The Work of the Ministry

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

As the title of this letter reflects, Paul was writing to Titus, another one of his young disciples in the faith. This letter, like the ones Paul wrote to Timothy, is intended to encourage and instruct Titus as he ministers on behalf of the gospel.

Paul had left Titus in Crete with the task of ministering to the faithful living there, and had given him orders to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Now, Paul was writing to this young man with further words of encouragement and instruction. But Paul’s letter begins with a customary salutation or greeting. This was a common feature of most letters during that day. Unlike modern letters, where the sender signs their name at the end, ancient letters began with a formal introduction of the sender at the very beginning. All of Paul’s letters begin this way, with some featuring longer salutations than others. This is a particularly long one and is far more than a simple greeting or introduction. In it, Paul provides a summation of what he is going to be dealing with in the main content of his letter.

Paul begins with a dual description of himself as the servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. Both are intended to establish Paul’s credentials as a minister of the gospel. He is, first of all and most importantly, a servant of God. The Greek word he used for servant is doulos and it refers to a bondservant or slave. Paul, as a former Pharisee, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been very familiar with the use of the term, servant, in association with some of the great patriarchs of the Israelites.

Moses, David, and Elijah were each referred to as servants or slaves of God. This was a designation of honor, not infamy. Each of these men had been chosen by God for His role and, in essence, they belonged to Him. Yet, they viewed their subservient status to God as a privilege and not a burden. And Paul claimed to have that same kind of relationship with the God of Moses, David, and Elijah. Yahweh had hand-picked and commissioned Paul to accomplish His will on this earth. So, Paul understood that he served God and not man. It was to God he would ultimately have to answer for his life and ministry. His was a divine calling, complete with the authority and power that had been given to Him by God Himself.

Secondly, Paul states that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is apostolos and it refers to a delegate, messenger, or one sent forth with orders (“G652 – apostolosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Paul was not only a chosen servant of God but he had also been delegated by Jesus Christ as His representative and had been given a very specific task to perform. The exact words of that commission recorded in the book of Acts. They are part of Paul’s testimony regarding his salvation experience on the road to Damascus.

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:15-18 ESV

Jesus had appointed Paul to be His servant, with the task of telling others all that he had seen and heard. Paul had been given the privilege of seeing the resurrected Christ. He would be anointed by Ananias and receive the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. And Paul was to take this message to the Gentiles, opening their eyes to the good news of the gospel.

In the opening lines of his letter to Titus, Paul provides further clarification of the purpose behind his role as a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. – Titus 1:1 NLT

This point was important for Titus to hear because it applied to him as well. Paul had been sent to proclaim the message of salvation by faith in Christ so that all those whom God had chosen could hear it. And when those so chosen by God had placed their faith in Christ, Paul was obligated by God and His Son to teach them the truth, so that they might live godly lives. In other words, Paul had a dual responsibility: To play a role in the salvation of the lost, but also in the sanctification of the saved. And Titus shared that same responsibility.

As the opening line of this letter indicates, Paul had a firm belief in the doctrine of election. He uses the term, “God’s elect” in order to refer to those whom God has chosen to come to faith. The Greek word is eklektos and it means “picked out or chosen” (“G1588 – eklektosStrong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In Paul’s understanding of the gospel, God was the acting agent behind salvation, leaving nothing up to chance. Just as God had chosen Paul for salvation, so He has pre-ordained all those who will come to faith in Christ.

Paul had played no role in his own salvation. He had not been seeking the resurrected Christ. In fact, he had been busy persecuting and eliminating all those who claimed to be followers of Christ. And yet, God had chosen him for salvation. And Paul strongly believed that fact was true for all who come to faith in Christ, past, present, or future.

The doctrine of divine election firmly establishes the believer’s eternal security. God has not left the believer’s assurance of salvation captive to changing feelings or faltering faith. Rather, the faithfulness of God demonstrated in his divine election secures the believer’s salvation in the will and purposes of God himself. – Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jr., 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 265

For Paul, salvation, godliness, and eternal life were all the work of God. None of them were possible apart from God. And all of them were pre-ordained and promised by God “before the ages began” (Titus 1:2 ESV). And Paul insists that the message regarding salvation, godliness, and eternal life was given at just the right time, through men like Paul, so that the elect might come to faith through the preaching of the good news. Paul wanted Titus to know that he was nothing more than a messenger and a means by which God would accomplish His preordained will concerning the elect.

Suffice it to say, Paul saw himself as a man with divine authority and a providential responsibility to spread the gospel so that others might come to faith in Christ. But Paul also believed that he had a divine commission to ensure that those very same individuals grew in godliness. And he wanted Titus to know that he shared this very same responsibility and calling. This young man, whom Paul saw as his child in the faith, was also carrying the heavy burden of ministering the gospel to the people of Crete, carrying on what Paul and others had begun. And in the rest of his letter to Titus, Paul will provide him with much-needed guidance and encouragement for the task that lay before him.

