravans of Dedanites.
14 To the thirsty bring water;
    meet the fugitive with bread,
    O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
15 For they have fled from the swords,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow,
    and from the press of battle.

16 For thus the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. 17 And the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.”  – Isaiah 21:11-17 ESV

Isaiah-21This oracle concerns a region the text refers to as Dumah. In Hebrew, that word means “silence” and is most likely a reference to the land of Edom, which is called Seir in the very same verse. The use of the word, Dumah, is appropriate because this oracle is short on information. Unlike the previous oracles, this one is lacking in details and, therefore, silent as to the exact fate of the Edomites. We know that Seir is a reference to the Edomites because it was located in the region that God gave to Esau.

I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess.” – Joshua 24:4 ESV

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Their land was located to the south of Judah, on the northern border of what is now Saudi Arabia. While the Edomites were close relatives to the Israelites, the two nations had a contentious relationship. When the Israelites were journeying from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they asked permission to pass through the land of Edom but were turned down.

Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. – Numbers 20:17-21 ESV

During the reign of King David, the Edomites became subjects of Israel, with Israelite garrisons stationed within their land. But after Solomon’s death and the split of the kingdom, the Edomites revolted. They had been a constant source of irritation to the Israelites over the years, and yet God had told Israel, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV).

The oracle indicates someone from Dumah (Edom) asking the watchman on the wall, “How much longer until morning? When will the night be over?” (Isaiah 21:11 NLT). The image is that of a land filled with darkness. It indicates a time of distress and the people of Edom want to know when the dawn will break and the light will shine again. The answer the watchman gives them is somewhat cryptic. “Morning is coming, but night will soon return” (Isaiah 21:12 NLT). There would be relief, but it would only be for a momentary respite. 

The information provided by the watchman was incomplete and unsatisfactory. But he invited the inquirer to come back at a future date and ask again. Perhaps he would be able to shed more light at that time.

When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins, God had told her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

To a certain degree, Esau and his descendants never stopped trying to regain what he believed to be was his rightful place as the firstborn. He had sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup and had always felt like he had been tricked into doing so by his brother. The animosity between these two nations never really faded. And it is interesting to note that, during the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews was a man named Herod the Great, who just happened to be an Edomite. He is the one who, upon hearing that Jesus had been born and was the legal heir to David’s throne, ordered the slaughter of all the male babies under two-years-old in Bethlehem, in an attempt to eliminate any threat to his reign.

The prophet, Ezekiel, would later provide a word from God outlining an account of Edom’s future fate.

“As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 35:15 ESV

As with the other nations mentioned in this series of oracles, Edom is exposed as a poor choice for an ally. God continues to let Judah know that there is no one they can rely on, except Him. While the Edomites were descendants of Isaac and, therefore, Abraham, they were not a reliable source of help in time of need. They were going to have their own problems.

Which brings God to the next nation on His divine list: Arabia. This region was south of Edom and comprised what is now Saudi Arabia. But, in spite of their geographic location, they would not be spared from the coming Assyrian invasion. The oracle describes them as fleeing from the swords and bows of the enemy, and seeking refuge in the thickets. Other Arabian tribes are encouraged to come to their aid with bread and water. But God predicts that, within a year, they will fall.

“Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. – Isaiah 21:16 ESV

And their demise will be His doing. The Assyrians will simply be puppets in His hands, performing His divine bidding.

The people of Judah could seek aid from Arabia or attempt to find refuge there as refugees. But God was letting them know that this would be an unwise and non-beneficial decision. When the judgment of God came, there would be no place to run or hide. There would be no nation strong enough to stay the hand of God. There would be no ally powerful enough to thwart the will of God. So, the best decision the people of Judah could make was to repent and to return to God, begging His forgiveness and appealing to His grace and mercy, “for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken” (Isaiah 21:17 ESV).

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

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

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

Striking and Healing.

16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them. 17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the Lord of hosts has purposed against them.

18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:16-25 ESV

egypt-assyria-israel-map.jpgThe key to understanding this section of the oracle delivered against the nation of Egypt is found in the repetitive statement, “in that day.” This is a reference to a future time when God will dramatically reverse the fortunes of the Egyptians. While, in the short-term, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, God reveals that there will be a day Egypt, Judah and the Assyrians will all worship Him together.

