No Right to Mourn

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” 20 Then I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: 21 ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. 22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your shoes on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. 24 Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.’

25 “As for you, son of man, surely on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their soul’s desire, and also their sons and daughters, 26 on that day a fugitive will come to you to report to you the news. 27 On that day your mouth will be opened to the fugitive, and you shall speak and be no longer mute. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:15-27 ESV

After providing Ezekiel with the parable of the boiling pot, God informs His faithful prophet of a pending personal tragedy that will become another powerful illustration to His rebellious people. With everything else going on in his life, the last thing Ezekiel expected to hear was a divine pronouncement of his wife’s imminent death. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been no mention of Ezekiel’s family, so the sudden mention of his wife’s death is unexpected. And this tragic news must have hit Ezekiel with the emotional impact of a freight train.

But the gut-wrenching news of her death was accompanied by an equally difficult command from God. Not only is Ezekiel told that his wife, his “dearest treasure,” is going to die suddenly, but he is forbidden by God to mourn or weep for her publicly.

“Son of man, realize that I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a jolt, but you must not mourn or weep or shed tears.” – Ezekiel 24:16 NET

Ezekiel will not be allowed to show any outward signs of mourning. The normal rituals and rites associated with the loss of a loved one will be off-limits to him. Even when well-meaning friends heard the tragic news and brought him meals, he was not allowed to eat with them. God expected Ezekiel to act as if nothing happened, putting his turban on his head, his sandals on his feet, and going about his prophetic responsibilities as usual. And Ezekiel was given little time to prepare himself for this devastating event. Within 24 hours, his wife was dead.

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.  – Ezekiel 24:18 ESV

When Ezekiel’s fellow exiles saw that he showed no signs of mourning over his wife’s sudden passing, they were confused and confronted him about it.

“Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” – Ezekiel 24:19 ESV

From their past experience with Ezekiel, they knew that something was up. He did nothing without a reason and seldom spoke without having a message to convey from God. So, they suspected that there was something behind his bizarre behavior, and they were right.

Ezekiel informed them that his response to his wife’s unexpected death was meant to be an example for them to follow. When the Babylonian siege ended and the city of Jerusalem fell, God was going to bring about the destruction of the temple. For the people of Judah, the temple was the symbol of their relationship with Yahweh and a constant reminder of their status as His chosen people. God describes it as “the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul” (Ezekiel 24:21 ESV). They took great pride in the temple. It was a majestic structure that dominated the city’s skyline from its vantage point on Mount Moriah. It was beautiful and built to last for generations. Yet, God was about to reduce it to a pile of rubble and, when He did, they were not to mourn over its loss. They were to follow Ezekiel’s example.

“…you will do as Ezekiel has done. You will not mourn in public or console yourselves by eating the food brought by friends. Your heads will remain covered, and your sandals will not be taken off. You will not mourn or weep, but you will waste away because of your sins. You will groan among yourselves for all the evil you have done.” – Ezekiel 24:22-23 NLT

But the temple would not be the only loss they suffered. God informs them that when Jerusalem falls, many of them will suffer the loss of family members who remained behind in Judah.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened.” – Ezekiel 24:25-26 NLT

The exiles would not escape the devastating impact of the siege and subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Like Ezekiel, they would soon receive the unexpected and unwanted news of personal tragedy and loss, and God expected them to keep their mourning to themselves. God’s prohibition against any public displays of sorrow was meant to accentuate their guilt and prevent them from portraying their loss as somehow undeserved.

“Ezekiel had a right to mourn his undeserved personal loss but did not. The Israelites had no right to mourn for their well-deserved national loss and could not . . .” – Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel

God was going to use Ezekiel’s timely personal tragedy as a vivid illustration for the people of Judah living in captivity. Their glorious temple was about to be destroyed. It was the source of their security and pride. It held a special place in their hearts and lives, even from 1600 miles away in Babylon. As long as the temple stood, they had hope because it represented the presence of God. But God was going to allow His house to be destroyed and the exiles living in Babylon, who had been taken captive years earlier, were to mourn its loss in silence.

But what are we to do we do with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the tragic death of Ezekiel’s innocent wife? Did God cause it? Did He deliberately take this woman’s life just to make a point? To answer these uncomfortable questions one must first consider the complete character of God as unveiled in the Scriptures. Attempting to put God on trial based on a single Old Testament story is risky business. So, it is necessary to consider the full scope of God’s divine attributes when confronted with a disturbing and somewhat confusing passage like this one.

There is no doubt that God was in control of the situation. He was sovereign over every event that happened, including the death of Ezekiel’s wife. But whether God caused her death or simply allowed it is difficult to know for sure. Based on what the rest of Scripture reveals about the character of God, it seems to make the most sense that God allowed Ezekiel’s wife to die at this particular time. Due to His omniscience and foreknowledge, God was fully aware of the timing surrounding her death. He knew in advance what was already going to happen.

Had she been sick? The passage doesn’t say. Was her condition the result of disease or plague? There is no way to know. But her death was timely. It came at just the right moment and was used by God as a power and memorable illustration to His rebellious people.

It is essential that we interpret this event based on other revelations of God’s character found in the Word. The question is not whether God could have caused her death, but whether He would kill an innocent woman just to illustrate a point. Would that be consistent with His character? In his Notes on Ezekiel, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The text does not say that God put her to death as an object lesson. She could have been ill for some time before she died. Another similar situation involved God allowing the death of His innocent Son to occur at precisely the time God intended as another expression of His love and judgment.”

In reading the Old Testament, we must be careful to interpret what it seems to reveal about God’s character by comparing what we read with other passages and revelations about God. Otherwise, we can easily build a case that God is callous, hard, vindictive, and heartless. But even in this very difficult book, we see that God is ultimately loving, kind, patient, and forgiving. While He punishes, He also restores. While He brings well-deserved judgment, He also brings undeserved mercy and grace. He is not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted and complex. And He is always righteous and just in all His actions.

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.

