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

Hold Tightly To What You Have.

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”  Revelation 2:18-29 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapJohn is told to address the next church by referring to Jesus as the Son of God, and describing Him as having “eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” This is the exact imagery John used when describing his vision of Jesus in chapter 1. The eyes of the Son of God are like burning fire, indicating the penetrating nature of His divine judgment. As the Son of God, Jesus is all-knowing and able to see into the hearts of men. In the book of Daniel, we find a similar description of Jesus in one of the visions Daniel was given by God. Upon seeing Jesus, Daniel states that “his eyes flamed like torches.” Here in the book of Revelation, Jesus is described as having feet like burnished bronze. This image is a bit more difficult to comprehend, but it may refer to his purity and holiness. The feet are the means by which we navigate and make our way from one place to another. Jesus does so in perfect purity and righteousness. His way is always marked by holiness. The very designation, “Son of God”, speaks of the deity of Christ. The title, “son of man”, which was used in chapter one, emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, and ties Him to His role as the Messiah. 

As the all-knowing, holy Son of God, Jesus lets the church in Thyatira know that He knows. He tells them, “I know your works.” He is fully aware of all that is going on in this congregation. He sees their “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Revelation 2:19 ESV). Nothing escapes His divine notice. If you recall, Jesus had warned the church at Ephesus to “do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5 ESV). Now, He commends the believers in Thyatira because their “latter works exceed the first” (Revelation 2:19 ESV). In other words, they were progressing, not regressing in their faith. They were loving better, believing more, serving faithfully, and enduring patiently.

But Jesus, with the aid of His penetrating vision, saw something going on in the fellowship in Thyatira that He could not commend. He tells them, “you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV). This is likely a reference to an actual woman in the local congregation. It is doubtful that her name was actually Jezebel, but that it is used here by Jesus to accentuate the wickedness of this woman’s actions. The original Jezebel had been the wife of Ahab, one of the most wicked kings of Israel. And Jezebel had played an important and influential role in her husband’s sin-plagued reign. The book of 1 Kings tells us that Ahab “took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria” (1 Kings 16:31-32 ESV). Jezebel had a polarizing and demoralizing influence on the nation of Israel, even attempting to rid the nation of the prophets of God. And evidently, according to Jesus, there was a woman in the church in Thyatira, who was deserving of the designation “Jezebel” because of her wicked influence on that local congregation. She was leading them astray by encouraging them to commit acts of immorality and backing up her words by claiming to be a prophetess for God. Like Balaam, mentioned earlier in the condemnation of the church at Pergamum, Jezebel had been guilty of causing the people of God to sin against God, by violating His commands for sexual purity and against sexual immorality of all kinds. One of the greatest threats against any church will be the attack that comes from within, perpetrated by someone claiming to be a Christ-follower, but who propagates and promotes ungodly behavior.

This woman had been given time to repent of her sins, but had stubbornly refused. So, Jesus warns that judgment was coming. Her sinful behavior would have dire and devastating consequences, for her and for all those who followed her lead. Jesus describes all those who willingly participate in her immoral activities as her “children” or offspring. And He warns that they too will face divine judgment, possibly even death, for their actions. Jesus is deadly serious. And He warns every church in every age to take heed to what He is saying.

And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” – Revelation 2:23 ESV

This “Jezebel” and her followers would become lessons for what happens to those who commit spiritual adultery, violating their covenant commitment to God. That is the heart of the issue here. The sexual sins that these people were committing were in violation of God’s commands, but the more devastating aspect of their sin was that they were doing so in connection to the worship of false gods. They were practicing immorality as part of their worship of idols. So, in essence, they were committing adultery against God Almighty. What we see here is a reenactment of the sins of the people of Israel and Judah that ultimately led God to send them into captivity as punishment for their sin and unfaithfulness.

But Jesus realized that there were many in the congregation in Thyatira who had remained faithful and unstained by this woman’s influence, and He commends them. And He tells them, “I do not lay on you any other burden” (Revelation 2:24 ESV). He is assuring them that He is not going to ask anything more of them than that they hold fast until He comes. He simply asks that they remain faithful. He wants them to keep their eyes focused on their future reward, not immediate gratification through sinful behavior. Jesus is calling them to endure to the end and He offers them a reminder of what they can expect for doing so.

