Imitate God

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Ephesians 5:1-5 ESV

Imitate God. At this point in his letter, Paul issues a lofty and seemingly impossible call to action. And yet, that’s been the theme he has been expressing from the very beginning.  what Paul has been suggesting throughout his letter. In the opening lines of chapter one, Paul reminded his readers that God had chosen them “before the foundation of the world” so that they might “be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). In other words, that they might by holy as He is holy. He prayed that their hearts would be enlightened, so that they might “know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV). Paul wanted them to understand that God had a future in store for them that included their glorification. The day was coming when they would be sin-free and fully righteous. And he assured them of the security of that future by declaring, “God, being rich in mercymade us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4, 5-6 ESV). 

There had been a time when they had been “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But now they had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). They were sons and daughters of God and, as such, they were to emulate and imitate their Heavenly Father. That is why Paul so strongly stressed their new relationship with God.

…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… – Ephesians 2:19 ESV

As members of the body of Christ, they were being “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). It was through the mystery of the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). And Paul’s prayer was that they would understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT) and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).

Paul had commanded the Ephesians: “let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NLT). According to Paul, God had identified the Ephesian believers as His own by placing His Spirit within them (Ephesians 4:30). So, they were to conduct their lives in such a way that they accurately reflected their status as God’s children.  And the greatest expression of their new divine nature was a life marked by Christ-like love.

 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. – Ephesians 5:2 NLT

Jesus had imitated His Father. In fact, Paul described Jesus as “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described Jesus as “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). And yet, thought Jesus was fully God, He “did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:6-7 NLT). In doing so, Jesus displayed His godly character. He obeyed the will of His Father by displaying the selfless, sacrificial love of His Father.

He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Jesus always did exactly what His Father commanded Him to do. He gained strength from doing His Father’s will. That’s why He told His disciples, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). He told the Pharisees, “I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will” (John 5:30 NLT). He declared that He had come down from heaven to do the will of the One who had sent him (John 6:38). In His humanity, Jesus perfectly modeled what it means to imitate God.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” – John 5:19 ESV

God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). And Jesus laid down His life willingly, not under coercion.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:17-18 NLT

He was the visible, tangible expression of God’s love. He imitated God by loving as God loved. And Paul calls the Ephesians to “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). In a sense, Paul is stating that Christ-likeness equals godliness. To be like the Son is to be like the Father. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, because they are one.

But Paul wants his readers to know what imitating God looks like in everyday life, and he does so by listing those characteristics that display ungodliness.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. – Ephesians 5:3-4 NLT

People who display these kinds of qualities don’t look like God. Immorality, impurity, and greed are signs of godlessness, not godliness. They mark the lives of the unrepentant and unredeemed. They are diametrically opposed to a life of selfless, sacrificial love. Immorality involves lust – the desire to satisfy and fulfill selfish passions at the expense of others. Impurity has to do with moral and physical uncleanness. It describes the lives of the unsaved Gentiles.

Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. – Ephesians 4:18-19 NLT

And greed or covetousness is an insatiable desire for that which has been forbidden by God. In the end, it is a worship of self, which is why, in verse 5, Paul ties covetousness closely to idolatry. To covet another man’s wife is to believe that you deserve what belongs to another. Your passions and preferences take priority over the needs and desires of others. But Paul boldly and unapologetically states that “everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). Those whose lives are marked by selfishness and self-indulgence were never really redeemed by God. They fail to display the divine nature that Jesus died to make possible. And their unrepentant behavior provides proof that they are unredeemed and still living as enemies of God. And this was not the first time Paul issued this warning against the unrighteous. He wrote the very same thing in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

And he repeated the same warning to the church in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Paul is not threatening Christians with the loss of their salvation. He is simply emphasizing the expectation of spiritual transformation in the life of a believer. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God will produce tangible evidence of a salvation in the form of increasing sanctification or Christ-likeness. The true believer will experience a supernatural transformation of life that shows up actions and attitudes. Their lives will model the character of Christ and, in doing so, will imitate their Heavenly Father.

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.

 

An Eternal Reward

1 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.” – Luke 16:1-17 ESV

According to verse one, Jesus directed this particular parable at His disciples, but it would appear that the Pharisees were still within hearing distance. Verse 14 indicates that when they “heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” Ever since they showed up as guests at the dinner at their boss’s house (Luke 14:1), these men had been forced to listen to a series of less-than-subtle parables designed to place them in a bad light. And they had just about had their fill of Jesus’ made-up stories and folksy tales of wedding feasts, banquets, lost coins, and wandering sheep. They would have fully understood Jesus’ portrayal of them as the older brother in the parable of the father who prematurely rewarded his sons with their inheritance. And they wouldn’t have seen their part in the story as particularly flattering.

By this point in their ongoing interactions with Jesus, the Pharisees had figured out His parables were meant to paint them in a bad light, and verse 14 indicates that they didn’t like this parable at all. And Luke makes it clear that the primary issue Jesus was addressing in the parable was money. Jesus started His parable by stating, “There was a certain rich man” (Luke 16:1 NLT). Then, immediately after Jesus finished His parable, Luke added, “The Pharisees, who dearly loved their money, heard all this and scoffed at him” (Luke 16:14 NLT). The entire parable is bookended by references to money or wealth, and the entire content of the parable deals with the very same topic. 