God describes a future period of time when the Egyptians would fear the people of God. Rather than Judah having to beg Egypt for help against their enemies, the Egyptians would tremble in fear before the people of Judah and their almighty God. The oracle describes five Egyptian cities where Hebrew will be the primary language. Not only that, the inhabitants of those cities will swear allegiance to Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Quite a remarkable change of events. And it is quite obvious to see that these things have not yet taken place. But as far-fetched as these prophetic statements may seem to us, they should not be written off as being allegorical or metaphorical in nature. God is providing a glimpse into the eschatological future, the end times – a day when He will rectify all that is wrong on this earth. He is the Creator-God, and He will one day restore His creation to its former glory. That includes those who are made in His image – men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

The text mentions one of the five Egyptian cities being called “the City of Destruction.” In the Hebrew, the word is haheres, which translates into “City of Destruction.” But in several of the older manuscripts from which the Scriptures are translated, the word hakheres is found, which translates into “City of the Sun.” Because of the positive nature of this section of the oracle, it seems that this option is the appropriate one. The Greek rendering of hakheres is Heliopolis, which was the name of one Egypt’s most ancient cities where the sun god, Re, was worshiped. It would appear that the oracle is revealing that the Egyptians will one day abandon their worship of their false gods for worship of the one true God.

Another amazing aspect of “that day” is the mention of “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border” (Isaiah 19:19 ESV). In a land that had been long known for its pantheon of false gods, the mention of an altar to Yahweh is significant. These monuments dedicated to the God of Israel will act as a sign, reminding the people of Egypt that He alone is their source of sustenance and salvation. In fact, the text tells us, “When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20 ESV). The very God who had brought plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses, will one day be the God to whom they turn for help in times of trouble and, He will answer them, sending them a savior and defender. 

It is important to recall that, during the days in which Moses was attempting to free the people of Israel from Egypt, God had promised, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5 ESV). But the Egyptians had continued to reject God. Later on, after God had brought the seventh plague of hail against the land of Egypt, Moses had told Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:29-30 ESV).

In spite of all the plagues God brought against the people of Egypt, they would continue to reject Him as God and refuse to fear Him. But Isaiah describes a day, a future day when all that will change.

…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. – Isaiah 19:21 ESV

The prophet Zechariah spoke of that very same day.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. – Zechariah 14:16-19 ESV

The oracle of God reveals the dual nature of His relationship with mankind. It speaks of Him “striking and healing” the Egyptians. He will bring judgment, but He will also extend mercy. The Hebrew word translated as “striking” is nagaph and it refers to the striking with a fatal plague, sickness or death. But the Hebrew word translated as “healing” is rapha’ and it is best understood as, not so much a physical healing, but a restoration to favor. In fact, the text describes the Egyptians as returning (shuwb) to the Lord.

they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22 ESV

This is interesting phrasing because, in reality, the people of Egypt never worshiped God. And yet, they are described as returning to Him. This seems to be a picture of fallen mankind being restored to the former relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Man was made in the image of God and meant to have an ongoing, unbroken relationship with Him. But sin severed that relationship. And yet, God, in His mercy, will one day restore fallen men. This is not a promise that all men will be saved, but that men from every tribe, nation and tongue will one day worship before the God who made them. The book of Revelation speaks of a day when a great multitude will stand before God’s throne.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

And Isaiah tells of a day when the nations will exist together in harmony. There will be a road leading all the way from Egypt to Assyria, winding its way through the land of Judah. And rather than armies marching along this road to wage war against one another, the Egyptians and Assyrians will use this highway to worship God together. Isaiah describes a God-ordained alliance between Israel, Assyria, and Egypt. He will one day bring the nations together in unity, joined by a common worship of and reverence for Himself. And rather than bringing judgment against the nations, God will bless them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:25 ESV

During Isaiah’s day, the people of God were attempting to create unity through alliances. But these alliances were premature and not God-ordained. God was not interested in Israel or Judah placing their hope in these nations. He wanted them to trust Him. If they would, He would bless them. In a sense, they were trying to face-forward God’s will by doing things their way. Too often, we fail to understand that God has a plan that far surpasses our comprehension. We can’t see into the future, and so, we find ourselves focusing on the here-and-now, and attempting to fix our problems in our own strength. But it is far better to trust in and wait on God.

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

To the Ends of the Earth.

b)1 Ah, land of whirring wings
    that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
which sends ambassadors by the sea,
    in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
    to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
    a nation mighty and conquering,
    whose land the rivers divide.

All you inhabitants of the world,
    you who dwell on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
    When a trumpet is blown, hear!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“I will quietly look from my dwelling
    like clear heat in sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”
For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
    and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks,
    and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away.
They shall all of them be left
    to the birds of prey of the mountains
    and to the beasts of the earth.
And the birds of prey will summer on them,
    and all the beasts of the earth will winter on them.

At that time tribute will be brought to the Lord of hosts

from a people tall and smooth,
    from a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
    whose land the rivers divide,

to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 18:1-7 ESV

Cush.pngCush isn’t exactly a household name for most of us. If asked to locate it on a world map, we might not know what region of the globe to begin our search. But because this next oracle is directed at the land of Cush and all of the preceding oracles have had connections with nations who had direct ties to the people of Judah, we can assume Cush was in close proximity to the promised land.