Good News and Bad News

18 The word of the Lord came to me again: 19 “As for you, son of man, mark two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come. Both of them shall come from the same land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to a city. 20 Mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites and to Judah, into Jerusalem the fortified. 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver. 22 Into his right hand comes the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth with murder, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers. 23 But to them it will seem like a false divination. They have sworn solemn oaths, but he brings their guilt to remembrance, that they may be taken.

24 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have made your guilt to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your deeds your sins appear—because you have come to remembrance, you shall be taken in hand. 25 And you, O profane wicked one, prince of Israel, whose day has come, the time of your final punishment, 26 thus says the Lord God: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. 27 A ruin, ruin, ruin I will make it. This also shall not be, until he comes, the one to whom judgment belongs, and I will give it to him.

28 “And you, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God concerning the Ammonites and concerning their reproach; say, A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter. It is polished to consume and to flash like lightning— 29 while they see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the profane wicked, whose day has come, the time of their final punishment. 30 Return it to its sheath. In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you. 31 And I will pour out my indignation upon you; I will blow upon you with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver you into the hands of brutish men, skillful to destroy. 32 You shall be fuel for the fire. Your blood shall be in the midst of the land. You shall be no more remembered, for I the Lord have spoken.” – Ezekiel 21:18-32 ESV

Once again, God orders Ezekiel to illustrate His message through the use of performance art. To better illustrate the coming Babylonian invasion, Ezekiel must produce a two-dimensional map for the people to see. Perhaps he used the model of the city of Jerusalem that he created earlier and simply added a few pertinent details. But the goal was to show that the Babylonians would enter the land of Palestine somewhere in the north, near the city of Damascus. At that point, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, will use divination in order to determine whether to attack Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah or send his troops to Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon.

The king of Babylon now stands at the fork, uncertain whether to attack Jerusalem or Rabbah. He calls his magicians to look for omens. They cast lots by shaking arrows from the quiver. They inspect the livers of animal sacrifices. – Ezekiel 21:21 NLT

This pagan king will utilize belomancy to determine his military strategy. This involved inscribing different names on the shafts of arrows and then placing the arrows in a quiver. Then an arrow was drawn out at random and whichever name was on that arrow indicated the god’s decision. In this case, the name on the arrow will be “Jerusalem.” But this will not be the work of a false god, but the sovereign will of Yahweh. He will determine the destination of the Babylonians.

The omen in his right hand says, ‘Jerusalem!’ With battering rams his soldiers will go against the gates, shouting for the kill. They will put up siege towers and build ramps against the walls. – Ezekiel 21:22 NLT

As the book of Proverbs states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33 BSB). Despite the efforts of the Babylonian magicians, it will be God Almighty who determines Nebuchadnezzar’s actions.

But when the people living in Jerusalem hear that the Babylonians are headed their way, they will view this as a false omen. Nebuchadnezzar must have chosen the wrong arrow. Surely God would have preferred Ammon as the target of the Babylonian hordes. Not only had the Ammonites rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar’s rule just as the Judahites had, but they were godless and wicked. They deserved to be destroyed. The leaders of Jerusalem still believed that they were somehow immune from God’s wrath because they were His chosen people. But they were wrong, and God was about to give them a not-so-gentle wake-up call.

…the king of Babylon will remind the people of their rebellion. Then he will attack and capture them. – Ezekiel 21:23 NLT

And God gave King Zedekiah a foreboding message concerning his fate.

“Take off your jeweled crown,
    for the old order changes.
Now the lowly will be exalted,
    and the mighty will be brought down.
Destruction! Destruction!
    I will surely destroy the kingdom.
And it will not be restored until the one appears
    who has the right to judge it.
Then I will hand it over to him. – Ezekiel 21:26-27 NLT

And once Nebuchadnezzar has completed God’s plans for Judah and Jerusalem, he will be free to turn his attention to the Ammonites.

“And now, son of man, prophesy concerning the Ammonites and their mockery. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord:

“A sword, a sword
    is drawn for your slaughter.” – Ezekiel 21:28 NLT

But even in the midst of all the doom and gloom, there is a message of hope for the future. God hints about the future restoration of Judah. Look closely at verse 27:

I will surely destroy the kingdom.
And it will not be restored until the one appears
    who has the right to judge it. – Ezekiel 21:27 NLT

Over and over again the prophet delivers messages from God regarding the sins of the people and the coming destruction. But occasionally God gives a glimpse of future hope. He lets them in on the secret that there is good news ahead. There is a brighter future on the horizon. He will not remain angry forever. And His destruction will not be complete or permanent. He will keep His covenant promise. In verse 27 we get a glimmer of light in the midst of all the darkness and gloom. Yes, destruction is coming. God is going to destroy the kingdom of Judah. And it will remain in a state of destruction and devastation for many years. But there is a day coming when He will restore the nation of Judah and the people of God. With the death of Zedekiah, the reign of the kings of Judah comes to an end. There would be no more kings sitting on the throne of David. Even now, there is no king in Israel. But God is not done. His plan is not yet complete. God tells Ezekiel that there is a day coming when He will turn over the kingdom to one “who has the right to judge it.”

We are told of this coming king in the book of Isaiah.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah was told about this coming king as well.

“For the time is coming,”
    says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
    from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Israel will live in safety.”Jeremiah 23:5-6 NLT

The bad news came with some very good news. God had a plan for His people. He was not done with Israel. Even now, God’s future plan remains unfulfilled but fully in place. They are a nation, but they do not have a king. They have no temple. There is no sacrificial system to atone for their sins. They have no priesthood. But there is a day coming when God will provide them with a ruler who will serve as their priest and king. He will rule and reign in righteousness. He will reestablish the throne of David and rule in Jerusalem with total power and complete righteousness. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God.

But long before the true King of Israel appears, the nation would have to face the righteous judgment of God. Their guilt would have to be condemned and their sins atoned for – until the Son of Righteousness appears.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Again and again you remind me of your sin and your guilt. You don’t even try to hide it! In everything you do, your sins are obvious for all to see. So now the time of your punishment has come!” – Ezekiel 21:24 NLT

But the good news is that their time of restoration is still yet to come. God is not done. His promises concerning Israel are yet to be fulfilled. But they will be.