It’s important to remember that Jesus has already scolded the Pharisee who hosted the party in his home for only inviting those who could return the favor. The dining room had been filled with other Pharisees, scribes, and members of the upper crust of society, who had the financial wherewithal to reciprocate the host’s generous invitation. Jesus clearly viewed the Pharisees as men who were lovers of money and serial social climbers. They were addicted to ease and comfort and craved the praise of men. Matthew recorded Jesus’ rather blunt assessment of their fame-driven lifestyle.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’” – Matthew 23:5-7 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus warned His audience against emulating the materialistic lifestyle of the religious leaders of Israel.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And He went on to add:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. – Matthew 6:24 NLT

Notice His emphasis on money and its dangerous ability to enslave us. When we allow money and material goods to become our focus, we end up trapped in a never-ending cycle of worry and anxiety. When we own a lot of possessions, we face the constant fear of losing them. When we don’t have enough, we spend all our time coveting more. We’re never satisfied. That’s why Jesus added:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:31-33 NLT

But back to the parable. In it, Jesus described a rich man whose wealth had been grossly mismanaged by one of his employees. This individual had been entrusted with the management of his master’s vast wealth and resources. The rich man had so wealthy that he required someone to steward all his assets. But his employee had proven to be far from trustworthy. In fact, Jesus describes the steward’s actions as wasteful. The Greek word is diaskorpizō, and it is the same word Jesus used to describe the younger son who squandered his inheritance. The steward virtually threw away his master’s resources, treating them with disdain because they didn’t belong to him.

Having already determined to fire his unfaithful steward, the master ordered that he bring in all the financial records so that they might be inspected. Recognizing the seriousness of his situation and fearing how he will survive without a job, the steward concocts an ingenious exit strategy. In short, he cooked the books. He called in all the man’s creditors and informed them that he was dramatically slashing the size of their debt. This clever ploy by the unjust steward was intended to secure the favor of the creditors and ensure that he had friends who would care for him when he lost his job.

“I don’t have the strength to dig ditches, and I’m too proud to beg. Ah, I know how to ensure that I’ll have plenty of friends who will give me a home when I am fired.” – Luke 16:3-4 NLT

And Jesus indicates that the rich man was impressed with his steward’s ingenuity.

The rich man had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd. – Luke 16:8 NLT

This is a strange parable and its message is somewhat difficult to assess. Is Jesus commending dishonesty and applauding the unjust steward’s ingenuity? That seems unlikely. Jesus’ primary point seems to be that the steward had always been in charge of his master’s resources and that he had always had the capacity to steward those resources well. He was a clever man who was wise in the ways of the world. But when he viewed the money as belonging to his master, he proved to be a bad manager. He threw away what did not belong to him. But when his personal well-being was on the line, he suddenly became a financial wizard. He knew just what to do to secure a more favorable future. This man was thinking about the here-and-now. He was doing what he had to do to make sure he was neither homeless nor forced to beg. He was shrewd.

And that seems to be Jesus’ point. He states, “the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light” (Luke 16:8 NLT). This man knew how to rig the system in his favor. But Jesus is not commending his dishonesty. He is simply contrasting the children of this world with the children of light, or to put it another way, unbelievers and believers.

Jesus is encouraging His disciples to use everything at their disposal to seek eternal rewards. Remember what He said in His sermon on the mount: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NLT). As children of light, the disciples were to wisely steward their gifts and their treasures in order to secure eternal rewards. The unfaithful steward was using his master’s wealth in an unjust way in order to secure a more favorable and temporal future. So, what did Jesus mean when He told His disciples to “make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth” (Luke 16:9 ESV)? Clearly, He was not suggesting that they do anything dishonest or illegal. In and of itself, money is amoral. It is neither good nor bad. In that sense, it is un-righteous. So, Jesus is encouraging His disciples to use it wisely and for righteous means. Be generous and open-handed with it. Do not hoard it or covet more of it. 

Jesus wanted His followers to use everything at their disposal to promote and propagate the Gospel. Rather than pursuing temporal treasures and the immediate gratification that material goods can bring, followers of Christ are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And even their money and material possessions are to be seen as means to an end. They are tools to be used for the furthering of the kingdom. And Jesus makes it clear that His followers are to be trustworthy and faithful stewards of all that they have been given. Their time, talent, and treasures are all gifts from God and intended to seek and spread the kingdom of God.

And Jesus ends His parable by encouraging faithfulness.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” – Luke 16:1-12 NLT

True disciples are good stewards. They use what they have been given wisely and manage their resources carefully. They seek an eternal reward, not a temporal one.

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

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

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

When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

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

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

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

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

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

The High Cost of Getting Your Own Way

1 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. 1 Kings 21:1-16 ESV

Chapter 20 ended with the statement: And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV). The author used two Hebrew words, sar and zāʿēp̄, to describe Ahab’s state of mind. And like most words in the Hebrew language, these two words carry a range of meanings. When we read that Ahab was “vexed and sullen,” it conjures up images of an unhappy child who is pouting because he didn’t get his way. But Ahab wasn’t just throwing himself a pity party; he was angry and resentful. And it’s easy to understand the intensity of his emotions when we consider the severity of God’s judgment. Ahab had chosen to spare the life of Ben-hadad so that he could sign a potentially lucrative treaty with him. But this decision was had not been God’s will, and Ahab would suffer greatly for it.

“Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 ESV

With that bit of bad news still ringing in his ears, Ahab had left the Valley of Aphek and returned to his palace in Samaria. When he arrived, he was in a dark mental state. The New English Translation describes him as “bitter and angry.” He deeply resented the punishment meted out to him by God. The Hebrew word sar conveys the idea of a stubborn, almost rebellious resistance to this God-ordained fate. And the word zāʿēp̄ lets the reader know that Ahab was wearing his emotions on his sleeve. His anger was visible. Since he couldn’t take out his anger on God, it spilled over onto all those around him. Even his neighbor, Naboth.

At some point after the victory over the Syrians, Ahab visited his summer palace in Jezreel. One day, while surveying the grounds of his palace, he noticed Naboth’s vineyard, which was located nearby. Seeing that this was fertile land, Ahab determined that it would make a fine spot to plant a garden for his palace. So, he approached Naboth with an offer.

“Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.” – 1 Kings 21:2 NLT

But Naboth politely turned down the king’s generous offer, explaining that the land on which the vineyard was located was part of his inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to sell the land that God had given to them as their inheritance. The book of Leviticus outlined this divine prohibition against property transactions involving land dedicated to the various tribes of Israel.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

The book of Numbers provides further clarification concerning God’s ban on the transfer or sale of any of the land He had allotted to the 12 tribes.