In the book of Genesis, we have the record of God’s destruction of the world through a global flood. Noah and his family, including his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were the only ones to survive God’s judgment on the world. According to Genesis 10:6, Ham became the father of Cush. One of the sons born to Cush was a man named Nimrod. Interestingly, the Genesis account only provides a history of this one son of Cush.

Cush was the father of Nimrod; he began to be a valiant warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. (That is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.”) The primary regions of his kingdom were Babel, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen, which is between Nineveh and the great city Calah. – Genesis 10:8-12 NLT

There are some names that should jump out at us in this passage: Babel, Shinar, Assyria, and Nineveh. Of course, Babel is where mankind attempted to disobey God’s command to spread across the earth and populate it. Instead, they decided to erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. In reality, they wanted to build their own reputation as a great and mighty people. But God confused their languages and they dispersed. But Babel would later become the region known as Babylon.

Many scholars believe Shinar to be a reference to the land of Sumer, where the Sumerians lived. This region was located in southern Mesopotamia, in what is now southern Iraq. The Sumerians eventually built the city of Ur, which was the hometown of Abraham. Of course, Assyria is more familiar to most of us. It was a great nation that occupied an area that included what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Their capital city was Ninevah.

So, we can see that the descendants of Cush has a long and less-than-friendly history with the people of God. But in Isaiah’s day, the Cushites resided in the area south of Egypt. Some believe that they were actually Ethiopians. Isaiah describes them as “a nation tall and smooth…a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide… (Isaiah 18:2 ESV). The 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus, records, “For of the four sons of Ham, time has not at all hurt the name of Cush; for the Ethiopians, over whom he reigned, are even at this day, both by themselves and by all men in Asia, called Cushites” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews).

In Isaiah’s day, the land of Cush would have been the end of the world. It was about as far from the land of Judah as one could imagine. And yet, God directs Isaiah to deliver an oracle against this distant nation. Why? Because Judah, facing the prospect of an attack by a combined force made up of Syrians and Israelites, was considering forming their own alliances. In other words, they were looking for aid in their moment of desperation. And the Cushites, along with the Egyptians, would have been logical options for the people of Judah to consider.

But God has a warning for the people of Cush. In fact, His oracle includes all the nations of the earth.

All you inhabitants of the world,
    you who dwell on the earth… – Isaiah 18:3 ESV

Rather than using the Cushites to save the people of Judah, God commissions them to take a message to the nations of the earth. He wants them to warn these nations that judgment is coming.

…when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
    When a trumpet is blown, hear! – Isaiah 18:3 ESV

There will be signal for battle and no one will miss it. When that day comes, the nations are to take notice and prepare for the worst. And God warns:

“I will quietly look from my dwelling
    like clear heat in sunshine,
    like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” – Isaiah 18:4 ESV

There will be no panic on God’s part. There is almost a feeling of nonchalance in this statement, as if God simply looks down and knows it is time to act. And the next verse describes the actions of a farmer pruning His crops.

For before the harvest, when the blossom is over,
    and the flower becomes a ripening grape,
he cuts off the shoots with pruning hooks,
    and the spreading branches he lops off and clears away. – Isaiah 18:5 ESV

But God’s pruning of the nations would appear premature, before they had time to fully produce fruit. In a sense, He would nip in the bud their plans for world domination. He would prune the fruit of their conquests and desires for global subjugation.

And the results of God’s judgment will be devastating.

They will all be left for the birds of the hills
and the wild animals;
the birds will eat them during the summer,
and all the wild animals will eat them during the winter. – Isaiah 18:6 NLT

The book of Revelation speaks of a coming day of judgment that is eerily similar in tone.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18 ESV

There is a coming day of judgment for all mankind. God will deal righteously and justly with the rebellious nations once and for all time. He will bring an end to sin. He will destroy the pride and arrogance of man, revealing Himself as the one and only God of the universe. And, later on in this book, Isaiah reveals something else that God will do in that day. It will be an act of mercy and grace. It will be a sign of God’s love and His desire to redeem a remnant from throughout the nations.

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.” – Isaiah 66:18-19 ESV

They shall declare my glory among the nations. God will send His people to the far ends of the earth, even beyond the borders of Cush, in order that all people mighty hear of His glory, goodness and grace.

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 Righteous Judge and King.

1 Send the lamb to the ruler of the land,
from Sela, by way of the desert,
    to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
Like fleeing birds,
    like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
    at the fords of the Arnon.

