Close, But Yet So Far

13 But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, 14 and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ 17 And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”

20 Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. 21 But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, 22 none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. 24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. 25 Now, since the Amalekites and the Canaanites dwell in the valleys, turn tomorrow and set out for the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.” Numbers 14:13-25 ESV

God was angry. He had deemed the ungrateful and disobedient response of the people to His leadership as unacceptable and worthy of judgment.

“How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” – Numbers 14:11-12 ESV

But this was not the first time that God had grown impatient with His chosen people. When they had been camped at the base of Mount Sinai, He had reached a similar conclusion because of their blatant display of rebellion. While Moses had been on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people had decided to fashion and worship a golden calf. To make matters worse, the Israelites were crediting their new idol with their recent deliverance from Egypt. So, God told Moses:

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” – Exodus 32:9-10 ESV

In both cases, God declared His intent to destroy the people of Israel and start from scratch. But notice that in neither scenario would His destruction have included Moses and his family. God was willing to spare His chosen leader and start the process of building a great nation all over again. He had started the original plan with Abraham, and there was nothing to prevent Him from doing so with Moses. Except for Moses.

On both occasions, one person stood in the way of God carrying out His plan to completely destroy His rebellious people. Moses intervened. He interceded on behalf of his fellow Israelites. Despite the fact that these very same people had repeatedly questioned his leadership and had even attempted to replace him, he boldly defended them.  In Exodus, we read that “Moses implored the Lord his God…” (Exodus 32:11 ESV). And in Numbers, it states that “Moses said to the Lord…” (Numbers 14:13 ESV).

This beleaguered and often discredited man stood by his fellow Israelites and begged God to consider the impact His destruction would have on His reputation. At Sinai, Moses had raised the prospect of the Egyptians gloating over the annihilation of the Jewish people by their own God.

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’?” – Exodus 32:12 ESV

Moses appealed to God’s sense of honor and reminded Him of the covenant commitment He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” – Exodus 32:13 ESV

As a result, “the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14 ESV).

In the wilderness of Paran, Moses employed a similar tactic with God, arguing that news of His destruction of the people would get back to the Egyptians and they would spread rumors among the Canaanites about His unfaithfulness.

“Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land…” – Numbers 14:13-14 ESV

Moses reminded God that the nations that occupied Canaan had already heard of His presence among the people of Israel.

“They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.” – Numbers 14:14 ESV

News of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt had already reached Canaan. They had heard about God’s power and the devastating plagues He had poured out on the Egyptians. Rumors concerning this massive host of people traveling through the wilderness had made their way to the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites. Reports of Israel’s God going before them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night had reached their ears and left them shaking in terror.

But Moses warns God that if He follows through with His plan to wipe out the Israelites, it could do irreparable damage to His reputation among the Canaanites. They will go from fearing Him to feeling sorry for Him.

“Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’” – Numbers 14:15-16 ESV

So, Moses appeals to God’s love, patience, and faithfulness.

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Numbers 14:18 ESV

Moses was not denying the guilt of the people; he was simply calling on God to only punish those who were responsible for the rebellion. He pleaded with God to “pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love” (Numbers 14:19 ESV). From Moses’ perspective, the people had been misled and negatively influenced by the report of the ten spies. These men had coerced the people into rejecting God’s command to enter the land of Canaan. Moses believed the spies were deserving of God’s judgment but the people deserved God’s forgiveness. And God agreed. He pardoned the people but declared His intent to punish the ten spies.

“…none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” – Numbers 14:22-23 ESV

But what Moses failed to understand was the deep-rooted rebellion among that generation of Israelites. The problem was greater than Moses realized. And while God was willing to pardon the nation as a whole, He would not forgive those who had questioned His integrity and rejected His command to enter the land. The ten spies would suffer immediate death as a result of a God-ordained plague (Numbers 14:36-38). But the rest of that generation would be spared. Yet, as the following verses reveal, they would ultimately die of natural causes in the wilderness (Numbers 14:32-33).

They had listened to the report of the spies and refused to obey God’s command to enter the land of promise. In doing so, they were denying God’s power to give them victory over their enemies. They were discrediting God’s promises, inferring that He was incapable of doing what He had said He would do. And they were displaying their ingratitude for all that He had done on their behalf. God would remain faithful. He would continue to display His steadfast love and extend His grace and mercy. But that generation would pay dearly for their refusal to do His will. He had wanted to bless them but they had forfeited that right through their stubborn disobedience.

God would not destroy them, but they would never set foot in Canaan. They had been delivered by God but would never experience the joy of entering into His rest.

“…when your fathers put me to the test
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
    and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
    “They shall not enter my rest.” – Psalm 90:9-11 ESV

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

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

Son, Servant, Savior

19 So they went up to the steward of Joseph’s house and spoke with him at the door of the house, 20 and said, “Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food. 21 And when we came to the lodging place we opened our sacks, and there was each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it again with us, 22 and we have brought other money down with us to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.” 23 He replied, “Peace to you, do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money.” Then he brought Simeon out to them. 24 And when the man had brought the men into Joseph’s house and given them water, and they had washed their feet, and when he had given their donkeys fodder, 25 they prepared the present for Joseph’s coming at noon, for they heard that they should eat bread there.

26 When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present that they had with them and bowed down to him to the ground. 27 And he inquired about their welfare and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves. 29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” 32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 33 And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. 34 Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him. – Genesis 43:19-34 ESV

The sons of Jacob returned to Egypt, accompanied by their younger brother, Benjamin. Eleven men made the arduous journey from Canaan to the land of the Pharaohs, not knowing what fate awaited them upon their arrival. They were bringing with them gifts to offer Zaphenath-paneah, the governor of Egypt, who was holding their brother, Simeon, as a hostage. They had also brought the money that had somehow made its way into the sacks of grain they had brought back to Canaan on their first trip. For some inexplicable reason, their payment for the first shipment of grain had never made it to the hands of the royal governor, so they feared they would be viewed as thieves and treated accordingly.

Upon their arrival in Egypt, the brothers headed straight to the governor’s palace, and anxiously explained their predicament to his household steward. They declared their innocence and professed ignorance as to how the money had ended up back in their possession. They wanted the steward to know that they were anxious to settle their debt and to purchase additional grain for their families back in Canaan.

Then the brothers received the first of what would be many surprises. The steward attempted to calm their fears by informing them that they owed nothing. He had received full payment for their initial order. And then, this pagan Egyptian informed them that the money found in their grain sacks must have been a gift from ‘ĕlōhîm, the God of their father Jacob. This statement must have left the brothers speechless and staring at one another in astonishment. Was the steward suggesting that the money had been a gift from God? But before they had time to ascertain just what the steward meant, they found themselves reunited with Simeon. At this point, they had to be wondering why things were going so unexpectedly well.