That’s why Paul extends to him “Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior” (Titus 1:4 ESV). Paul knew exactly what Titus was up against. The gospel ministry was anything but easy and Titus would need to be constantly reminded of his dependence upon the grace (charis) or unmerited favor of God.

grace: the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues. – Blue Letter Bible, Outline of Biblical Usage

Titus would know the peace of God only to the extent that he understood the grace of God. His effectiveness as a minister of the gospel would be directly tied to his reliance upon God’s power and his understanding of his role as a servant. And Paul wanted Titus to never lose sight of the fact that the greatest expression of God’s grace and mercy is found in “Christ Jesus our Savior.” It was God who graciously sent His Son to suffer in the place of undeserving sinners. This was a recurring theme in Paul’s letters.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved! – Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

It was not Titus’ job to save anyone. He was simply to point them to the Savior, the one who had already paid the penalty for their sins and guaranteed their hope of eternal life. Titus was a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, just like Paul. And, while he had a job to do, the work had already been accomplished by Jesus.

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

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

Faithfulness: The Key to Preventing Spiritual Failure

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

Paul was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He was well aware of his past and not afraid to confess it or to come face to face with it. He regularly revisited the life he lived before coming to faith in Christ and recognized that his past was a vital part of his present identity. He unabashedly admits to Timothy, “I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). 

There was a dark side to Paul’s past that he was more than willing to admit. He didn’t attempt to hide or gloss over it. In fact, it was his honest recognition of his past that made his present state of grace in Christ that much more amazing. It wasn’t that Paul had lived a life of moral degeneracy and spiritual bankruptcy. No, he had been a faithful adherent to the Hebrew religion and a committed member of one of the most strict religious sects of his day.

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

It had been his zeal for his religious faith that had led him to attack the followers of Jesus. Like most Jews of his day, Paul had viewed the disciples of Jesus as members of a dangerous religious sect that were falsely proclaiming that the Jewish Messiah had come. And Paul saw this rapidly growing religious movement as a threat to his Jewish faith. That led him to wage a one-man crusade against the followers of “the way.”

I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT

Paul was brutally honest about his past, fully admitting the role he had played in trying to exterminate any and all Christians from the fact of the earth.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13 NLT

But Paul’s sordid past had not proved to be a problem for God Almighty. In fact, God had redeemed Paul in spite of his former way of life.

He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him – 1 Timothy 1:12 NLT

It was not Paul’s zeal that earned him a right standing with God. His well-intentioned but misguided efforts to purge the world of all Christians had failed miserably, because God had other plans for this hard-driving, high-energy crusader.

Paul regularly shared the story of how God transformed his life from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9). While on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christ-followers, Paul had an unexpected encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ that changed the entire trajectory of his life. Paul would later be discipled by a man named Ananias, who revealed to him his new God-ordained life’s mission.

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

And Paul freely admitted to Timothy that his salvation had been the gracious work of God, who had sent His Son into the world to save sinners just like him.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. – 1 Timothy 1:15 NLT

Paul was still blown away by God’s unmerited favor and immeasurable grace.

God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, his life was meant to be an example to others of just how gracious and forgiven God could be.

God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul wanted Timothy to understand the magnitude of God’s power and undeserved goodness. It was essential that Timothy fully embrace the one-of-a-kind nature of God Almighty.

He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

All of this was meant to be an introduction or preface to the primary point behind Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy was in a difficult spot. He was a young man attempting to minister to a small congregation of believers living in the hostile environment of Ephesus. They were surrounded by pagan unbelievers and a vocal and sometimes violent contingent of local Jews who had targeted them as enemies.

So, Paul was desperate to prepare and encourage Timothy for the battle ahead. This young pastor was facing strong opposition from a zealous and determined foe. And Paul fully understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT).

At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as “a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 26:3 NLT).

During that period of his life. Paul had done everything in a misguided attempt to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done “in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).

Paul wanted Timothy to know that even those individuals who were causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus were not hopeless cases. They were not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He could certainly do the same with those who “have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul was attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ.

God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul’s life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul’s life had become “a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).

Paul reminded Timothy to never lose sight of the fact that, despite all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT).

Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men gain access to God’s incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God’s minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so, and Paul used them as an example and a warning.  

Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right, and, as a result, they had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually “on the rocks,” out of commission, and under God’s discipline.

Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy would need to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God’s power to extend grace and mercy to all, even the worst of sinners. Timothy’s God was still on His throne.

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

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

Faith is the Victory

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, 27 and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 And levy for the Lord a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. 29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the Lord. 30 And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the Lord.” 31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.

32 Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him. 36 And the half, the portion of those who had gone out in the army, numbered 337,500 sheep, 37 and the Lord’s tribute of sheep was 675. 38 The cattle were 36,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 72. 39 The donkeys were 30,500, of which the Lord’s tribute was 61. 40 The persons were 16,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 32 persons. 41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the contribution for the Lord, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses.

42 From the people of Israel’s half, which Moses separated from that of the men who had served in the army— 43 now the congregation’s half was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 and 30,500 donkeys, 46 and 16,000 persons— 47 from the people of Israel’s half Moses took one of every 50, both of persons and of beasts, and gave them to the Levites who kept guard over the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.

48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses 49 and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. 50 And we have brought the Lord’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.” 51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles. 52 And all the gold of the contribution that they presented to the Lord, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was 16,750 shekels. 53 (The men in the army had each taken plunder for himself.) 54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, as a memorial for the people of Israel before the Lord.  Numbers 31:25-54 ESV

There were 12,000 Israelite soldiers chosen to go into battle against the Midianites; 1,000 men from every tribe. That is a relatively small number when compared with the 601,730 men deemed battle worthy according to the recent census taken by Moses. This small contingent of soldiers easily defeated their enemy and brought back an abundance of plunder from their raids of the towns and villages of the Midianites. And according to the military leaders, they had not lost a single man in the process.

