Well Worth the Wait

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV

Now that we’ve reached the end of the chapter, let’s go back through the list of the faithful again.

Abel died at the hands of his brother. Enoch was taken by God in the prime of life. Noah survived the flood that destroyed the earth, only to watch sin raise its ugly head again and infect his own family. Abraham would never occupy the land God had promised to give him, and he would die long before his offspring would grow to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Sarah would bear a son in spite of her old age and barrenness but die without ever giving birth again. Isaac would watch his sons, Jacob and Esau, spend years of their lives separated from and loathing one another. Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, the patriarch of a family that numbered no more than 70 – not exactly a mighty nation as God had promised. Moses led the people of Israel to the promised land but never stepped foot into it himself because of his sin against God. The people of Israel made it into the land but failed to obey God’s commands and eventually ended up being removed by God and forced to live in exile in Babylon. For Rahab, other than her mention in the lineage of Jesus, she passed into obscurity, living among the people of Israel.

Their life stories, while marked by faith, are not all pictures of the good life. Their lives were not trouble-free or devoid of difficulty and doubt. They are recognized for their faith, but the author makes it clear that though they lived lives of faith, they also experienced their fair share of trials and troubles. He describes those who were tortured for their faith, “refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV).

These unnamed but faith-filled individuals refused to recant their faith in God even under the pain of torture. Instead, they trusted that, should they die, God would raise them again to eternal life. The author speaks of women who “received back their dead by resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV). I don’t think this means that their dead loved ones were raised back to life, but that these women had faith that they would see them again in heaven. They were willing to suffer loss in this life because of their faith in the life to come.

What is amazing is that the author makes it clear that many on his list “did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39 ESV). Why? Because the promise was future-oriented. The fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. His death and resurrection opened up the gospel to all people. No longer would the Jews be the sole beneficiaries of God’s blessings. Today, people from every tribe, nation, and tongue have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have become part of the family of Abraham. The book of Revelation tells us of a scene that will take place in the future where all the offspring of Abraham, both Jew and Gentile, will gather before the throne of God.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

Abraham longed to see that day and died believing that it would come. He was a living, breathing example of the author’s definition of faith.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 ESV

Each of the individuals in the Hebrews 11 list received something better in the end. Because of their faith in the promises of God, they eventually received entrance into His presence. Ultimately, their faith was in the hope of God’s redemption. None of them lived long enough to see the coming of Jesus into the world. Yet, they lived their lives longing for a Messiah, a deliverer from the sin that surrounded them. Paul tells us, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22 ESV).

This includes those who lived before the coming of Christ. Their belief in the promises and power of God was considered by God to be faith in the coming Messiah. They were willing to trust God with their present circumstances, knowing that He had a future solution in mind.

Ultimately, their faith was in God. They trusted Him for things they could not see. They had hope for the future because they had an assurance that He could deliver what He had promised. They were able to endure because they believed He would come through. And every promise God made to these individuals was finally realized in the coming of Jesus Christ. He was and is mankind’s hope. And while they may not have fully realized it, every one of the people in the Hebrews “Hall of Faith” was placing their faith in Christ; God’s redeemer, deliverer, savior, sinless sacrifice, and the ultimate key to experiencing all the blessings God has in store.

Abraham lived in tents all of his life, but we’re told “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). He knew that God had something better in store for him and he died believing in that reality. But Abraham was not alone. The author of Hebrews tells us that every one of the individuals on his list “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV).

They knew something better was in store for them, so they were willing to live as “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). They put their faith in God and their hope in something they could not see. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). And the Book of Revelation paints a vivid picture of what that long-awaited city will look like when it comes.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:1-7 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.

Faith or the Fleeting Pleasures of Sin

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. – Hebrews 11:24-26 ESV

In an attempt to preserve his life, Moses’ mother, Jochebed, placed him in a basket and set him afloat on the Nile. This mother of a three-month-old baby boy was attempting to save her son’s life by protecting him from Pharaoh’s edict to cast all newborn Hebrew male infants into the Nile.