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.

A False Bill of Sales

17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts. Prophesy against them 18 and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? 19 You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.

20 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. 21 Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life, 23 therefore you shall no more see false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 13:17-23 ESV

Contrary to popular opinion the prophet fraternity was not a male-only club. While men were the primary members of this elite group of divinely commissioned messengers, the Old Testament does indicate that women also served as prophets. In Exodus 15:20, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, is listed as a prophetess. According to Judges 4:4, Deborah was a prophetess who also served as a judge over Israel. In 2 Kings 22:14, Hilkiah the priest, and a number of royal officials in King Josiah’s court, consulted the prophetess Huldah, who gave them a message from the Lord. Finally, Nehemiah 6:14 provides the name of Noadiah the prophetess. Each of these women was recognized as an official spokesperson for God and treated with the same respect and honor as their male counterparts, but it would appear that the number of female prophets was relatively small.

Yet, while they may have represented a tiny segment of the overall population, this didn’t stop them from populating the ranks of the false prophets who were leading the people of Judah astray. For those living in Judah during Ezekiel’s day, the presence of a female prophet would not have been unexpected. But God found these women to be unacceptable and intolerable because what they were doing was deceptive and deadly. So, He gave Ezekiel a message aimed directly at them.

“…son of man, speak out against the women who prophesy from their own imaginations…” – Ezekiel 13:17 NLT

God makes it clear that they were not acting on His behalf. Their words were their own and had not come from the Lord. And He exposes their so-called prophecies as a form of witchcraft or sorcery.

What sorrow awaits you women who are ensnaring the souls of my people, young and old alike. You tie magic charms on their wrists and furnish them with magic veils.” – Ezekiel 13:18 NLT

God accuses these women of hunting the souls of His people. It’s unclear just exactly what this phrase means or what role the “magic” wristbands and veils played in their actions, but it would seem to involve some sort of occult practices. Whether they were using these magical items to bring others under their control or in an attempt to cast spells is uncertain.

But what is clear is that these women were offering their services in exchange for payment. They were making a profit from prophesying.

“You have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to lies.” – Ezekiel 13:19 ESV

It may be that these women were promoting their magical trinkets as talismans that could ward off evil or protect their wearer from harm. Perhaps they were marketing their products as a way to escape the coming judgment of God. In doing so, they were offering people the false hope of salvation. Rather than repent of their sins, their customers could simply rely on the prophylactic effects of their magic wristband or veil.

Whatever it was that they were doing was leading the people of Judah astray. Instead of listening to the warnings of Ezekiel, the true prophet of God, the people were buying into the lies of these women. They were selling hope in the form of magic. They were assuring their customers that they were safe from harm and free from worry. But in doing so, they were condemning these people to certain death and destruction. No piece of cloth was going to stay God’s hand, and no magic spell was going to protect anyone from His wrath.

So, God declares that He will expose their true identity as charlatans. He will rip the wristbands and veils off the arms and heads of His people, setting them free from their captivity to these false forms of hope.

“I will tear them from your arms, setting my people free like birds set free from a cage. I will tear off the magic veils and save my people from your grasp. They will no longer be your victims. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:20-21 NLT

The actions of these women had changed nothing about God’s plans for Judah and Jerusalem. The Babylonians were still going to destroy the city and take captive thousands of its inhabitants. The temple would be destroyed. Many would die of starvation during the siege. Others would fall by the sword when the Babylonians entered the city.

These self-proclaimed prophetesses were guilty of false advertising. They were telling their customers that they were safe and secure. And they were assuring all those who refused to buy their products that they were condemned to certain death. But God assures Ezekiel that these women had no power and their products offered no lasting benefits. The only thing these women had managed to accomplish was to lead the people astray. Their efforts had produced discouragement and disillusionment among the godly because they refused to buy their products. And those who purchased their magic clothing lived under a false delusion of invincibility, inducing them to continue their sinful lifestyles unabated and unafraid.

“You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins.” – Ezekiel 13:22 NLT

Whatever these women were doing had left God extremely displeased. He had seen enough and was going to deal with their behavior once and for all.

“Because of all this, you will no longer talk of seeing visions that you never saw, nor will you make predictions. For I will rescue my people from your grasp. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:23 NLT

When God states that they will no longer talk of seeing visions they never saw, He is predicting their deaths. He would no longer tolerate their aberrant behavior. The problem inherent with all false prophets is the fact that their prophecies are untrue and, therefore, unreliable. They talk a good game and promote a product with a long list of attractive benefits, but they can’t ever produce what they promise. Their ad copy doesn’t ever add up. Their sales pitch never quite delivers. Because they don’t speak on behalf of God. Like all the other false prophets, they are selling lies. They offer peace instead of warning about God’s punishment. They promise deliverance from His discipline. They encourage a false sense of hope when God is demanding true repentance and a spirit of humility among His people.

It didn’t matter whether the false prophets were male or female. They all faced the same stinging indictment from God because they were all guilty of the same thing.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord.” – Ezekiel 13:5 NLT

They had failed to do the job of a prophet. Rather than call the people to repentance, they had encouraged further rebellion. Instead of standing on the walls and warning the people of coming judgment, they had promoted the status quo. Judgment was coming and they did everything in their power to refute it and convince the people to ignore it. But in the end, they would know that Yahweh was Lord.

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 Fallacy of False Hope

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, 11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ 13 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 13:1-16 ESV

The citizens of Judah wrongly assumed that nothing bad was going to happen to their great city of Jerusalem. After all, as far as they could tell, none of God’s prophecies had come to fruition, so they had nothing to worry about. He had warned of destruction but the walls still stood and the temple was fully intact. And, even if God’s judgments were to come, the common opinion was that they would happen any time soon. Any destruction that God might bring upon Judah and its capital city was reserved for some future generation. As far as they could tell, there were safe and sound.