“Give counsel;
    grant justice;
make your shade like night
    at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
    do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
    sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
    from the destroyer.
When the oppressor is no more,
    and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness.”

We have heard of the pride of Moab—
    how proud he is!—
of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence;
    in his idle boasting he is not right.
Therefore let Moab wail for Moab,
    let everyone wail.
Mourn, utterly stricken,
    for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.

For the fields of Heshbon languish,
    and the vine of Sibmah;
the lords of the nations
    have struck down its branches,
which reached to Jazer
    and strayed to the desert;
its shoots spread abroad
    and passed over the sea.
Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer
    for the vine of Sibmah;
I drench you with my tears,
    O Heshbon and Elealeh;
for over your summer fruit and your harvest
    the shout has ceased.
10 And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
    no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
    I have put an end to the shouting.
11 Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
    and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.

12 And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail.

13 This is the word that the Lord spoke concerning Moab in the past. 14 But now the Lord has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.” – Isaiah 16:1-14 ESV

moabChapter 16 continues God’s oracle concerning the Moabite kingdom. And, in reading this section of the oracle, it is important to consider how much, if any, of God’s words, have been fulfilled or remain to be fulfilled. It is clear that God has already warned them of a day when they would suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of some outside force. The cities of Ar and Kir would be laid waste in a single night. The temple to their false god, located in Dibon, would be destroyed, and the people would be left in a state of mourning.

But now, God speaks of a day when the Moabites will send tribute to the king of Judah, in the form of a lamb. The refugees from Moab, shaking with fear and desperate for aid, will beg the king of Judah to provide them with shelter.

“Give counsel;
    grant justice;
make your shade like night
    at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts;
    do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
    sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
    from the destroyer.” – Isaiah 16:3-4 ESV

The oracle speaks of a time “When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land” (Isaiah 16:4 ESV). While that aspect of the prophecy could have been fulfilled sometime in the past, the next verse suggests that it remains yet to be fulfilled. The oracle speaks of a king and a throne.

…then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness. – Isaiah 16:5 ESV

This prophetic promise speaks of a very specific king, one who will be a descendant of David and rule with love, faithfulness, justice, and righteousness. This ties into an earlier promise revealed in chapter nine.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV

This passage speaks of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ when He will rule from the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years. This will not take place until the end of the seven-year period of Tribulation when God will bring His judgments upon the earth. But when the time of the Great Tribulation is complete, Jesus will return and establish His kingdom on earth. That can be the only fulfillment of the oracle found in chapter 16 of Isaiah. And Isaiah spoke of that day all the way back in chapter two.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
    and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

Moab will be among the nations in that day, that flock to the land of Israel, seeking to worship Jesus Christ and God Almighty. But long before that day takes place, God warns the Moabites that their coming destruction will be due to their excessive pride.

We have heard about Moab’s pride,
their great arrogance,
their boasting, pride, and excess.
But their boastful claims are empty! – Isaiah 16:6 NET

The oracle pictures utter devastation. Their pride would be replaced with humiliation and their joy with sorrow. All that they had put their trust in will have been destroyed. Their fields will lay barren. Their vines will no longer produce grapes. And, in their devastated state, the Moabites will continue to seek the aid of their false gods.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

Their idols will prove no match for God Almighty. But in the midst of all the judgment, God will reveal His heart for the people of Moab.

My heart’s cry for Moab is like a lament on a harp.
    I am filled with anguish for Kir-hareseth. – Isaiah 16:11 NLT

God does not find some kind of perverse joy in His judgment of the wicked. The prophet, Ezekiel, records God’s sentiments in His own words.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 ESV

But, because He is righteous and holy, He must punish those who reject Him as God. He cannot turn a blind eye to sin. He cannot simply tolerate the rebellion of His own creation. And, much of what God does to the nations by way of judgment was intended to wake up His own chosen people, Israel. He wanted them to know that they to would suffer a similar fate, if they did not repent and return to Him.

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

The judgment of God was coming. In fact, within three years time, the Moabites would be overwhelmed and destroyed. And their fall should have been a wakeup call to the nation of Judah. There was no reason to hope and trust in nations because they would fail and fall. There was no sense in continuing to rebel against God because His judgment was inevitable and inescapable.

But God, in His grace and mercy, reveals that a remnant of the Moabites would remain. And it will be the future descendants of those survivors of God’s judgment who one day will flock to the city of Jerusalem and worship the right King of Israel, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

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

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

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

God With Us.

