Imitate God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lord Was With Him

1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” – Genesis 39:1-18 ESV

While Judah was busy dealing with his own set of problems, his younger brother was hundreds of miles away, attempting to acclimate to his new role as a slave.  The Ishmaelite traders to whom Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph, had eventually cashed in by selling him to an Egyptian named Potiphar, the captain Pharaoh’s guard. The once-favored son of Jacob was now a household slave to one of the most powerful men in the land of Egypt. His circumstances had taken a dramatic turn for the worst and, yet, Moses indicates that God was with him.

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. – Genesis 39:2 ESV

This statement almost sounds self-contradictory. How in the world could Joseph be described as a slave and a success at the same time? Those two conditions seem to be mutually exclusive. And how could Moses declare that God was with Joseph when all the conditions surrounding his life seem to indicate that God had actually abandoned Joseph? From a purely human perspective it would appear that Joseph’s life was in a downward spiral. He had traded in his expensive robe for the garments of a common slave. No longer would he enjoy the perks that came with being the apple of his father’s eye. This rather spoiled young man would no longer have servants to meet his every need, but instead, he would find himself relegated to the lowly status of a household slave to an Egyptian master.

But despite his seeming fall from grace, God was with him. Not only that, God favored him. Even in the midst of Joseph’s less-than-ideal conditions, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was watching over him. In fact, Moses accentuates this point three additional times in the chapter.

…the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands… – Genesis 39:3 ESV

the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. – Genesis 39:21 ESV

the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:23 ESV

Joseph had only been 17-years-old when his brothers sold him as a slave. So, by the time this story took place, he may have been in his early 20s. He was far from home and living in a strange land where he was unfamiliar with the customs and unable to speak their language. But over time, Joseph became increasingly more acculturated to his new environment, eventually learning to speak their native tongue and perform his duties with both confidence and excellence. And his acclimation didn’t go unnoticed or unrewarded by Potiphar.

…he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. – Genesis 39:4-5 NLT

Potiphar could sense that Joseph enjoyed the blessings of his God. Purchasing this young Hebrew slave had turned out to be a windfall for Potiphar. It seems that everything Joseph touched turned to gold. And, eventually, Potiphar made Joseph his personal attendant, giving him responsibility over his entire household and land holdings. To Potiphar, Joseph turned out to be a great investment. He was like some kind of lucky charm or talisman that brought him good fortune and great reward. And it was all the work of God.

Eventually, Potiphar put all his fiscal and household affairs under the direct supervision of this young Hebrew slave and, because Joseph was blessed by God, Pharaoh enjoyed a great return on his investment. According to Moses, Joseph was so effective and reliable, that the most difficult decision Potiphar faced each day was deciding what to eat.

But this is where the story takes a decidedly dark turn. Though having been betrayed by his own brothers, this handsome and highly gifted young man was enjoying great success. The trajectory of his life had begun to trend upward, which must have provided much-needed encouragement to Joseph at this dark and lonely period of his life. Once again, he was enjoying the favor of God as expressed through the actions of a father-like figure in his life. Potiphar had bestowed on this young Hebrew slave great responsibilities that were evidence of his great respect for Joseph’s integrity and ingenuity.

But Potiphar wasn’t the only one who had taken an interest in Joseph. The Egyptian captain’s wife was also attracted to Joseph, but not for his management skills. Moses points out that Joseph was “a very handsome and well-built young man” (Genesis 39:6 NLT). And this fact had not escaped Potiphar’s wife. For as long as Joseph had been in their home, she had begun to see him as far more than a servant. In her eyes, Joseph had become an object of lust and desire. And it wasn’t long until her lust became so intense and insatiable that she propositioned the unsuspecting Joseph. But out of respect for his master and reverence for God, Joseph refused her advances.

“…my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.” – Genesis 39:8-9 NLT

As the old saying goes, Joseph was between a rock and a hard place. By denying his master’s wife, he was risking her wrath. But if he gave in, he would be violating his master’s trust and, worse yet, he would be guilty of offending the righteous will of a holy God. And Joseph knew that his recent stretch of good fortune had actually been the work of his good and gracious God.

But Potiphar’s wife proved to be persistent because her lust was exigent. She was not going to give up easily.

She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible. – Genesis 39:10 NLT

Poor Joseph was left with no other alternative but to avoid all contact with the woman. But that proved to be difficult, if not impossible. Unfortunately, the day came when Joseph found himself all alone in the house with her. It seems likely that this unlikely state of affairs had been arranged in advance by Potiphar’s wife. No longer able to control her lustful thoughts, she orchestrated the perfect scenario to see them fulfilled.

She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. – Genesis 39:12 NLT

Joseph ran for his life. In doing so, he illustrated the point made by the apostle Paul centuries later.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

But while Joseph had escaped the grasp of Potiphar’s wife, he had not escaped the anger fueled by her damaged ego. She was livid that this common slave had dared to spurn her sexual advances, and she decided to make him pay for it. This vindictive woman crafted a sordid tale of attempted rape and painted herself as the innocent victim of Joseph’s unwanted advances.

And it is at this point that the reader must wrestle with the question: But where was God in all this? It is difficult to read this story and not question why God did not step in and protect Joseph. It is clear that, by running away, Joseph did the right thing. He took the proper path and honored his master and his God. But why did God allow this woman to put Joseph in this compromising and potentially catastrophic situation? Could He not have prevented it? Why did faithful Joseph have to endure yet another case of undeserved and premeditated vengeance? He had done nothing to deserve being sold into slavery. And now, he had done nothing to deserve being falsely accused of rape. But it is important to remember what Moses point out four different times in this chapter.