“We, your servants, have accounted for all the men who went out to battle under our command; not one of us is missing! – Numbers 31:49 NLT

The mission had been a rousing success, and the bounty they had taken from the Midianites was substantial. But before anyone could enjoy the riches they had plundered, everyone and everything had to be purified.

“Anything made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead—that is, all metals that do not burn—must be passed through fire in order to be made ceremonially pure. These metal objects must then be further purified with the water of purification. But everything that burns must be purified by the water alone. On the seventh day you must wash your clothes and be purified. Then you may return to the camp.” – Numbers 31:22-24 NLT

Moses warned the soldiers that they must go through a purification ritual before they could enter the camp.

“…all of you who have killed anyone or touched a dead body must stay outside the camp for seven days. You must purify yourselves and your captives on the third and seventh days. Purify all your clothing, too, and everything made of leather, goat hair, or wood.” – Numbers 31:19-20 NLT

Contact with the enemy had rendered these men ceremonially impure. That required them to go through a period of forced isolation and cleansing, along with all those taken captive during the mission. This was the process God had established and communicated to Moses back in chapter 19.

“All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves on the third and seventh days with the water of purification; then they will be purified. But if they do not do this on the third and seventh days, they will continue to be unclean even after the seventh day. All those who touch a dead body and do not purify themselves in the proper way defile the Lord’s Tabernacle, and they will be cut off from the community of Israel. Since the water of purification was not sprinkled on them, their defilement continues. – Numbers 19:11-13 NLT

Once the men and their captives had completed the purification process, the booty was divided. The 12,000 combatants would receive their fair share of the reward, but those who remained behind would not be left out. This pattern of equity among those who went into battle and their brothers who remained behind would become a norm for the nation of Israel.

After a rousing victory over the Amalekites, King David encountered a problem among his soldiers. The ones who had assisted him in the battle were angry at having to share their plunder with those who had remained behind.

“They didn’t go with us, so they can’t have any of the plunder we recovered. Give them their wives and children, and tell them to be gone.” – 1 Samuel 30:22 NLT

These men wanted all the plunder for themselves. But David denied their selfish demands, saying: “No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the Lord has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. Who will listen when you talk like this? We share and share alike—those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment” (1 Samuel 23-24 NLT).

Moses followed a similar plan, first making a detailed list of all the plunder taken from the Midianites. Once that was done, he ordered that half be equally divided between the 12,000 men who had fought in the battle. The other half would be divided between the rest of the Israelites.

But a portion of all the plunder was to be dedicated to God. From the soldier’s share 1/500th of all that was taken was to be given to the Lord.

“…one of every 500 of the prisoners and of the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats…” – Numbers 31:28 NLT

This share was to be given to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the Lord, and the numbers are staggering. The quantity of sheep and goats dedicated to God was 675. But there were also 72 cattle, 61 donkeys, and 32 virgin girls set aside for the Lord. It is likely that the young women became servants to the Levitical priests and assisted in the maintenance of the tabernacle. Of the plunder given to the rest of the people, 1/50th of it was given to the Levites.

Moses took one of every fifty prisoners and animals and gave them to the Levites, who maintained the Lord’s Tabernacle. All this was done as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Numbers 31:47 NLT

There was one final offering presented to Yahweh. The military leaders who oversaw the battle came before Moses with an offering of atonement. Out of gratitude for God’s protection of their men, they brought a large number of gold armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces that the soldiers had taken as plunder. This would have been from the portion of the booty that belonged to the 12,000 soldiers. These men willingly gave up part of their reward as an offering to God.

“…we are presenting the items of gold we captured as an offering to the Lord from our share of the plunder—armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. This will purify our lives before the Lord and make us right with him.” – Numbers 31:50 NLT

In essence, this was a ransom for the lives that God had graciously spared. Not one man had died in this expedition and the generals and captains were expressing their gratitude to God for His mercy and providential care.

This entire scenario paints a picture of how things will begin to unfold as the Israelites enter the land of Canaan. It served as a practice run in preparation for their future conquest of the promised land. There would be many more battles ahead. And every victory they enjoyed would be because of the grace and mercy of God. He would be going before them and fighting alongside them. And they were never to forget to render their thanksgiving to Him for His protection and provision.

Moses would repeatedly warn the people to take their relationship with God seriously. Without Him, they were nothing. And he knew they would always face the temptation to take credit for their own success; a dangerous prospect that was to be avoided at all costs.

“Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!” – Deuteronomy 8:11-13 NLT

With every victory would come the temptation to glory in their success and celebrate their newfound wealth. But Moses wanted to remember that faithfulness was far more important than fame or financial success.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:18 NLT

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

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

God of the Helpless and Hopeless

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’” Numbers 27:1-11 ESV

The Israelites were a patriarchal society in which the male was considered the head of the family, clan, and community. The historical context of the biblical narrative covers a long period of time in which virtually all societies were led exclusively by men. There were occasions when a woman would ascend to the throne as the queen but this was rare and usually only after her husband had died. For the most part, women played subservient roles in society and were relegated to relative obscurity. In most cases, they could not own property, file a lawsuit, testify in court, or hold public office. And because women had few rights and little power, this inequity was rarely challenged.