She had no idea what was going to happen next but somehow understood that God had plans for her son. Rather than sacrifice her son to the Egyptian god of the Nile, she placed him in the hand of Yahweh, the God of Israel. As her daughter, Miriam, looked on, the infant was found by the daughter of the Pharaoh, the very man who had ordered that all Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One of the truly miraculous outcomes of Jochebed’s act of faith was that she was hired by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse her own child. Moses would grow up at home until the day he was weaned, and then he would become a part of Pharaoh’s household.

In the book of Exodus, Moses records his own life story:

When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:10 ESV

As a member of Pharaoh’s household, Moses would receive an Egyptian education. He would be raised to know all about Egyptian culture and would become familiar with their pantheon of gods. This Hebrew boy would grow up in the palace and wear fine clothes. But evidently, Moses never forgot his Hebrew heritage. The book of Exodus records, “One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens…” (Exodus 2:11 ESV). His people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had been relegated to slave status and their lot in life was drastically different than that of Moses. While he lived in luxury, they suffered. While he dressed like an Egyptian prince, they wore the tattered clothes of a slave. He enjoyed fine food, while they managed on a subsistence diet.

Moses was appalled at what he saw, and something within him led him to do something about it. The book of Exodus tells us what happened: “he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:11-12 ESV). Moses, enraged by the injustice he witnessed, decided to take matters into his own hands. He sided with the oppressed Hebrew and killed the Egyptian.

At that very moment, Moses had made a conscious and somewhat rash decision. The author of Hebrews says he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:24-25 ESV). It would appear that his action was the result of a premeditated decision to reject his title as “son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and associate himself with his own people. He was a Hebrew and he knew it. His people were being oppressed and he was not okay with it. He felt the need to do something about it. But his initial action would get him in trouble. Even though he buried the body, his crime had not gone unnoticed. Word of his murder soon spread. Perhaps the man whose life he spared was afraid that he would be blamed for the death of the Egyptian and so he pointed the finger at Moses.

The very next day, Moses came across two Hebrews fighting with one another and when he attempted to intervene, they responded, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14 ESV). They didn’t view Moses as their savior. They didn’t even seem to acknowledge him as one of their own. These two men questioned Moses’ right to intervene in their affairs. And to make matters worse, when news of Moses’ crime reach the ears of Pharaoh, “he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV).

Moses was forced to flee for his life. And yet, the author of Hebrews paints a slightly different picture. He states that Moses turned his back on the pleasures of life as an Egyptian prince. His crime was part of a conscious decision to give up his 40-year-long existence as a privileged member of Pharaoh’s family and rejoin his own people. And that choice came with serious consequences that would result in him being “mistreated with the people of God” (Exodus 11:25 ESV). He would not longer “enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV) that were associated with life among the wealthy, ungodly, and immoral ruling class of Egypt.

But the author of Hebrews adds another interesting point of clarification concerning Moses’ decision.

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. – Hebrews 11:26 ESV

How did Moses consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt when Christ had not yet come? What was the reward for which he was looking? It seems clear that Moses knew of the promises that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He knew about the land of promise. He was fully aware of what God had told his forefather Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Jochebed, his mother, must have shared with him the stories of his patriarchal ancestors. He must have known about the story of Joseph and how God had sent him to be a savior for the people of Israel. He had heard the stories of Joseph’s miraculous rise to power. He must have seen himself as a kind of savior as well, having been placed by God in his elevated position for the purpose of rescuing his fellow Israelites.

All during his days growing up in Pharaoh’s court, Moses must have remembered the promise that God had given to Abraham:

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

He believed in the promises of God. He knew about the land. He knew about the “offspring” to come, who Paul said would be the Christ.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Moses believed. And he was willing to forego the pleasures of life in Pharaoh’s court in order to be faithful to the promises of God, even if it meant suffering. It’s interesting to note that Joseph remained a part of Pharaoh’s court until the day he died. Daniel remained a part of the Babylonian court until the day he died. But Moses was being called by God to reject the fleeting pleasure of sin and the treasures of Egypt. This was part of God’s plan for his life, and he would spend the next 40 years of his life in Midian as a common shepherd until the day God appeared to him in the burning bush.