1 Then the Lord said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’ And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

The Lord spoke to me again: “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:1-10 ESV

If you recall, in the previous chapter, Isaiah told King Ahaz that God was going to give him a sign.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

Now, as we open chapter 10, God gives Isaiah a rather bizarre set of instructions. He was to inscribe on a clay table the name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which roughly translates, “speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil.” The act of inscribing this name on the tablet was intended serve as a prophetic pronouncement of what was to take place. And God had Isaiah seek two men to attest to the validity of the document’s content and date. Then we’re told that Isaiah had sexual relations with “the prophetess.” We are not told who this woman was, but the phrase, “I went to…” conveys the idea of drawing near to someone or somthing. In this case, Isaiah drew near for the purpose of sexual relations. And it appears as a euphemism several other places in Scripture for the first sexual encounter between a husband and his new wife. So, it would appear that Isaiah married this unnamed prophetess and she became pregnant with a child.

And God commanded Isaiah to name his new son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But it appears that, upon the birth of their son, Isaiah’s wife had named the boy, Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” But God had clearly told Isaiah to use the rather strange name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It is interesting to note the difference in meaning between these two names. One communicates a promise of God’s intimate and pervasive presence and protection. The other describes powerlessness at the hands of an enemy and the resulting state of being plundered. In a way, the people of Judah had the mistaken notion that, because they were the chosen people of God, He would be with them and protect them. But they had forsaken Him. And faced with the threat of the military alliance between Israel and Syria, they had chosen to put their trust in Assyria, not God.

But God warns that, before Maher-shalal-hash-baz was old enought to speak his first words, Syria and Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians. And the book of 2 Kings records for us exactly what happened.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-bethmaacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. – 2 Kings15:27-29 ESV

God was going to punish the nation of Israel. But the people of Judah would not escape the judgment of God. Because of his alliance with Assyria, Ahaz saw the fall of Israel as a good thing. It seemed to justify his decision to make the alliance in the first place. His plan had worked to perfection. But this alliance would prove to be ill-fated.

And God makes it clear that the entire nation of Judah was guilty. From Ahaz on down, the people of Judah were guilty of unfaithfulness. They were worshiping false gods and placing their hope and trust in the strength of the Assyrian army. So, God accuses them of rejecting “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8:5 ESV). The Shiloah was a gently flowing stream that carried fresh water from the spring of Gihon into the walls of Jerusalem. It was unimpressive in its size, but faithful in its provision of clean, drinkable water. It had always been there for them.

Yet, when the Syrians and Israelites had fallen before Assyria, the people of Judah had rejoiced. They were glad. Their allies had saved the day and destroyed the threat that had been looming over the heads of the people of Judah. But God had bad news. In place of His gently flowing stream, they would experience the devastating impact of the fast-moving waters of the Euphrates River, a symbol for the Assyrians. The very “river” in which they had placed their trust would overflow its banks and inundate their land.

“And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” – Isaiah 8:7-8 ESV

And notice the use of the name, “Immanuel.” In spite of the dire predictions found in these verses, God informs His people that He will be with them. So, the name given to the baby by his mother was correct. But so was the name given by Isaiah. There would be plundering and devastation, but also the consistent and persistent presence of God.

The prophecy takes a dramatic turn, with God speaking a word of warning against the nations. He turns His attention from Judah to the pagan nations who surround them, including the Assyrians.

“You will be broken, O nations;
you will be shattered!
Pay attention, all you distant lands of the earth!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted!
Issue your orders, but they will not be executed!
For God is with us!” – Isaiah 8:9-10 NLT

God was going to use the Assyrians to punish His people. In His holiness and righteousness, He could not simply overlook their unfaithfulness. Their sin deserved judgment. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, God disciplines those whom He loves.

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

The psalmist echoes that sentiment.

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. – Psalm 119:75 ESV

God was going to punish Judah, but He would also deal with those nations which played a role in their punishment. He would avenge His people. He would wage war against the nations who, like Assyria, brought destruction and devastation to the people of God.

And God makes it perfectly clear that, in spite of all that would happen, He would be with the people of Judah. “God is with us.” They would one day recognize His all-powerful hand and all-pervasive presence. For the time being, it was going to be difficult. Their sins were going to bring His judgment. But His love and mercy would show up at just the right time. He would eventually avenge them and restore them. Because He is always Immanuel, God with us.

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

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

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

The Favor of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

An Invitation-Only Event.

1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” –  Matthew 22:1-14 ESV

wedding feast

In this, the final of the three parables Jesus told on this occasion, He told the story of a king who prepared a wedding for his son. On the day of the wedding, the king sent his servants to escort all the invited guests to the festivities. But all those who had received the king’s gracious invitation refused to come. So, he sent additional servants, equipped with details concerning the feast king had prepared for them.

“Look! The feast I have prepared for you is ready. My oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” – Matthew 22:4 NLT

They were told that the king had them in mind when he prepared the feast. He had spared no expense in planning a magnificent feast just for them. But each of those who had received the king’s personal invitation to this very special occasion chose to ignore his kind offer. Instead, they found other, seemingly more important things to do with their time. They showed no interest in the king, his son or the feast that had been prepared on their behalf.

