In Those Days

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:28-32 ESV

With the content of these verses, the message Joel is delivering on behalf of God fast forwards to the end times. In the original Hebrew text, verses 28-32 are actually arranged as a separate chapter in the book of Joel. That arrangement further designates this part of the message and accentuates it as being distinct from the rest. The Hebrew text opens up with the words, “Now it will be after this.” Sometime after the events recorded in the rest of chapter two, God is going to do something radically and dramatically different.

Joel refers to this future time period as “those days” and “the great and awesome day of the Lord.” These will not be your run-of-the-mill, ordinary kind of days. They represent a period on the earth that will be marked by extraordinary, never-before-seen events. What Joel describes in these verses are supernatural, one-of-a-kind occurrences that represent the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for His chosen people, the Jews, and for the rest of mankind and the created universe.

In the preceding verses, Joel has described how God poured out His judgment on the people of Judah in the form on locusts. And God has warned that He is going to pour out even worse judgment in the form of an invading army. Now, God tells them that a day is coming when He will pour out something quite different: His Spirit.

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” – Joel 2:28 ESV

In place of His righteous and just judgment, God will pour out His Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel records a very similar message from God, providing greater detail as to what this divine outpouring will look like.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

The prophet Zechariah provides further proof that this outpouring will be reserved for the people of Israel. And part of its purpose will be to open their eyes to the true nature of Jesus as their Messiah. They rejected Him the first time He came to earth, but when He arrives the second time, their response will be quite different.

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.” – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

This future period of time which Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah describe, represent the great day of the Lord when Jesus returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation. And while His return will signal the final destruction of all those on earth who have refused to honor God as the one true God and have rejected Jesus Christ as their only source of salvation, God will extend mercy to a remnant of His people. And this group will be made up of what will likely be millions of Jews who will come to faith during the dark days of the Tribulation. God will redeem 144,000 Jews who will become His evangelists during the Tribulation, and they will lead countless others to faith in Christ, including Gentiles (Revelation 7:1-8). We know from the book of Revelation that there will be a large number of these Tribulation saints martyred by Antichrist. John is given a vision of them standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:8-10 ESV

And John is told who these individuals are.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. – Revelation 7:14 ESV

But in this message given by Joel, the emphasis is on the Jews. God has a special plan in place for His chosen people. Joel envisions God’s grace being poured out on His undeserving children, and it will fall on men and women, the young and old, and even slaves. And it will be accompanied by prophecy, dreams, and visions. This is meant to distinguish this as a time of unprecedented spiritual awakening marked by a pervasive presence of miraculous signs and wonders. Rather than one man speaking on behalf of God, countless young children will be declaring His truth. Even the old will communicate on behalf of God, declaring messages He has given them in the form of dreams. Young men, not recognized for their wisdom, will be given visions by God intended to communicate His word to the entire community. All of this will be the result of God’s powerful presence among His people. As the prophet Ezekiel recorded, God has promised that one day He will reveal Himself to them in unprecedented fashion.

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 39:29 ESV

In these coming days, God will reveal Himself in unprecedented ways. Not the least of which will be in the form of His resurrected and returned Son. The emphasis of these verses is not on the miraculous things the people will be able to do, but on the presence of God that makes it all possible. The prophet Jeremiah recorded yet another promise of God concerning this coming day.’

“I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.” – Jeremiah 24:7 NLT

And the apostle John heard a similar message concerning the day when God and His Son will take up permanent residence among His people.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” – Revelation 21:3 NLT

But before all of this happens, God will bring final judgment on the earth.

“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” – Joel 2:30-31 ESV

But during those days of final judgment, God will still be showing grace and mercy on fallen mankind, offering the gift of salvation to any who will receive it.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Joel 2:32 ESV

These verses are full of reminders of God’s power, faithfulness, patience, covenant faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace. In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to disobey His commands and dishonor His name, He would keep His covenant promises to them. And even during the dark days of the Tribulation, when mankind will stubbornly refuse to turn to God in repentance, even in the face of His unrelenting judgment, He will save some.