The Lord was with Joseph… – Genesis 39:2 ESV

While Joseph’s circumstances were about to dramatically change, his relationship with God remained the same. The Lord had not abandoned him. The Almighty was still with him. And God’s plans, while taking a slightly unexpected path, remained unchanged.

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

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

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

 

The Unlikely Purpose of Perez

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite to take back the pledge from the woman’s hand, he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?” And they said, “No cult prostitute has been here.” 22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” 23 And Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, or we shall be laughed at. You see, I sent this young goat, and you did not find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” And she said, “Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.

27 When the time of her labor came, there were twins in her womb. 28 And when she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet thread on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 29 But as he drew back his hand, behold, his brother came out. And she said, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” Therefore his name was called Perez. 30 Afterward his brother came out with the scarlet thread on his hand, and his name was called Zerah.  Genesis 38:20-30 ESV

Reading through the book of Genesis reminds us that God’s are incomparable and, at times, inconceivable. There are times when He accomplishes His divine will in the most extraordinary ways and through the most unlikely of people. Consider His choice of Abram and Sarah. Why would God set apart a man from the land of Chaldea, who had done nothing to deserve the right to be the father of a great nation? And why would God choose to make that great nation using a man who had a barren wife? Why did God choose Jacob over Esau, knowing that Esau was a natural-born con man who would go out of his way to defraud his own brother and deceive his elderly father?

In this chapter, we see additional evidence of God’s sometimes strange and difficult-to-understand ways. And as we read this story, we must remember the words of the apostle Paul: “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33 NLT). And God Himself reminds us, “…my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT).

Judah had refused to honor his commitment to allow his third-born son, Shelah, to father a son through Tamar, the widowed wife of his two older brothers. Er and Onan had both been wicked men whom God had punished by death. This had left Tamar not only a widow but childless. And Judah had agreed to honor the practice of levirate marriage by requiring his third son to marry Tamar and father a son who would carry on the family name. But when the time came, Judah changed his mind. But Tamar never forgot the vow he had made, and when the time was right, she took matters into her own hands and attempted to right the wrong that had been done to her.

Through a rather remarkable set of circumstances, Judah had sexual relations with Tamar, believing her to be a cult prostitute. And he had agreed to compensate her for her services by giving her a goat. Since he didn’t have the goat with him when the salacious act took place, he offered three items as collateral. Later on, he sent a friend to pay the “prostitute” and retrieve his personal effects, but the woman was nowhere to be found. Anxious to put this indiscretion behind him, Judah calls off the search for the woman and writes off his personal items as a loss.

But little did Judah know that his one-night fling would come back to haunt him. Three months later, he received word that Tamar had become pregnant, and he was furious. He saw this as an unacceptable act of immorality on her part and demanded that she be put to death. But in the heat of his righteous indignation, Jacob received a shocking message from his daughter-in-law that turned his anger into anxiety.

“The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?” – Genesis 38:25 NLT

There in his hands, Jacob held the proof of his own sin. He had impregnated his own daughter-in-law. This news must have been a shock to his system, tempting him to come up with some way to cover up his sin and save face among his people. But it appears that Judah owned up to his role in the affair and declared Tamar as the undeserving victim.

“She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” – Genesis 38:26 NLT

Tamar went on to give birth to twin sons: Perez and Zerah. And the nature of their births was similar to that of Jacob and Esau. When Zerah attempted to exit the womb first, a midwife tied a scarlet thread to his wrist. But when the babies were finally born, it was Perez who came out first, much to the surprise of the midwife. To all those watching, Zerah should have been the firstborn. Since his hand had come out first, he must have been closest to the birth canal. But inside the womb, the two babies switched positions at the last second, and Perez came out first. He became the unexpected and unlikely firstborn. And it would be through this son that God would fulfill His commitment to Abraham.

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 12:2-3 ESV

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, the apostle Paul unpacks this divine promise and clarifies the nature of its meaning.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV

According to Paul, when God made that promise to Abraham, He was predicting the coming of the Messiah. It would be through the offspring of Abraham that “the blessing” of the nations would come. And Paul reveals that this blessing would come in the form of Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

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

This amazing fact is in keeping with the way God continued to reiterate the promise to Abraham and his descendants.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 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. – Genesis 17:4-7 ESV

Not only would Abraham father a great nation, but from his offspring would come great kings, including King David. And the book of Ruth reveals that God would use an unlikely candidate named Perez as the conduit through whom the great King David would come.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:18-22 ESV

And if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we see that Jesus would come through the line of Perez as well. That is why He is referred to as the Son of David. Matthew opens up his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

And the very next line of the genealogy provides another reminder of God’s unfathomable ways.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah – Matthew 1:7 ESV

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then ordered the death of her husband so that he could take her as his wife. The child born to them as a result of their immoral act was taken by the Lord. But God replaced that child with Solomon, who would become the heir to David’s throne. And it would be through the line of Solomon that Jesus came. Matthew ends the lineage with the words, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV). From Abraham to Judah to Perez to David to Joseph to Jesus.