But the brothers had little time to discuss their good fortune because the steward ushered them into the palace and told them to clean up for lunch. Much to their ongoing surprise, they discovered that they would be dining with the governor himself. These 11 sons of Jacob would be treated to a sumptuous feast in the royal palace as the honored guests of Zaphenath-paneah, the second-most powerful man in all of Egypt. As they prepared for this high honor, they must have debated and discussed the surrealistic nature of their unexpected welcome. All of this would have been a shock to theirs systems. It was far beyond anything they could have ever imagined.

And then, just as they were beginning to wrap their minds around these unprecedented events, the governor showed up. Upon seeing this powerful dignitary enter the room, the 11 brothers bowed down before him as sign of honor and deference. And as Joseph stood looking down on his prostrate brothers, the images he had seen in his long-forgotten dreams must have flooded into his mind.

As a young boy, Joseph had been given a vision in his sleep that portrayed he and his 11 brothers as bundles of grain. But what made the dream so offensive to his brothers when he shared it with them was that their sheaves of grain all bowed down to his. And Joseph had a second dream that conveyed the same basic message. In it, he saw the sun, moon, and 11 stars all bowing down before him. And when he shared this dream with his father and brothers, it was met with the same degree of anger and animosity.

Yet, years later, Joseph stood in his royal palace with his brothers lying on their faces before him. The irony of this moment would not have escaped Joseph. His dreams had become vividly and indisputably true. But Joseph didn’t gloat. Instead, he recalled his aging father back in Canaan and inquired as to the status of his health.

“How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”  Genesis 43:27 NLT

The brothers affirmed that their father was alive and well, and humbly referred to him as a servant of the governor. They followed this statement by bowing before Joseph yet a second time. This action would have been done on behalf of Jacob, illustrating his humble subservience to the Egyptian governor.

News of his father’s good health pleased Joseph greatly. He probably harbored hopes that he might live to see his father once again. But it was the presence of his younger brother, Benjamin, that drew Joseph’s attention. For the first time in years, he stood face to face with his blood brother, and the experience moved him deeply.

Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. – Genesis 43:30 NLT

But Joseph regained his composure and returned to the dining room where he ordered the food to be served. Then he treated his brothers to a royal feast fit for a king. To the brothers’ amazement, the governor ushered each of them to their seat, arranging them in the proper chronological order based on their birth. How would this pagan Egyptian have known who was the oldest and who was the youngest? And, once again, the brothers received an additional shock when the governor took it upon himself to serve their plates with food from his own table. Little did they know that the brother whom they had treated with disdain and contempt was showing them honor and reverence. The innocent young man whom they hold sold into slavery was now performing the task of a lowly household servant. In a sense, he was taking the food from his own table and feeding it to the “dogs” who had treated him as less than animal, throwing him into a pit and selling him for a few pieces of silver.

Without realizing it, Joseph was modeling the life of Christ, long before He left His throne in glory and took on human flesh. Jesus said of Himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT). In a real sense, Joseph had “given his life” when his brothers sold him into slavery. When the Ishmaelite slave traders dragged him away in chains, he had left behind his place of honor in his father’s house. And he soon found himself living as a common slave. He ended up being falsely accused and eventually arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. But, like Jesus, Joseph had been sent to bring rescue to God’s people. But he had ended up humiliated and humbled. But the day came when he was glorified and lifted up, and invested with the power to offer help and hope to those in need. His brothers, undeserving of his grace and mercy, would receive redemption instead of retribution. They would be forgiven and their crime would be forgotten. And, in time, they would discover the true identity of their benefactor. Zaphenath-paneah would end up being their long lost brother and their unlikely savior.

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.

 

You Can Mourn Now or Mourn Later

26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. Luke 23:26-32 ESV

Jesus’ legal trials may have come to an end, but His physical trials were just about to begin. A condemned criminal had been allowed to walk free, while Jesus, an innocent man, was subjected to a range of violent physical and verbal abuse. Luke goes out of his way to record the overwhelming consensus of opinion that Jesus was an innocent man.

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” – Luke 23:4 ESV

“…behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.” – Luke 23:14-15 ESV

A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.  – Luke 23:22 ESV

“…this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent! – Luke 23:47 ESV

As soon as Pilate relented to the demands of the Jewish religious leaders and authorized the crucifixion of Jesus, the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman soldiers. These hardened legionnaires were responsible for carrying out the governor’s orders by subjecting Jesus to the gruesome ordeal of crucifixion – the Roman government’s preferred form of capital punishment. But like a cat cruelly playing with a mouse before subjecting it to death, Pilate’s guards decided to subject Jesus to a range of degrading physical and emotional abuses. With the entire regiment looking on, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29-29 NLT).

These men, having overheard the accusations leveled against Jesus, found it laughable that this powerless and unimpressive Jewish Rabbi would consider Himself to be a king. So, they ruthlessly and mercilessly mocked Jesus, with every cruelty they poured out intended to leave Him humiliated and degraded. And Matthew describes with painful clarity the unsparing nature of their torturous treatment of Jesus.

…they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. – Matthew 27:30-31 NLT

John provides the added detail that Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. This barbaric practice, also known as scourging, was an especially cruel and inhuman form of punishment that was designed to inflict extreme pain and hasten death. According to an article by Ian Tuttle published in National Review, “The Romans meted out whippings with particular zeal, inventing new tools to increase the misery: on the mild end, a flat leather strap; on the mortal end, long whips with, at their ends, balls of metal with protruding metal fragments or pieces of bone. It was not uncommon for the scourging that preceded a crucifixion to prove fatal” (https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/01/flogging-through-centuries-ian-tuttle/).

By the time Jesus left the Roman governor’s palace, He would have been in a severely weakened state, suffering from extreme pain and blood loss. Yet, as a condemned man, Jesus was expected to carry His own cross to the place of crucifixion. But it appears that the flogging had taken its toll on Jesus, leaving Him incapable of bearing the weight of the cross. So, the Romans conscripted a stranger from the crowd to assist Him. And as Jesus painfully navigated the final steps to the crucifixion site, He was followed by “a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” (Luke 23:27 ESV).

But rather than thank them for their compassionate display of sorrow, Jesus turned to these individuals and gave them a sobering word of warning.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, ‘Fortunate indeed are the women who are childless, the wombs that have not borne a child and the breasts that have never nursed.’ People will beg the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and plead with the hills, ‘Bury us.’” – Luke 23:28-30 NLT

His words are similar to the ones He spoke to His disciples while they sat with Him on the Mount of Olives, just prior to His arrest in the garden.