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

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

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

 

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The Peace and Presence of God

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. – 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18 ESV

There is no place for spiritual laziness or apathy within the body of Christ. Each member is expected to do his or her part, ministering through the gift(s) given to them by the indwelling Spirit of God. Both Paul and his fellow apostle, Peter, wrote about these things.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8 NLT

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Peter 4:10-11 NLT

Yet, the Thessalonian church had within it a contingent of individuals who were refusing to do their part. Rather than working, they were living off of the generosity of their fellow church members. And because they had so much time on their hands, they were tending to become busybodies, sticking their noses into everybody else’s business and causing dissension in the church.

Paul has already addressed how he expected the rest of the church to do deal with these individuals, commanding them to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV). And in the closing verses of his letter, Paul gives the church further instructions regarding the treatment of the lazy, idle, and disobedient among them.

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 NLT

Notice what Paul is doing here. He is calling for the members of the church in Thessalonica to maintain a mutual awareness of one another’s spiritual condition. He tells them to “take note” of all those who refuse to obey what Paul has written about in this letter – specifically in regards to “walking in idleness.” The Greek word Paul used is sēmeioō, and it means “to mark for avoidance.” It comes from another Greek word, sēmeion, which refers to a sign or mark. Or as the Outline of Biblical Usage describes it: “that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known.”

These people were to be recognized for what they were in order for the church to deal with them appropriately. There is no call for tolerance or political correctness on Paul’s part. He saw these individuals as detrimental to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ and, therefore, he called for them to be shunned. No, they were not to be treated with hatred or animosity, like an enemy. They were to be warned about their behavior so that they might be ashamed (entrepō). The Greek word carries the idea of shame, but with a positive purpose behind it. The motivation was to see them turn around or invert their behavior. In a sense, it speaks of the kind of sorrow or regret that Paul wrote about to the believers in Corinth.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.– 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

Paul is not recommending public humiliation or ostracization, he is calling on the body of Christ to heal itself. This is less about individual correction, then communal care. And, knowing that this kind of effort within the body of Christ could be difficult and emotionally draining, Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica to not throw in the towel. “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV).

This is the very same message Paul gave to the believers in Galatia:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 ESV

The walk of faith is not an easy one. It can be difficult at times and strewn with all kinds of obstacles, distractions, and seeming detours. But Paul encourages his readers to not grow faint or weary along the way. For in due season, they will reap. There is a reward. And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to live with their eye on the prize. It was the way he lived his own life, as he made clear in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

He communicated the very same idea to the believers in Corinth, encouraging them to focus on the goal.

So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

As Paul brings his letter to a close, he offers up an interesting prayer. He calls on God, “the Lord of peace,” to give them “peace at all times in every way.” It seems a bit odd that Paul would ask God the Father to provide peace to His own children. But I think this prayer is meant to remind the Thessalonians that God is the author of peace and it is only through their relationship with Him that they will experience peace in the midst of the troubles of life. Jesus told His disciples:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NLT

Paul seems to be communicating the very same promise. The Thessalonians can enjoy peace in the midst of turmoil. But the peace they need will only come from the Lord of peace. They will not find it anywhere else. Which is why Paul told the Philippians believers to take their cares and concerns to God.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

The kind of peace Paul is talking about is not just a lack of chaos. The Greek word is rich in meaning, carrying the ideas of tranquility, security, safety, prosperity, and harmony between individuals. Even with all that was going on within their local fellowship, and the presence of brothers and sisters walking in idleness, the church could know and experience the peace of God – a remarkable lack of fear, anxiety, discord, and dissension.

And when Paul states, “The Lord be with you all,” he is not suggesting that God was absent from their midst and needed to show up again. He is reminding them of the undeniable reality of God’s persistent presence among them. As Moses had told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV). God was with them, and He would remain with them all along their journey this side of heaven. Just as God went before and lived among the Israelites as they journeyed from their captivity in Egypt to the land flowing with milk and honey, God will go before His children as they make their way from slavery to sin to their future glorification in eternity.