But where did the people get their over-confident and somewhat complacent view of God’s judgment? How did they come up with these faulty conclusions concerning the prophecies that God had pronounced? Well, God provides the answers to those questions by calling out the men who were responsible for the nation’s continued disobedience.

“Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. – Ezekiel 13:2 NLT

God accused these self-proclaimed prophets of “following their own imaginations” (Ezekiel 13:3 NLT) but claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. Yet, God had neither commissioned them nor given them any message to deliver. They were freelancers, operating in the name of God but without His permission or blessing. And the messages they were sharing were doing far more damage than good.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

Judah was in trouble. They were about to experience the righteous wrath of God because of the centuries-worth of rebellion and apostasy that characterized them as a nation. They had a track record of disobedience and had displayed a stubborn resistance to the calls of God’s prophets that they repent and return to Him in humility and brokenness.

And one of the key factors behind their long history of disobedience was the presence of false prophets, and this was not a new problem. For as long as God had been appointing men to speak on His behalf, there had been another group of individuals who claimed membership in that elite group. But they were charlatans and pretenders. God had neither sent them nor spoken to them. And yet…

“They say, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ even though the Lord never sent them. And yet they expect him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ when I have not even spoken to you?” – Ezekiel 13:6-7 NLT

What made these men so popular with the people was that their messages were more palatable and acceptable than the ones given by God’s true prophets. While men like Ezekiel were declaring the pending judgment of God, these individuals were promoting a contrary narrative that provided the people with false hope. In a sense, they were telling the people what they wanted to hear. “Everything’s going to be okay,” they claimed. “You’ve got nothing to worry about,” they confidently boasted. And, the citizens of Judah must have found these claims to be like music to their ears when compared with Ezekiel’s messages of doom and gloom.

The apostle Paul warned his young protégé, Timothy, that people will always have a partiality for those who tell them what they want to hear.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

While Ezekiel was busy telling the people the truth of God – there were plenty of false prophets happy to provide the people with reassuring words and comforting, yet contradictory messages of hope. These men blatantly repudiated Ezekiel’s prophecies, declaring them to be nothing but lies but God had a different opinion.

“They were lying prophets who claimed peace would come to Jerusalem when there was no peace.” – Ezekiel 13:16 NLT

They were deceiving the people by promoting a false sense of calm and assurance when calamity was right around the corner. They were putting words in God’s mouth when they hadn’t heard from God at all. Rather than call the people to repentance, they promoted a lifestyle of continuing decadence, immorality, and idolatry.

But God’s indictment of them was severe. He was no longer going to tolerate their deceitful masquerade as His messengers. These self-proclaimed prophets of God were going to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land.” – Ezekiel 13:9-10 NLT

They would pay dearly for their penchant for popularity and fame. While the people loved to listen to what they had to say, God had heard enough. Their false claims of peace and safety were highly appealing and caused the people to reject Ezekiel’s less-attractive message of pending judgment.

The people had manufactured unstable walls of security based on wishful thinking, and these pseudo-prophets had validated those false hopes with pleasant-sounding words of affirmation. They concealed the lies with white-washed words of false assurance, like pouring white paint on a poorly constructed wall, in the hopes that it would appear more stable and secure. But in the end, they would find their wall of lies destroyed and their 15 minutes of fame brought to an ignominious end.

“At last my anger against the wall and those who covered it with whitewash will be satisfied. Then I will say to you: ‘The wall and those who whitewashed it are both gone.’” – Ezekiel 13:15 NLT

God’s Word can be difficult to understand and even harder to obey. It’s not always easy to comprehend how a loving God can come across as demanding and judgmental. We struggle to deal with the stories in the Old Testament that seem to reveal a God who is quick to anger and not afraid to destroy those who don’t measure up to His high standards. Concepts like hell and judgment seem uncharacteristically unloving and therefore, unacceptable to us. So we try to come up with ways to reject or replace them.

We create our own versions of God’s message. We dumb it down, soften it up, make it more palatable, and in the end, spread a false message that is easy on the ears, but destructive to the soul.

Yes, God is love. But His love does not diminish His holiness. He cannot overlook sin or leave it unpunished. That is why He sent His Son to offer His life as payment for the sins of mankind. But if men ignore God’s call to righteousness and reject the reality of His coming judgment on all mankind, they will miss out on His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. Men who see no need for salvation because there is no judgment will see no need for a savior.

In Ezekiel’s day, there were plenty of false prophets proclaiming that “all is peaceful.” Today, there are those who prefer to claim that “God is love,” while ignoring the truth of His holiness and His hatred for sin. May we never stop speaking the truth of God so that others might receive the grace of God through the free gift of salvation provided by the Son of 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.

A Glimpse of God

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. – Ezekiel 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Ezekiel was written by the man for whom it is named. He was a Jewish priest who found himself exiled to the land of Babylon along with many of his fellow countrymen. And with their capture and deportment to Babylon, they joined the ranks of the other exiled Israelites who had arrived years earlier.

But how did Ezekiel end up in this predicament? What events transpired that resulted in this 30-year-old priest from the southern kingdom of Judah becoming just another captive in the land of Babylon?

It’s a long story that extends back to 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended to the throne of his father. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was defeat the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish that same year. Having defeated these two superpowers, Nebuchadnezzar assumed control of their vassal states, including the southern kingdom of Judah. He began a siege of the city of Jerusalem in 605 BC that ended in its surrender and the capture of thousands of its leading citizens, who were promptly deported to Babylon. This would have included a young man named Daniel, who would become a prophet and a contemporary of Ezekiel.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. – Daniel 1:1-6 ESV

Daniel ended up being a prophet in the land of Babylon, but it would not be long before Ezekiel joined him there. That initial deportation would not be the last because the people of Israel would remain unrepentant and unwilling to give up their idolatrous ways. As a result of their stubborn refusal to repent, God would send Nebuchadnezzar again, this time with orders to destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In 598 BC, the Babylonians would lay siege to the city once again, eventually breaking through the walls the destroying everything in sight, including the temple of God.