And while Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, the throne of David rightfully belonged to Jesus as the king’s legally-justified descendant and heir. God had chosen to bring salvation to the world through the most unlikely of circumstances and by using the least likely people. Despite the immorality of Judah, the trickery of Jacob, the deceit of Tamar, and the other egregious acts of countless other individuals, God’s divine will was being accomplished according to His perfect and righteous plan.

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

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

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

Two Deaths, A Birth, and a New Beginning

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. 17 And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” 18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

27 And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. 28 Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. 29 And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.  Genesis 35:16-29 ESV

After worshiping God at Bethel, Jacob, now going by his new name, Israel, made his way to the town of Ephrah, better known as Bethlehem. But along the way, his wife, Rachel, went into labor, and gave birth to her second child. But her labor proved to be difficult and she failed to survive the delivery. Just before her death, Rachel was able to verbalize her choice for the baby’s name: Ben-oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” But Israel, while grieved by his wife’s unexpected death, chose to see the positive side of this momentous occasion, and named his new son, Benjamin, which means, “Son of my good fortune.” From his perspective, the loss of his wife was balanced by the birth of his son. His memory of Rachel would always be associated with Benjamin, the son of his good fortune. In a sense, Israel was glorifying the fact that God had brought life from death.

It should not be overlooked that, at one time, the formerly barren Rachel had demanded that her husband do something about her condition. She desperately wanted to bear a child and, somehow, held him responsible for her condition.

When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” – Genesis 30:1 NLT

While Jacob was incapable of doing anything about his wife’s dilemma, God graciously stepped in.

Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. And she named him Joseph, for she said, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family.” – Genesis 30:22-24 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that God also answered her prayer, providing her with “another son” as per her request. But while she had believed that her ongoing barrenness would be her ultimate undoing, it was actually the bearing of children that would result in her death. In a way, her barrenness had been a divine form of protection. She had survived her first delivery, but the second one proved to be deadly.

After having provided Rachel with a proper burial, Israel continued his journey to Bethlehem, where he settled for a time. And somewhere near Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” Israel would experience a devastating breakdown in family etiquette. Reuben, his firstborn son born to him by Leah, committed an act immorality with Bilhah, his father’s concubine.

Moses provides no explanation for Reuben’s actions. But, besides the obvious motivation of sexual satisfaction, there is probably more going on here than meets the eye. By committing incest with Bilhah, Reuben may have hoped to diminish her status in Israel’s eyes. With Rachel dead, Reuben’s mother, Leah, would have assumed the role of favored wife. And his illicit affair with Bilhah would assured that she was seen as damaged goods in his father’s eyes. But there is also a good chance that his actions were meant to declare his rightful role as the firstborn son and, therefore, heir to the role of leadership over the clan.

This kind of thing would not have been rare or unexpected. In fact, we see one of Israel’s descendants playing out that very scenario in the book of 2 Samuel. Absalom, the eldest son of King David, aspired to his father’s throne. So, Ahithophel, a former advisor to King David, gave him some advice that he guaranteed would help make his dream come true.

“Go and sleep with your father’s concubines, for he has left them here to look after the palace. Then all Israel will know that you have insulted your father beyond hope of reconciliation, and they will throw their support to you.” So they set up a tent on the palace roof where everyone could see it, and Absalom went in and had sex with his father’s concubines. – 2 Samuel 16:21-22 NLT

Reuben’s actions, while unexplained, were immoral and ungodly. And they mirror the behavior of Shechem, who allowed his lust to get the best of him and ended up raping Dinah, the only daughter of Israel. He eventually died for his behavior but there is no indication that Reuben faced any repercussions for his crime. In keeping with the inaction he displayed at Shechem’s defilement of Dinah, Israel did nothing to avenge his Bilhah’s honor. It appears that Reuben went unchallenged and unpunished for his actions, and his name appears alongside all the other brothers in the brief genealogy found in verses 22-26.

These are the names of the twelve sons of Jacob: The sons of Leah were Reuben (Jacob’s oldest son), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant, were Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant, were Gad and Asher. These are the names of the sons who were born to Jacob at Paddan-aram. – Genesis 35:22-26 NLT

But there is more to the story than Moses relates. It is not until he penned the book of 1 Chronicles that Moses divulged the consequences for Reuben’s actions, and they were severe. Like Esau, Reuben threw away his birthright in a moment of passion.

The oldest son of Israel was Reuben. But since he dishonored his father by sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, his birthright was given to the sons of his brother Joseph. For this reason, Reuben is not listed in the genealogical records as the firstborn son. The descendants of Judah became the most powerful tribe and provided a ruler for the nation, but the birthright belonged to Joseph. – 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 NLT

His little fling cost him dearly. And if he had been hoping to prove his superiority over his father by forcibly raping his concubine, he had made an epic error in judgment. A mistake he would regret for the rest of his life.

But, while Reuben would pay dearly for his lack of judgment, he would hold no grudge against Joseph, his younger brother who inherited his birthright. In fact, as the story unfolds, it will be Reuben who attempts to protect the life of Joseph when his brothers plot to murder him.

But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. – Genesis 37:21-22 NLT

But that’s another story for another day. In this chapter, the defilement of Bilhah is followed by the death of Isaac. At some point, Israel made the long-delayed trip back to Hebron, to visit his aging father. And he made it just in time because, having lived 180 years, Isaac was knocking on death’s door.