But the 27th chapter of Numbers presents the surprising case of a group of Israelite women who dared to bring their demands for equal rights before Moses. Sometime after the census was taken and the size of the tribes was determined, the daughters of a man named Zelophehad came forward and presented their case. Their father had been a member of the tribe of Manasseh but he had died sometime during the last 38 years. And the women point out that their father had died without leaving behind a legal heir. He had born five daughters but no son and the women understood the predicament that placed them in. As daughters, they were prohibited from inheriting their father’s goods or property. This posed a difficult dilemma for Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

When Israel entered Canaan and began the conquest of the land, each tribe would receive its allotment, which would then be divided among the members of that tribe. Since Zelophehad was deceased and had no sons, he would receive no land. That meant that the five unmarried sisters would be left homeless and impoverished. Unless they quickly found husbands, their prospects for survival were dim. So, they decided to appeal their case to “Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (Numbers 27:2 NLT).

These five sisters knew they had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so they risked ridicule and rejection by bringing their predicament before the all-male leadership of their community. This action took courage and demonstrates the level of their concern. As the day grew closer when the nation would enter the land of Canaan and begin its conquest of it, these women knew their time was running out. So, they made their desperate appeal.

“Our father died in the wilderness,” they said. “He was not among Korah’s followers, who rebelled against the Lord; he died because of his own sin. But he had no sons. Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.” – Numbers 27:3-4 NLT

They wanted everyone to know that their father had not been one of those who joined in the rebellion led by Korah. In other words, his death had not been because of God’s judgment. In their minds, he had died of natural causes brought on by his own sinfulness. This distinction was important because it portrayed their father as a relatively good man who had not disqualified himself through acts of rebellion against God. He had just died and left them with no hope of owning any land in Canaan, and they were appealing for the “court” to make a special dispensation in their case. “Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.”

It seems likely that there were murmurs of disagreement and shock among the men as they heard the words of the five women. This would have been unprecedented and unthinkable to many of them. To do such a thing, they reasoned, would have been without protocol and would establish a dangerous precedence that could disrupt the social fabric. There were likely some among the leadership of Israel who were ready to deny the women’s request with no further discussion. But Moses wasn’t ready to pass judgment or sentence. Instead, he “brought their case before the Lord” (Numbers 27:5 NLT)

As the God-ordained leader of Israel, Moses could have used his authority to settle the matter without debate. But the unique nature of this situation required input from the Almighty. He was not ready to treat this matter lightly or settle it too quickly.

The text does not reveal how Moses brought the matter before the Lord, but it does state that he received an answer.

The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father. – Numbers 27:7 NLT

God spoke and He had come down on the side of the five sisters. He ordered that they be awarded a portion of land among their father’s relatives. This news must have come as a shock to the rest of the tribunal and left some of them shaking their heads in disagreement. And one can only imagine how the male relatives of Zelophehad must have felt when they heard God’s decree. This divine decision was going to cost them. It would result in each of them receiving less land in Canaan. So, while the women rejoiced in their good fortune and God’s good graces, their relatives were probably muttering under their breath. But God Almighty had intervened and provided for these helpless women. He had stood by their side and had determined to care for their needs. But He didn’t stop there. This was not to be an isolated incident but, instead, it was to become a permanent part of their case law with additional clauses that covered other potential circumstances.

“And give the following instructions to the people of Israel: If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters. And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.” – Numbers 27:8-11 NLT

By boldly speaking up, these five women had appealed their case before God and had helped to establish new legal parameters for other women in their community. Up until this moment, no one had bothered to think about these kinds of cases. No one had considered the plight of the countless women whose fathers had died during the nearly 40 years Israel had been in the wilderness. Many of those women remained unmarried and without any hope of survival once they entered the land of Canaan. Yet God heard their plea for help and He answered.

This story is similar to that of Hagar recorded in the book of Genesis. This Egyptian slave girl served as the maidservant to Sarai, the wife of Abram. When Sarai had been unable to provide Abram with a male heir, she gave him Hagar to use as a surrogate. This innocent young woman was treated like property and forced to bear a son for Abram. But when Sarai saw how quickly Hagar had conceived, she abused and cast out the pregnant mother-to-be. Hagar found herself in the wilderness all alone and with no hope for the future. But God saw her plight and made her a promise.

“Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count…You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.” – Genesis 16:9-10, 11 NLT

And, as a result of this divine encounter, Hagar declared, “You are the God who sees me…Here I have seen one who sees me!” (Genesis 16:13 NET).

God had seen her plight and had intervened. And God had seen the plight of the five daughters of Zelophehad and done the same thing. He is the God who sees (‘ēl rŏ’î). Nothing escapes His attention. There is no one who gets overlooked. He is the God who cares for and intercedes for His own. 

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

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

 

God Will Provide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shepherd My Sheep

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:22-27 ESV

At this point, God switches His focus back to Aaron and his sons, whom He had appointed to serve as priests. Aaron was the older brother of Moses (Exodus7:7) and had served at his sibling’s side ever since the days when God commissioned them to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. Moses was the God-appointed deliverer but Aaron was to serve as his brother’s mouthpiece.

“Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. – Exodus 4:14-16 ESV

In those days, Moses had been living in the land of Midian, having left Egypt out of fear for his life. In an attempt to protect a Jewish slave from mistreatment by an Egyptian, Moses inadvertently killed the oppressor and was forced to run for his life. It was while he was in Midian that he received God’s call to deliver the people of Israel. And, at the same time, Aaron, who was still living in Egypt, received his own divine commission to come to his brother’s aid.

The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. – Exodus 4:27-31 ESV

Later in the book of Genesis, Moses records the point at which God set apart Aaron and his sons to serve as priests. This was long after the people of Israel had made their miraculous escape from slavery in Egypt.

“Call for your brother, Aaron, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Set them apart from the rest of the people of Israel so they may minister to me and be my priests. – Exodus 28:1 NLT

These men were given the privilege and responsibility of serving as God’s mediators and ministers. Their role was defined by God and could not be performed by anyone else in the Israelite community. As members of the tribe of Levi, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar were doubly set apart. They were part of the Levitical cast whom God had chosen to serve in the place of all the firstborn males of Israel, but they were also the clan that would serve as priests within the tabernacle of God. And God ordered Moses to perform an elaborate ceremony that would consecrate them for their new role as His servants.

“Present Aaron and his sons at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and wash them with water. Dress Aaron in his priestly garments—the tunic, the robe worn with the ephod, the ephod itself, and the chestpiece. Then wrap the decorative sash of the ephod around him. Place the turban on his head, and fasten the sacred medallion to the turban. Then anoint him by pouring the anointing oil over his head. Next present his sons, and dress them in their tunics. Wrap the sashes around the waists of Aaron and his sons, and put their special head coverings on them. Then the right to the priesthood will be theirs by law forever. In this way, you will ordain Aaron and his sons.” – Exodus 29:4-9 NLT

God went on to tell Moses that Aaron and his sons would serve as priests for perpetuity. Unlike a Nazirite, whose service to God was voluntary and temporary, the Aaronic priesthood came with a mandatory and lifelong commitment.

“Yes, I will consecrate the Tabernacle and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 NLT

As priests, their role was essential in maintaining the holiness of God’s people. One of their primary responsibilities was to offer sacrifices to God in the tabernacle, ensuring that the sins of the people were atoned for so that God’s presence would remain within their midst.

“Whereas Nazirites generally undertook their vows for a short period, the priests were always there pronouncing this blessing at the close of the daily morning service in the temple and later in the synagogues.” – Gordon J. Wenham, “Aaron’s Rod (Numbers 17:16-28).” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 93:2 (1981):280-81.

After providing the requirements concerning the Nazirite vow of service, God ordered Aaron and his sons to pronounce a blessing on the people of Israel. This three-fold blessing was not intended to be a one-and-done event. In prescribing the exact wording of the blessing, God was giving Aaron and his sons an outline for determining all future blessings. God was revealing His heart for the people of Israel and was delegating to His priests the authority to speak on His behalf.

“Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” – Numbers 6:27 NLT

These men were to love the people under their care in the same way that God did. They were to be servant-shepherds, calling down the blessings of God upon the flock over which He had given them responsibility. They were to view their commission as a gift from God and a high and holy calling.

“But only you and your sons shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and what is inside the veil, and you are to perform that service. I am giving you the work of the priesthood as a gift…” – Numbers 18:7 BSB

The apostle Peter shared similar words with the elders who served the congregation to whom he wrote.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.– 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

God gave His priests the authority to “bless” His sheep. They were ordered to pronounce a divinely inspired promise of future blessing upon a people who were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26 NLT

“This blessing, like the preceding Nazirite legislation, deals with the purification of Israel. As the nation prepared to move out toward the Promised Land, God gave this benediction to the priests to offer for the sanctification of the people. God’s will was to bless all His people, not just the Nazirites. The priests were the mediators of this blessing from God to the Israelites.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Numbers

For the people of Israel to enjoy God’s protection, grace, favor, and peace, they would need to remain holy and pure. And that would only happen if the priests carried out their God-ordained assignment to shepherd the people well. By dictating the content of the blessing, God was providing His undershepherds with a glimpse into His heart. The prophet Isaiah painted a vivid picture of Great Shepherd’s gentle and caring demeanor.

He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads the nursing ewes. – Isaiah 40:11 BSB

And Aaron and his sons were to “bless” the people in the same way. Words would not be enough. Saying it would be insufficient. In a way, God was demanding that His priests be the conduits through which His protection, grace, favor, and peace flowed. And if they did their job faithfully and rightly, the presence of God would remain within the camp of Israel, and the people of God would be blessed. But if they failed, the people would suffer.

Years later, long after the people of Israel had conquered and populated the land of Canaan, the priests of Israel would fail to do their jobs and bring down His wrath rather than His blessing. And He would indict them for their dereliction of duty.

“The shepherds of my people have lost their senses. They no longer seek wisdom from the LORD. Therefore, they fail completely, and their flocks are scattered.” – Jeremiah 10:21 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for…” – Jeremiah 23:1 NLT

And the prophet Ezekiel provides a stinging rebuke from God against the derelict shepherds of Israel.

“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 ESV

Rather than providing protection, grace, favor, or peace, God’s shepherds had fleeced the flock of God. They had abused, used, and abandoned God’s people, bringing down curses rather than blessings. And God held them responsible.