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. And pray that your flight will not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again…“ – Matthew 24:16-21 NLT

In both cases, Jesus was speaking of future events. He was warning them that even darker days lie ahead, when the judgment of God will fall upon the world for its rejection of His Son. Those weeping at the sight of Jesus’ deplorable condition and mourning the thought of His pending death had no idea He was referring to events associated with the end of time. The book of Revelation describes a future day when God will reign down judgment upon the earth.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?” – Revelation 6:15-17 NLT

This was the day to which Jesus was referring. While His death would be the key to salvation and eternal life, it would also result in God’s wrath being poured out on all those who refused to accept HIs Son as Savior. And that would include many in Israel. God’s chosen people would refuse to accept God’s Son as their Messiah and King. In fact, they would participate in His execution, demanding that He be put to death. When He had entered Jerusalem just a few days earlier, the crowds had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9 ESV). But those joyous shouts of adoration and acclimation had quickly turned to cries of “Crucify Him!” And one day, all those who have chosen to reject the King of kings and Lord of lords will suffer the consequences of their decision and mourn, not for Jesus, but for their own coming destruction.

But when Jesus arrived at the placed called Golgotha, He found himself joined by two other men, both criminals, who would be executed alongside Him, “one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV). This seemingly innocuous statement conjures up memories of the conversation Jesus had with James and John. On an earlier occasion, these two brothers had approached Jesus and asked, “Grant that one of us may sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37 BSB). And Jesus had responded to their presumptuous request by stating, You do not know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I will undergo?” (Mark 10:38 BSB).

Little did they know at the time, that the two places of prominence they had requested would not be royal thrones, but cruel Roman crosses. For Jesus, the cross was a place of honor. He had been chosen by God the Father to lay down His life, and it was something Jesus was prepared to do – willingly and gladly. Jesus had come to lay down His life for the sheep.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 NLT

And that time had come.

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 of the Nations

And he said:

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.”

Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron.
So I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:2-5 ESV

Amos received his commission from God at a time when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were both enjoying remarkable peace and prosperity. In the south, King Uzziah had led the nation of Judah in a series of successful battles against the Philistines, their neighbor to the west. These military victories allowed him to expand Judah’s borders into former Philistine territory. His greatly expanded army even made against the Egyptians and Arabians, earning Judah a growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the region. According to 2 Chronicles 26:8, “his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong.” The Ammonites, located for to the east, recognized Judah’s growing influence and formed an alliance with them, paying a yearly tribute to King Uzziah.

To the north, Israel was also enjoying a period of expansion, under the leadership of King Jeroboam II. He proved to be a particularly evil king who continued the track record of idolatrous behavior that his predecessors established. In fact, he was named after Jeroboam, the man whom God had made the first king of Israel after He divided Solomon’s kingdom. Jeroboam had been the one to inaugurate Israel’s period of idolatry and apostasy by establishing his own religion, complete with false gods and its own priesthood. His namesake would follow in his footsteps, further enhancing Israel’s reputation for rebellion and unfaithfulness. Yet, despite all this, God allowed Jeroboam II to greatly expand Israel’s borders.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

Unwilling to allow Israel to be destroyed, God sent the prophet Jonah to guide its wicked and rebellious king. With the help of Jonah’s prophetic counsel, Jeroboam II was able to secure victories over Israel’s enemies and restore its borders to where they had been during the glory days of King Solomon. This godless king became an instrument in Yahweh’s hand to accomplish His sovereign will for the nation of Israel.

…the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

With all this as a backdrop, we can begin to look at the opening lines of Amos’ divinely inspired oracle. In verse 2 he clearly states that his message is from God.

“The Lord roars from Zion
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
    and the top of Carmel withers.” – Amos 1:2 ESV

In the midst of all the success taking place in Israel, God is about to deliver a much-needed message of judgment against His covenant people. And this shepherd from Tekoa wants his audience to understand that what he is about to tell them is the word of God. He is speaking on behalf of Yahweh. And the tone of God’s message will be ferocious and fearful. The prophet Jeremiah also picked up on this imagery of God as a roaring lion, preparing to devour His helpless prey.

“The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold…” – Jeremiah 25:30 ESV

Even Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, provided a similar description of Yahweh as an apex predator, ready to destroy its unsuspecting victim.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

Amos describes the sound of God’s voice as emanating from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. It was there that Solomon had built his grand temple and dedicated it to Yahweh, the God of Israel. But when Solomon’s kingdom was divided in two, the ten tribes to the north decided to build their own temples in Dan and Bethel, where they erected altars to the golden calves that Jeroboam had constructed. And at that time, he had instructed the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV).

Now, from the top of Mount Zion, where the temple was located, came the roar of God’s voice, declaring His judgment upon not only Israel and Judah but also the nations of the earth.

Beginning with Syrian, Amos delivers a series of stinging oracles against those nations that surround His covenant people. He will include Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.  His list begins with Syria, a foreign power that had played a significant role in Israel’s history. From there, Amos begins to list out the nations that encircle the covenant people of God. From Gaza in the land of the Philistines to the Phoenician city of Tyre, Amos provides a concentric circle of kingdoms that have interacted with God’s people over the centuries. And for each one of them, Amos has a specific message from Yahweh.

“The prophet began with the distant city of Damascus and, like a hawk circling its prey, moved in ever-tightening circles, from one country to another, till at last he pounced on Israel. One can imagine Amos’s hearers approving the denunciation of these heathen nations. They could even applaud God’s denunciation of Judah because of the deep-seated hostility between the two kingdoms that went as far back as the dissolution of the united kingdom after Solomon. But Amos played no favorites; he swooped down on the unsuspecting Israelites as well in the severest language and condemned them for their crimes.” – McComiskey, Thomas Edward. “Amos.” In Daniel-Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Ultimately, Amos will spend the majority of his book addressing the rebellious people of Israel. But, in order to establish God’s sovereignty over all nations, Amos begins with Syria. And he opens up with what will become his favorite phrase:

For three transgressions of Damascus,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment…” – Amos 1:3 ESV

He will repeat this phrase eight different times, inserting the name of a different nation with each occurrence. And in each case, Amos provides no details concerning the nature of the four transgressions. His point seems to be that each of these nations stands before God as guilty and worthy of His condemnation and judgment. The mention of three transgressions is compounded by the addition of one more.

Amos originally penned his book for a Jewish audience and they would have recognized a pattern established in the book of Proverbs. On four separate occasions in the chapter 30, Solomon utilizes a similar “three-plus-four” pattern.

Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”  – Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV

Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin. – Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 ESV

Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him. – Proverbs 30:29-31 ESV

Based on this repetitive model, Amos’ Hebrew audience would have probably expected him to list the four transgressions. But he fails to do so. Instead, he provides rather generic descriptions of their crimes, focusing on what they had done to the people of Israel.