Amazingly, some of the invited guests showed their disdain for the king by verbally and physically abusing his servants, and even putting them to death. Obviously, they had never heard the age-old maxim, “Don’t kill the messenger.” Their violent treatment of the innocent servants of the king revealed their attitude toward him as their sovereign. They showed him no respect and refused to extend to him the honor associated with his title. They displayed no fear of retribution on the part of the king. Their actions revealed a total disregard for the king’s position and power.

But they were in for a big surprise. Upon hearing of their murder of his servants, the king ordered his army to destroy these people and burn their town. He accused them of being murderers and treated them accordingly. And the king made it clear that their actions had exposed their inherent unworthiness to be guests at the wedding feast of his son.

“The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” – Matthew 22:8 ESV

Their actions had disqualified them. But it wasn’t the fact that they had murdered the king’s servants. It was that they had refused his gracious and repeated invitation to be guests at his son’s wedding feast. They had placed no value in the king’s decision to include them as his guests to this invitation-only event.

By now, Jesus’ intent behind this parable should be clear. He was telling His disciples about the coming kingdom of God. The king is the parable represents God the Father. The king’s son is Jesus. The wedding feast is the marriage supper of the lamb, a future event described in Revelation 19.

Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” – Revelation 19″7-9 ESV

And the original guests invited to the wedding feast represent the nation of Israel. God had extended His invitation to the Jewish people, sending His Son to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of heaven. But as John records in his gospel, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Not only that, God had sent His prophets, years in advance of Jesus’ incarnation, and they had clearly told of the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish people had been “invited” by the servants of God to be guests at His Son’s coming wedding feast. But the Jewish people had rejected the words prophets, even putting some of them to death. Jesus will later declare His sorrow over Israel’s rejection of Him.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Matthew 23:37 ESV

In the parable, Jesus described the king’s decision to extend his invitation to others. He sent his servants to invite anyone they saw – good, bad or indifferent – to fill the banquet hall for his son’s wedding. Evidently, the king even supplied wedding clothes to these people, because they would not have had any. Having not been part of the original group invited to the wedding feast, they would not have had time to prepare for the ocassion. But, in spite of the king’s gracious provision of garments fit for a wedding, one man had the audacity to show up improperly dressed, having failed to put on what he had been given. He was promptly bound and thrown out.

So what’s the point? God had invited the nation of Israel into His kingdom. Over the centuries He had sent His messengers, the prophets, to the Jewish people, with His call to repentance, but they had refused God’s messengers, rejecting and even killing them. So Jesus told His listeners that God was going to deal harshly with that generation and with those of His own day. As a result, the invitation would be extended to any and all, a clear reference to the Gentiles. God would open up the invitation to those outside the Jewish community, even providing the proper “attire” for the wedding. Through His upcoming death on the cross, Jesus would clothe those who believed in Him with His own righteousness. He would replace their rags of sin with the white garments of righteousness, making them acceptable before God the Father. But if anyone tries to enter God’s Kingdom clothed in their own righteousness, they will be rejected.

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

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

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

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

Unearned and Undeserved.

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” –  Matthew 20:1-16 ESV

Jesus ended this section the same He did the last one – with the words, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30 ESV). Jesus was still attempting to provide His disciples with further insight into His encounter with the rich young man. While Jesus was trying to clarify their misconceptions, they were still struggling with the content of the exchange between Jesus and the young man. While they believed the young man’s wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, Jesus had said it was difficult, if not impossible, for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. When the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?”, Jesus had dropped the bombshell, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The young man had walked away, rather than do as Jesus had commanded. He had been unwilling to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. His love affair with materialism had kept him from following Jesus. The cost was too high. The sacrifice, too great.

Recognizing the angst and anxiety on the faces of His disciples, Jesus told them a parable. It was clearly designed to explain what He meant by the first will be last, and the last first. He used an easy-to-comprehend scenario from everyday life, intended to illustrate and explain a deeper, more mysterious spiritual reality. The whole purpose behind this parable was to explain life in the kingdom of heaven, and the disciples were going to discover, yet again, that it would not harmonize with their preconceived notions.

It’s essential that we notice that this parable involves the work or efforts of the laborers and the reward of the landowner. Remember, the rich young man had come to Jesus asking what he must do to have eternal life. He was thinking in terms of labor or effort in order to gain entrance into God’s kingdom. And when Jesus told him to sell all that he owned and give it to the poor, Jesus was not suggesting that obedience to that one command would provide the man eternal life. He was revealing the true focus of the man’s faith, hope and security. It was in his wealth.