To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star! – Revelation 2:26-28 NLT

It is the one who conquers who will receive these rewards. But as we saw earlier, the term conqueror is more a designation referring to our future condition. When we stand with Christ in heaven, we will be conquerors, those who have conquered. We will be called conquerors at that point in time, not here and now. To be called a conqueror, one must have already conquered. He must have won the final victory. And that is what Jesus describes in these closing verses. We will receive authority. We will rule alongside the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus had told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). It is Jesus who is the conqueror, the overcomer. And He is reminding the believers in Thyatira that the only burden they have is the one requiring them to remain faithful to the end. Their faithfulness will have the reward of standing alongside the conquering Christ in His Kingdom. Paul and Barnabas encouraged the churches to whom they ministered by reminding them that faithfulness in this life has its reward in the next life.

…they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22 NLT

The final promise Jesus offers the believers in Thyatira is the gift of the morning star. We know from the closing verses of this book that Jesus is that morning star.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16 NLT

So, Jesus is offering them the gift of Himself. But in a real and physical sense. They will, as the apostle John wrote, “see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). All those who endure to the end, refusing to give in to the temptations to compromise, will receive the reward of uninterrupted intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ and God the Father. And Jesus closes out His address with a message to all believers throughout all time, to hear what He has said to the church at Thyatira. It applies to us and should encourage us to hold tightly to what we have until He come. And come, He will.

 

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

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

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

David’s Achilles Heel.

There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.

And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron. – 2 Samuel 3:1-5 ESV

We already know that David was considered a man after God’s own heart. This was not a designation made by David or any other man. It was conferred upon him by the prophet of God under the divine inspiration of the Spirit of God. Years earlier, Samuel had broken the bad news to Saul. “But now your kingdom must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14 NLT). Centuries later, the apostle Paul, while preaching to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, reconfirmed this divine designation of David as a man after His own heart.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.” – Acts 13:20-22 NLT

But as we have already see, this lofty-sounding description of David did not mean he was perfect or without sin. Like any other man, David struggled with his own sin nature. He could be prone to disobedience and doubt, just like anybody else. And he had his own unique set of sins with which he struggled. One, in particular, would prove to be a constant source of temptation and testing for him: Women.

In the opening lines of this chapter, we’re told “There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David.” But there was another battle brewing in the life of David. While he was growing stronger in his military position over Abner and the house of Saul, David was literally sowing the seeds of dissent and future discord that would rip his kingdom apart. It is important to note that God had made ample preparations for the arrival of a king on the scene. In fact, He had ordained that there would be a king over Israel. And He knew that the people would tend to want the wrong kind of king. So, He provided them with very clear commands:

“You are about to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the Lord your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.

“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the Lord has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.” – Deuteronomy 17:14-117 NLT

Somewhat hidden and overlooked in this divine command is God’s prohibition against polygamy. When it came to “the man the Lord your God chooses,” he must “not take many wives for himself.” And God was very clear as to His reason behind this command. “because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.” And yet, we read in these opening verses of chapter 3, “And sons were born to David at Hebron.” Nothing wrong with that statement, until you read the following verses and notice the various mothers listed: Ahinoam of Jezreel, Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel, Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur, and Eglah. And not in this list is Michal, David’s first wife, the daughter of Saul. So effectively, at this early point in his reign, David had five wives. He would go on to have as many as eight.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to determine that David had an inordinate attraction to women. And he tended to act on it. Abigail is listed as one of his wives. She was the widow of Nabal, whom God destroyed. But David barely let Nabal’s body cool off before he took Abigail as his wife. David could be impulsive. And if we fast-forward to one of the most famous or infamous events in David’s life, we will see that his impulsiveness also led him to commit not only adultery, but murder. Glance over at 2 Samuel 11 and you will see the story of David and Bathsheba, a personal low point in David’s life that got permanently chronicled in the Scriptures. At a time when David, as king, should have been leading his troops in battle, he had determined to stay home. And one day, while walking about the roof of his palace, he saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her own home. There are some who speculate that this was not the first time David had spied Bathsheba bathing. It could have been the very reason he stayed home from battle. And his act of voyeurism resulted in him having Bathsheba brought to him. Their illicit liasson would result in an unexpected pregnancy. And since Bathsheba’s husband, a soldier in David’s own army was off at war, it was going to be hard to explain how his wife became pregnant. That’s when David launched an all-out effort to cover his sin. But his strategy failed and he ultimately resorted to having Bathsheba’s husband murdered by commanding that he be exposed to enemy fire on the front lines.