…they have threshed Gilead
    with threshing sledges of iron… – Amos 1:3 ESV

Syria, also known as Aram, had constantly invaded the region of Gilead to the east of the Jordan River. This area, also known as the Transjordan, had been settled by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. These three tribes, located outside the actual land of promise, were subject to regular raids by Syrian forces. Amos compares these unprovoked attacks to iron farming implements ripping through the land, leaving devastation in their wake. During the time when Jehu was king of Israel, God had used the Syrians to punish his disobedient people.

In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan. – 2 Kings 10:32-33 ESV

But even though God had sovereignly ordained Hazael’s successful forays into Israelite territory, He would also hold Hazael responsible.

I will send a fire upon the house of Hazael,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. – Amos 1:4 ESV

Throughout these eight oracles, Amos will accentuate God’s sovereign control over the nations. But he will also emphasize their collective guilt. They are not innocent parties or lifeless puppets animated by the hand of God. Each of these nations is responsible for its actions. God was not forcing them to act against their will but was simply directing their natural dispositions to accomplish His sovereign plan. As Solomon records in the book of Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV). Hazael had plans to invade and conquer the Transjordan territories of Israel, but God used this pagan king’s selfish aspirations to accomplish His greater purpose. And Amos wanted the people of Israel to know that God would hold each and every nation accountable for their individual transgressions.

And, as far as Syria was concerned, God had plans in store for them that would fully repay them for their crimes.

“I will break the gate-bar of Damascus,
    and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven,
and him who holds the scepter from Beth-eden;
    and the people of Syria shall go into exile to Kir…” – Amos 1:5 ESV

Amos was trying to assure his Hebrew audience that Yahweh, whom they had forsaken, was still in full control. He was still on His throne and was ruler over all the nations of the earth. And if God was ready, willing, and able to hold the Syrians accountable for their sins, He was more than prepared to judge the Israelites for their many transgressions.

These oracles of Amos were not just hyperbole. He was not spouting spiritual-sounding rhetoric that was all bark and no bite. What he decreed would actually take place. And, in the case of Syria, his predictions were ultimately fulfilled.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 17:7-89 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

Confess, Repent, and Return

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24 you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. 25 Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.

33 “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, 34 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers.

35 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 36 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.

37 “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, 38 whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), 40 that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.

41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

44 “If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, 45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.

46 “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ 48 if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51 (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). 52 Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God.” 1 Kings 8:22-53 ESV

This prayer, offered up at the opening of the temple, provides tremendous insights into Solomon’s knowledge about God and his keen awareness of human nature. His words reveal how greatly he revered and honored Yahweh, the all-powerful God of Israel. While Solomon had built a temple that would be considered one of the wonders of the world, it was no match for the majestic and holy God of the universe. Even in all its glory and splendor, Solomon’s temple was an insufficient dwelling place for the one true God who created the heavens and the earth, and he admitted it.

“…even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! – 1 Kings 8:27 NLT

Solomon boldly proclaimed Yahweh’s unique nature as the one true God.

“O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below.” – 1 Kings 8:23 NLT

Yahweh was incomparable. He was without rival. All other gods were the figments of men’s imagination and, therefore, non-existent. But Israel’s God was real, and He had proven His existence through tangible acts of power, grace, mercy, and love. He was a covenant-making, promise-keeping God who always fulfilled every commitment He made. The very fact that Solomon was dedicating the temple was proof that God had kept His promise to David.

“It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.” – 1 Chronicles 28:6-7 ESV

And as Solomon stood before the temple with his arms outstretched in humble supplication, he pleaded with the God of heaven, asking Him to continue to extend His mercy, grace, and forgiveness upon His people. But Solomon knew that God’s unfailing love and faithfulness was conditional. It required the faithful and obedient worship of His people. They had been set apart for His glory and were expected to worship Him and Him alone. They were to refrain from worshiping other gods. They were expected to keep His commandments and demonstrate to the world their status as His chosen people – “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV).

Solomon makes it clear that he understood God’s expectations. They were to be a people who were wholeheartedly committed to God – “servants who walk before you with all their heart” (1 Kings 8:23 ESV). And Solomon fully understood that God demanded of him the same degree of obedience. God had promised to extend David’s dynasty as long as his successors mirrored David’s faithfulness.

“You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.” – 1 Kings 8:25 ESV

Solomon knew that the presence of the temple alone was not going to be enough to ensure the ongoing favor of God. It would offer no guarantee of God’s presence and could never serve as a substitute for the faithfulness of the people. It could only serve as a place of intercession, where the people could come and offer their confessions for sins committed, declare their intentions to repent, and humbly ask God for His forgiveness.

Speaking on behalf of himself and the entire nation of Israel, Solomon prays, “May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 NLT).

What Solomon says next is quite revealing. And his words, while directed at God, seem to be spoken for the benefit of the people as well. As they stand in the courtyard of the newly completed temple, they can hear every word Solomon speaks, and the full import of his prayer was not lost on them.

Solomon felt the need to provide God with a series of hypothetical scenarios in which the people might find themselves needing forgiveness.

“If someone wrongs another person…” – Vs. 31 NLT

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you…” – Vs. 33 NLT

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you…” – Vs. 35 NLT

“If there is a famine in the land or a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars, or if your people’s enemies are in the land besieging their towns—whatever disaster or disease there is…” – Vs. 37 NLT

“If your people go out where you send them to fight their enemies…” – Vs. 44 NLT

“If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to their land far away or near. – Vs. 46 NLT

Solomon tried to cover all the bases. He offered up a wide range of potential circumstances that reveal his astute understanding of human nature and man’s propensity to sin. He was fully aware that the nation of Israel, while set apart by God, would not always live up to its special status. So, he wanted to remind the people that, when they sinned, and they would, there was a proper and preferred response.

“…if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Sin was inevitable. But forgiveness was always available. It simply required confession and repentance – an admission of guilt and a willing realignment of their love, back to God alone. It didn’t matter how egregious or grievous the sin; God would forgive, as long as they came in humble repentance. And this offer of forgiveness was available to all the people of God, whether they were natural-born Jews or foreigners who had converted to Judaism.

“In the future, foreigners who do not belong to your people Israel will hear of you. They will come from distant lands because of your name, for they will hear of your great name and your strong hand and your powerful arm. And when they pray toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and grant what they ask of you. In this way, all the people of the earth will come to know and fear you, just as your own people Israel do. They, too, will know that this Temple I have built honors your name.” – 1 Kings 8:41-43 NLT

Solomon even described the worst-case scenario of the people of Israel being defeated by their enemies and exiled to a foreign land. This must have seemed like a far-fetched and unlikely concept to the people standing in the temple courtyard. After all, they lived in one of the most powerful nations on earth at that time. But Solomon prophetically poses a potential situation in which the people’s sins result in their expulsion from the land. And he reminds them that, even in that dark hour, their response should be the same: Pray, confess, and repent.