And as Paul signs off his letter, he gives them one more word of encouragement: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 ESV). Once again, this is to be seen more as a reminder to the Thessalonians than a request to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a fleeting or fickle commodity. It is not something we have to seek or earn. It is a gift given to us by God Himself and as a result of Jesus giving His life on our behalf. And notice that Paul states that the grace of Jesus Christ will be with them all. It is not reserved for the spiritual elite or the religious superstars. His grace is available to all – all the time. But we must constantly acknowledge our need for it and place our hope in it.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 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

 

My Child in the Faith

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began, and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. – Titus 1:1-4 ESV

This letter from Paul to Titus is one of several examples in Scripture of Paul’s personal correspondence. Unlike his pastoral epistles, written to local congregations, this letter was addressed to a single individual and was intended for his encouragement and instruction. Titus, like Timothy, was one of Paul young protégés or disciples. It is most likely that Paul had played a role in leading Titus to faith in Christ and he had chosen this young man to join him in his ministry of spreading the gospel and planting churches among the Gentiles. Titus, who was Greek, had been a part of Paul’s ministry for quite some time and had accompanied the apostle on one of his trips to Jerusalem.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. – Galatians 2:1-3 ESV

Titus had been a faithful companion to Paul on many of the apostle’s missionary journeys and had even delivered one of Paul’s letters of rebuke to the church in Corinth. Paul had great confidence in this young man. So, it is not surprising to find that, after visiting the island of Crete, Paul had left Titus behind with specific instructions and responsibilities.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you. – Titus 1:5 ESV

We are not certain of Paul’s location when he penned this letter, but a widely held view is that he was in the city of Ephesus. He wrote this letter with the purpose of providing Titus with more details instructions regarding his responsibilities. The content of this letter, while personal in nature, is focused on the spiritual well-being of the fledgling congretations on the island. Paul knew Titus had his hands full and that his efforts to “put what remained in order” was not going to be easy. The believers in the churches on Crete were in the minority and lacking in godly leadership. In Paul’s absence, Titus had become the primary source of instruction and oversight. So, Paul was attempting to share with his young co-worker all his years of experience in planting and building churches.

When you consider that this was a personal letter, written to someone whom Paul knew extremely well, the situation appears somewhat formal and out of place. In fact, other than in his epistle to the Romans, this introduction is the longest found in any of all Paul’s letters. But its length and formality probably reflect Paul’s seriousness and his desire that Titus see his role with a certain sense of gravity. What Paul is sharing with Titus was not to be taken as mere human counsel, but the words of a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul served on behalf of God and spoke as a messenger of Jesus Himself. The Greek word, apostolos, referred to a messenger or one sent forth with orders. Paul wanted Titus to receive his instructions as if they had come directly from the lips of Christ. And, as if to convey his humble attitude, Paul stressed his role as a servant, a doulos or bondslave of God.

It is likely that Paul wanted Titus to share this same attitude of selfless submission to the will of God and sober awareness of his role as a spokesman for Jesus Christ. In a sense, Titus was Paul’s personal representative on the island of Crete, acting in his place and wielding his authority among the local congregations.

Paul begins his letter with a reminder to Titus that their ministry was “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1 ESV). And that their knowledge of the truth was intended not only for their salvation but their sanctification as well – their growth in godliness. And the focus of it all was the “hope of eternal life” which God had promised long ago through the prophets and had made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a sense, Paul is reminding Titus that their job was to preach the gospel so that the lost might come to salvation. But it was also to ensure the sanctification of the saved – their growth in Christlikeness. And, finally, to make sure that Christians remain focused on the ultimate purpose behind their calling: Their future glorification and the promise of eternal life.

It is so easy to focus on any one of the three aspects of God’s plan of redemption while ignoring the other two. Some put all their energy and efforts into sharing the gospel while ignoring the need to grow those who come to faith in Christ. They lead others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ but never take the time and energy to see that these new believers grow up in their salvation. And these infants in Christ remain so, stuck on milk and unable to handle the meat of God’s Word (1 Corinthians 3:2).

There are others who place all their focus on discipleship, insisting that believers grow spiritually. If not careful, these individuals can make it all about the here-and-now, and fail to remember that this life is not all there is. Without a proper emphasis on the hope of eternal life, discipleship can become an endless quest for righteousness in this life, while failing to recognize that our glorification is unachievable this side of heaven.

And yet, there are those who can spend all their time thinking about eternity and lose sight of present reality. They end up being so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good. We must maintain a constant balance between our earthly existence and our heavenly future. Paul wrestled with maintaining this balance. He knew he had a responsibility to lead people to Christ and to make sure they grew in their knowledge of and relationship with Christ. But he also longed to be glorified and experience the joy of eternal life. He wrote of this internal struggle to the believers in Philippi.

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

With his lengthy introduction over, Paul addresses Titus with love and affection.