This is not a stellar moment in David’s life. But it provides a glimpse into a highly vulnerable area of his life. David’s love affair with women would prove to be problematic throughout his reign. In fact, if we look at the list of sons mentioned in these opening verses of chapter three, we see Amnon and Absalom. These two brothers born to different mothers would grow up to cause David much pain and suffering. In 2 Samuel 13, we have the sad story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar, his half-sister. Later on, in that very same chapter, we read of Absalom’s orchestration of Amnon’s murder, out of revenge for what he had done to Tamar, his sister. Absalom would be forced into exile for what he had done, but would later return, only to orchestrate the overthrow of his own father’s kingdom.

Verses 1-5 of chapter 3 seem innocent enough, but they foreshadow a future filled with brokenness, pain and suffering. And it began with David’s unwillingness to obey the command of God. And while David never seemed to allow his many wives to lead him away from his love and worship for God, his son, Solomon would. Solomon would follow in his father’s footsteps, suffering from the same addictive tendencies. In fact, Solomon would outdo his father in a major way, eventually amassing for himself a staggering 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3). And just as God had warned, these women, many of whom were from foreign nations and worshiped pagan gods, would eventually cause Solomon to erect their idols throughout his own kingdom. The book of 1 Kings paints a very bleak picture of the closing days of Solomon’s reign.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:1-8 ESV

And it all began with David. A little compromise. A giving in to the desires of the flesh. A refusal to obey God fully and heed His warning. The long-term ramifications for sin can be devastating. Yes, David would be forgiven by God when he repented of his sin with Bathsheba, but the child she bore would die as a result. There are consequences to disobedience. God blessed David’s kingdom, but his many wives would prove to be a constant source of trouble in his life. David’s battle with the house of Saul would be nothing compared to the spiritual war he would wage as a result of his own sin nature.


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

Living His Way.

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:7-11 ESV

Paul understood well the necessity of marriage. He knew it was ordained by God and, when treated properly, could provide believers with the full benefits of their sexuality as intended by God. As far as Paul was concerned, marriage was the only appropriate context for sexual expression between a man and a woman, because that was how God had planned it. But Paul had a personal appreciation for singleness. Evidently, Paul was unmarried at the time this letter was written. We do not know if he had ever been married. But when he writes, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” he is stating a personal opinion, not the will of God. He is in no signifying that singleness is better than marriage. He simply knew that marriage required a great deal of commitment and sacrifice, requiring each person in the relationship to put the needs of the other ahead of their own. For Paul, being single allowed him the freedom to dedicate all his time and attention to the spread of the gospel and for ministry to the growing number of churches around the world.

For Paul, singleness was a gift from God. He believed it was God who had given him the self-control to live as an unmarried man and to not, as he put it, “burn with passion.” He had a supernatural, God-given capacity to resist the temptations associated with lust. Even Jesus alluded to the existence of this gift. One day He was confronted by the Pharisees and asked whether it was “lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause” (Matthew 19:3b ESV). Quoting from the Old Testament, Jesus replied, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6 ESV). Jesus went on to explain that “whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery—unless his wife has been unfaithful” (Matthew 19:9 NLT). Marriage was a binding covenant. This statement led one of the disciples to state, “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19:10 NLT). And Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this statement. Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” (Matthew 19:11-12 NLT). Jesus Himself never married, for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). 

Singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry. But it is not for everyone. So Paul goes on to address those who were married. He speaks to the women first, reminding them that they should not divorce their husbands. Paul was simply repeating the words of Jesus. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12 NLT). Paul knew, just as Jesus did, that just because divorce was prohibited, it would not stop it from happening. So they both commanded no remarriage after divorce. To do so was to commit adultery. Paul states that if a woman divorces her husband, “she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11a ESV). And then he adds, “and the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:11b ESV). Jesus seems to have given only one exception to His no-divorce mandate. When He stated, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9 ESV), He appears to present sexual immorality on the part of one of the married partners as the only grounds for divorce. In that case, it would seem that the offending partner has broken the covenant of oneness. But Paul emphasizes that whoever finds themselves divorced for whatever reason, should remain single or be reconciled to their partner.