And if the worst should ever happen, Solomon begs God to honor His covenant commitment and answer the prayers of His people.

“Forgive your people who have sinned against you. Forgive all the offenses they have committed against you. Make their captors merciful to them, for they are your people—your special possession—whom you brought out of the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt.” – 1 Kings 8:50-51 NLT

Little did Solomon know that his words would be recorded for posterity. They would become permanently etched on the pages of this book and passed down from generation to generation. And hundreds of years later, when the people of Israel found themselves exiled in the land of Babylon because of their sin and rebellion against God, they would find in God’s Word a record of Solomon’s prayer and a reminder that God’s forgiveness was theirs to have – if only they would repent and return to Him.

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

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

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

A Holy House-Cleaning

26 And to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth, to your estate, for you deserve death. But I will not at this time put you to death, because you carried the ark of the Lord God before David my father, and because you shared in all my father’s affliction.” 27 So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.

28 When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar. 29 And when it was told King Solomon, “Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,” Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, “Go, strike him down.” 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, “The king commands, ‘Come out.’” But he said, “No, I will die here.” Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, “Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.” 31 The king replied to him, “Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. 33 So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” 34 Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada went up and struck him down and put him to death. And he was buried in his own house in the wilderness. 35 The king put Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army in place of Joab, and the king put Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar. – 1 Kings 2:26-35 ESV

After having dealt decisively with his half-brother’s continued deceit by having him put to death, Solomon turned his attention to the accomplices in his failed coup attempt. First, he took care of Abiathar, the priest. But rather than ordering Abiathar’s execution, Solomon decreed that this traitor be removed from his priestly role. The new king was willing to spare Abiathar’s life because he was well aware of his long and faithful service to David. But he was not willing to let the guilty go unpunished, so he humiliated Abiathar by having him defrocked. And Solomon’s decision had far greater ramifications than even he could have known. The author of 1 Kings reveals that Abiathar’s removal from the priesthood fulfilled a prophecy made by God concerning the descendants of Eli, the priest who had served at Shiloh. Eli had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who served alongside their father as priests, but they were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV).

These two brothers used their priestly role to fulfill their own selfish desires, and “the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 NLT). They were even guilty of committing sexual sins with “the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2:22 NLT). Their father, fully aware of their indiscretions, tried to reprimand them but his words fell on deaf ears. They refused to listen to his warnings or change their wicked ways, so God stepped in and delivered a sobering statement of judgment against the house of Eli.

“I promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor those who honor me, and I will despise those who think lightly of me. The time is coming when I will put an end to your family, so it will no longer serve as my priests. All the members of your family will die before their time. None will reach old age.” – 1 Samuel 2:30-31 NLT

In the short-term, God would take the lives of Hophni and Phinehas. But with Solomon’s removal of Abiathar, another descendant of Eli suffered the humiliating loss of his priestly role. He was allowed to live but would have to bear the constant shame that accompanied his fall from grace.

Having dealt with the prodigal priest, Solomon turned his attention to Joab, the former general over the armies of Israel. This man had been a close friend and ally of David, having served alongside him for many years. But Joab had fallen out of favor with the king because of insubordination. Against the wishes of King David, Joab had taken the lives of two men, Amasa and Abner, both of whom he perceived as threats to his power and prestige. Now, years later, Joab had chosen to align himself with the king’s son, Adonijah, choosing to lend his reputation and military expertise to an attempted takeover of David’s throne. And when Joab heard that Adonijah was dead and Abiathar had been stripped of his priesthood, he knew it was just a matter of time before Solomon came looking for him. So, he sought refuge in the tabernacle, just as Adonijah had done.

But Solomon was not about to show this murderer and traitor any mercy. Instead, he commanded that Joab be executed on the spot. In ordering Joab’s death, Solomon was clearing his father’s dynasty of any responsibility for the unwarranted deaths of Amasa and Abner. As long as Joab remained alive and unpunished for his crimes, his guilt would be shared by the house of David. By removing Joab, Solomon hoped to avoid the condemnation of God and restore the hope of His future blessings on Israel.

“May their blood be on Joab and his descendants forever, and may the Lord grant peace forever to David, his descendants, his dynasty, and his throne.” – 1 Kings 2:23 NLT

Unlike his father, Solomon wasted no time in dealing with the issues that surrounded him. He had just ascended to the throne but had taken decisive action to clean up the mess his father had left behind. Solomon was quick to deal with the guilty, delivering the appropriate punishment and, in doing so, ensuring the spiritual health of his kingdom. He was also faithfully fulfilling his father’s dying wishes, meting out justice, and repaying the guilty for their crimes.

But Solomon didn’t just purge the sin from their midst. He quickly filled the vacancies created by the removals of Joab and Abiathar by promoting “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada over the army” and anointing “Zadok the priest in the place of Abiathar” (1 Kings 2:35 ESV). He surrounded himself with faithful men he could trust and began the important task of establishing the identity that would mark his reign as king.

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

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

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

A Sinner Condemned, Unclean

53 But They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”John 7:53-8:11 ESV

This section of John’s gospel is a bit controversial because it is not found in the oldest of the extant Greek manuscripts. While there are more than 900 ancient manuscripts that include the story of the woman caught in adultery, it is significant that none of the early church fathers referred to this encounter in their commentaries on the Gospel of John. It is the belief of most modern commentators that this story was a later addition to the Gospel, which raises the question of whether it should be considered as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

While the evidence seems to indicate that the story was edited into John’s Gospel by some unknown source, it does not necessarily invalidate its authenticity. And there is no reason to assume that its inclusion by someone other than the apostle John means that it was uninspired and, therefore, unworthy to be considered a part of the Canon of Scripture. Perhaps it was part of the oral tradition of the early church and later placed within the text of John’s Gospel to further support the theme of Jesus’ power and authority as the Son of God.

There are those who consider this an apocryphal story, spurious in its authenticity and therefore, unworthy to be considered as the inspired Word of God. But the story does provide insight into the growing hostility between Jesus and the religious leaders, a theme that John is gradually unfolding.

Chapter seven ended with a tense exchange between Nicodemus and his fellow members of the Sanhedrin. They were frustrated that their guards had failed to arrest Jesus while He was on the temple grounds. Instead, they had let Him go because they had been mesmerized by His teaching. When Nicodemus had suggested that Jesus be given a fair hearing, his colleagues mocked him for being as uneducated and lawless as the Galileans who mindlessly followed after this huckster from Nazareth.

John has made it clear that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. The Sanhedrin, while determined to have Jesus arrested, were powerless to thwart God’s divine timeline for His Son’s mission. So, Jesus left the temple grounds and headed east to Mount of Olives, just opposite Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Evidently, He and His disciples spent the night there, rising early the next morning to return to the temple grounds, where He resumed His teaching.