With the death of Isaac, the entire focus of the narrative turns to Israel. the son of Isaac formerly known as Jacob. God was bringing the fulfillment of His promise full circle. It had passed from Abraham to Isaac and would now belong to Israel (Jacob). And as Isaac’s two sons buried his body, the stage was set for the next phase of God’s grand plan for the further fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham.

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

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

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

When We Pitch Our Tent Toward Sodom

23 The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. 24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. 28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father. He did not know when she lay down or when she arose.

34 The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. Genesis 19:23-38 ESV

Lot departed from Sodom and made his way to the small village of Zoar, with his wife and two daughters accompanying him. And Moses provides a rather sterile and sketchy description of the life-altering experience this small family had to endure. Their world had been rocked by the arrival of the two strangers. Lot and his family had been enjoying their comfortable life in Sodom until the night the two visitors showed up unexpectedly. Lot had been a well-respected city leader. His wife had probably been busy planning their two daughters’ pending weddings. Both girls had been betrothed and fully expected to celebrate and consummate their marriages. But all that had changed.

Now, they were running for their lives. And Lot’s two daughters must have been devastated by the news that their future husbands had chosen to remain behind in Sodom. It seems likely that both young women would have wrestled with thoughts of returning to Sodom but they had an allegiance to obey their father. They may have harbored doubts about the veracity of the message of doom delivered by the two visitors. And the thought of abandoning their home and their futures must have left them confused and conflicted.

Moses provides only a small glimpse into the tumultuous emotional state of Lot and his family. As he briefly describes the devastating destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he mentions Lot’s wife turning back to look at the shocking scene. Moses provides no explanation for her actions. But one can only guess that her curiosity was piqued by the sounds that accompanied the massive display of firepower that rained down from heaven. The destruction of these two cities was an unprecedented event of cosmic proportions.

…the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. – Genesis 19:24-25 NLT

One might describe her interest as nothing more than a simple case of “rubbernecking.” There are some commentators who read more into her actions and label her backward glance as an expression of longing and regret. Moses simply states that, as Lot made his way to Zoar, his wife “looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26 ESV). The Hebrew word that is translated “looked back” is נָבַט (nāḇaṭ) and it can mean “to look intently; to gaze.” The thought is that, in looking back, Lot’s wife displayed sorrow for the destruction of her former home. She still harbored strong emotional ties to Sodom.

But it seems more likely that this poor woman, shocked by all that had just happened over the last 24 hours, was distracted by the earth-shattering sounds of God’s divine judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. But regardless of her motivation, her actions violated the warning of the two angels. They had clearly warned Lot: “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV). 

Once again, Moses provides little in the way of explanation. He mentions nothing about Lot’s reaction to his wife’s sudden and gruesome death. One minute she had been right behind him, alive and well. The next, she was a lifeless pillar of salt. Had Lot turned back? If he did, why was he not struck down by God? Had he continued to run, not realizing his wife’s fate until he arrived in Zoar? Moses provides no answers to these questions. In fact, he changes the subject altogether. In a rather frustrating and seemingly ill-placed aside, Moses refocuses the narrative on Abraham.

Abraham had been the one who negotiated with the Lord, hoping to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. But as he stood on the hillside overlooking the valley, he saw the smoke rising up from the burning ruins of the two cities. He must have been shocked at the sight because God had clearly promised to spare the cities if He could find ten righteous individuals living in them. Abraham’s thoughts must have gone to Lot and his family. Were they still alive or had God destroyed there? Moses does not reveal whether God shared with Abraham the fate of his nephew. He simply states that “God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived” (Genesis 19:29 ESV). Abraham had believed that the cities would need to be spared in order to keep Lot alive. But God had something else in mind. He was going to visit judgment upon the wicked while providing a way of escape for the righteous. There had not been ten righteous people living in Sodom. According to the apostle Peter, there had been only one.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:7-10 NLT

God rescued Lot but refused to turn a blind eye to the wickedness of Sodom and its sister city, Gomorrah. And delivering Lot, God was demonstrating His faithfulness to fulfill the wish of Abraham. God delivered and destroyed. He demonstrated grace and justice at the same time. He spared the righteous and punished the wicked.

But the story doesn’t end there. When Moses turns the narrative back to Lot and his fate, he has him leaving the village of Zoar and moving into the hills. There is no mention of Lot’s wife. He is now a widower, trying to raise two adult children on his own. For some unexplained reason, Lot felt unsafe living in Zoar. Perhaps the inhabitants saw this stranger’s arrival in their village as some kind of omen. After all, he had been the only one to escape the devastation that had happened in the valley. And these people lived near enough to Sodom and Gomorrah to know all about what had happened. But regardless of his reasons, Lot relocated his dwindling family to a cave. And there the action takes another dark twist.

These two young women now found themselves as damaged goods. They had been betrothed but now their fates were uncertain. In that culture, betrothal was tantamount to marriage. It was based on a binding contract between the two families. A betrothed couple was considered to be married. The only thing missing was the final consummation of the marriage that would take place on their wedding night. So, Lot’s daughters probably considered themselves to be damaged goods. That likely played a part in their fateful decision.

There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

Everything about this decision is wrong. It reveals their fatalistic and flawed outlook on life. According to them, their best years were behind them. There was nothing good that could come out of this latest chain of events. Their husbands were dead. Their home had been destroyed. They had lost all their friends in the destruction of Sodom. And their mother had been turned into a pillar of salt by their father’s God. So, faced with the prospect of an uncertain future, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They followed through with their perverse plan. And over the course of two consecutive evenings, each of the girls committed incest with their drunken father.