The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. – Numbers 36:7 NLT

Naboth was simply obeying the law as given by God to Moses. He was legally prohibited from accepting Ahab’s offer. But none of this mattered to Ahab. And Naboth’s firm but polite response produced in Ahab the same effect as God’s earlier warning of judgment.

And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him – 1 Kings 21:4 ESV

Ahab responded with bitterness and anger. But notice that his anger was not directed at Naboth but at what Naboth had said. When Naboth informed the king that he could not sell him the land, his justification had been based on the law of God. Once again, God had interfered with Ahab’s plans, and it left him a strong sense of resentment and frustration. His anger was with God and His constant intervention into his affairs. Ahab couldn’t even buy a vineyard without running into this ever-present God who seemed to stick His nose into everything. Denied his desire for a garden, Ahab allowed his anger to turn to depression and deep despondency, even refusing to eat.

Concerned about the deteriorating condition of her husband’s mental health, Jezebel asked Ahab for an explanation. But notice the brevity of his reply. Rather than give Jezebel the full context of his conversation with Naboth, he simply states that he made a fair offer that was summarily rebuffed. His recollection of what Naboth said is anything but accurate. He mentions nothing about God’s ban on the sale of tribal land. He simply states that Naboth refused his offer.

Frustrated by her husband’s sullen state and obvious lack of initiative, she accuses him of forgetting who he is and the kind of power he possesses. “Are you the king of Israel or not?” she asks him. From Jezebel’s perspective, Ahab had abdicated his divine rights as the king. He was the sovereign over all of Israel, and he had the power to do whatever he wanted to do. No one, including Naboth, had the right to stand in his way. And to prove it, she implemented a plan to put Naboth in his place and the vineyard in her husband’s possession.

This pagan queen, who had introduced the worship of Baal to the nation of Israel, hired false witnesses to accuse Naboth of cursing the God of Israel. These men were to show up at a fast, held in honor of Yahweh, and declare that Naboth had cursed both God and the king. And Jezebel had pre-arranged with the elders of Jezreel that they would immediately stone Naboth to death for this fictitious crime.

And everything went just as Jezebel had planned. Naboth was falsely accused and executed. When the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was dead, she immediately shared the good news with Ahab.

“Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” – 1 Kings 21:15 ESV

Notice that Ahab asks for no explanations. He doesn’t ask his wife a single question concerning Naboth’s well-timed death. He simply got out of bed, put on his royal robes, and took possession of the land that would soon be his new garden. He got what he wanted and didn’t seem to care how it had happened. But Jezebel’s actions had only made things worse. She had falsely accused an innocent man and had orchestrated his unlawful execution. And she had still violated God’s law concerning the land inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, Naboth’s land would have passed on to his descendants. God had made it clear that the land He had given to the tribes as their inheritance was to remain within their possession.

“…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

Jezebel’s murder of Naboth was wrong on every level. She had violated a range of divine decrees to get her husband what he wanted. Her blind ambition resulted in unconscionable behavior that would only exacerbate God’s judgment against her husband. Ahab had his vineyard. Jezebel had her husband back. But their joy would soon turn to sorrow. They had both gotten what they wanted, but their personal achievements would come with a high price. Ahab’s new garden, while free, would cost him dearly. And Jezebel’s plot to murder Naboth, while successful, would come with a hefty price tag for which she would pay dearly.

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

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

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

Failure to Bless

1 Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
    from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
    for it will be a time of disaster.
In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you
    and moan bitterly,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
    he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
    To an apostate he allots our fields.”
Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
    in the assembly of the Lord.
Micah 2:1-5 ESV

The judgment of God was coming against Israel and Judah. But why? The answer to that question is found in chapter one: “All this is for the transgression of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5 ESV). And both Israel and Judah stood as guilty and condemned by God. But just in case anyone was thinking about arguing their case, Micah provides a detailed list of crimes worthy of conviction.

While chapter one included God’s indictments against Israel and Judah, in chapter two the focus shifts to the southern kingdom of Judah. After all, as one of its residents, Micah had been appointed by God to deliver his message of judgment and call to repentance to his own people. And God wanted Micah to make it painfully clear that when the nation fell, it would not be the result of blind fate or because of the imperialistic ambitions of a foreign power. No, it would be because of their many sins against God. The grounds for their future fall would be their own wickedness. The source of their ultimate demise would be their sovereign, holy, and righteous God.

Micah proceeds to itemize the many sins of the people of Judah through a series of woes. The term “woe” was often used to express sorrow or lament but in this case, Micah is using it as a threat or announcement of pending judgment because of guilt.

Unrighteousness had become so prolific in Judah that there were those who spend their nights concocting plans to commit acts of wickedness the next day. They literally dreamed of sinning. And, because they had the financial resources and power to put those plans into action, “When the morning dawns, they perform it” (Micah 2:1 ESV).

This first woe seems to be directed at the rich and powerful in Judah, who were using their influence to take advantage of the less fortunate among them. They were growing richer by means of extortion and graft. They were motivated by greed and devoid of compassion, using their formidable resources and connections to satisfy their insatiable lust for more.

When you want a piece of land,
    you find a way to seize it.
When you want someone’s house,
    you take it by fraud and violence.
You cheat a man of his property,
    stealing his family’s inheritance. – Micah 2:2 NLT

The actions of these individuals were driven by a love of self. They exhibited the characteristics outlined by James centuries later.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

These people were guilty of violating the tenth commandment.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
 – Exodus 21:17 NLT

And because they were using their power and influence to turn their thoughts of covetousness into reality, they were also guilty of breaking the eighth commandment, which prohibited stealing. And to top it all off, they were guilty of violating what Jesus said was the second greatest commandment of God. “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT).

James accused these kinds of people of spiritual adultery. They were guilty of making a god out of money and material possessions.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

They were worshiping the gifts rather than the Giver. And they took great pride in their affluence and in their ability to increase their wealth through cunning and deceit. But Micah warns them that there will be serious consequences for their actions.