This devastating event had been foretold by the prophets of God. They had repeatedly warned God’s people that, unless they repented and returned to Him, they would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power.

“Behold, I am bringing against you
    a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
    it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
    nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
    they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
    they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
    they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
    they shall beat down with the sword.”  – Jeremiah 5:15-17 ESV

Over the years, God had patiently and persistently called His people to repentance but they had refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be unfaithful and disloyal to Him, repeatedly worshiping false gods and regularly violating His commands. It was because of their spiritual infidelity and moral impurity that God determined to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians.

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this? – Jeremiah 5:6-9 SV

Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry took place in the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. He began his prophetic ministry sometime around 627 BC, about four years before Ezekiel was born. It is likely that Ezekiel was familiar with Jeremiah’s ministry and had heard his messages concerning God’s pending judgment. Ezekiel would have been a young man when the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem. He would have witnessed the second wave of deportations, as the brightest and the best of Judah were taken captive to Babylon.

Jerusalem fell in 597 BC, but the final deportation did not take place until the next year. It was at that time that Ezekiel became another victim of the Babylonian empire’s aggressive expansion efforts.  He soon found himself living in a refugee camp along with the other exiles from Judah on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon.

But in that remote and far-from-idyllic setting, God came to meet with Ezekiel. While He had brought destruction on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion, He had not abandoned them. He would not leave them completely isolated and alone. God would call on Ezekiel to be His spokesperson to the exiles in Babylon. There on the banks of the Kebar River, God appeared to Ezekiel. This young prophet received a remarkable vision of God in the midst of the doom and gloom of Babylonian captivity. When things seemed to be at their worst, God showed up. He displayed His glory to Ezekiel and gave him a message for the people of Judah. And that vision, while somewhat fantastical and difficult to understand, illustrated God’s power and majestic presence. It accentuated His holiness and stressed His otherness.

The vision that Ezekiel saw left no doubt about just how great and powerful God was. He got a glimpse of God in the midst of his darkest moments. And when Ezekiel saw Him, he fell down and worshiped.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

Even in our darkest days, God is there. Regardless of what is going on around us, He never ceases to be God. He does not change. His status does not diminish. His power does not decrease or wain. He remains holy, powerful, distinct, and worthy of our worship. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him for who He is. He wants us to get our focus off of our circumstances and back on Him. He is our help and hope. He is constantly reminding us of His presence and power.

There on the banks of the Kebar River, living with the dejected and devastated exiles from Judah, Ezekiel needed a vision of God. He needed a reminder that His God was great and was still on His throne, reigning in power. He had not forgotten Ezekiel or the people of Judah. Could you use a vision of God today? Look for Him in His Word. You’ll find Him.

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 Universal Body of Christ

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. – Titus 3:12-15 ESV

The early community of Christ was a close-knit one. Despite the fact that Paul was traveling from one end of the known world to the other, and planting churches in ethnically and geologically diverse regions, they all shared a bond of unity. Wherever they were located, these fledgling communities of faith were in the minority and found themselves facing extreme opposition. To unbelieving Gentiles, Christians were nothing more than a sect of the Jewish religion. After all, the converts to Christianity followed the teachings of an itinerant Jewish rabbi. But to the Jews, Christians represented a dangerous heresy that rejected the Mosaic Law and dismissed the rite of circumcision. So, wherever Paul and his companions preached the gospel and saw its message of faith in Christ take root, they met with strong opposition fueled by extreme antagonism.

These new congregations of believers were often ostracized and isolated from their former communities, and lacked mature spiritual leadership, so Paul felt a strong sense of responsibility to provide them with instruction and encouragement. He wanted them to know that they were part of a much larger community of faith that was spreading around the world. His letters formed a kind of literary highway system linking together these distant and disparate congregations. His growing network of spiritual disciples included men like Timothy, Titus, Artemas, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos, who each played a vital role in ministering to the far-flung Christian community. These men provided much-needed spiritual training to the faithful, but they also served as the eyes and ears of Paul, giving him insight into what was happening within the body of Christ around the world.

Paul was constantly traveling from one place to another, fulfilling his commission to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations. But he tended to leave a part of his heart in every city, town, and village where the gospel found converts. In many cases, his first visit to a city was his last. His travels didn’t always allow him to circle back and check in on the churches he had helped to plant. And, in time, his lengthy imprisonment in Rome would completely curtail his efforts to minister to those whom he loved like his own children. But Paul never left them without adequate spiritual nourishment or oversight. He desperately wanted them to know that they were all in this together. They were part of a much larger family of faith that God was planting around the world and, for Paul, it was essential that each of these churches understand their role within the bigger picture. Rather than focus all their attention on their particular circumstances, they were to see themselves as members of the growing body of Christ.

Paul firmly believed that when an individual came to faith in Christ, they were to align themselves with a local faith community. They were not to act as a free agent, operating Lone Ranger style, independent and isolated from other Christians in their community. This corporate mentality was essential to the spiritual well-being of the individual and the community. And for Paul, it went well beyond geographic confines. He often used the metaphor of the human body as a way of illustrating the interconnected and interdependent nature of the body of Christ.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT

The concept of a global church made up of people from all walks of life, every conceivable economic background, and diverse ethnic makeups was revolutionary. And this new admixture of individuals into a mutually beneficial community of faith was making a radical impact on the world. The church was growing and people were noticing. And Paul was obsessed with getting his expanding family of faith to understand their need for one another. He encouraged an attitude of generosity and selflessness and praised the churches in Macedonia for their gracious giving toward the needs of the church in Jerusalem.

For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. – 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NLT

Paul went on to encourage the believers in Corinth to follow the example of the Macedonian churches.

Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. – 2 Corinthians 8:11 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers on Crete to have the same attitude, telling Titus, “let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14 ESV).