It is important to remember that Paul is calling the Corinthians believers to live out their faith in the midst of a dark, pagan culture where virtually anything was considered acceptable behavior. Divorce was commonplace. Sexual immorality was rampant. Sexual sins of all kinds were prevalent and regularly practiced. He is demanding that the Corinthians live lives worthy of their calling as followers of Christ. They are to be distinctly different in their actions and attitudes. Their approach to life was to be determined by their faith, not their feelings. They were to be driven by a desire to please God, not their own desires. It is highly possible that there were some in the church in Corinth who were divorcing their spouses in order to escape having sexual relations altogether. More than likely, these individuals were influenced by the philosophy of dualism that flourished in Greek culture. It led them to believe that anything associated with the body was evil. Divorce allowed them to experience “freedom” from involvement with sex altogether. But their views were unbiblical and un-Christlike. While the culture around them was distorting God’s views on everything from marriage to human sexuality, Paul was reminding them that they were the church of God, “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV). Like the Corinthians, we have been called to live lives that are set apart from the world. We are to be holy, different and distinct. We exist to bring glory to God. We are His children, His workmanship, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

 

The Christ-like Life.

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 ESV

As is usually the case in any congregation, there were two views or opinions influencing the church in Corinth. We have already seen that their Greek, dualistic way of thinking to see all sin as something done in the body and, therefore, permissible. They viewed themselves as being made up a two natures: the body and the spirit. And they were using this pagan outlook on life to excuse their immoral behavior. But there was evidently another group within the church who viewed believed in dualism, but viewed it as a threat. Their solution was to practice a form of abstinence. Since they viewed the body as evil or sinful, they would simply deny the body anything that might cause it to sin, including sexual relations. In a letter written to Paul by the congregation, they had commented: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1b ESV).  And while Paul sees a seed of truth in this statement, he also see a serious danger. Their ongoing struggle with temptation toward sexual sin was going to make abstinence extremely difficult to carry off. The solution, according to Paul, was God-ordained marriage. He tells them, “because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (1 Corinthians 7:2-3 NLT). It is not as if Paul did not believe in abstinence or celibacy. In fact, in just a few verses he tells the unmarried and widows in the church , “it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9 ESV).

Abstinence may result in the absence of sexual contact, but it cannot eliminate the problem of lust. It was Jesus who said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Simply refraining from sexual intercourse does not fix the problem, because the problem lies within the heart. Again, Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). Their attempt to separate the spiritual and the physical was based on man’s logic, not God’s Word. God had created marriage as the proper means by which men and women could enjoy His gift of sexual intimacy. And while marriage does not eliminate the problem within the hearts of men and women toward sexual, it does provide a God-ordained outlet for the expression and experience of the act of sex between a man and a woman.

But Paul knew that the dualistic viewpoint of the Corinthians could even be used to mess with God’s divine design for marriage. There would be those who chose to practice abstinence even within the context of their marriage. Paul makes it very clear: “Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer” (1 Corinthians 7:5a NLT). They were not to deny one another sexual intimacy, unless they had a very good spiritual reason for doing so, and the only one Paul lists is prayer. And even if they practice abstinence for the purpose of prayer, they are to do so for a very limited time period. Why? Because Paul knew their hearts. Which is why he warned them , “Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5b NLT).

At the heart of Paul’s commands on this topic are his concern for the spiritual well-being of the congregation in Corinth. He had a burden that their relationship with Christ be lived out and permeate every area of their lives, including their marriages. He made a concession toward abstinence in marriage only if it was done in order to concentrate on more pressing spiritual matters, such as prayer. For one spouse to deny the other their rightful access to sexual fulfillment would be un-Christlike and selfish. Paul makes it clear that the husband’s body does not belong to him, but to his wife. And the wife’s body belongs to her husband. There is to be a selflessness and an attitude of sacrifice at the heart of every Christian marriage. It is not more spiritual to deny your spouse what God has intended for their good, in order that you might satisfy your own desires.