But this is what the Lord says:
“I will reward your evil with evil;
    you won’t be able to pull your neck out of the noose.
You will no longer walk around proudly,
    for it will be a terrible time.” – Micah 2:3 NLT

Notice his emphasis on pride. That is exactly what James points out in his letter when addressing the spiritual adulterers of his day.

As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. – James 4:6-10 NLT

Pride and arrogance have no place in the life of a child of God. Everything we have comes from the gracious hand of God, as James makes clear in his letter.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV

And what we have been given by God is intended for the good of all. His blessings are meant to be shared. There is no place for selfishness and self-centeredness among God’s people. Greed, lust, and covetousness are antithetical to the life of righteousness to which we have been called. And the same thing was true of the people of Judah in Micah’s day. Long before they had ever entered the land of Canaan, God had promised that He would bless them and that He expected them to use those blessings to care for one another. His gracious gifts were to be lovingly shared, not greedily hoarded.

“There should be no poor among you, for the LORD your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession. You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NLT

But generations later, the people of God had proven their inability and unwillingness to follow God’s commands. So, Micah warns them that the very evil they had committed was about to come upon them. These greedy, covetous people would find themselves the victims of someone else’s dreams of conquest and acquisition. The Babylonians would show up one day and use their great power, wealth, and influence to relieve the proud people of Judah of their homes, lands, and dignity. Micah warns that the once-prideful people of God will sing a doleful dirge, lamenting their fall from grace.

“We are finished,
        completely ruined!
    God has confiscated our land,
        taking it from us.
    He has given our fields
        to those who betrayed us.” – Micah 2:4 NLT

God was going to take away the very land He had given to them as their inheritance. He would deprive them of the source of their abundance and fruitfulness. The fields and houses they had stolen from others would be taken from them. They would be left with nothing. No inheritance, no land, no homes, no flocks, no herds, no grains, no fruit, and no hope. And all because they had chosen to disobey the will of God.

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. – Deuteronomy 15:10-11 NLT

Because of their disobedience, the entire land of Judah would become inhabited by the poor. Those who had been graciously blessed by God, but had become dissatisfied with His gifts, would one day find themselves mourning their losses. Both Israel and Judah had been blessed by God so that they might be a blessing to others. But they had failed to use God’s gifts wisely and selflessly. They had become plagued by pride, arrogance, greed, and covetousness. And they were going to learn the invaluable lesson that Jesus would later share.

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:48 NLT

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

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

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

What Sorrow Awaits

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
    all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
     and the beam from the woodwork respond.” – Habakkuk 2:6-11 ESV

God continues His response to Habakkuk’s critique of the divine plan to bring judgment upon Judah through the means of the wicked Babylonians. God has not denied the fact that the Babylonians are puffed up with pride, greedy, arrogant, and unrighteous. But neither has He apologized for planning to use this wicked nation as His preferred method for bringing judgment upon His disobedient children. God had shown no remorse in having used King Sennacherib and the Assyrians to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. And He was not about to alter His plans for Judah just because Habakkuk had a problem with them.

What Habakkuk failed to see was the bigger picture of God’s plan. The prophet, while a spokesman for God, did not have all the facts to make an informed decision. He was not privy to the full scope of what God had in store for Judah or the Babylonians. And in His response to Habakkuk, God graciously begins to reveal the hidden aspects of His divine plan. He was going to use the Babylonians to accomplish His sovereign will, but that did not mean the Babylonians would escape His justice and judgment. In fact, in this section, God pronounces five “woes” or expressions of lament against the Babylonians. In the New Living Translation, these five statements of woe begin with the phrase: “What sorrow awaits….”

While God’s answer is directed at Habakkuk, He has a much larger audience in mind. He has already told His prophet to “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2 NLT). God wanted the entire nation of Judah to know what He had in store, not only for them but for the nation of Babylon. That is why He had emphasized their need for faith. They were going to have to trust that God would do the right thing. He would keep His covenant commitment to the nation of Judah. But part of that commitment had included His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. He would keep His word. But He would also keep His promise to never fully abandon them. They would suffer punishment for their apostasy, but they would also enjoy future restoration because of His unfailing love and faithfulness.

But as for Babylon, God had plans for them as well. He warns that the day will come when He turns the pride of the Babylonians into humiliation and their global domination into defeat and despair. All the nations conquered by the Babylonians will rise up and taunt them. They will relish watching the meteoric fall of the once-powerful Babylonian empire and mock as their former conquerors become the conquered and the captives.

The first woe deals with the Babylonian’s penchant for enriching themselves by plundering then taxing their conquered foes into financial destitution. Their greed and avarice were insatiable. The book of 2 Kings describes in great detail the fall of Jerusalem and the pillaging that took place by the Babylonians.

Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

After leaving its conquered enemies defeated and demoralized, the Babylonians would demand exorbitant tribute payments, essentially taxing them into further submission. But the first woe explains that this practice would not go on forever.

“What sorrow awaits you thieves!
    Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion,
    but how much longer can this go on?” – Habakkuk 2:6 NLT

God would turn the tables on the Babylonians, bringing an abrupt end to their period of world domination. Just as quickly as they rose to power, they will suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath and having to deal with the rebellion and retribution of all their enemies.

“Suddenly, your debtors will take action.
    They will turn on you and take all you have,
    while you stand trembling and helpless.” – Habakkuk 2:7 NLT

Just as the Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the 800-pound gorilla on the world stage, the Babylonians would eventually fall to the Medes and the Persians in 539 B.C. And all of this was under the sovereign control of God Almighty. As the prophet, Daniel wrote, “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21 NLT).

The Babylonians would reap what they had sowed. They would experience what it was like to have their cities plundered and pillaged, and their people indiscriminately murdered.

“Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence.” – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

Now, while these woes are directed at the nation of Babylon, it should not be overlooked that much of what is being said applied to Judah as well. And it is likely that Habakkuk did not miss the somewhat subtle indictment that God was bringing against His own people. If you recall, Habakkuk had begun his book with a dark description of the state of affairs in Judah.