The church is a living organism, not an organization. It is an interactive, interdependent collection of individuals who have been formed into a worldwide community that is to reflect the unity of the Godhead. And the letter that Paul wrote to Titus is as applicable today as it was in the 1st Century in which he penned it. His call to Christ-likeness, humility, submission, service, and an unwavering commitment to the truth is as vital today as it ever was. The words Paul used to open his letter still apply.

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

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.

 

Busy But Blessed

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Grace be with you. – 1 Timothy 6:11-21 ESV

Flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. Paul’s final words to Timothy contain a lengthy list of infinitive verbs that are meant to solicit action and encourage godly behavior. He wants his young associate to take his role seriously and to use his position to influence the faithfulness of the Ephesian believers.

He calls him to live a distinctively different life as distinctive, set apart from all those around him, including those who craved money or had wandered from the faith. Unlike the false teachers for whom godliness was merely a way to become wealthy, Timothy was to run from that kind of attitude and make true godliness his sole goal, along with ever-increasing faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

Paul tells him to “pursue” godliness. The Greek word Paul used is diōkō (διώκω), which means “to run swiftly in order to catch.” It can also refer to one “who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal.” Money, materialism, popularity, power, pleasure, significance, comfort – none of these things were to be the focus of Timothy’s life. And while Paul is addressing this last section of his letter to Timothy, it is really a call to all believers of every age. Paul had made it clear to Timothy that he was to “Teach these things … and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life” (1 Timothy 6:2-3 NLT).

Everything Paul had shared in his letter was intended to be practiced and promoted among the people of God. As a leader, Timothy was to be an example of godly living to all those under his care, despite his young age.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

As believers, our lives are always on display. Despite what we may think, others are watching. Our behavior and conduct are constantly being witnessed by God Himself, our fellow believers, and the countless lost who surround us. That’s Paul encouraged Timothy to live a life marked by consistency and outward purity. He portrayed the Christian life as a battle for good.

…fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you. – 1 Timothy 6:12 NLT

For Paul, perseverance and consistency of faith were essential. He wanted Timothy to finish well. He wanted him to keep his eyes on the goal, which was the return of Christ. The reality of that event was to never be far from Timothy’s heart and mind so that he would live his life in such a way that no one could find fault with his character or conduct. There would certainly be those who disliked and disparaged his life because he lived it for God, just as Paul had experienced. Suffering for the sake of Christ was always to be expected. But Paul didn’t want Timothy to do anything that would harm his reputation as a believer or bring dishonor to God.

Paul gives Timothy one last message concerning those who are rich in the things of this world.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. – 1 Timothy 6:17 NLT

He doesn’t condemn them, but simply warns them not to put their trust in their money because it will prove to be unreliable and unable to save them. Money makes a lousy god. It promises the world but can’t save the soul. It can’t even bring true happiness or contentment.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT

Instead, the rich were to put their trust in God, who is the ultimate provider of their needs. Those who had been blessed with money were to see it as a divinely ordained resource to be used for the care of others and to further the cause of the Kingdom of God. They were to be “rich” in good works and generous to those in need. They had been wealthy when God had called them, so He must have had a purpose for placing them in the body of Christ in that condition. By focusing their attention on obedience to God and service to others, they would learn to view their wealth as a tool in the hands of God, not a treasure to be hoarded and held onto.

Some of Paul’s last words to Timothy were, “guard what God has entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20 NLT). He was to see his own salvation and the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as invaluable and worthy of his constant protection.

Leadership in the body of Christ was a dangerous calling and it came with great responsibilities. Timothy had been entrusted with the message of the gospel and the care of the flock of Jesus Christ. He had an obligation to put the needs of the congregation ahead of his own. And yet, he was also to guard himself – constantly watching over his character and conduct. The same message applied to Timothy that Paul shared with the elders in Ephesus.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. – Acts 20:28 NLT

The goal for all spiritual leaders should be godliness – not only for themselves but for all those under their care. But godliness without God’s grace is impossible. The journey of faith to which we have been called is only possible through an ever-increasing dependence upon God. We need His Word to teach and guide us. We need His Spirit to empower us. We need His grace and mercy to miraculously meet us where we are along the way and constantly remind us that godliness is our one and only calling.

But the pursuit of godliness demands action, not apathy. It requires consistency, not complacency. It is a life filled with verbs like flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. But it also offers the promise of rest, contentment, hope, peace, unity, confidence, and joy. The life of godliness is busy but also blessed.

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.

Family Matters

1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. – 1 Timothy 5:1-16 ESV

In the closing part of chapter 4, Paul gave Timothy three essential tasks to master if he wanted to be successful as a man of God. He must teach others, train himself to live a godly life, and he must use his life to typify what it means to love and serve God. Now Paul gets even more practical, giving Timothy concrete examples of how to apply what he is learning to everyday life within the body of Christ.

While Paul encouraged Timothy to never “let anyone think less of you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT), he also wanted his young protégé to refrain from arrogantly flaunting his position as a shepherd of God or treating those under his care with disrespect. He was to give special attention to his relationships with older men and women in the church, honoring them as he would his own father and mother by giving them the respect they were due. And Timothy was to look on the younger members of the church as his brothers and sisters in Christ, treating the younger men with dignity and interacting with the younger women in purity.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that being a minister of the gospel wasn’t just about disseminating information and doling out discipline to the unruly and unfaithful. Everything hinged on relationships. The church was a family, a God-ordained collection of individuals from all walks of life divinely joined together and commanded to care for, love, and support one another. Personality conflicts, disagreements, and each individual’s residual sin natures would tend to cause conflict within the local body of Christ. So, Timothy needed to know how to handle the practical side of ministry; that or people and the personal problems they bring to the table.

There are always constant needs within the church. In Paul’s day, widows were a significant concern because, in that culture, they tended to be overlooked and neglected. Women were often considered second-class citizens with few rights and privileges. Marriage was their safety net. Being a wife and mother was a necessity for most women, providing a roof over their heads, a source of respect within the community, and a means of making ends meet in a culture where jobs for women were few and far between. That’s why widows were especially vulnerable. They were viewed as having little value and were neglected by the culture at large. But Paul encouraged Timothy to care for those widows who had become part of the family of God.