To Titus, my true child in a common faith – Titus 1:4 ESV

Titus was much more than a co-worker or ministry companion to Paul. He was like a son to Paul. And this letter will reflect Paul’s loving heart for his young friend and the believers to whom Titus had been given the responsibility to lead. This entire letter was written out of love. Paul had a shepherd’s heart and a deep desire to care for the flock over which God had given him responsibility. And Paul knew from experience that Titus had his work cut out for him. His task was not going to be an easy one. The building up of the body of Christ was a full-time job that came with few perks and even fewer expressions of gratitude.

Which is why Paul ended his greeting with the words: “May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior give you grace and peace” (Titus 1:4 NLT). Paul longed for Titus to experience the merciful kindness of God in his life. He knew that Titus was facing difficult days ahead and he would need God’s grace to survive and thrive. And Paul also desired that Titus know the peace that comes from serving God faithfully and selflessly. Even amid opposition and the likely obstinance of those under his care, Titus could experience the peace that comes from doing the will of 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.s

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

Righteousness From God Through Faith in Christ

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. – Philippians 3:1-4a ESV

Here, Paul drives home a message that was common to virtually all of his letters – that of true righteousness. And his reason for bringing it up seems to be due to the fact that the Philippian believers were undergoing intense opposition, either from within or without, regarding the issue of circumcision. As a Roman colony, Philippi would have had a large Gentile population and, therefore, the church in Philippi was most likely made up predominately of Gentiles who had converted to Christianity from paganism. In A.D. 50, when Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy had arrived in Philippi on their missionary journey, there would have been few Jewish residents in the city. But by the time Paul wrote this letter some 10-12 years later, the Jewish population could have grown and there may have been Jewish converts to Christianity within the congregation at Philippi. The presence of Jews outside the church and Jewish converts within the church had evidently raised an issue that had become a point of contention for Paul: Circumcision.

Paul opens this section with a reminder to rejoice, even in the face of opposition. This is in keeping with his message to them earlier in the letter:

“…it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” – Philippians 1:29 ESV

And Paul had used his own life as an example of joy in the midst of suffering. After all, he was writing to them from house arrest in Rome, facing a trial before Nero and uncertainty as to his fate. But he had been able to tell them:

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.” – Philippians 2:17-18 ESV

So, even though they were facing opposition, they had every reason to rejoice because they were privileged to suffer for the sake of the gospel.

But it doesn’t take long for Paul’s tone to turn much more serious and sarcastic. He warns them to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). Now, while this statement is clearly intended to paint the opposition in an unflattering light, there is more going on here than meets our modern, western eyes. 

Paul, writing in Greek, uses a play on words in describing those who were of the pro-circumcision camp. He refers to them as “those who mutilate the flesh.” But that is a translation of a single Greek word, katatomē, which means to cut up or mutilate. In Leviticus 21:5, the priests of God were forbidden to “make any cuts on their body.” In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, the word katatomē was used to describe this forbidden practice.

Here is where Paul’s cleverness and open hostility can be seen. The Greek word normally used when speaking of the Jewish practice of circumcision was peritomē and Paul uses it in verse 3.  You can see what Paul is doing here: katatomē vs peritomē. He is comparing the Jewish ritual of circumcision with the forbidden act of self-mutilation. But it’s important to remember the context. Paul is addressing a predominately Gentile congregation. These would have been pagans who had placed their faith in Christ, but now there were being told that their faith was incomplete and insufficient. There were those who were telling them that they must be circumcised and keep all the Jewish laws and religious rituals in order to be truly saved. This message was common in the 1st Century and was propagated by a group that came to be known as the Judaizers. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Paul thought about these people. He calls them dogs and evildoers. And his intense anger for them was due to the fact that they were adding to the gospel message he preached. His feelings about this matter are made perfectly clear in his letter to the believers in Galatia.

You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 NLT

And Paul had strong words for the church in Corinth because they were being led away from the simple message of the gospel and buying into a false narrative that essentially claimed true righteousness was based the false formula of Jesus + something = salvation.

As far as Paul was concerned, the Judaizers were the enemy. Although they claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ, they were demanding that everyone become as they were. Their demand was that all the male members of the church in Philippi be circumcised and, essentially, convert to Judsaism before they .could be considered truly saved. And this left Paul in a state of rage, especially because he was unable to do anything about it while under house arrest in Rome. Which explains the strong nature of his rhetoric.