Wherever I look,
    I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
    who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralyzed,
    and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
    so that justice has become perverted. – Habakkuk 1:3-4 NLT

The people of Judah were just as guilty of violence, injustice, greed, and unrighteousness. And the next woe is even more reflective of the attitude shared by many of those in Judah who lived in open rebellion against God while enjoying the many blessings He had poured out on them.

“What sorrow awaits you who build big houses
    with money gained dishonestly!
You believe your wealth will buy security,
    putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger. – Habakkuk 2:9 NLT

The Babylonians used all their plunder and ill-gained booty to enrich their lives and to secure their futures. They enjoyed unparalleled success and all the benefits that came with it. But God’s people were just as guilty. In fact, the prophet, Amos, provides a stinging indictment from God against the nation of Israel.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.
Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses,
    you will never live in them.
Though you plant lush vineyards,
    you will never drink wine from them.
For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.
You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:11-12 NLT

This kind of behavior was to be expected from the pagan Babylonians, but it should have been unheard of among the people of God. Yet sadly, it had become the norm. Injustice, greed, selfishness, and an unbridled passion for pleasure and possessions made become commonplace among the people of God. And in pronouncing woes upon the guilty Babylonians, God was condemning the sins of His own chosen people.

“But by the murders you committed,
    you have shamed your name and forfeited your lives.
The very stones in the walls cry out against you,
    and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.” – Habakkuk 2:10-11 NLT

What was true for the Babylonians was true of the nation of Judah as well. And God would deal with both nations, according to His justice, holiness, and righteousness. They would not get away with their wicked behavior or escape His divine wrath. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). Your country of origin does not matter. Your status on the pecking order of world powers makes no difference. Whether you are the conqueror or the conquered, God will hold you accountable to His just and righteous requirements.

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

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

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

Not In It For What They Could Get Out Of It

1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV

Paul was under constant pressure to defend his apostleship. While not one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus, Paul had received his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles directly from Jesus Christ Himself. But his opponents, of which there were many, questioned the validity of his claim to be an emissary of Christ. And so, they would attempt to undermine his ministry by raising doubts concerning his authority to speak and the veracity of his message. He was just a man, they claimed. His message was not from God, but nothing more than the self-delusional rants of a self-appointed apostle.

So, Paul was forced to validate his ministry and message. In the opening line of his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). Just a few verses later, Paul told them:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12 ESV

And Paul went on to explain to them how that revelation came about.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles… – Galatians 1:13-16 ESV

Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, confirms Paul’s description of that event and provides us with further details.

Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2 ESV

But while on his way to Damascus, fully intending to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus, Paul had a life-changing encounter.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-6 ESV

Saul (his Hebrew name), blinded by the light and bewildered by this unexpected change in his itinerary, made his way to Damascus. In the meantime, God appeared in a vision to Ananias, a Christ-follower living in the city, informing him to lay hands on Paul to restore his sight. Ananias expressed his reluctance because of Paul’s reputation for animosity against Christians, but God insisted that this was all part of His divine plan for Paul.

“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 ESV

And years later, Paul would stand before King Agrippa and recount the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. And he would add the words of the message he received when Christ confronted him.

“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 26:16-18 ESV

But what does all this have to do with chapter 2 of the book of 1 Thessalonians? Everything. Because in this chapter, Paul is reminding the believers in Thessalonica of the day when he and Silas first appeared in their city more than a year earlier. In the interim, enemies of Paul had been spreading rumors and suggesting that he was not what he claimed to be. They had been casting dispersion on both his message and his motives.

Yet Paul reminds them that he and Silas had arrived in their city after having been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. The city officials in Philippi had forced them to vacate the premises because their presence had resulted in a riot. And Paul reminds the Thessanlonians:

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV

If Paul was claiming to be an apostle in order to get rich or famous, he was less than successful in his efforts. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to know that his only motivation was to declare to them the gospel of God – even in the midst of conflict.

And Paul had the same message for the believers in Galatia. If he was simply out to gain the favor of men, he was failing miserably. In fact, if Paul had wanted to win a popularity contest, the last thing he would do is present himself as an apostle of Christ with a controversial message of sin, judgment, and salvation. That’s why Paul told the Galatians:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 ESV

And Paul assured the Thessalonians believers that, despite what others were saying, he and Silas had been anything but deceptive or dishonest in their motivation.

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive… – 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV

They had not been out to please men, seek glory, or get rich. But they had been approved by God and entrusted with the gospel message. That’s why, when they had suffered in Philippi, they hadn’t abandoned their mission, but continued their efforts to spread the gospel – even in the face of extreme opposition and personal pain. If Paul and Silas had been in it for what they could get out of it, they would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. But as Paul makes clear, their motivation had been and continued to be pure.

Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul was anything but a people-pleaser. And his message was far from politically correct. He was an in-your-face, no-holds-barred kind of guy who delivered the message of the gospel unapologetically and with no attempt to water it down to make it more palatable and acceptable.

In taking the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul had faced opposition from the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, who still questioned the validity of uncircumcised Gentiles having access to salvation. If nothing else, they believed these Gentiles had to convert to Judaism first. But Paul had stood his ground, demanding that the gospel message put no such requirements on Gentile converts. Salvation was based on God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And Paul had also faced opposition from the Gentiles, who resisted his efforts to convert their people to this new religion or cult, called The Way. Paul’s message of the gospel was resulting in conversions among the Gentiles, leading these new believers to walk away from their false gods and their old ways of life in order to serve the one true God. Because the gospel brought about life change, these conversions were having an influence on the local communities and their economies. And, according to Luke, that’s exactly what happened in the city of Ephesus.

Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. – Acts 19:18-19 NLT

The gospel was powerfully transformative. It changed lives. And that was why Paul was committed to carrying out his God-ordained mission to share the gospel. He was motivated by love and compassion, not greed and fame. And he reminded the Thessalonians that he and Silas had come to them like innocent children, free from guile and with no ulterior motives. They had displayed the same kind of love as a mother who feeds and cares for her children. She does so sacrificially and willingly, and not for what she can get out of it.