Moses did not relate this rather X-rated story to titillate and arouse his audience. He was providing them with a history of the Moabites and Ammonites. The unholy union between Lot and his daughters would produce two people groups that would become the perennial and persistent enemies of Israel. It is interesting to consider that God had spared Lot because of the pleadings of Abraham. But His rescue of Lot resulted in the creation of these two nations who would become perpetual thorns in the side of Abraham’s descendants. The Moabites and Ammonites were idolatrous and immoral. In fact, the book of Numbers reveals the sordid story of how the Moabite women lured the men of Israel into immorality and idolatry.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

For the people of Israel, this recounting of Lot’s rescue was meant to remind them that the actions of the righteous have implications. God considered Lot to be a righteous man, but he made some very unrighteous decisions. He had no business living in Sodom. He should have never agreed to betroth his daughters to two Sodomite men. Lot had been driven by “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16 ESV). Even when he had become “sick of the shameful immorality” (2 Peter 2:7 NLT) in Sodom, he had remained. He didn’t flee immorality. He cozied up to it. He compromised his convictions and ended up paying severe and long-lasting consequences. Yet, Moses ends the story of Lot with the last verse of chapter 19. One man’s decision to settle among the cities of the valley and move his tent as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:12) had produced a lasting legacy of immorality and idolatry that would haunt the descendants of Abraham for generations to come.

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

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

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

An All-Pervasive Problem

12 My people inquire of a piece of wood,
    and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
    and they have left their God to play the whore.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains
    and burn offerings on the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
    because their shade is good.
Therefore your daughters play the whore,
    and your brides commit adultery.
14 I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
    nor your brides when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes
    and sacrifice with cult prostitutes,
and a people without understanding shall come to ruin.

15 Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
16 Like a stubborn heifer,
    Israel is stubborn;
can the Lord now feed them
    like a lamb in a broad pasture?

17 Ephraim is joined to idols;
    leave him alone.
18 When their drink is gone, they give themselves to whoring;
    their rulers dearly love shame.
19 A wind has wrapped them in its wings,
    and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices. Hosea 4:12-19 ESV

This passage is both satirical and sardonic. Having established the guilt of the people of Israel, God now exposes the absurdity of their decision to forsake Him, the one true God, for idols made of wood and stone. The God who created the universe and had graciously chosen to create them through an old man with an elderly, barren wife, was not good enough for them. They preferred the false gods that they had fashioned with their own hands and turned to these non-existent, lifeless objects for help, wisdom, protection, and provision. None of it made sense. Idolatry was a waste of time and produced nothing of lasting value. Even the psalmist pointed out the ludicrous nature of idolatry and all those who practice it.

Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

They would chisel a block of stone and then pray to it for assistance. They would cut a limb from a tree and declare it to have special properties to divine the future. And as crazy as that may sound, it was nothing compared to the immoral behavior that accompanied their idolatry and superstition.

God accuses them of being led away by “a spirit of whoredom” (Hosea 4:12 ESV). In other words, they were driven by a deep-seated desire to practice spiritual adultery. The prophet Jeremiah provides a rather graphic description of Israel’s seemingly uncontrollable urge to pursue anything and everything other than God. They were like an animal in heat, completely incapable of controlling their basest urges.

“You are like a restless female camel
    desperately searching for a mate.
You are like a wild donkey,
    sniffing the wind at mating time.
Who can restrain her lust?
    Those who desire her don’t need to search,
    for she goes running to them!” – Jeremiah 2:23-24 NLT

Just a few verses later, Jeremiah records God’s backhanded complement that was meant to expose the egregious nature of their infidelity. They had become so adept at their immoral behavior that they could be considered experts at the art of unfaithfulness.

“How you plot and scheme to win your lovers.
    Even an experienced prostitute could learn from you! – Jeremiah 2:33 NLT

Everywhere God looked, He could see evidence of their shocking behavior. From the mountaintops to the hills and in the shade of every available tree, they had erected sacred shrines to their various false gods. Idolatry was ubiquitous in Israel.

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the Lord’s anger. Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – 2 Kings 17:10-12 NLT

They virtually flaunted their faithlessness in God’s face. They evidenced no shame. They showed no remorse. They uttered no confessions. They refused to repent. And it aroused the Lord’s anger.

One of the things God makes painfully clear is that their idolatry had led to far more sinful behavior than simply false worship. By failing to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God, they had allowed themselves to be deeply influenced by the enemies lies. He had convinced them that they were fully autonomous and the masters of their own fates. They would do as they pleased, without fear of retaliation from God. But the end result was that the next generation had become dissatisfied with the mere worship of false gods. They had taken their idolatry to a whole new level, supplementing their devotion to their of false gods with sexual pleasure in the form of worship. Young men and women were guilty of engaging in sexual sin as part of their pagan religious practices.

God flatly states, “your daughters turn to prostitution, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery” (Hosea 4:13 NLT). But how could He indict them when the men of the community were just as complicit and deserving of condemnation.

“But why should I punish them
    for their prostitution and adultery?
For your men are doing the same thing,
    sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

But God is not saying He will allow them to go unpunished. He is simply stating that everyone was worthy of His divine discipline. The problem was widespread and there was no one who didn’t deserve and wouldn’t experience God’s wrath.