One can only imagine the frustration of the Sanhedrin as they woke that next morning only to find Jesus sitting in the middle of the temple courtyard, surrounded by a large and attentive audience. His persistent presence and uncanny ability to attract a crowd wherever He went caused these religious leaders great angst. So, as was quickly becoming their habit, they devised a plan by which they might trap Jesus into saying or doing something that might give them grounds for having Him arrested. Because of His growing popularity, it was necessary that they devise a plan that would expose Jesus as a fraud and cause the people to turn against Him.

On this occasion, they chose the controversial topic of adultery to “test” Jesus. This was a hot-button issue among the Jews. The people knew what the Mosaic law had to say about the matter, but there was a lot of debate concerning how to interpret and enforce this particular law. Leviticus 20:10 reads: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

But in this case, the religious leaders drag a woman into the temple courtyard and throw her down in front of Jesus. There is no mention of her male companion in crime. This might be because this woman was guilty of violating another aspect of the law concerning adultery. In the book of Deuteronomy, there is another scenario described in which a man marries a woman only to discover on their wedding night that she was not a virgin. In that case, the law prescribed the following punishment:

The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 22:21 NLT

It is impossible to know the true nature of this woman’s crime. But she is publicly shamed, dragged by the religious leaders into the temple courtyard, and thrown at Jesus’ feet. To them, she was nothing more than a prop, a nameless tool in their effort to discredit and destroy Jesus. They were not interested in seeing that justice was done. They simply wanted to create a no-win situation in which Jesus would be doomed no matter how He responded. So, using the woman as bait, they set their trap and waited for Jesus to condemn Himself.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” – John 8:4-5 NLT

These men were experts in the law. They were not interested in Jesus’ views on legal matters but were hoping that He would say something that violated the law or infuriated the people. And John makes their intentions quite clear.

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him… – John 8:6 NLT

They already viewed Jesus as a law-breaker, because He had already violated the prohibition against working on the Sabbath by healing a man and then instructing him to carry his bedroll. So, they must have been convinced that Jesus would choose to violate the law once again, and hoped that He would recommend releasing the woman. If He did, they could accuse Him of being in violation of the Mosaic Law and have Him arrested on the spot. But if Jesus surprised them and announced that the woman should be stoned for her crime, the crowd would probably turn on Him. Adultery had become commonplace among the Jews and the laws concerning its punishment were rarely enforced. And if Jesus had condoned the stoning of this woman, He would have been suggesting that they violate the Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment.

The religious leaders believed they had Jesus in a conundrum. In their minds, they had Him caught between a rock and a hard place. No matter what He said, He would end up condemning Himself. But rather than speak, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the dirt with His finger. As he did so, the religious leaders demanded that He give them an answer to their question. So, He stood up and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7 NLT). Then, He knelt back down and continued to write something in the dirt.

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day. But the text provides absolutely no insight into the content of Jesus’ message. We are simply told that when Jesus said, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone,” the crowd began to disperse, including the men who had instigated the whole affair. Perhaps Jesus had written the Ten Commandments in the dust. We will never know. But whatever Jesus scrawled in the dirt that day had caused the woman’s self-righteous accusers to slink away one by one, starting with the oldest among them.

Some have speculated that Jesus had shamed these men by writing down a list of specific sins each of them had committed. Embarrassed at having their personal sins exposed, they quickly vacated the premises. While this is an interesting proposal, there is nothing in the text that supports it. All that is clear is that no one was able to pick up a stone because no one was without sin.

This seems to be the main point behind the entire story. Jesus had come to earth in order to provide forgiveness for sin. And, according to Scripture, all men are guilty of sin. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And the apostle Paul reiterated that truth when he wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

The religious leaders considered themselves to be pure and holy, fully righteous before God because they painstakingly and pridefully kept the law of Moses. But Jesus exposed the truth about their spiritual condition, revealing their sinfulness and their need for a Savior. These men had arrogantly set themselves up as judges over the people, looking down their noses at the irreligious rabble who were incapable of living up to God’s holy standards like they did. They saw Jesus as no better than the woman they had dragged before Him. He was a lawbreaker and worthy of condemnation and death just as she was. But they failed to recognize their own guilt and their need for cleansing. The sad reality is that they chose to leave rather than face the truth about their own sinfulness. Only the woman remained. She stood before Jesus and the crowd, accused and condemned, her sin openly acknowledged for everyone to know.

But rather than judging her, Jesus asked her where her accusers had gone. He points out that no one stood before her, stone in hand, ready to condemn her for her crime. They had all disappeared, meaning there were no witnesses left to verify her guilt. So, Jesus, acknowledging that her accusers were nowhere to be found, announced to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11 ESV). There were no witnesses left to condemn her, so there was no evidence to convict her. And on that basis, Jesus encouraged her to go and to sin no more. She had been given a reprieve. While evidently guilty of the crime and worthy of death, she had been graciously given a second chance to change the way she lived. Her sin, while real, was forgivable. Her guilt, though undeniable, was survivable. All thanks to Jesus.

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 Glory of God

12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood
    and founds a city on iniquity!
13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.’ Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s post, these woes against Babylon have a familiar ring to them. While the Babylonians were the primary target of God’s warnings of pending judgment, His choice of words seems to be carefully considered in order to drive home a point to Habakkuk and the people of Judah. If you recall, God had instructed Habakkuk to “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2 NLT). This apocalyptic vision was intended to send a message to the people of Judah, not the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar would never hear what God had to say. But God wanted each and every citizen of Judah to hear His indictment concerning the sins of the Babylonians because they were just as guilty. In fact, it was their sin that was leading God to bring judgment upon them in the form of this wicked pagan nation.

With His third “woe,” God condemns that Babylonians for profiting from the misery of others. Their towns and cities were built on blood and iniquity, constructed by the treasures they had pilfered from their conquered foes. Their great wealth and prosperity had come at the expense of others. And their conquering of Judah had not yet taken place. The Babylonians would ransack the entire region of Palestine, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. And they would use all the spoils of war to construct beautiful homes, magnificent cities, and a nation of great renown.

But there is a thinly veiled message to the people of Judah contained in this woe. And it is one that God had spoken through His other prophets. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were just as guilty as the Babylonians, having built their own cities on blood and iniquity. Consider these stinging indictments from the lips of God and directed at His chosen people.

“Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
What sorrow awaits Jerusalem,
    the city of murderers!
For the blood of her murders
    is splashed on the rocks.
It isn’t even spilled on the ground,
    where the dust could cover it!” – Ezekiel 24:6, 7 NLT

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
What sorrow awaits Jerusalem,
    the city of murderers!
    I myself will pile up the fuel beneath her. – Ezekiel 24:9 NLT

“Listen to me, you leaders of Israel!
    You hate justice and twist all that is right.
You are building Jerusalem
    on a foundation of murder and corruption. – Micah 3:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul warned the Galatian Christians of the divine precept concerning sowing and reaping. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7 ESV). But this life maxim was not of Paul’s creation. It is found throughout Scripture.

You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice… – Hosea 10:13 BSB

Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster… – Proverbs 22:8 NLT

…those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. – Job 4:8 ESV

By citing the sins of the Babylonians, God was pointing a finger of condemnation against His own people. Their ultimate demise at the hands of the Babylonians would be the just recompense for their own sins. They would be reaping exactly what they had sown. Their own iniquity and injustice would result in disaster and defeat at the hands of an enemy whose wickedness was like sin on steroids.

But the Almighty warns that the unbridled pursuit of comfort at all costs was ungodly. Those who work incessantly to build a mighty nation or even a successful career will find their labor to be in vain.

“Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing? – Habakkuk 2:13 ESV

The Jews had great national pride, pointing to the splendor of their capital city, Jerusalem, and the presence of the spectacular temple, constructed by Solomon. Under the leadership of King David, they had enjoyed a long and illustrious history of global dominance. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the nation had experienced a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. But the subsequent years had been marked by civil strife, a splitting of the kingdom, and a period of rampant spiritual apostasy. And all during that time, the people of God had been plagued by an insatiable appetite for personal pleasure and personal success at all costs. Even Habakkuk had complained to God about the wicked outnumbering the righteous and the perversion of justice among his own people (Habakkuk 1:4).

It was for these very sins and others that God was bringing the Babylonians against the people of Judah. In Ezekiel 24, God gives His prophet a last-minute explanation for their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.

“Son of man, write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem.I, the Lord, have spoken! The time has come, and I won’t hold back. I will not change my mind, and I will have no pity on you. You will be judged on the basis of all your wicked actions, says the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:2, 14 NLT

Verse 14 of Habakkuk 2 provides a very important insight into the motivation behind God’s actions toward sin and unrighteousness – whether in His own people or among the lost of the world.

“For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.” – Habakkuk 2:14 ESV

When God, in His justice, deals with sin, He brings glory to Himself. He reveals His own holiness and distinguishes the stark difference between His righteousness and the unrighteousness of men. God, because He is holy, righteous, and just, cannot allow wickedness to go unpunished. And while Habakkuk lived in a day when sin ran rampant among his own people, God was preparing to deal with it. And even though the Babylonians would used by God to mete out His judgment against the people of Judah, they too would one day suffer under His hand. And in all of this, God would be glorified as the one true God.

Like Habakkuk, we can find ourselves questioning God’s wisdom and ways, wondering why He allows the sins of others to go unpunished. We see evil all around us and can’t help but struggle with questions concerning God’s power and presence. Is He not strong enough to deal a knock-out blow to sin? Or is it that He doesn’t care or isn’t there? Has He left us to struggle and suffer alone, battling the evil that seems to surround us on every side?

God wanted Habakkuk to know that nothing was more important than His own glory. And He would not allow the rebellious people of Judah or the pagan inhabitants of Babylon to rob Him of glory. He had spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, warning that He was selfishly stingy about His glory.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols. – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

All that God created was intended to bring Him glory. And man was the apex of God’s creative order. But sin entered the scene when Adam and Eve decided to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Their decision to eat of the forbidden fruit was robbing God of glory because it was motivated by a desire to share God’s divine knowledge of “both good and evil.” And that penchant to rob God of glory continued through the generations. The apostle points out the long-term ramifications of sin on human society.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:22-23 ESV

Worship of anything other than God robs Him of His glory. Whether we worship ourselves, another man, our own success, a false god, comfort, ease, or prosperity, we exchange the glory of God for something of far less value and worth. And while God will allow this behavior to go unpunished for a time, He will not permit it indefinitely. The day will come when God restores His glory and reestablishes His rightful rule over all the earth. His Son will come again and put an end to sin and death, once and for all. He will set up His Kingdom on earth where He will rule in righteousness and all imposters, posers, and usurpers of God’s glory will be eliminated – for eternity.

On that day the LORD will become King over all the earth—the LORD alone, and His name alone. – Zechariah 14:9 BSB

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 Have I Done To You?

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
    and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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 6:1-8 ESV

Micah now shifts the focus of his message from the future to the present day, addressing the people of Israel with a personal plea from God Himself. He employs judicial terminology, deliberately speaking his audience as if they were on trial, with God standing before them as their judge.

In the first two verses, Micah uses the Hebrew Word riyb three times, which can be translated “dispute, contend, or plead.” In essence, God is demanding that the Israelites defend themselves and present their case against Him. And He calls the hills and mountains to act as the impartial jury, hearing the evidence from both parties in this epic legal proceeding.

God is going to bring His riyb, or indictment against His chosen people. He will provide evidence in the lawsuit and allow the “enduring foundations of the earth” to settle the case. The mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth are meant to suggest the creative order that has witnessed the unethical and immoral actions of God’s chosen people since the beginning of time. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak, they could give damning testimony to support Israel’s guilt and justify God’s judgment.

Now, God turns His attention to the people of Israel, the defendants in this divine court action. He wants to hear their explanation for their treatment of Him.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    What have I done to make you tired of me?
    Answer me!” – Micah 6:3 NLT

Like a lawyer cross-examining the defendant, God gives Israel the opportunity to present their case against Him. What evidence do they have that would indict Him as the guilty party and excuse their treatment of Him? This is their chance to provide proof that their behavior was warranted because of something God had done. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak up, they would echo the words of the psalmist, defending the integrity of the Almighty.

The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – Psalm 18:30 ESV

And if Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, could appear as a witness in this trial, he too would give evidence of God’s undeniable innocence and unwavering righteousness.

“He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

And Moses would have been intimately familiar with the guilt of Israel, having spent 40 years leading them through the wilderness on their way to the land of promise. He had watched God redeem and rescue them from slavery in Egypt and then listened to their constant complaints as God led them and provided for them. And their dissatisfaction with God had begun just days after they had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. – Exodus 15:22-24 NLT

And days later, these same ungrateful people would find another excuse to turn their wrath against God’s appointed leader, demanding that he explain why he had brought them into the wilderness to die.

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:2-3 ESV

And Moses would announce God’s intention to graciously provide for their need, but he would also reveal that their grumbling and complaining had been against the Almighty. Their ingratitude had been directed at their redeemer.

“When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” – Exodus 16:8 ESV

The Israelites had an abysmal track record when it came to their relationship with Yahweh. And it lasted long after they got to Canaan and inherited the land promised to them by God. Their dissatisfaction with and disrespect for God continued for generations. It showed up in their failure to keep His commands. It was evident in their constant spiritual infidelity that showed up in their addiction to idolatry.