Moses left his former life behind. He turned his back on his old identity as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter in order that he might be who God had called him to be, a son of Abraham and the future representative whom God would use to redeem His people from their bondage in Egypt.

Moses had a future-focused faith. His attention was on the hoped-for and the unseen. What was promised by God meant more to him than the present pleasures of life. His faith in God would lead to his exile, but also to the exodus. He would find himself a shepherd of sheep and, eventually, the shepherd of God’s people.

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.

The Testing of Our Faith

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

This story deserves a second look. There are four little words that should raise a certain amount of suspicion and create a bit of confusion in our minds – “when he was tested.” The account of this story found in Genesis says, “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1 ESV). But why did God test Abraham? The Hebrew word for “tested” is nacah and it can mean “to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test” (Hebrew Lexicon :: H5254 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible). Again, why would a good God test Abraham? We might also ask why an omniscient, all-knowing God would need to test Abraham. What was the purpose of the test? Was it to prove, test, or try Abraham’s faith? Wouldn’t an omniscient God have known what the outcome of such a test would be? Didn’t he already have a ram ready to serve as a substitute offering in place of Isaac? Was God really waiting to see what Abraham would do?

On further examination, it would appear that God was testing Abraham, not for His own enlightenment, but for Abraham’s. God already knew the outcome. The psalmist would have us remember that God is all-knowing.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT

God did not need to know what Abraham would do. But Abraham needed to know what God would do in response to his obedience – even in the face of an impossible, illogical request. The test was for Abraham.

There is another story that speaks of God’s testing. It is found in the book of Exodus. It took place early in the story, immediately after the Israelites’ deliverance from
Egypt and God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea.

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them – Exodus 15:22-25 ESV

In recording this event, Moses used the same Hebrew word, nacah. God tested them. But notice the difference between the two stories. In this case, the people of Israel, who had just witnessed God’s divine deliverance, arrive at Marah and immediately begin to complain about the lack of water. Remember, they had seen God send ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. They had seen Him destroy Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. But when they found themselves in the wilderness without water, they grumbled and complained, saying, “What shall we drink?”

They didn’t even take their problem directly to God, the one who had delivered them. Instead, they went to Moses, and he delivered their complaint to God. Despite their complaining, God took care of their need and provided them with sweet water. There he tested them. But again, who was the test for? Did God not know how they were going to react? Was He not fully aware of their hearts and completely unsurprised by their reaction? Wasn’t He the one who led them right to that spot, fully knowing that there was no water? The answer to all three questions is “Yes.” God knew. So, this test was for them.

After God miraculously provided them with drinkable water, He said to them, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26 ESV).

God wanted them to know that He could be trusted. He wanted them to know that He was all-powerful. He was testing their knowledge of Him and their faith in Him – for their benefit. The lack of water at Meribah revealed to them that they didn’t know or trust God. It revealed their lack of faith. When they had stood on the banks of the Red Sea with the army of Pharaoh bearing down on them, Moses had told them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). And God had delivered them. But as soon as they faced their first problem, they doubted God. They failed the test.

But Abraham passed his test – with flying colors. God was not surprised. He knew Abraham would be obedient. He even had a ram caught in a thicket to serve as the stand-in for Isaac. But that day Abraham learned a great deal about himself and about His God. His faith grew. His hope in God’s promises increased. His conviction deepened that those things promised by God, though as yet unseen and unfulfilled, would actually happen. God was good for His word.

The test was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s. He learned what true obedience to God looks and feels like. In a way, Abraham was testing the faithfulness of God, counting on Him to come through. He even told his son, Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). He was putting all his faith in God, counting on Him to spare his son or even raise him back to life should he have to follow through with God’s command and take his life.