“O foolish people! You refuse to understand,
    so you will be destroyed.” – Hosea 4:14 NLT

In verse 15, God expresses His desire that the southern kingdom of Judah not follow the example of their northern neighbors. He begs Judah to not emulate Israel’s pattern of idolatrous behavior. With a simple play on words, God accuses Israel of having turned the city of Bethel into a city of wickedness. In Hebrew, Bethel means “house of God,” but God refers to it as Beth-haven, which means “house of wickedness.” These people had polluted everything in the land with their immoral and idolatrous behavior.

They were undeserving of His goodness and grace because they were more like a stubborn and headstrong heifer than a compliant and docile lamb. Their ongoing resistance to God’s leading was going to leave them in a state of spiritual hunger and thirst. And this spirit of rebellion and resistance pervaded every aspect of society, from the bottom all the way to the top.

“When the rulers of Israel finish their drinking,
    off they go to find some prostitutes.
    They love shame more than honor.” – Hosea 4:18 NLT

A steady diet of idolatry had led to a litany of other problems, each contributing to the moral decline of the nation. And it even permeated the upper echelons of the governmental and religious hierarchy. But God was about to deal a devastating blow to their pride-filled and promiscuity fueled way of life. He had reached the limits of His patience.

“So a mighty wind will sweep them away.
    Their sacrifices to idols will bring them shame.” – Hosea 4:19 NLT

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

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

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

The Self-Deception of Self-Importance

1 “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
    and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
    to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
    and from there go to Hamath the great;
    then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
    Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
    and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
    and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

And if ten men remain in one house, they shall die. 10 And when one’s relative, the one who anoints him for burial, shall take him up to bring the bones out of the house, and shall say to him who is in the innermost parts of the house, “Is there still anyone with you?” he shall say, “No”; and he shall say, “Silence! We must not mention the name of the Lord.”

11 For behold, the Lord commands,
    and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,
    and the little house into bits.
12 Do horses run on rocks?
    Does one plow there with oxen?
But you have turned justice into poison
    and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood—
13 you who rejoice in Lo-debar,
    who say, “Have we not by our own strength
    captured Karnaim for ourselves?”
14 “For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” Amos 6:1-14 ESV

In this chapter, Amos addresses both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and he does so by addressing their capital cities: Samaria in the north and Zion (Jerusalem ) in the south. But he focuses his attention on a particular class of individuals living in these two cities. They are “those who are at ease,” “who feel secure,” and are among “the notable men” (Amos 6:1 ESV). In other words, these are the influencers and trendsetters among the people of God, the movers and shakers, the power brokers and policy makers. They’re the well-to-do and looked up to, the social elite, and the upper crust of Israelite society.

But rather than praising these fortunate few, Amos pronounces a “woe” upon them. He uses the Hebrew word, hôy, which is an interjection, an expression of emotion or exclamation. It is sometimes translated as “O!” or “Alas!” And, in Scripture, it is most often associated with mourning over coming judgment. It is the same word he used back in chapter 5, verse 18.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!”

These people who were enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous were in for a shock. At the time when Amos was writing his book of prophecy, the northern and southern kingdoms were experiencing unprecedented growth and prosperity. Under the leadership of Jeroboam II, Israel was enjoying a time of geographic expansion and economic revitalization.

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

This statement indicates that Israel had been able to restore its borders back to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon, before God divided his kingdom. Things were looking up in Israel, and the upper crust of Israelite society were the ones who benefited the most from these territorial gains. Their land holdings increased, their flocks grew larger, and their financial portfolios prospered. In other words, the rich grew richer. Yet, Amos calls out these opportunistic and self-aggrandizing individuals.

How terrible for you who sprawl on ivory beds
    and lounge on your couches,
eating the meat of tender lambs from the flock
    and of choice calves fattened in the stall.
You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp
    and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David.
You drink wine by the bowlful
    and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions.
    You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. – Amos 6:4-6 NLT

And he goes on to warn them that all of Jeroboam’s geographic gains would eventually be lost and, with them, their financial fortunes and freedom.

“For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.” – Amos 6:14 ESV

Amos challenges these fat and happy people to consider what happened in Calneh, Hamath, and Gath. These were three “great” cities that had all experienced defeat and destruction. If they could fall, so could Samaria and Jerusalem. The capital cities of Israel and Judah were not exempt or immune from defeat. Amos warns them, “You are no better than they were, and look at how they were destroyed” (Amos 6:2 NLT).

Reveling in their superior social status and relying on their seemingly endless source of financial wealth, these people refused to acknowledge that danger was headed their way. Amos accuses them of living in a state of denial that was only making matters worse.

You push away every thought of coming disaster,
    but your actions only bring the day of judgment closer. – Amos 6:3 NLT 

And he delivers a sobering and somber message from God to these self-made celebrities and social glitterati.

“I despise the arrogance of Israel,
    and I hate their fortresses.
I will give this city
    and everything in it to their enemies.” – Amos 6:8 NLT

Rather than seek God, these people will seek refuge in their well-fortified homes. But when the judgment of God comes, their wealth and walled enclosures will be of no help. Amos describes a scene of utter destruction and widespread death.