And he completely invalidates the message of the Judaizers, instead offering the Gentile converts to Christianity as the true circumcision.

“For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort…” – Philippians 3:3 NLT

This verse summarizes Paul’s view on the matter. To him, circumcision was nothing more than a work, an outward act that left the one circumcised with a false sense of spiritual well-being. For the Jews, it had become a symbol of their unique status as God’s chosen people. But in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul exposed the flaw behind the Jewish thinking regarding circucision.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. – Romans 2:25 NLT

In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it. – Romans 2:27 NLT

The problem lies in the dangerous misperception being perpetrated by the Judaizers. In their way of thinking the rite of circumcision was the non-negotiable doorway all must enter on their way to justification before God. But this teaching stood in direct opposition to the gospel message of salvation made possible by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. There was no other step needed. To add circumcision to the gospel message was to distort the good news and to make it another gospel altogether. Rather than basing salvation on the grace-gift of God’s Son, the Judaizers were introducing a form of works-based salvation. They were making justification a matter of rule-keeping and self-effort. But Paul reminds the Philippian believers, “We put no confidence in human effort.”

And then he goes on to expose the absurdity of the Judaizers’ argument. If they were going to make it all about human effort and rule-keeping, Paul could have been the poster-boy for self-justification. And he will go on to describe his relative merit as a good Jew who had all the criteria to make him a candidate for justification before God through works. But for Paul, this way of thinking was ridiculous and dangerous. It stood in direct opposition to the message of the gospel. And in a direct attack against the pride-filled Judaizers, Paul sarcastically states: “I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!” (Philippians 3:4a NLT). And he will go on to describe his so-called credentials for justification before God. But he knew that his curriculum vitae had nothing to do with his right standing before God. His salvation was not based on anything he had done or any worth he brought to the table. It was all the result of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And Paul drove home that point in his letter to the Galatians.

“…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16 NLT

For Paul, the formula was quite simple and concise. Righteousness was made available by God through man’s faith in the finished work of Christ. No more. No less. Circumcision becomes nothing more than self-mutilation when used to earn favor with God. Law-keeping becomes disobedience to God when used as an attempt to justify oneself before God. For as Paul stated, no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.

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

A Call to Holiness

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

2 To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2 ESV

As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi, it’s essential that we establish the historical context behind this document. Obviously, the opening line, which serves as the salutation to the letter, establishes Paul as its author. But we also find the name of Timothy, his young protégé and spiritual son in the faith. Timothy was alongside Paul as he penned this letter while under house arrest in Rome.

Paul had ended up in Rome by virtue of a series of complicated and, obviously, God-ordained events that had begun with a plot on his life. Paul had returned to Jerusalem in order to meet with James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church. He made a report regarding his work among the Gentiles, and this news was met with great joy. But, while James and his associates were excited about what was obviously a sign of God’s hand upon Paul and his missionary efforts, they reported that the believing Jews in Jerusalem were less-than-enthusiastic about Paul’s work because of some disturbing rumors they had heard. It seems that Paul had been accused of teaching Jews that, once they came to Christ, they no longer had to keep the law of Moses. James presented Paul with the basic gist of the rumor.

“…they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:21 ESV

James was concerned that once these Jews heard that Paul was in town, they would stir up trouble for him. So, he recommended that Paul go through a period of purification, signaling to his critics that he was still a faithful Jew. Paul had agreed to the recommendation and, as the seven days of purification were coming to a close, he had made his way to the temple to complete the process. But Paul ended up being accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple reserved solely for Jews. A mob descended upon Paul and they had every intention of putting him to death. But Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers and put under arrest. A small faction of the Jews swore an oath among themselves that the would fast from food or drink until they had put Paul to death.

When the plot was exposed, Paul was shipped to Caesarea where he appeared before the Roman governor, Felix. Paul would remain in Caesarea for two years, under house arrest. Eventually Felix was replaced by Festus, who decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial. But Paul, knowing that he would not receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, appealed to his right as a Roman citizen to appear before Caesar in Rome. He was granted his request and was shipped to Rome, where he remained for two years under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar.