And Paul assured them that “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They had given their lives away. They had sacrificed. Rather than demand payment for their services, they had willingly shared all that they had. And they had risked all for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of the handful of Thessalonians who had heard and received it.

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

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

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

God’s Godless People

1 Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled,
    the oppressing city!
She listens to no voice;
    she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord;
    she does not draw near to her God.

Her officials within her
    are roaring lions;
her judges are evening wolves
    that leave nothing till the morning.
Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men;
her priests profane what is holy;
    they do violence to the law.
The Lord within her is righteous;
    he does no injustice;
every morning he shows forth his justice;
    each dawn he does not fail;
    but the unjust knows no shame. Zephaniah 3:1-5 ESV

God has issued His warnings of judgment against the nations that surrounded Judah. But now He addresses His own chosen people, revealing the sorry condition of their spiritual state. And this comes immediately after His indictment of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

“This is the exultant city
    that lived securely,
that said in her heart,
    “I am, and there is no one else.” – Zephaniah 2:15 ESV

God used the city to describe the state of the people who occupied it. They were characterized by pride and arrogance, viewing themselves as invincible and without equal. That magnificent city, renowned for its beauty and splendor, was filled with people who were enamored by their own power and prominence. But God warned them that they, like their city, would one day find themselves the brunt of everyone’s jokes, rather than the envy of the world.

“But now, look how it has become an utter ruin,
    a haven for wild animals.
Everyone passing by will laugh in derision
    and shake a defiant fist.” – Zephaniah 2:15 ESV

Yet, the great city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judah and the former royal residence of the great King David was also in for a rude awakening. Once again, God uses the city as a proxy for the people who lived within its walls. He describes Jerusalem as “rebellious and defiled” (Zephaniah 3:1 ESV). In Hebrew, these two words are rich in meaning, carrying a much deeper significance that gets lost in translation.

First, God describes Jerusalem as mara’, a word that can mean “filthy” or “lifted up.” It can also convey the idea of maltreatment of another through whipping or beating. This latter definition seems more fitting because God describes Jerusalem as an “oppressing city” (Zephaniah 3:1 ESV). The city is defiled because it is characterized by the oppression of its own people. The Hebrew word for “defiled” is yanah, which means “to suppress” or “maltreat.” The very name of the city means “possession of peace,” and yet the description given to it by God reveals the true nature of its inhabitants. They were marked by injustice, immorality, and rebellion. And yet, God had given them clear instructions regarding the kind of behavior He expected of them.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The prophet Micah goes on to record God’s further indictments against the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

What shall I say about the homes of the wicked
filled with treasures gained by cheating?
What about the disgusting practice
of measuring out grain with dishonest measures?
How can I tolerate your merchants
who use dishonest scales and weights?
The rich among you have become wealthy
through extortion and violence.
Your citizens are so used to lying
that their tongues can no longer tell the truth. –
Mi
cah 6:10-12 NLT

But along with these accusations of injustice and corruption, God provides four pieces of evidence or proof of Jerusalem’s guilt and well-deserved judgment. First, He states that “She listens to no voice” (Zephaniah 3:2 ESV). In other words, she is disobedient, having refused to hear and obey the commands of God. And it is not as if God had been silent. Over the centuries, He had spoken through His prophets, calling the people of Jerusalem to repent and return to Him. But God’s people had rejected His messengers and their message. This leads to His second indictment: “she accepts no correction.”

The people of Judah had a long track record of rejecting God’s correction.

“…but they did not listen or obey. They stubbornly refused to pay attention or accept my discipline.” – Jeremiah 17:23 NLT

“My people have turned their backs on me and have refused to return. Even though I diligently taught them, they would not receive instruction or obey. – Jeremiah 32:33 NLT

As the proverb states, “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 ESV). But rather than accept God’s discipline, His people repeatedly rejected it, choosing to live according to their own standards, rather than His.

And this refusal to accept His loving discipline stems from a lack of trust, which God makes painfully clear: “She does not trust in the Lord.” In spite of all that God had done for them, they doubted His goodness, grace, mercy, and power. And their distrust was evidenced by their propensity to place their hope in false gods. When times got tough and they found themselves in difficulty, they would turn to nations like Egypt or Assyria to come to their aid. And their actions revealed that their God was not enough. He was insufficient to meet their needs and incapable of solving their problems.

And this lack of trust in God led the people to distance themselves from Him. Sadly, we read the sobering words, “she does not draw near to her God.” This is not simply a statement of distance or disconnectedness. It conveys their refusal to seek God’s counsel or advice. They had reached the point where they were turning to other sources for guidance. They neither desired or sought input from Yahweh. In a sense, He was out of sight, out of mind.

And this growing distance from God had led to an ever-increasing degree of godlessness among them. Zephaniah pulls no punches when describing just how bad things had gotten in the city.

“Its leaders are like roaring lions
    hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time,
    who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.
Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
    Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions.” – Zephaniah 3:3-4 NLT

Greed, avarice, and injustice were prevalent – from the halls of government to the inner recesses of the temple. Everyone was out for themselves. The rich took advantage of the poor. Judges no longer dispense justice. Prophets, posing as messengers of God, spoke lies rather than truth. All for personal gain. The city had become a cesspool of self-indulgence and selfishness.

And yet, Zephaniah provides a much-needed reminder: “The Lord within her is righteous; he does no injustice” (Zephaniah 3:5 ESV). God has not vacated the premises. He has not yet abandoned them. He was still there, in all His glory and exhibiting all the facets of His character, including His unwavering, undiminished righteousness. So, they were without excuse.

Zephaniah contrasts God with the unrighteous inhabitants of the city, stating, “every morning he shows forth his justice; each dawn he does not fail; but the unjust knows no shame” (Zephaniah 3:5 ESV). There was never a day that God failed to display His righteousness and justice. Under no circumstances could they ever point a finger at God and accuse Him of being unjust or unfaithful. And His coming judgment of them would be well-deserved and fully justified. He had every right to be upset with them. He had shown them mercy time and time again. He had spared them from destruction more times than they could remember. He had put up with their ingratitude and infidelity. The only reason they still existed as a nation was because God was faithful to keep the covenant He had made with Abraham.