And God calls on the people of Israel to remember all that He had done for them. He demands that they contemplate and compare His actions to their own.

“I brought you out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from slavery.
    I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you. – Micah 6:4 NLT

And God gets specific, providing them with further evidence of His goodness, grace, and mercy.

“Don’t you remember, my people,
    how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
    and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
    when I, the Lord, did everything I could
    to teach you about my faithfulness.” – Micah 6:5 NLT

They had no right to point their finger at God, accusing Him of injustice or ill-treatment. He had done nothing but show them kindness and shower them with His gracious love. When their enemies had tried to curse them, God had intervened, turning the evil-intentions of King Balak into a divine blessing. And when the people had arrived at the Jordan River, God had provided them with yet another miracle, making it possible for them to cross over the rain-swollen river on dry ground.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

In all of this, God had been teaching Israel about His faithfulness. He could be depended upon. He could be trusted. He was righteous in all His ways. But the same could not be said about the people of Israel. And, at this point in the proceedings, Micah intervenes, addressing his fellow Israelites with a series of rhetorical questions meant to reinforce their guilt and remind them of what was missing in their relationship with Yahweh.

What can we bring to the Lord?
    Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins? – Micah 6:6-7 NLT

God had made it perfectly clear what He expected from His people.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” – Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT

He desired faithfulness on the part of His people. He wasn’t interested in lip-service and some kind of mechanical observance of rituals and rules. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s assessment of His peoples’ relationship with Him.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And Micah, acting as a witness against his fellow Israelites, reminds them of what God had always desired of them.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

But they had failed. They had refused to do what is good and right. They had chosen to despise God’s mercy by refusing to extend it to one another. And they had decided to display a prideful and arrogant attitude toward their God, rather than walking humbly in His presence, grateful for His ever-present goodness and grace.

God was innocent, but they stood guilty as charged. He had done nothing to deserve their treatment of Him. And as the evidence continued to pile up, their chances of acquittal dried up. And God would be fully justified when He delivered His guilty verdict and pronounced their fate.

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

Laws Concerning Justice

14 “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. 15 You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin.

16 “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.

17 “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, 18 but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. – Deuteronomy 24:14-22 ESV

Over in the book of Amos, the prophet records some powerful and passionate words of indictment against the people of Israel, and they are from the lips of God Himself.

“I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.”– Amos 5:21-24 NLT

This message from the Almighty came hundreds of years after Moses and the Israelites had stood on the border of Canaan preparing to possess the land. Generations of their descendants would come after them, but they would fail to live according to all the rules and regulations Moses had so painstakingly taught to their forefathers.

God had desired for His people to obey His laws so that their lives might be marked by justice and righteous living. And that is what this section of Moses’ speech to the people of Israel is all about. He is calling them to practice justice and to display righteousness in their daily interactions with one another. As we have seen, community was and is important to God. He desires the His people conduct themselves in a way that reflects not only a love for Him but a love for one another. In fact, as the apostle John reminds us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20 ESV).

Even the great king, David expressed his understanding of God’s desire for unity among His people.

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!Psalm 133:1 NLT

In this section of Deuteronomy 24, Moses is going to discuss the poor and needy, the innocent, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. In each case, he is addressing those within the community of Israel who represent the helpless or vulnerable among them. No Israelite was to take advantage of the less fortunate. And to help them refrain from doing so, Moses reminded them of their own history of suffering as slaves in Egypt.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do all this.” – Deuteronomy 24:18 NLT

They were to never forget that their ancestors had been forced to make bricks without straw. They had been mercilessly and harshly treated by the Egyptians for more than four centuries. So, as they prepared to enter their own land, provided for them by God, they were to conduct themselves according to God’s laws, not according to worldly standards or some sin-saturated impulse based on selfish ambition.

If they had a hired servant, they were to pay them their wages – in full and on time. And Moses emphasizes the worker who is poor and dependent upon his daily wages for survival. The disadvantaged are always easy to oppress. They have not recourse and no one to stand in their corner to support them. But Moses wanted the people of Israel to know that God was an advocate for the needy. He would see that they received justice, one way or another. Which is why Moses warned the Israelites to treat their poorer servants fairly, “Otherwise he will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15 NLT).

And while on the topic of sin and guilt, Moses turns his attention to the proper administering of justice for sin.  A father was not to be held responsible for the sins committed by one of his adult children.  And no child was to be punished for the sins of his father. This would be a form of revenge, rather than justice. The guiltless and innocent would be suffering unjustly and unnecessarily. Each individual was to be held accountable for their own sins. And you can see why this law would be necessary. If a case came up where the perpetrator of a crime could not be found and punished, it would be tempting for the victim to demand that a someone pay the criminal’s sin debt. But this would not result in a just and righteous outcome. Instead, it would cause the innocent to suffer unjustly.

And justice was to be a high priority among the people of Israel because it was important to God. Which is why Moses told them, “You must not pervert justice due a resident foreigner or an orphan…” (Deuteronomy 24:17 NLT). And to make sure they understood what he meant by justice, Moses gave the example of someone taking a widow’s garment as collateral on a loan. You don’t punish the innocent and you don’t take advantage of the helpless. These kinds of things were not to be done among God’s people. It was unacceptable behavior.

The Israelites were always going to have the poor and needy among them, and this group would be made up of fellow Israelites as well as immigrants from other nations. And in a nation with no welfare system, it was necessary that the people understand their role in the care for the less fortunate among them. And one of the ways in which God provided for the needs of the poor was through the annual harvest.  As God blessed His people with abundant crops, they were to share their bounty with the less fortunate among them. So, each harvest, when the Israelites reaped their fields, any sheaves of grain that were inadvertently left behind were to remain there as gifts to the poor. And when they went to gather olives or grapes, they were commanded to leave some of the produce behind as a gift for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. God had promised to bless them with plenty of crops as long as they remained faithful to Him. And when He blessed them, He expected them to share that blessing with the less fortunate among them. And, once again, Moses used their former status as slaves in Egypt as a source of motivation.

According to the prophet, Amos, God wanted “to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” He greatly desired that His people display His righteousness through their interactions with one another. They were His chosen possession and He had set them apart from all the other nations on earth so that they might model what true righteousness and justice looks like. The greatest sacrifice the people of Israel could make would be to give up their rights for one another. They could prove their love for God by selflessly loving the less fortunate among them. They could display their honor and reverence for God by willingly and eagerly dispensing justice to all those around them. The prophet, Micah reiterates the words recorded by Amos, reminding God’s people of their responsibility to act as agents of justice in this world.

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
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 6:6-8 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