God was not testing Abraham in order to see what he would do. The test was so that Abraham could see what God would do. The result of the whole affair was that Abraham’s faith in God increased. The apostle Peter gives us an insight into the tests we face in this life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

Like Abraham, our faith will be tested at times. We will find ourselves facing situations and circumstances that will reveal whether our “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Will we allow the lack of water to cause us to complain? When God leads us to do something we find unreasonable or uncomfortable, will we balk at His request and refuse, or will we obey? God knows exactly what we will do. He is never surprised. But the question is whether we know what God will do, and are we willing to trust Him with the outcome? Paul gives us a word of encouragement.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT

This present life is filled with troubles, trials, and tests that take us by surprise and catch us off-guard. We don’t see them coming and their sudden appearance in our lives presents us with a test of our faith. They are not so much tests to determine what we will do as much as they are opportunities to examine our trust in God. What will He do? How is He going to respond to our trials and difficulties? Abraham passed his test not because he picked up the knife to take the life of his own son, but because he believed God would somehow fulfill all the promises He had made, even if Isaac died in the process.

God had assured Abraham, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). That promise was good enough for Abraham. God had said it and Abraham believed it. And nothing, including the potential death of Isaac, was going to keep God from doing what He had promised to do. 

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.

The Danger of Misplaced Faith

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. – Hebrews 11:17-19 ESV

There will be times when the life of faith seems illogical. By definition, it involves “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith has a future orientation. It looks ahead and maintains an eternal perspective. Because of those things, it will be tested on this earth.

God had promised Abraham a son. There would be no plan B, no adoption of an heir, no acceptance of another son born through a slave girl. The son God had in mind would be born through Sarah, in spite of Abraham’s old age and her barrenness. Not only that, God had also promised a multitude of descendants and a land in which they would live. And God kept His word.

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” – Genesis 21:1-7 ESV

God came through. When Abraham had celebrated his 100th birthday, God provided him with a son. He and Sarah must have been beside themselves with joy and a deep sense of relief. They had waited so long. They had hoped for a son and now God had delivered on His promise. And they would enjoy every moment of every day with their young son, Isaac. Every time they looked at him, they would remember the faithfulness of God and realize that this young boy was the hope they had been waiting for for so long. But was he?

The day came when God gave Abraham the hardest choice he would ever make.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Genesis 22:1-2 ESV

Can you imagine the shock? Can you begin to feel the sense of incredulity Abraham must have felt? As God acknowledged in His statement to Abraham, this was his only son, the son he loved. And now God was asking; no He was commanding Abraham to offer up that long-awaited son as a sacrifice. He was telling Abraham to take the life of his own son, his only son, the one who was the key to Abraham becoming the father of a multitude of nations.

Or was he? You see, as much as we may be appalled at the idea of God commanding Abraham to make a human sacrifice, we must keep in mind that, as the Scriptures say, this was a test. It was God’s way of determining if Abraham had mistakenly transferred his hope in God to his son. Had the gift he had been given become more important than the Giver of the gift?

It’s interesting to note the response of Abraham to this shocking news from God. The Scriptures somewhat matter-of-factly record: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3 ESV).

He didn’t argue or remind God of His earlier promise. He didn’t accuse God of unfairness or injustice. He simply obeyed. While he probably didn’t understand all that was going on, he kept trusting God. When his young son asked him, “My father, behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 ESV), Abraham calmly replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 ESV).

Whether Abraham was simply hiding the grim reality from his son in order to protect him or he truly believed that God would provide a substitute lamb, the passage doesn’t say. The very fact that Abraham ended up binding his son, placing him on the altar, and raising the knife to take his life, gives us ample evidence that he was willing to go through with God’s command. In his heart of hearts, Abraham trusted God and believed that He could still keep all His promises even if Isaac had to die. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 ESV).