So, when God ordered Aaron and his sons to bless the people, He was expecting far more than just lip service. He was demanding actions in keeping with the words.

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

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

Peace, Love, and Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Man on a Mission

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:1-2 ESV

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus is the second of four letters he wrote while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the emperor. The four letters include Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. The first three were written to particular congregations located within those cities. The fourth letter was personal in nature, written by Paul to a man named Philemon, who was a member of the church in Colossae. The purpose of Paul’s letter to Philemon was to inform him that his runaway slave, Onesimus, had somehow made it to Rome, where Paul had led him to place his faith in Christ. Paul had convinced Onesimus to return home and make amends with his master. But in his letter, Paul begged Philemon to accept Onesimus with open and loving arms.

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Each of the four letters was written sometime between 60-62 AD, while Paul was confined to his home in the Roman capital. Unable to continue his missionary journeys, Paul used his time to interface to teach, preach, and write. He seems to have had many visitors, including Luke, Onesimus, Timothy, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Jesus Justus, Demas, and John Mark.

Luke accompanied Paul to Rome and records in the book of Acts the details concerning their arrival.

When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier. – Acts 28:16 NLT

News of Paul’s trip to Rome had preceded him, and he was greeted by a contingent of fellow Christians upon his arrival.

The brothers and sisters in Rome had heard we were coming, and they came to meet us at the Forum on the Appian Way. Others joined us at The Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God. – Acts 28:15 NLT

Just three days after his arrival, Paul invited members of the local Jewish community to visit him at his rented home. He was anxious that they know the reason for his arrest and confinement but, more importantly, that they hear the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

“I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel—the Messiah—has already come.” – Acts 28:20 NLT

This initial meeting led to a later gathering that was attended by a much larger number of Jewish exiles to Rome.

…a time was set, and on that day a large number of people came to Paul’s lodging. He explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures. Using the law of Moses and the books of the prophets, he spoke to them from morning until evening.  Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe. – Acts 28:23-24 NLT

And while Paul’s evangelistic efforts among the Jews met with limited success, it did not dampen his enthusiasm or diminish his desire to spread the good news concerning Christ.

For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him. – Acts 28:30-31 NLT

This background is essential for understanding the nature of the letters Paul wrote while imprisoned in Rome. The documents themselves reveal a great deal about Paul’s missionary zeal and determination to help the fledgling congregations to whom he wrote reconcile their newfound faith in Christ with the less-than-ideal circumstances in which they lived. Paul could relate to their predicament. He knew what it was like to live in hostile conditions, and yet he never lost sight of his desire to accomplish the mission for which Christ had called him. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he expressed his confidence that his imprisonment in Rome was all part of the sovereign will of God.

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.– Philippians 1:12-14 NLT

Paul was a firm believer in the will of God. In fact, he opens his letter to the church in Ephesus by identifying himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Ephesians 1:1 ESV). This was not a role he had chosen for himself. He had been sovereignly ordained and commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself. At one point in his life, Paul had been a faithful member of the Pharisees, a religious sect of the Jews. And he had been charged by the high priest with the responsibility of persecuting all those who were members of “the Way,” the derogatory name given to those who followed the teachings of the dead Rabbi, Jesus. In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s description of his former occupation, before coming to faith in Christ.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

But Paul never made it to Damascus. Instead, he found himself confronted by the “dead” Rabbi whose name and memory he had so desperately tried to eradicate. Paul’s encounter with Jesus left him blind and confused, but he was directed to meet with a godly believer named Ananias, who told him, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:14-16 NLT).

After having his sight restored, Paul was baptized and returned to Jerusalem, where he had a second encounter with Jesus, who told him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!” (Acts 22:21 NLT). And Paul had spent the rest of his life obeying that commission, taking the gospel throughout the known world and helping to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people of every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Now, years later, Paul found himself confined to rented quarters in the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. But his missionary zeal remained unabated and his dedication to his original commission was undeterred. He was committed to running the race well. He wanted to complete the mission given to him by Christ. And he was not about to let imprisonment deter or distract him from his God-appointed objective. Years later, while imprisoned in Rome a second time, Paul would write to his young protégé, Timothy:

Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.

As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:5-8 NLT

That unwavering commitment to the cause of Christ permeates all of Paul’s letters, including the one he wrote to the believers in Ephesus. In the salutation of his letter, Paul refers to them as “saints” or holy ones. He wanted them to understand their identity as those who had been set apart or consecrated by God. They were no longer citizens of Ephesus, but they were now members of the household of God and could count themselves as citizens of a new kingdom whose ruler was Jesus Christ the Lord.

As Paul begins his letter, he does so with a wish that the Ephesian believers will experience the grace and peace that are rightfully theirs because of God’s loving sacrifice of His Son. For Paul, grace (charis) was the undeserved expression of God’s favor that allowed them to partake in the blessing of salvation provided for them through faith in Jesus Christ. God had shown them grace, His unmerited favor, by opening their eyes to the reality of Jesus’ atoning work on their behalf. And because they had believed in the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, they now enjoyed peace with God the Father. They had been reconciled and restored to a right relationship with God because of their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

And Paul will spend the rest of his letter expounding on the incredible nature of their new relationship with God and the influence it should have on their everyday lives.