If there are ten men left in one house, they will all die.  And when a relative who is responsible to dispose of the dead goes into the house to carry out the bodies, he will ask the last survivor, “Is anyone else with you?” When the person begins to swear, “No, by . . . ,” he will interrupt and say, “Stop! Don’t even mention the name of the Lord.” – Amos 6:9-10 NLT

When the time comes, they will fully recognize that their fall has been the sovereign will of God Almighty, but they will refuse to give Him the credit. And in their pride and stubbornness, they will continue to refuse to seek Yahweh. Despite God’s repeated calls to “Seek me and live” ( Amos 5:6 ESV), they will seek refuge in anything and everything but Him. And, as a result, “When the Lord gives the command, homes both great and small will be smashed to pieces” ( Amos 6:11 NLT). Those inside, regardless of their wealth, influence, or social standing, will all suffer the same fate. Possessions and position will save no one. All their land-holdings, stock increases, and financial gains made through illegal and unjust means will be lost. They will go from celebrating their self-achieved successes to mourning their God-ordained losses. Their pride will be humbled. Their false gods will be exposed. Their possessions will be plundered. And for many, their lives will be forfeited. All because they refused to seek God and live.

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

More and More Part 2

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

It’s interesting to note how, in this passage, Paul contrasts love and lust. In verses 1-8, he points out the need for the Thessalonian believers to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). They were to refrain from practicing sexual sin or, as the word means in Greek, “to hold one’s self off.” As believers, they had been given a new capacity to refrain from their old desires, driven by their sinful natures. Upon placing their faith in Christ, they had received the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And, as a result, they were able to say no to lustful desires.

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. – Galatians 5:17 NLT

The sinful nature lusts or desires the wrong things. And Paul pointed out to the Galatian believers that those who allowed their lives to be driven by the desires of their old nature, rather than the Spirit, would produce ungodly fruit in their lives. And the first three he mentions are tied to sexual sin.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

And Paul has warned the Thessalonian church: “each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ESV). John Piper defines lust as “a sexual desire that dishonors its object and disregards God” (John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org). And he expands on that definition by adding:

“Sexual desire in itself is good. God made it in the beginning. It has its proper place. But it was made to be governed or regulated or guided by two concerns: honor toward the other person and holiness toward God. Lust is what that sexual desire becomes when that honor and that holiness are missing from it.” – John Piper, Battling the Unbelief of Lust, http://www.desiringgod.org

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that they had a new obligation to live their lives in such a way that everything they did brought glory and honor to God. With the Spirit’s help, they were to learn to control their bodies, not allowing their natural, God-given desires to become perverted or distorted by sin. Sexual desire is not a sin, but it is actually a gift from God. But like everything else in life since the fall, this godly gift can be stained by the presence of sin. Rather than being an expression of self-sacrificing love for another, it turns in on itself, demanding that someone satisfy our selfish desires for sexual pleasure. God gets left out of the picture. And love gets replaced by lust. That is why Paul points out that their lives were to be marked by holiness, not impurity.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ESV

And this was not a message Paul reserved for the Thessalonians. He shared the same warning to the believers in Rome.

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. – Romans 6:12-13 NLT

Lust versus love. One dishonors the other person by using them for purely selfish reasons. And, in the end, this disobeys and dishonors God. But when we truly love as God has called us to love, sacrificially and selflessly, the other person is treated with value, dignity, and honor. And God receives glory.

A Christian marriage is to be a proving ground of the Spirit’s life-transforming power, where the selfless, sacrificial love of Christ is modeled in everyday life. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). Then he provided them with specific application of what that mutual submission would look life in the marriage context.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:22-26 NLT

While we find it easy to get hung up on Paul’s call for the wives to submit, it is essential to understand that he is calling both the husband and the wife to practice selfless submission – out of reverence to Christ. And earlier in the same chapter, Paul provided a call for the Ephesians to imitate God and to follow the example of Christ.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT

And then he added a what-not-to-do element to his instructions.

Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. – Ephesians 5:3 NLT

Love, not lust. That is the call placed on the believer by God Himself, and the kind of love God had in mind was modeled by Christ. And this selfless love was not just reserved for marriage. It was to be displayed in all their relationships. God has called His children to love others in the same way He has shown love to them.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

And He expects them to follow the example of Christ.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. – 1 John 3:16 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they don’t require any more instructions regarding the kind of love God has in mind “for God himself has taught you to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4:9 NLT). And the apostle John lets us know just how God had taught them.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. – 1 John 4:9-11 NLT

Paul compliments the Thessalonian church for having displayed the very kind of love he was writing about. They had already given evidence of their selflessness and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul bragged on the tangible expressions of love displayed by the Macedonian churches, including the fellowship in Thessalonica.

Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.

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 8:1-5 NLT

But Paul didn’t want them to rest on their laurels. In fact, he begged them “to do this more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:10 ESV). They were to keep loving. They were to stop lusting. And then Paul adds three characteristics or marks of a life lived in love.

  1. Their lives would exhibit peace and calm, rather than strife and turmoil. Paul told the Romans, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NLT). Peaceful lives create an atmosphere in which others feel safe and secure. And that is an expression of love.
  2. They were to tend to their own affairs, refusing to meddle in the concerns of others. This is not a call to disregard the needs or life circumstances of others, but it is simply an extension of Jesus’ admonition to “get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 NLT).
  3. They were to be diligent workers, using whatever skills they had to provide for themselves, and refusing to become a burden to others. There was no place for laziness or a spirit of entitlement in their lives.