Abraham passed the test. God sent an angel to stay his hand and prevent the death of Isaac. The angel of the Lord said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12 ESV). Then God miraculously provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket to act as a substitute sacrifice. Isaac was spared. Abraham had shown that his faith was in God, not his son. He had proven that he trusted the Giver more than he did the gift. His hope was in God and he had full assurance and a strong conviction that God was going to do all that He had promised, and nothing, even the death of his own son was going to prevent it from happening. He had faith in God.

God had asked Abraham to do the unthinkable. He had commanded Abraham to take the life of his only son, his most precious possession. Not only was Isaac the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream, but he was also the hope of God’s promise of a multitude of descendants taking place.

Or was he? You see, the problem we all face is the tendency to take our eyes off of God and place them on things other than Him. Isaac was not to be Abraham’s hope. He was just a boy who would grow up to be a man. But Isaac would not bring about the fulfillment of God’s promises. Only God could do that. No man or woman will ever be able to bring to fruition the promises of God. For the divine will of God to happen, it must be accomplished by God Himself. We must never take our hope off of God and place it on anyone or anything else.

Abraham’s test was one of allegiance. It was a test of his hope and, ultimately, a test of his faith. Now that he had a son, was he going to transfer his hope from God to Isaac? He passed the test. His faith was in God. His assurance of things hoped for was in God. His conviction of things not seen was in God. He had an eternal perspective that would not allow the illogical and seemingly unthinkable to deter his faith in his faithful God.

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.

Growing Confidence

10 And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. 11 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. 12 From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered. 13 From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the valleys
that extends to the seat of Ar,
and leans to the border of Moab.”

16 And from there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
18 the well that the princes made,
that the nobles of the people dug,
with the scepter and with their staffs.”

And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert. Numbers 21:10-20 ESV

Having been denied safe passage through the land of Edom, the Israelites had attempted to make their way through the Negev. But their efforts were hampered by the Canaanites who occupied that territory. So, they reversed their steps and headed east around the borders of Edom and on to the western borders of Moab. This would have been a long and circuitous journey that left the Israelites frustrated by their slow progress. It was an unexpected and unwelcome detour that required the people of God to extend their time in the wilderness. But there was a reason for this delay. God was waiting for the last of the rebellious generous that had refused to enter Canaan the first time to die off. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the nearly 40-year death march the Israelites were forced to make because of their disobedience to God’s command.

“Thirty-eight years passed from the time we first left Kadesh-barnea until we finally crossed the Zered Brook! By then, all the men old enough to fight in battle had died in the wilderness, as the Lord had vowed would happen. The Lord struck them down until they had all been eliminated from the community.” – Deuteronomy 2:14-15 NLT

And as that earlier generation slowly died off, the time was growing closer when the next crop of Israelites would face the decision to obey God and enter the land of Canaan. But as they drew closer to Canaan’s border, God warned the people to give the people of Moab a wide berth.

“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT

When the very last member of the earlier generation died, the Israelites were given permission to cross the border of Moab and enter the land of Ammon,

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

As before, the Israelites were to refrain from taking any land from the Ammonites. These people were close relatives of the Israelites and God declared their property to be off limits. God had awarded Lot’s descendants this land and the Israelites had no claim to it.

But the day came when God ordered the Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. The older generation was gone and, after a nearly 40-year delay, it was time for God’s people to obey His command and enter the land of promise.

“Then the Lord said, ‘Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.’” – Deuteronomy 2:24-25 NLT

Moses attempted to negotiate a treaty with Sihon, the king of the Amorites, but he was not interested in peace talks. That’s when God informed Moses to drop the peace overtures and have the people pick up their weapons.

“Look, I have begun to hand King Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to conquer and occupy his land.” – Deuteronomy 2:31 NLT

And the victory was overwhelming. Moses indicates that “the Lord our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people.  We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared” (Deuteronomy 2:33-34 NLT).