It was from Rome that Paul wrote this letter. But why is any of this background information relevant? It is because the entire letter to the Philippian believers is filled with words of encouragement. Here was a man who had spent years facing trumped-up charges that had left him imprisoned for a crime he had not committed. He was still facing a plot on his life and the prospect of appearing before Caesar with no guarantee that his trial would end in either his acquital or release.  In fact, he would tell his brothers and sisters in Philippi:

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” – Philippians 1:21 NLT

Long before Paul ever arrived in Rome, he made a similar statement to the believers living there.

“If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” – Romans 14:8 NLT

So, here was Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi and attempting to encourage them in their faith. And the words that Paul writes to these people carry far more significance and weight where you consider the circumstances under which he wrote them. Consider this well-known declaration by Paul found later on in his letter.

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” – Philipiians 4:11-12 NLT

And he follows this expression of contentment in the face of adversity with the confident assertion: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). This was a man who knew what he was talking about. He was not offering pious-sounding platitudes, but well-tested counself based on his own personal experience.

Paul had a strong attachment to the believers in Philippi because he had played a major role in their coming to faith. Early on, in the book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s arrival in Philippi, a Roman colony. Paul had the privilege of leading to Christ a woman named Lydia, along with her entire household. Her home had become the meeting place for the fledgling congregation. It was in Philippi that Paul and Silas were imprisoned for casting a demon out of a young slave girl whose masters profited from their use of her as a fortune teller. Once freed from her demon, she was of no use to these men and they turned their anger against Paul and Silas. After having been severely beaten, Paul and his companions were imprisoned. But Paul was not someone who let obstacles stand in his way, even the bars of a prison cell. It was while they were in prison that Paul and Silas led to Christ the jailer in charge of their care.

Once released from jail, Paul and Silas eventually made their way to Thessalonica, but it seems that Paul made at least one return trip to Philippi some time before the penning of his letter to them. His letter was in direct response to a gift he had received from them that had been delivered by a man named Epaphroditus. Paul would use this young man to deliver his letter, allowing him to return home and put to rest any concern they had over his well-being. It seems that Ephaphroditus had become deathly sick during his time in Rome, but had recovered.

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,  for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” – Philippians 2:25-26 ESV

Paul was happy to send him home and included a word of commendation, praising Ephaphroditus for risking his life in order to minister to Paul’s needs.

But back to Paul’s salutation or greeting. He describes himself and Timothy as servants. The Greek word he used is doulos, and it refers to a bondservant or slave. It literally meant, “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.”

So, Paul doesn’t set himself as some kind of superior leader who deserves respect and honor, but describes himself as a lowly slave. This is the same designation Paul used when writing to the church in Rome.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. – Romans 1:1 ESV

Little did he know that, when he wrote these words, they would be prophetic. He would later become like a slave, living under the auhtority of the Roman government and completely subservient to their will. But he would see be serving Christ even while subject to the power and control of Rome.

And Paul addresses his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” They are saints or hagios, a Hebrew word that carries a depth of meaning. It is often used to refer to holiness. But it can also mean “to be set apart.” According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, hagios was used “of things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence.” Like the temple itself and the items found within it, believers have been set apart by God for His use. They belong to Him. Which is what led Paul to tell the believers in Rome:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 ESV

Paul had a deep desire to see his brothers and sisters in Christ live up to their calling as children of God. And he will plead with them to live lives that are set apart, reflecting their unique status as saints of God.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… – Philippians 1:27 ESV

Here was a man well-acquainted with what it means to suffer for his faith. He had first-hand experience with what it looks like to live as hagios in a world that stood in direct opposition to all he believed in and stood for. At the core of his message to the Philippian church will be Paul’s call to spiritual maturity in the face of adversity. They were a relatively healthy congregation, but they were surrounded by darkness and faced with the constant temptation to compromise their faith. And he will use his own walk with Christ as an example of what holiness looks like in real life.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

And Paul knew well, that this determination to press on and strive for the goal of Christ-likeness would require the grace and peace of God. But as Paul also knew, he could do all things through Christ who provided all the strength he needed.

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

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

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

Clay In Need of a Potter

8 But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
    and remember not iniquity forever.
    Behold, please look, we are all your people.
10 Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
    Zion has become a wilderness,
    Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and beautiful house,
    where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
    and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
12 Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord?
    Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?
Isaiah 64:8-12 ESV

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

So, Isaiah called out to God. He begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 54:1 ESV). He knew the only hope they had was the supernatural intervention of God on their behalf. Unless He showed up like He did in Egypt when He released them from their captivity, the people of Judah would continue to live as slaves to sin and face their own exile in the land of Babylon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come!