Their continued existence had nothing to do with them. They were undeserving of His grace and mercy. Their actions were no more righteous than those of the Cushites, Moabites, Ammonites, or Philistines. In fact, they stood before God as more guilty and deserving of His righteous indignation because they had been the beneficiaries of His unmerited favor and then had chosen to disobey His commands, reject His correction, withhold their trust, and ignore His counsel.

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

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

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

   

 

Rejected and Despised.

18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes,
19 who say: “Let him be quick,
    let him speed his work
    that we may see it;
let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near,
    and let it come, that we may know it!”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight!
22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine,
    and valiant men in mixing strong drink,
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    and deprive the innocent of his right!

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble,
    and as dry grass sinks down in the flame,
so their root will be as rottenness,
    and their blossom go up like dust;
for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
    and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
    and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
    and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse
    in the midst of the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

26 He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come!
27 None is weary, none stumbles,
    none slumbers or sleeps,
not a waistband is loose,
    not a sandal strap broken;
28 their arrows are sharp,
    all their bows bent,
their horses’ hoofs seem like flint,
    and their wheels like the whirlwind.
29 Their roaring is like a lion,
    like young lions they roar;
they growl and seize their prey;
    They carry it off, and none can rescue.
30 They will growl over it on that day,
    like the growling of the sea.
And if one looks to the land,
    behold, darkness and distress;
and the light is darkened by its clouds.  – Isaiah 5:18-30 ESV

Isaiah has an additional four “woes” to pronounce against the people of Judah. Not only are they guilty of greed and debauchery, they seem to enjoy it. Isaiah describes them as leading their sins behind them like a favorite pet. He says that they “draw iniquity with cords of falsehood.” The Hebrew that is translated as “falsehood” is shav’ and it can mean “emptiness, vanity or worthlessness.” The New Living Translation reads, “who pull evil along using cords of emptiness.” There is an emptiness or meaninglessness to their efforts. Nothing good will come of it. And it’s as if they]re the weight of their sin is so great, that they are forced to use a heavy rope, like one designed for hauling a cart. 

And all the while they sinned, they goaded God, almost daring Him to act.

They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.” – Isaiah 5:19 NLT

No shame. No remorse. No fear of God. In fact, they were openly rebellious and blatantly disrespectful to God. Their sins weren’t accidental, but willful. It was as if they pulled them along behind them in broad daylight, virtually challenging God to do anything about it.

And they displayed no sense of right or wrong. Isaiah accuses them of confusing the two. They were guilty of saying “that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20 NLT). They were living morally subjective lives that contradicted the expressed command of God. He is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is not something that He leaves up to mankind. We don’t get a vote. And with God, there are no grey areas in which we get the opportunity to apply our own personal opinions or outlooks. “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). And yet, the people of Judah were saying just the opposite, promoting darkness as the norm and light as something to be avoided at all costs. The apostle John put it this way:

God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. – John 3:19-20 NLT

Sinful man loves to justify and rationalize his sin. He goes out of his way to paint his actions as acceptable and thoroughly normal. But in doing so, he contradicts the truth of God.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

The next two woes have to do with pride and injustice. So, not only are the people of Judah greedy, hedonistic, rebellious and morally subjective, they’re arrogant and unjust. Isaiah describes them as being “wise in their own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21 NLT) and proud of their own inherent cleverness. But the apostle Paul would have told them, “If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). Human wisdom is insufficient and a lousy source discerning the will of God. Once again, Paul would remind them, “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). No one ever came to know God based on their own intellect or reasoning powers.

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

A man who boasts in his own wisdom is no better off than a drunk who brags about how much liquor he can hold. There is no redeeming value in either boast.

And because they rely upon own their own faulty and misguided wisdom, marred by moral subjectivity, they end up committing acts of injustice. They see nothing wrong in taking a bribe that lines their own pockets while allowing the guilty to go unpunished. In a world ruled by their brand of wisdom, they guilty prosper, and the innocent suffer. It is a topsy-turvy, upside down world that is nothing like what God intended.

Therefore…

That word marks the transition point in this passage. As a result of all that Isaiah has just described, God is going to act. He will no longer overlook their blatant disregard for His will and arrogant rejection of His ways. Isaiah compares God’s judgment to a fire that burns up everything in its path. Why? Because “they have rejected the law of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies; they have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:24 NLT). Isaiah leaves no doubt as to the reason for God’s coming judgment. They had rejected and despised. Those two words carry significant weight and meaning. In Hebrew, the word translated as “rejected” is ma’ac. It carries the idea of disdain or rejection based on contempt. They had rejected God’s law because they had no respect for it. And the second word, “despised,” is the Hebrew word, na’ats, and conveys the thought of rejecting God’s Word because it brings admonition and feelings of guilt.

The law of God was intended to bring conviction on the people of God, exposing their sins and calling them to repentance. Conviction should lead to confession. But the people of Judah rejected and despised God’s methodology, preferring to justify their own sins and turning a blind eye to God’s point of view.

And this was not the first time. God had punished the people of Judah before. He had been forced to judge them for their sins on numerous occasions over the years. And Isaiah warned his audience that God was not done yet.

For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still. – Isaiah 5:25 ESV

Past discipline would not cover their present state of sin. Their lack of repentance was going to require God to judge His people yet again. And Isaiah gave them a less-than-pleasant description of what was to come.

He will raise a signal for nations far away,
    and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come! – Isaiah 5:26 ESV

Just as He had done in punishing the northern tribes of Israel, God was going to use a foreign power to bring His judgment upon Judah. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians hundreds of years earlier. Now it was Judah’s turn. And, in their case, it would be the Babylonians who would show up on their doorstep. In verses 27-30, Isaiah provides his audience with a graphic description of what they have to look forward to, and it is not a pretty picture. It all ends in darkness and distress.