In Jesus’ story, the landowner went out early in the morning and hired laborers to work in his vineyard, offering each of them a denarius for their wage. And they had all agreed to the conditions of the contract. But throughout the rest of the day, at 9:00 am, Noon, and 5:00 pm, the landowner continued to hire additional workers. In each case, the landowner found men “standing idle in the marketplace” (Matthew 20:3, 6 ESV). And when he asked them why there were not working, the men answered, “Because no one has hired us” (Matthew 20:7 ESV). They had no place to work. They were laborers with nothing to do. But the landowner changed all that. He replaced their idleness with productive activity. They could not create work for themselves. They owned no vineyard of their own. They were at the mercy of the one who owned the vineyard.

When the workday had come to an end, the landowner called all the men together in order to pay them for their labor. And this is where the main point behind the parable appears. The landowner paid every man a denarius, regardless of how long they had worked. The only group he had agreed to pay a denarius had been the first one. And Jesus made it a point to reveal that the last group hired had been the first to receive the wages for their work. That means that the first group had to stand back and watch as each group of workers received the same level of pay, regardless of the amount of work they had done. In their minds, they assumed that the level of pay would increase based on the number of hours worked. When the first group got a denarius, they automatically assumed that their reward would be greater because they had labored longer and harder. But they were incensed to find out that their pay was no greater, and shared their disappointment with the landowner.

“These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” – Matthew 20:12 ESV

Don’t miss what they said: “You have made them equal to us.” This statement provides an essential clue to the primary point of the parable. You have to go all the way back to the scene that began this whole exchange. The disciples had been arguing over which of them was the greatest in the kingdom. And now we have Jesus telling them a story that shows what appears to be a case of extreme inequality and unfairness. The laborers, like the disciples, were hung up on the idea of earned reward. The men who labored the longest were convinced that their efforts deserved greater compensation. They had earned more because they had done more.

But the landowner, unmoved by their complaint, told them to take what they had been offered. It was exactly what they had agreed to in the beginning. They had no right to question the generosity of the landowner. He was free to pay each man whatever he chose to pay them. And he asked the disgruntled laborers a rhetorical question: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15 ESV).

It’s important to recall Peter’s earlier response to Jesus.

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” – Matthew 19:27 ESV

He was asking Jesus would he could expect to receive in the way of reward based on what he believed to be the greater degree of sacrifice. In essence, he was saying that he and his fellow disciples had earned more because they had done more.

Like the disciples, we hear this story and think in term of labor and reward. He can’t help but see the actions of the landowner as somehow unfair or unjust. But Jesus is emphasizing the grace of the landowner, not the efforts of the laborers. None of the men had earned their reward. They had no even earned the right to labor. They had been graciously hired by the landowner and given the privilege of working in his vineyard. And he was free to pay them whatever he determined to be just and fair. A denarius was a typical day’s wage for a common laborer. So, even those who men who had labored all day had received fair compensation.

Like the landowner in Jesus’ parable, it is God who calls laborers to work in His vineyard. He finds those who are “standing idle in the marketplace” and invites them to labor on His behalf. He has a predetermined reward prepared for them. And that reward is not based on the length or intensity of their labor. It is based on His grace and mercy.

The disciples had been the first to be called by Jesus. But that did not make them more worthy of reward. Their position as His disciples was not an indication of their value or a determiner of their right to greater spiritual compensation. Jesus wanted them to understand that their status as His followers was based solely on His invitation to follow Him. He had found them “standing idle in the marketplace” and had called them to labor alongside Him in the kingdom. And Jesus was going to be calling others along the way. And long after Jesus had returned to heaven, the disciples would see others responding to the call of Jesus and joining them in the work of the harvest. And, one day, each of us will receive the same reward, not based on how long we have labored or the work we have done, but based solely on the grace of God.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

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

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

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

All Things Are Possible With God.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter saMy Sitesid in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” –  Matthew 19:23-30 ESV

It’s essential that we not separate the content of these verses from the encounter that Jesus had with the rich young man. Verse 22 ended wih the sobering statement: “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

He was wealthy and, when Jesus told him to sell all he possessed, give it to the poor and follow him, the man simply walked away. The cost was too high. In his mind, the price for eternal life was too steep to pay.

But we must not miss two important statements made by Jesus that will help give clarity to what Jesus told HIs disciples after the man’s departure. Two different times in His exchange with the young man, Jesus addressed the man’s desire to know what he had to do to gain eternal life.