He was to see to it that they were cared for, knowing that these women were looking to God as their help and source of hope. The church was to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering to these women, and ensuring that their families were caring for them properly. When there was no family to meet their needs, Timothy was to make sure that the family of God stepped in and cared for them properly.

As usual, these cases are never cut-and-dried. There are always underlying circumstances that must be considered and dealt with. It would be much easier if we could just say, “Take care of the widows in the church,” but there are always insinuating circumstances that make our decisions a bit more difficult and a shade more grey than black-and-white.

Timothy was to consider all circumstances regarding widows. He had to factor in their age, existing family relationships, and most importantly, their character. Not every woman who was a widow was to be the church’s responsibility. Careful consideration was to be taken when investigating the needs of these women. In some cases, their families were to be confronted and held accountable for having refused to step in and care for their own. Obviously, there were cases where sons and daughters had chosen to neglect the needs of their own mothers. This was unacceptable and the church was not obligated to take on the responsibility.

Younger widows were not added to the “list” of those who received regular support from the church. It was still possible for them to remarry, have their own families, and access to a reliable means of support. It would appear from Paul’s statements that he expected the older widows who received care from the church to willingly dedicate their lives and service to the body of Christ in return for financial support. They evidently vowed to not remarry, instead dedicating themselves to the service of God and the church. Younger women, if added to this list, and then presented with the opportunity to remarry, would find it hard to live out that kind of commitment.

These verses deal with a very specific issue that was a real problem in the church in Ephesus. It is more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words, Paul is not establishing a binding rule or law for the church. These 16 verses should not be interpreted as the non-negotiable biblical requirements for caring for widows in the local church. But they do provide an insightful glimpse into the kind of careful consideration that must be applied by shepherds when caring for their flock.

The bottom line is that the church is to be all about relationships. It can be messy and, at times, difficult. There are always variables and certain circumstances that make decision-making anything but easy. There are many things to consider when dealing with people and relationships. We must often apply a careful combination of biblical wisdom and common sense.  We must do our homework, considering carefully and prayerfully what God would have us do, always striving to treat everyone with dignity, respect, and honor.

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 Foundation of the Truth

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 3:14-4:5ESV

The world in which Paul lived was mired in falsehood, much like it is today. This world is the domain of Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Everything in this world is deceptive and deceitful. As Satan has always done, he has taken what God has made and attempted to distort and twist it in such a way that it leads mankind away from God.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul outlined the devastating consequences of Satan’s influence over this world and his impact on humanity.

And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

While he is deemed the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), Satan is not obsessed with having men worship him. He is content to have them worship anything other than God, including themselves. That is why Paul went on to warn the believers in Rome about the dangers of idolatry.

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself. – Romans 1:25 NLT

The apostle John reminds us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (John 1:10-11 NLT). Men preferred the darkness over the Light. They rejected the truth regarding Jesus Christ and gladly accepted the lies of the enemy.

So, it’s easy to see why Paul reminded Timothy that the church, the body of Christ, was the God-ordained instrument for spreading and supporting the truth of God in this world. His whole purpose in writing Timothy was to help him understand how people are to live within the household of God, the church, which was to be “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV).

The truth to which Paul referred is the truth regarding godliness. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has provided a means by which sinful men and women might achieve godliness or a state of righteousness in His eyes.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And Paul seems to quote a few lines from what must have been a hymn of the early church.

Christ was revealed in a human body
    and vindicated by the Spirit.
He was seen by angels
    and announced to the nations.
He was believed in throughout the world
    and taken to heaven in glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16 NLT

In a few short lines, Paul addresses the truth regarding godliness. First, he defends the truth regarding Jesus’ incarnation. He was God in human flesh. And, according to the apostle Peter, Jesus was “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 BSB). That is what Paul means when he states that Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind but was raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And His resurrection was announced to the nations, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals. And while Jesus ascended back into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, He will one day return for His followers. That is the truth of the gospel and the good news concerning godliness.

And Paul would have Timothy remember that the church is the keeper of that truth. It is the main distribution method for conveying the message of godliness to a lost and dying world. And I think Paul was specifically thinking about the local church context, which is the testing ground of our faith. It is where the truth must be applied with love and grace. If God’s life-transforming power, made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross, doesn’t work within a local body of believers, the gospel is ineffective. But Paul believed it could and should make a difference.

First and foremost, he viewed the church as a household, a family. It was not an institution or organization, but a collection of different individuals who have all shared in God’s undeserved, unmerited favor by placing their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been adopted into God’s family and been declared His heirs, all due to the sacrificial, sin-canceling death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul describes this as the great mystery of our faith.

This is the truth of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It is this truth that the church is to support and uphold. There is no other version of the truth. It is this truth that leads to godliness. It is this truth that makes the church a living organism, not an organization. It is this truth that provides power through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is this truth that gives us hope for the present as well as the future.

The church, the body of Christ, is where the message of new life in Christ gets lived out, and where the Light of the world illuminates the darkness of sin. And Paul knew the necessity of these things because he had seen firsthand the impact of falsehood and heresy within the local church. The enemy was alive and well in his day, attacking the fledgling churches with half-truths, convincing lies, and distorted views of reality. Where there is truth, there will always be falsehood.

The good news regarding Jesus Christ would always be accompanied by counterfeits and knockoffs. One of the things Paul was constantly fighting was the tendency for people to buy into the formula of Jesus + something. Anything that added to Christ’s all-sufficient work on the cross was to be rejected as false – a lie from the enemy.

The real and ever-present danger to the church is to compromise. If the enemy can get us to compromise our convictions with ever-so-slight revisions to the truth of God, he can destroy our effectiveness. It is exactly what he did with Adam and Eve in the garden. He got them to question the word of God by cleverly twisting it – leading them to doubt its veracity and reliability.