1 “Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
    and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 55:1-13 ESV

This chapter is an open invitation from God Almighty. In light of all that He has said He will do and the work His servant will accomplish on His behalf, God calls the people of Judah to return to Him. Five times in the first three verses, God invites them to “come!” And if they accept His invitation, they will experience the many benefits that accompany a restored relationship with Him. They will satisfy their thirst. And God is not talking about man’s physical need for water. As Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 ESV).

Like His Son, God the Father is offering a permanent solution to the spiritual drought that has plagued mankind since the fall. But this was not the first time God had offered to quench the thirst of His people. In fact, He had been a source of living water to the descendants of Abraham from the very beginning of His relationship with them. Yet, they had decided to seek substitute sources for that which God offered. And in the book of Jeremiah, we have God’s indictment against their actions.

“…my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:13 ESV

Now, in Isaiah 55, we see God responding to the stubbornness of His people with yet another invitation to come and drink. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” What exactly are these waters of which God speaks? Where are they? In the book of Revelation, the apostle John describes seeing the New Jerusalem, and in it, what he says was “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Revelation 22:1 ESV). And growing along the banks of this river, John saw the tree of life – not one, but many – and these trees will yield 12 different kinds of fruit, and their leaves will bring healing to the nations.

The closing chapters of John’s apocryphal book describe the final days of the Tribulation, which will end with the return of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom. And John records a message from the victorious Christ that offers one more promise to permanently quench mankind’s thirst for free.

“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” – Revelation 21:6 ESV

What God the Father and His Son are offering is absolutely free. It comes at no cost to those who are willing to accept it for what it is: A gracious gift. But it is not that the gift is without value. As the apostle Peter makes quite clear, it came at a high price.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV

And the apostle Paul further clarifies the value of this gift when he states, “God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT). The gift God offers has great value, but it costs the recipient absolutely nothing. And yet, the people of Judah were guilty of building cisterns, man-made religious systems, in a vain attempt to replicate what only God can offer. But their cisterns proved to be cracked and worthless. Here was God offering them the real thing for free, and they were busy wasting time, money and energy pursuing poor substitutes. And, exposing the absurdity of their actions, God asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2 ESV). He offers them everything they need, at no cost, but they seem intent on throwing their money away on that which cannot satisfy.

So, He invites them again to come to Him. He even offers to make with them a new covenant, an everlasting covenant. The prophet Jeremiah wrote about this new covenant.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…” – Jeremiah 31:31 ESV

And God describes the unique nature of this future covenant with His people.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – Jeremiah 31:33 ESV

This new covenant will reflect the kind of love God had for David. He prospered David and made him king over a great nation. And just as David conquered many nations and ruled over them, so will the people of Judah. This promise is particularly significant when you consider the current state of affairs in Judah when Isaiah penned these words. They were in a bad spot. They were surrounded by enemies. They were threatened with destruction and powerless to do anything about it. But, here was God promising, “You also will command nations you do not know, and peoples unknown to you will come running to obey” (Isaiah 55:5 NLT). And it will all be the work of God.

But Isaiah warns the people to act. He calls them to take advantage of God’s gracious invitation.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

And, knowing that the people of Judah were going to find His offer hard to believe, God reminds them that He operates according to a different standard. His way of doing things was going to be alien to them. His methods were going to appear more like madness to them. But they needed to believe that His word, like the rain He sends from heaven, always accomplishes all that He intends. They may not understand or even like His methods, but they could not argue with the results. And God assures them that His word, like rain from heaven, “shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 ESV).

And God describes a future scene marked by great joy and celebration. These images picture a time of rejuvenation and restoration. And this is not the first time Isaiah has described this as-yet-unfulfilled day.

Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
    The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendor of our God. – Isaiah 35:1-2 NLT

I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
    I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
    Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
I will plant trees in the barren desert—
    cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine. – Isaiah 45:18-19 NLT

For I will pour out water to quench your thirst
    and to irrigate your parched fields.
And I will pour out my Spirit on your descendants,
    and my blessing on your children. – Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God is inviting His rebellious people to accept His gracious invitation to return to Him so that they might one day enjoy the pleasures of both literal and living water. He wants them to experience the joy that will be found in the future kingdom He has planned, a place of abundant fruitfulness and unending fellowship with He and His Son.

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

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