If you would enter life… – vs 17

If you would be perfect… – vs 21

And in both cbases, Jesus had followed up those statements with action steps:

…keep the commandments. – vs 17

go, sell what you possess and give to the poor. – vs 21

But Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t know. It was not a case of whether the man would or wouldn’t keep Jesus’ instructions. It was that he couldn’t. It was impossible. While the young man claimed to have kept the five commandments Jesus outlined, there was no way he had done so perfectly. And it is painfully clear that the young man loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God. In other words, he had broken the very first commandment, because he had made a god out of material things. And he was willing to sacrifice the hope of eternal life with God in order to hold on to his false god of materialism.

So, as the disciples watched the man walk way, Jesus had used the moment as a teaching opportunity. He made a statement that caught them by surprise.

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 19:23-24 ESV

For the disciples, this statement made no sense. As Jews, they had always understood that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. They had been taught to believe that one of the primary ways in which God bestowed His favor on men was through material possessions. When they looked at the lives of the patriarchs, like Abraham, Joseph, and David, they saw men who had been greatly blessed by God with great wealth. And they aspired to be blessed in the same way.

So, the words of Jesus caught them off guard. They were inconsistent with their understanding of how life worked. Which explains their astonishment and their question to Jesus: “Who then can be saved?”

In essence, what they were thinking was, if those that are blessed by God are going to have a difficult time entering eternal life, then what hope did they have. The disciples were far from wealthy. They had little in the way of possessions. And nobody looked up to them or aspired to be like them. But their whole concept of God’s blessings was warped. They had not yet understood what Jesus had said in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“Blessed are those who mourn…”

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Blessed are the pure in heart…”

“Blessed are the peacemakers…”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…”

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…” – Matthew 5:3-11 ESV

When the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” they were not using the term in the same sense we would. They were not tying salvation to the gospel, but to man’s entrance into eternal life. And their understanding was much like that of the rich young man. They believed that eternal life was a reward for the good things done in this life.

But Jesus shocked them when He said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV). The word “this” ties back the idea of salvation or the earning of eternal life. It is impossible for any man to earn his way into God’s kingdom. And not only that, it was going to be particularly difficult for a rich man. Why? Because, like the young man who had just walked away, they would find their wealth to be a barrier to saving faith. Materialism has a way of masking our need. It keeps us from recognizing our true spiritual poverty. Money can buy us a false sense of peace and security. It can make us feel invincible and invulnerable. 

And if you believe that your wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, you will have little impetus to see yourself as someone in need of God’s forgiveness.

This whole exchange began with Jesus describing the need for childlike faith. The disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest. They falsely viewed prominence and position as a sign of favor with God. But Jesus had told them, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). Now, He was expanding on this thought by saying it was impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because a rich man lacked the humble, innocent, completely dependent faith that displayed his need for God.

And Jesus stressed the sheer impossibility of it all by using an extremely ludicrous illustration. A rich man could no more earn his way into God’s kingdom than a camel could squeeze through the eye of a needle.

Then, the always-ready-to-speak-up Peter asked, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” It’s obvious that Peter was thinking of the words Jesus had spoken to the rich young man: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21 ESV). In Peter’s mind, he had done what Jesus had asked. He had sacrificed greatly in order to follow Jesus so, he wanted to know what was in it for him. What would be his reward? Remember what Jesus told the young man. If he sold all that he had and gave it to the poor, he would “have treasure in heaven.” So, Peter wanted to know what he was going to get for all of his sacrifice.

Jesus answered Peter’s question, but not in the way that he had hoped.

“Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” – Matthew 19:28-29 ESV

Jesus assured Peter that he would have a reward, but it would be far different than what he was expecting. Jesus revealed that there was a day coming when He would establish His kingdom on earth. He would sit on the throne of David and rule from Jerusalem. But that day was in the far-distant future. He was speaking of His millennial kingdom, which would take place after His second coming. And in that kingdom, the 12 disciples would receive their reward. They would rule over the 12 tribes of Israel. They would have positions of power and prominence. They would rule alongside the Messiah in His millennial kingdom. But in the meantime, they would be called to sacrifice. They would be required to give up far more than could imagine. Most of these men would end up sacrificing their lives on behalf of the kingdom of God. They would face persecution and difficulty. And Jesus had already warned them of the reality of their future fate.

“But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  – Matthew 10:17-20 NLT

Their reward would be in the future. And it would be tied to eternal life in the kingdom of God. So, rather than seeking their reward in the here-and-now, they were to focus their attention on the hereafter. In this life, they would be required to sacrifice. They would have to die to self and serve God, not material things. Their faith was to be based on the future reward promised to them by God through Christ. They needed to stop viewing the kingdom from a worldly perspective. Wealth, power, and prominence in this life were no guarantee of eternal life. Salvation is a work of God. And nothing is impossible for Him. While we can never earn eternal life, God has made it possible for all who place childlike faith in His Son to receive the unmerited reward of life everlasting.

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