Moses refers to “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14 ESV. This was a record of Israel’s victories in the form of songs. The people were just beginning to witness the overwhelming power of God on their behalf. This victory over the Amorites was to be the first of many and it was intended to promote a sense of hope and confidence among the people of God.

After their defeat of the Amorites, the Israelites continued on to Beer, where God quenched the thirst of the people with refreshing water. And the people responded in grateful song.

“Spring up, O well!
    Yes, sing its praises!
Sing of this well,
    which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
    with their scepters and staffs.” – Numbers 21:17-18 NLT

Israel was experiencing a sense of renewed confidence as they witnessed firsthand the power and providence of God. He was graciously preparing them for the days ahead and helping them to understand that anything was possible when they placed their faith in Him.

But while they were getting closer to the land of Canaan, they were not quite ready to take on the challenged that lie across the border. So, God continue to prepare them for the difficult days ahead.

Their enthusiasm, while admirable, would not be enough to bring victory against the nations living in Canaan. What the Israelites really needed was increased confidence in the power of God. Ultimately, the conquest of the land would be up to Him. They were going to need to learn to trust Him implicitly. Cockiness was not an acceptable substitute for confidence in God.

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.

Two Daughters. Two Destinies.

17 Our eyes failed, ever watching
    vainly for help;
in our watching we watched
    for a nation which could not save.

18 They dogged our steps
    so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered,
    for our end had come.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
    than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains;
    they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

20 The breath of our nostrils, the Lord’s anointed,
    was captured in their pits,
of whom we said, “Under his shadow
    we shall live among the nations.”

21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

22 The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
   he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:17-22 ESV

During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the people of Judah had fully expected their allies, the Egyptians, to step up and rescue them. After the death of King Josiah, his son Jehoahaz had ascended to the throne, but his reign lasted a scant three months. He was imprisoned by Pharaoh and replaced on the throne by his younger brother, who agreed to pay the exorbitant tribute levied against them by the Egyptians.

Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah, from Libnah. He did evil in the sight of the Lord as his ancestors had done. Pharaoh Necho imprisoned him in Riblah in the land of Hamath and prevented him from ruling in Jerusalem. He imposed on the land a special tax of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. Pharaoh Necho made Josiah’s son Eliakim king in Josiah’s place, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. He took Jehoahaz to Egypt, where he died. Jehoiakim paid Pharaoh the required amount of silver and gold, but to meet Pharaoh’s demands Jehoiakim had to tax the land. He collected an assessed amount from each man among the people of the land in order to pay Pharaoh Necho. – 2 Kings 23:31-35 NLT

But this costly alliance with the Egyptians never produced the rescue they longed for. Pharaoh Necho was content to leave the people of Judah high and dry, having gladly taken their tribute money but never providing them the protection due to a vassal state. The Babylonians were the new bad boy on the block and the Egyptians chose to stay out of the fray altogether.

The king of Egypt did not march out from his land again, for the king of Babylon conquered all the territory that the king of Egypt had formerly controlled between the Stream of Egypt and the Euphrates River. – 2 Kings 24:7 NLT

Even back during the days when the Assyrians were making their way through the land of Canaan capturing city after city, Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, warned Judah’s King Hezekiah not to put his trust in Egypt.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – 2 Kings 18:19-22 NLT

And King Sennacherib proved to be right about Egypt. His assessment of Pharaoh’s reliability had been spot-on. But this was something God had known for some time. He had warned His people not to put their faith in military might – their own or that of their allies.

Those who go down to Egypt for help are as good as dead;
those who rely on war horses,
and trust in Egypt’s many chariots
and in their many, many horsemen.
But they do not rely on the Holy One of Israel
and do not seek help from the Lord.
Yet he too is wise and he will bring disaster;
he does not retract his decree.
He will attack the wicked nation,
and the nation that helps those who commit sin.
The Egyptians are mere humans, not God;
their horses are made of flesh, not spirit.
The Lord will strike with his hand;
the one who helps will stumble
and the one being helped will fall.
Together they will perish. – Isaiah 31:1-3 NLT

God’s people were never to have placed their hope and trust in other nations. King David himself wrote:

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright. – Psalm 20:6-8 ESV

God was to have been their champion. He had promised to be their defender and their help against any and all adversaries. But their serial unfaithfulness to Him had left Him with no other choice but to bring judgment upon them. They had somehow decided that God was not enough. So, they put their hope in human saviors. They turned to kings and their armies when they had the King of kings on their side.