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

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

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

 

A Letter of Love

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. – Colossians 1:1-2 ESV

The ancient city of Colossae achieved its early prominence and prosperity due to its location along a major trade route that ran through the Lycus River Valley in the Roman province of Asia Minor (in what is today modern-day Turkey). But in time, the nearby and newer city of Laodicea replaced Colossae as the economic engine of the region. While the Co­lossians had made a name for themselves through the manufacture of the much-coveted crimson-colored wool cloth known as colossinum, the once-thriving metropolis became little more than a small village. It was in this environment that a small congregation of believers sprung up.

The founding of the Colossian church is unclear. At the time Paul wrote his letter, he had not been to the city of Colossae, but his missionary journeys had taken him to nearby Ephesus where he had spent an extended period of time spreading the gospel message and making converts. According to Acts 19:10, “This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” It could be that one of the new converts from Ephesus took the good news of Jesus Christ to Colossae or a visitor from Colossae had been in Ephesus to hear the preaching of Paul. But whatever the case, the gospel made its way to the Colossians and, in time, a small congregation had been formed.

Because of its location along a major trade route, the city of Colossae had a population comprised of Greek colonists and native Phrygians. There would have also been a fairly large number of Jews living in the area because Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had relocated hundreds of Jewish families from Mesopotamia to this region. So, this local congregation was likely a diverse mixture of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. This hybrid blend of diverse backgrounds, along with the influence of false teachers, was causing a great deal of confusion among the church’s young congregation.

It appears that Paul had received word of the situation in Colossae from Epaphras, a resident of the city. Whether Epaphras visited Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome is unclear, but the fellow minister of the gospel had somehow gotten word to the apostle about the state of affairs in his home city. According to verses 7-8 of chapter one, Epaphras had been instrumental in the spread of the gospel to his fellow Colossians.

You learned the gospel from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave—a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf—who also told us of your love in the Spirit. – Colossians 1:7-8 NLT

But Epaphras had shared with Paul his concern for the spiritual well-being of the church. Without proper leadership and instruction, the fledgling congregation had found itself struggling to resist the temptation to syncretize their old religious ideologies with their new faith in Christ. And some of the Jewish converts were attempting to add their own blend of Judaistic ritualism and traditionalism. To top it all off, there were those who had infiltrated the church, posing as doctrinal experts and propagating a dangerous brand of false teaching that stood in direct opposition to the teachings of Paul and the other apostles. This is what led Paul to open his letter with a statement that established his apostolic credentials.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God… – Colossians 1:1 ESV

While Paul had not been one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, he had received his apostolic commission directly from the Lord Himself. Early on in his life, Paul had been a member of the Pharisees, a powerful and highly influentials sect of Judaism. At one point, he described himself as the poster boy for religious extremism and dedication.

“I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.” – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

He was an up-and-coming member of the Pharisees who had been given a commission by the high priest to persecute and arrest members of “the way,” the name given to the cult of followers who worshiped the dead Rabbi, Jesus. As a devout Pharisee, Paul had been a zealous adherent to and defender of the Jewish faith, and he was determined to eradicate the memory of Jesus and eliminate every one of His followers. He would later describe to the Jews how he had been given a commission to hunt down and destroy Christians.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.” – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

But something remarkable had taken place as Paul made his way to Damascus. He had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus. A blinding light had stopped Paul in his tracks and a voice had spoken to him, saying, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting” (Acts 22:8 NLT). Unable to see but fully capable of hearing, Paul heard Jesus give him instructions to visit a man named Ananias, who would give him further instructions. And Ananias opened Paul’s eyes and revealed to him his new mission:

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.” – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

This “Damascus Road experience” transformed Paul’s life. He went from persecutor to proclaimer of the gospel. And he was appointed an official apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ, with specific instructions to take the good news of salvation to the Gentiles. And Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to understand that he had divine authority to speak to address the situation taking place within their local congregation. Paul spent a great deal of time defending his rights to speak on behalf of Christ because there were those who attacked his apostolic credentials. But Paul pushed back on these critics, declaring his God-given authority to speak on behalf of Jesus.

“I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.” – Galatians 1:1 NLT

So many of the churches that Paul helped establish were being targeted by men who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God but who were teaching false doctrines and leading the people away from the simplicity and integrity of the gospel. Many of these men were eloquent and influential speakers who derided Paul’s ministry and portrayed him as a charlatan. But Paul refused to let these individuals destroy what God had built.

“But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:12-13 NLT

So, as Paul wrote the believers in Colossae, he opened his letter with a declaration of his apostleship. He wanted them to know that what he was about to tell them was divinely inspired and not just the thoughts of a man they had never met. He was about to divulge to them the will of God concerning their situation, and it would pay for them to listen. And Paul let them know that he was not alone in his concern for them. His protégé and fellow minister of the gospel, Timothy, stood with him in his message of encouragement and admonition.

Paul refers to his audience as “saints,” using a Greek term (hagios), which means “those set apart to God.” He wanted to remind them that they had been consecrated by God for His use. They belonged to Him and had an obligation to live their lives in keeping with His will and according to His Word. They were not free to establish their own model for righteous living or to create their own system of religious rituals or creeds. They had been set apart by God and were to dedicate their lives to God. And the rest of his letter will address the specifics of their situation and the measures they must take to ensure that they continue to live faithful lives marked by God’s grace and peace.