But the church must be the pillar that supports the truth in the midst of all the falsehood and lies. And the lies Paul warns Timothy about are subtle and deceptive. Whether it was asceticism, the belief that abstinence from certain physical things leads to spiritual maturity, or legalism, the belief that adherence to certain rules and rituals was essential to salvation – these things were to be rejected as lies. They had no place in the household of God. They were dangerous and highly destructive.

The key to the church’s survival in the hostile environment in which it is called to exist is the truth. We are called to be “faithful people who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3 NLT). It is the truth of God, found in the Word of God, that gives the people of God the capacity to see the lies of the enemy and reject them. Knowledge of the truth brings health and vitality to the body of Christ. Living according to the truth makes the people of God a powerful force for change in the world, causing us to shine brightly in the darkness that surrounds us. But compromise is like a blanket thrown over the church, diminishing its capacity to shine.

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.

Living With the Future In Mind

1 The heads of the fathers’ houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses, 11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father’s brothers. 12 They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

13 These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. Numbers 36:1-13 ESV

The book of Numbers ends on a rather strange and anticlimactic note. As the people prepare to enter Canaan and begin their long-awaited conquest of the land and its inhabitants, Moses is forced to reconsider a problem he has already addressed. Back in chapter 27, Moses recounted the story of the three daughters of Zelophehad, a member of the tribe of Manasseh. These three unmarried women approached Moses with a dilemma; their father had died without any sons to inherit his portion of the land. As unmarried women, they were prohibited from serving as heirs to their father’s estate, which meant that they would receive no land allotment in Canaan. So, they had taken their problem to Moses for recourse.

Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.” – Numbers 27:4 NLT

Moses had determined their request to be legitimate and decided in their favor.

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

But the problem was not over. As the day fast approached when Israel would enter the land and begin its conquest, the rest of the members of the tribe of Manasseh raised a concern about Moses’ previous decision.

“Sir, the Lord instructed you to divide the land by sacred lot among the people of Israel. You were told by the Lord to give the grant of land owned by our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. But if they marry men from another tribe, their grants of land will go with them to the tribe into which they marry. In this way, the total area of our tribal land will be reduced.” – Numbers 36:2-3 NLT

They had spotted a flaw in Moses’ plan. According to custom, if any of these women were to end up marrying a man outside the tribe of Manasseh, their land allotment would automatically become the possession of her new husband. Married women were not allowed to retain land ownership rights. And to make matters worse, in the year of Jubilee, the land would become the permanent possession of the husband’s tribe.

“…when the Year of Jubilee comes, their portion of land will be added to that of the new tribe, causing it to be lost forever to our ancestral tribe.” – Numbers 36:4 NLT

God had already given the people of Israel His commands concerning the Year of Jubilee.

“…you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. – Leviticus 25:8-10 NLT

Every 50 years, the Israelites were commanded to conduct a year-long celebration of redemption. All prisoners and captives were to be set free, all slaves released, all debts forgiven, and all property returned to its original owners.

“In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land.” – Leviticus 25:28 NLT

But the tribe of Manasseh brought up a potential problem to Moses. Since these women were going to inherit the land of their father upon his death, what would prevent them from marrying a man from another tribe and then the land transferring ownership from one tribe to another? In other words, what would happen if the heiress to her father’s property married someone from a different tribe? In that case, the land of their father would become the property of another tribe, and the tribal allotments would become intermixed and confused. Not only that, one tribe’s land allotment would decrease while another tribe’s property expanded. This would set dangerous precedence, leading tribes to marry outside their clans in order to gain additional land rights.

God had a solution to this problem. But this chapter raises another interesting question: Why did God have Moses end the book of Numbers with this story? Why does the entire book conclude with a story about the daughters of Zelophehad? I think it has to do with a couple of things. First of all, the book of Numbers is about the future. From its very outset, it has been a history of the people of Israel and their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, but the real focus was not on the past or the present. The theme of the book is Israel’s future.

As the book closes, the concern behind the question raised by the tribe of Manasseh is about the future. They seem to understand that this problem has long-term implications. The land they are all inheriting is not just for those who are living at that time, but for future generations. There is a future aspect to this matter that causes them to be concerned and speak up.

The other issue is that this is not about the individual. While it was wonderful news that the daughters of Zelophehad would be able to inherit the land of their father, ultimately, it wasn’t about them. It wasn’t even about their tribe. It was about the people of God. And God’s concern was for the corporate well-being of His people. If these women had been allowed to marry whomever they wanted to, the divinely ordained land allotment could have been permanently altered with dramatic consequences for the future. One tribe could have ended up with a greater share of the land, resulting in bitter jealousy and fighting between the tribes. So God came up with a plan by which the daughters were free to marry but within certain constraints. They had to marry someone from within their own tribe. And this held true for all cases.

In our world of independence and self-centered philosophy, this concern for the corporate good is foreign to us. We tend to make it all about ourselves. We are wired to do what is best for the individual. The thought of sacrificing for the team is unheard of these days. Everyone is out for their own good. Even famous athletes model a lifestyle of self-promotion and self-preservation. Business owners display little concern for the needs of their employees or customers. Marriages tend to be contractual agreements between two parties that are driven by self-interest and a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude.

But in the story found in chapter 36 of Numbers, God reminds us that it isn’t all about us. It’s about the family of God. And while we are to live in the moment, we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. If not, we will develop a live-for-the-moment mentality that sacrifices the future for the pleasures of today. The daughters of Zelophehad weren’t willing to do that. They did just as Moses directed them. They obeyed. They understood that God had their best interests and the interests of the people of God in mind. And they lived with their eyes on the future. Which is what each of us is called to do as children of God. It isn’t all about me and my happiness. It’s all about the people of God and the future God has prepared for us. Any sacrifice God calls me to make is for the good of the team.

The book of Numbers ends with the statement: “These are the commands and regulations that the Lord gave to the people of Israel through Moses while they were camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho” (Numbers 36:13 NLT).

The emphasis is on the future. The people of God are on the wrong side of the river and their inheritance lies on the other side. But before they crossed over and began their conquest of the land, God had given them all the instructions they would need to guarantee success and assure them of a bright and blessed future.

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.