And because they chose to place their hope and trust in something other than God Almighty, they suffered the consequences. They had wrongly assumed that their king, the Lord’s anointed, would save them.

Our king—the Lord’s anointed, the very life of our nation—
    was caught in their snares.
We had thought that his shadow
    would protect us against any nation on earth! – Lamentations 4:20 NLT

But a king who fails to honor God with his life will offer no hope in times of despair. A man who neglects the wisdom of God and turns His back on the ways of God will prove to be a lousy deliverer when times get tough.

But Jeremiah wraps up this dirge with a reminder to the daughters of Edom and the daughters of Zion.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
    you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
    he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
    he will uncover your sins. – Lamentations 4:21-22 ESV

These two daughters represent two different lands: The land of Judah and the land of Babylon. The daughters of Edom living in the land of Ur or Babylon have every reason to rejoice over their great victory. Their men have returned home victorious, with great spoil, tens of thousands of captives in two, and stories of their conquest of the nation of Judah.

But Jeremiah warns them to consider tapping the brake a bit. Their enthusiasm is going to be shortlived. Yes, they were the new bully on the block and their success was undeniable. But what they didn’t realize was that their victory had been the handiwork of God. And God has a habit of putting kings on thrones and removing them at His discretion. Their 15-minutes of fame was going to be over before they knew it and, as Jeremiah points out, they will be forced to “drink from the cup of the Lord’s anger” (Lamentations 4:21 NLT). 

In contrast, Jerusalem would see an end to its exile. After 70 years in captivity, God would return a remnant of His people from the land of Babylon and allow them to rebuild and reoccupy the city of Jerusalem. The gates and walls would be restored. The temple would be refurbished. The sacrificial system would be reinstituted. And the faithful God of Judah would shower His rebellious people with His undeserved grace and mercy.

While the story looked like it had a very unhappy ending, there was more to come that the people of Judah could not see. The Babylonians looked victorious. They had been on the winning end of the equation. But God was not done. His plan was not yet complete. And the circumstances of life do not always provide an accurate assessment of reality. God was still on His throne. He was still the covenant-keeping God of Judah. He was faithful and He was far from done with His chosen people.

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

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

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

Nothing Is Too Hard For You.

“After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed to the Lord, saying: ‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they entered and took possession of it. But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them. Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah 32:16-25 ESV

If anybody but God had recommended to Jeremiah that he make a long-term investment in real estate located in Judah, he would have told them to take a hike. But when God commanded that Jeremiah buy land from his cousin, Hanamel, he obeyed. No, it didn’t make any sense. Paying good money for land that had been confiscated by the occupying forces of King Nebuchadnezzar had to have seemed like a lousy investment strategy – even to Jeremiah. But he did what the Lord commanded. Then he prayed. And in his prayer, he communicated to God his confusion over what had just transpired. But first, he started by praising God for His great power. He acknowledge that God was the creator of the universe. He acknowledged God’s unfailing love, but also noted that God was just and righteous, giving people exactly what they deserve. He confessed that God had a reputation for doing great things for His people, having delivered them from captivity in Egypt. Then He had given them the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, helping them take it from the pagan people groups that occupied upon their arrival. And Jeremiah praises God’s all-powerful capacity to come to the aid of His people, acknowledging that “Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV). Now, part of that is probably Jeremiah speaking what he cognitively knows to be true, but he is obviously wrestling with it on a practical level. While he has praised God for His power and the unquestionable reliability of His word, he ends his prayer with the statement:

Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses’—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.” – Jeremiah 32:25 ESV

Everything God had said would happen to the people of Judah had happened. He had brought disaster upon them in the form of the Babylonians. Siege walls had been erected the city of Jerusalem. Famine and pestilence had already begun with the city because of the blockade created by the Babylonian forces. Food was not making its way into Jerusalem. People were dying of hunger and, as a result, disease was spreading among the living. And Jeremiah tells God, “What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it” (Jeremiah 32:24 ESV).