I think Paul’s admonition to the Philippian believers echoes his thoughts here. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). What better place to practice those practical warnings than within the context of a marriage? Any attempt to live a more godly life that ends up hurting someone else or denies the other person their rights, is misguided at best. We are to die to self. We are to put the other person first. We are to sacrifice. Spirituality is not about abstinence, but about obedience – obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God and as lived out by the Son of God. He is our model. The Christ-like life is one of sacrifice, service, humility and selfless love for others.

One With Christ.

But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:17-20 ESV

The Corinthians were not taking their union with Christ seriously. Because of the dualistic approach to life, they seemed to believe that what they did with their bodies really didn’t matter. This led them to look on any sins they committed with their bodies as somehow separated from their spiritual lives. You can see the logic behind their thinking in the phrase, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV). This was a common expression used by the Corinthians to excuse their behavior. And it had led them to commit all kinds of sin with impunity, including sexual sin. The very fact that they had refused to deal with the man in their church who was having sexual relations with his stepmother shows how skewed their thinking had become. But Paul is out to confront and correct their improper views of the body and its relationship with sin.

Paul commands them to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18a ESV). He uses the Greek word, φεύγω (pheugō), which means “seek safety by flight or to escape safely out of danger” (“G5343 – pheugō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is the same word he used when writing to Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV). Paul had been warning Timothy about those who have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:4-5 ESV). Paul warned Timothy to flee from these things. Instead, he was to διώκω (diōkō) righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. The word Paul used means “to run swiftly in order to catch a person or thing, to run after” (“G1377 – diōkō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is not enough to simply run from something. We must also run to something else. But if the Corinthians would not see sexual sin as wrong and dangerous to their spiritual well-being, they were going to continue in it. That was unacceptable to Paul.

So he attempts to paint a vivid picture of the dangers of sexual sin, by emphasizing that every other sin a person commits is “outside the body,” while sexual immorality is a sin “against” the body. The word he uses is a Greek preposition that is most often translated “into.” There is a physical union that takes place in sexual sin unlike any other sin. There is no doubt that all sin requires the use of my body. In order to lie or slander, the tongue is necessary. In order to steal, the hands and feet must be used. To murder another human being requires the mind to plan it and the body to carry out that plan. And while these sins are no less serious than sexual immorality, Paul’s point is that there is a difference. Sexual immorality is a blatant sin against the body, and that body, Paul stresses “is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God” (1 Corinthians 6:19b NLT).

As followers of Christ, we enjoy a mystical, but real union with Him. His Spirit lives within us. We take Him with us wherever we go. Paul told the Colossians, “Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory” (Colossians 1:27 NLT). And so, there is a sense that when someone commits sexual sin with his or her body, they are dragging Christ into that experience. Paul asks the Corinthians, “don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her?” (1 Corinthians 6:16a NLT). There is an intimacy and interconnection established. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 NLT). And just to clear up any possible confusion, Paul’s provides the correct answer: “Never!”

For Paul, union with Christ was an essential doctrine that needed to be understood and made a part of the believer’s daily life. John Murray wrote that “union with Christ is . . . the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. . . . It is not simply a phase of the application of redemption; it underlies every aspect of redemption” (Redemption – Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans, 1955, pp. 201, 205). We are one with Christ. We share His identity. We are progressively being transformed into His likeness. We not only share in His death and resurrection, and all that those things imply, we share in His righteousness. We have the capacity to live like Christ in this lifetime. The very same power that raised Him from the dead lives within us and is available to us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4 ESV). He went on to emphasize their oneness with Christ:

 In him we have redemption through his blood – vs 7

In him we have obtained an inheritance – vs 11

In him you also … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit – vs 13

We are in Christ. We are one with Christ. Sexual sin uses the body that belongs to Christ and re-purposes it for immorality. It takes what God has bought with the precious blood of His Son, our body, and uses it for ungodly purposes. And in so doing, we degrade and desecrate the very temple of God. Which is why Paul ends this section with a call to “honor God with you body.” Why? Because “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT). We belong to God – body and soul. Your body is no longer yours to do with as you want. It is the temple of God’s Spirit and is to be used to bring God glory and honor. As Paul reminds us, “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable” (Romans 12:1 NLT).