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

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

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

 

The God of Israel

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel. Genesis 33:1-20 ESV

The fateful moment Jacob had been dreading for 20 years had finally arrived. His return to the land of Canaan would have to begin with an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous reunion between him and the brother he had wrongfully deceived so many years earlier. It was payback time and Jacob had no idea what to expect when Esau arrived on the scene. So, when he looked up and saw Esau headed his way with a large force of 400 men, Jacob assumed the worst. All his attempts to win Esau’s favor with gifts of livestock appeared to have failed. The horde headed his way did not appear to be a welcoming party. So, he prepared for the worst.

Revealing the order of importance that Jacob placed on his wives and their children,  organized his family into three separate groups. Bilhah and Zilpah, the two slave women through whom he had fathered four sons, were placed in the first group along with their children. Leah came next, accompanied by her seven children. Then, forming the final group was Rachel and her only son, Joseph.

It seems that Jacob harbored hopes that, by placing Rachel and Joseph in the back of the line, they might be spared if Esau was out for revenge. Perhaps his anger would be assuaged long before he made it to them. Jacob was not expecting a happy reunion with Esau. The best he could hope for was some form of leniency and mercy. And he still had the option of placating his brother’s anger with additional payments in livestock.

Having taken his place at the front of the line, Jacob nervously waited to see what was going to happen. When his brother rode and dismounted, Jacob held his breath.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. – Genesis 33:4 ESV

Jacob must have been shocked and relieved by this unexpected display of affection from Esau. And an audible sigh of relief must have come from the lips of the nervous retinue standing behind Jacob. They would be spared. And when Esau looked at the long line of four women and 12 children, he asked his brother for introductions. And Jacob replied, “These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant” (Genesis 33:5 NLT).

Jacob was a clever man and even his words reveal his penchant for cleverness and resourcefulness. Notice how he includes the name of God in his introduction of his children. By referring to them as gifts from God, Jacob was letting Esau know that they were under divine protection. It seems he was still a tad suspicious of his brother’s true intentions. And then, in another subtle, but equally adroit move, Jacob refers to himself as Esau’s servant. The Hebrew term he used is עֶבֶד (ʿeḇeḏ) and it literally means “slave.” Jacob was verbally submitting himself as a bondservant to his older brother. What makes this particularly interesting is that Jacob had worked very hard to cheat Esau out of his birthright and blessing so that he could be the head of the family and the inheritor of all their father’s possessions. But, at this point, Jacob was willing to sacrifice it all to restore his relationship with Esau.

After meeting all of Jacob’s wives and children, Esau revealed his curiosity about all the livestock that Jacob had sent his way.

“And what were all the flocks and herds I met as I came?” – Genesis 33:8 NLT

Jacob explained that they had been intended as gifts for Esau, but his brother politely refused to accept them.

“My brother, I have plenty,” Esau answered. “Keep what you have for yourself.” – Genesis 33:9 NLT

There appears to be a bit of bartering going on in this exchange. Esau is playing the generous host who refuses any thought of reciprocity for his hospitality. And Jacob is the guest who insists on rewarding Esau for his kindness. So, the two brothers continued to barter over the gifts, with Jacob finally winning the day. He wanted Esau to know how grateful he was for the gracious greeting he received and told his brother, “I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me” (Genesis 33:10 ESV). 

Jacob expresses his sincere desire to bless his brother. He assures Esau that God has greatly blessed him and he desires to share divide up his blessing with him. Once again, it is important to consider how much time and energy Jacob had spent attempting to steal away his brother’s birthright and blessing. But now, he is ready to share all that he has with the very one he had defrauded. The last 20 years have produced a dramatic change in Jacob.

Having successfully reunited with his brother, Jacob was determined to continue his journey to Canaan. But Esau was excited to host Jacob in his home in Seir, which was located in the land of Edom. But God had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan, the land he had promised to give him as his possession. So, when Esau offered to escort Jacob and his family to Seir, Jacob politely declined. He suggested that Esau and his men go on ahead because his flocks would need to travel at a much slower and time-consuming pace. Esau agreed to this plan and left Jacob and his retinue to continue the journey on their own.

But Jacob had no intentions of traveling to the land of Edom. He knew his destiny lie on the western side of the Jordan River in Canaan. His first stop was in Succoth, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Once there, he built a temporary dwelling place and shelters for his flocks. But his stay would not be permanent. He knew that his real home was in Canaan so, after some undisclosed time, he set out for the city of Shechem. But like his grandfather before him, Jacob didn’t take up residence in the city. Instead “he camped before the city” (Genesis 33:18 ESV). In time, he purchased the land on which he had pitched his tent, securing for himself and his family a permanent home in Canaan. And there he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel, which means “God, the God of Israel.”

In purchasing the land and erecting an altar to God, Jacob was staking his claim to Canaan and declaring his commitment to Yahweh. This was a watershed moment in Jacob’s life. And to commemorate it, he proudly used the new name given to him by God.

“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

The fortunes and the future of Jacob were about to undergo a remarkable change. Along with a new name and a new home, Jacob was about to experience a brand new way of relating to and relying upon God. He had managed to escape a potential landmine with his brother, but that did not mean his stay in Canaan was going to be a cakewalk. And, as chapter 34 will reveal, things are about to heat up for Jacob.

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

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

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