And this is where Jeremiah becomes a bit incredulous. With all that is taking place, he can’t believe that God would have him buy land in Judah. Even though he believes that nothing is too difficult for God, he is having a hard time getting his head around the idea that one day land in Judah will be of any value again. This prayer is a great reminder to each of us that trusting God will not always be painless or doubt-free. Jeremiah believed in God. He had seen God do incredible things. He had watched as every single one of God’s pronouncements against Judah had come about. He knew God was reliable and trustworthy. He was convinced that God was fully capable of accomplishing anything and everything He promised to do. But now that Jeremiah had a personal investment in the future of God’s restoration of Judah, he was struggling with some doubts. Now, he was personally dependent upon God to one day restore the people to the land. And it had to have crossed Jeremiah’s mind that he would not be around when that event took place. God had already said that the people of Judah would be in captivity for 70 years.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” – Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV

There is no way Jeremiah would live long enough to see that day. So, God’s command that he buy land in Judah had to have seemed that much more strange to him. How would he ever know how things turned out in the future? What guarantees did he have that his descendants would occupy the land he purchased? He was going to have to trust God. As we looked at yesterday. the author of Hebrews describes faith as “being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Jeremiah could see the Babylonian troops and the siege walls. He was fully convinced that God’s promises come true, because they were staring him straight in the face. But when it came to the promise of the restoration of the people to the land, something God had said would happen 70 years later, Jeremiah was a bit less adamant in his belief.

In speaking of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, the author of Hebrews says they “died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 NLT). That is exactly what God was asking Jeremiah to do. By having Jeremiah purchase the land in Anathoth, God was forcing Jeremiah to put his hope and trust in something he couldn’t yet see. Not only that, he would never live to see it happen. But this was about far more than just a piece of property in Anathoth. This was about the far-in-the-distance promises of God. At the end of Hebrews 11, the author states:

And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us. – Hebrews 11:39-40 NLT

Each of the patriarchs listed in this great “Hall of Faith” died without having seen the promises of God fulfilled in their entirety. Moses never entered the land of promise. Jacob and his son Joseph would each die in Egypt, but both believing that their descendants would one day return to the land. Joseph even made his brothers promise to take his bones with them when the did return. Sarah had to believe that God was going to bless her with many descendants, even though Isaac would be the only one she would live long enough to see with her own eyes. She never lived to see the incredible fulfillment of God’s promise to she and Abraham. But she believed. And Jeremiah was going to have to believe God as well. The land purchased by Jeremiah would one day be inhabited by his descendants. No, he would not be around to see it, but he could trust God for it. And as Jeremiah stated in his prayer, nothing is too difficult for God. But he was going to have to trust God for that which he could not see. The apostle Paul puts it this way:

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24-25 NLT

Paul emphasized the same thing to the Corinthian believers.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Corinthians 5:7 NLT

Jeremiah had been forced to invest in the trustworthiness of God. And isn’t that what each of us does when we place our faith in Jesus? We are believing in that which we cannot see. We are investing in a future that has not yet happened or realized. In His great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke these powerful words that echo the expectation God was placing on Jeremiah by having him buy the land.

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

In essence, Jeremiah’s investment was a heavenly one. He was buying temporal land, but it was based on eternal and spiritual promises given by God Himself. His purchase was not based on earthly financial strategies. It was in obedience to the word of God and solely based on the trustworthiness of God to accomplish His divine will – even if Jeremiah never lived to see it happen. Now, that is faith.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