Rather than the light of God, they would experience the darkness of defeat. Instead of enjoying the blessings of God, they would undergo unbearable distress. They had allowed their own greed, love of pleasure, rebellious tendencies, moral subjectivity, pride and injustice lead them down the path of destruction. And Isaiah makes it painfully clear that “no one will be there to rescue them” (Isaiah 5:29 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

The Disease of Discontentment.

 

Woe to those who join house to house,
    who add field to field,
until there is no more room,
    and you are made to dwell alone
    in the midst of the land.
The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing:
“Surely many houses shall be desolate,
    large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.
10 For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath,
    and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
    that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
    as wine inflames them!
12 They have lyre and harp,
    tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord,
    or see the work of his hands.

13 Therefore my people go into exile
    for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
    and their multitude is parched with thirst.
14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite
    and opened its mouth beyond measure,
and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down,
    her revelers and he who exults in her.
15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
    and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
    and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
17 Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
    and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich. – Isaiah 5:8-17 ESV

Judah, the vineyard planted by God in the fertile soil of Mount Zion, had failed to produce the kind of fruit God had expected. Instead of sweet grapes practically bursting with juice perfect for making the finest of wines, they had produced wild grapes, sour to the taste and unfit for anything except the fire. And that is exactly what Isaiah is trying to warn the people of Judah. God’s fire of judgment is about to fall on them for their unfaithfulness and lack of spiritual fruitfulness. Or, to put it another way, they had produced the wrong kind of fruit.

Now, Isaiah pronounces a series of woes against them. The word translated as “woe” is the Hebrew word, howy and it is an expression of exclamation that conveys pity, sorrow, or lament. Isaiah is letting his readers know that what is headed their way will not be enjoyable or avoidable. The word, “woe” acts as an antonym to the word, “blessed.” Rather than enjoying the blessings of God that come as a result of obedience to His will, they were going to experience curses as a result of His judgment. And, long ago, God had provided them with ample warning that this would be their fate if they failed to remain faithful to Him.

“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.” – Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NLT

The first woe has to do with their insatiable greed. Enough was never enough. God had blessed them with land, but they lacked contentment, constantly desiring more. And the prophet, Micah, describes them as lying awake at night scheming of ways to take advantage of their neighbors and confiscate what rightfully belonged to them.

Woe to those who devise wickedness
    and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
    because it is in the power of their hand.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
    a man and his inheritance. – Micah 2:1-2 NET

God had made it perfectly clear that the land in which they lived belonged to Him and, as a result, they were to live in it like tenant farmers, caring for the land on God’s behalf.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

And God had ensured that each of the 12 tribes of Israel was allotted their own portion of land, to remain in their possession for as long as they lived in the land. If anyone was forced to sell his land out of necessity, the buyer was to allow them the right to buy it back.

“With every purchase of land you must grant the seller the right to buy it back. If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. If there is no close relative to buy the land, but the person who sold it gets enough money to buy it back, he then has the right to redeem it from the one who bought it.” – Deuteronomy 25:24-27 NLT

But greed had gotten the best of them. One of the greatest expressions of our love for God is our love for others. When Jesus was asked which one of God’s laws recorded by Moses was the most important, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

Yet, the people of Judah had exhibited a love for self that transcended their love for others and, ultimately, revealed their lack of love for God. They were unsatisfied with what God had given them and demanded more. And they were willing to do whatever it took to get what they wanted, even if it meant taking advantage of their own neighbors.

In their obsession to have more, they were actually sealing their fate and ensuring that they would never experience the joy they were seeking. Their larger estates would leave them isolated and alone. And they would learn the painful lesson that bigger is not always better. Because God warned them that their disobedience would bring His judgment.

“Many houses will stand deserted;
    even beautiful mansions will be empty.
Ten acres of vineyard will not produce even six gallons of wine.
    Ten baskets of seed will yield only one basket of grain.” – Isaiah 5:9-10 NLT

The greedy are never satisfied. Their appetite is insatiable because they attempt to meet their needs by seeking something other than God.

The second woe has to do with the love of pleasure. The people of Judah had become hedonistic in their outlook on life. They lived by the philosophy, “Eat, drink and be merry!” They lived to party and filled their days with the consumption of alcohol and the pursuit of pleasure. But Isaiah exposes the root problem: “they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing” (Isaiah 5:12 NLT). Rather than looking to God to bring them joy and a sense of satisfaction with life, they were turning to physical pleasures.

And God predicts their fate: “Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13 ESV). Their real problem was not drunkenness and partying, but a lack of knowledge of God. They didn’t understand that He was to be the sole source of their joy and the primary provider of pleasure in their lives. The apostle Paul would later describe his understanding of God’s role as his source of contentment and satisfaction.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.  – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

For the people of Judah, their search for satisfaction entailed more land and their quest for joy involved much wine. But they would never find what they were looking for. Instead, they would experience poverty, hunger, thirst, and the humiliation of life as exiles in a foreign land.

But God would be perfectly just in His treatment of them. He would only be giving them what they deserved and what they had brought upon themselves.

But the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice.
    The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness. – Isaiah 5:16 NLT

He had promised to bless them if they would only remain faithful to Him. And time and time again, He had proven Himself a God who keeps His word. They were blessed. They lived in a land that was abundantly fruitful and more than adequate to meet their needs. He had provided them with ample reasons to experience joy in life, but they had turned to pleasure, possessions, and even pagan gods in a vain attempt to discover what they could only find in God. And the Scriptures are filled with reminders of God’s faithfulness to satisfy every need that man might have.

Let them praise the Lord for his great love
    and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things. – Psalm 107:8-9 NLT

The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring. – Isaiah 58:11 NLT

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.” – Isaiah 55:1-2 NLT

God was more than enough. He was fully capable of meeting all their needs. But they had decided that bigger is better and the pursuit of pleasure is preferable. Unlike Paul, they didn’t see godliness with contentment is great wealth (I Timothy 6:6).

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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