And Paul had a purpose behind his call for selfless, sacrificial living.

Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. – 1 Thessalonians 4:12 NLT

At the end of the day, Paul was interested in seeing the Thessalonian believers live out their faith in tangible ways that exhibited the power of the Spirit and gave proof of their status as God’s children.

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

No Match For God.

1 An oracle concerning Moab.

Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone.
He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
    to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
    Moab wails.
On every head is baldness;
    every beard is shorn;
in the streets they wear sackcloth;
    on the housetops and in the squares
    everyone wails and melts in tears.
Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
    their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
    his soul trembles.
My heart cries out for Moab;
    her fugitives flee to Zoar,
    to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
    they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
    they raise a cry of destruction;
the waters of Nimrim
    are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
    the greenery is no more.
Therefore the abundance they have gained
    and what they have laid up
they carry away
    over the Brook of the Willows.
For a cry has gone
    around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
    her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
    for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
    for the remnant of the land. – Isaiah 15:1-9 ESV

ruth_moabNow, God turns His attention to the land of Moab. Slowly and systematically, God is addressing all the people groups that have had anything to do with Israel and Judah. In the first two oracles, He dealt with Assyrian and Philistia, two nations located outside the borders of Canaan, that would both pose a threat to the people of God. The Moabites, while a relatively small nation, and one that had proven to be particularly hostile to the people of God, would hear from God as well. Located to the east of the Dead Sea, the Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son born to Lot and his oldest daughter. This incestuous relationship is recorded in the book of Genesis and took place immediately after Lot and his family had been rescued from Sodom just before the city’s destruction by God.

When the people of Israel had begun their conquest of the land promised to them by God, the Moabites had become concerned over their sheer numbers and their relatively easy defeat of the neighboring Ammorites.

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. – Numbers 22:2-3 ESV

King Balak ended up sending for a well-known diviner named Balaam, whom he offered a fee if he would curse the Israelites.

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV

But God would not allow Balaam to do as the king had requested. He was prevented from cursing Israel. So, instead, he came up with an alternative and ingenuous plan to defeat the people of God. He recommended to King Balak that the Moabite women entice the Israelite men into having immoral relationships with them. And his plan worked.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

God ended up sending a plague on the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 deaths. But this oracle makes it clear that God would deal with the Moabites as well. Their role in Israel’s moral and spiritual adultery would be avenged. And the prophet, Zephaniah, reiterates God’s plans for the people of Moab.

“Now, as surely as I live,”
    says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel,
“Moab and Ammon will be destroyed—
    destroyed as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah.
Their land will become a place of stinging nettles,
    salt pits, and eternal desolation.
The remnant of my people will plunder them
    and take their land.” – Zephaniah 2:9 NLT

Isaiah warns of Moab’s pending fall. Its two main cities, Ar and Kir, would end up destroyed, “laid waste in a night.” In other words, their destruction would be quick and complete. Isaiah pictures the people weeping in Dibon, where the temple to Chemosh, the Moabite god was located. But rather than praying to their false god for aid, they are shown crying over the fall of their cities. Chemosh has proven ineffectual and impotent against God Almighty.

As a sign of mourning, everyone has shaved their heads and beards. They are wearing sackcloth and crying out in sorrow over their great loss. Even the soldiers join in the dirge over the loss of their cities, lands, and people. It is a scene of abject destruction and unrelenting sorrow.

It is impossible to know exactly when this prophecy was fulfilled. Some believe it took place in 718 BC when Sargon and the Assyrians moved across the land. Others have speculated that the fall of Moab happened under Tiglath-pilesar 732 BC or even Sennacherib in 701 BC. But the important point is that Moab did fall, just as God said that it would.

One of the important things to remember is that this oracle, like all the others, was aimed at the people of Judah. It was intended to remind them that their God was in complete control. The nations of the earth were under His divine authority, including Assyrian, Philistia, and Moab. They had no reason to fear these nations unless they failed to fear God – which they had. They had no business putting their trust in these nations, rather than trusting God – but they had. The sins of Judah were many. They were guilty of idolatry and immorality. They had placed their hope and trust in false gods and pagan nations. When warned of God’s pending judgment, rather than repent, they had sought aid from others. Faced with news of the coming wrath of God, they always seemed to have one more trick up their sleeve, an alternative source of rescue.

But God wanted them to know that everyone, from the powerful Assyrians and Babylonians to the relatively helpless Moabites, would prove to be no match for Him. And God makes it clear that, even after all the mourning and weeping in Moab, He will not yet be done.

“I will bring upon Dibon even more…” – Isaiah 15:9 ESV

Dibon, the home of the Moabite’s false god, Chemosh, would experience additional destruction. The gods of the nations would prove no match for God Almighty. The armies of the pagan nations would be powerless in the face of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah of the greatness of their God.

The following proverb reminds us that the fear of man is dangerous because it illustrates our lack of faith in God.

Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety. – Proverbs 29:25 NLT

And Jesus Himself provided a much-needed reminder of our need to trust God rather than fearing man

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

Judah had lost its fear of God. In the face of all the turmoil surrounding them, the people of God had taken their eyes off of Him and had started trusting in human kings and man-made gods to protect them. But as God has made perfectly clear, there is no one or nothing that can provide protection from His judgment. Human kings fail. Mighty nations fall. And man-made idols prove to be false forms of salvation.

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

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

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

Rejected and Despised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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