Not For the Faint of Heart

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled. Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

“Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers the Assyrians, warriors clothed in purple, governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses. She bestowed her whoring upon them, the choicest men of Assyria all of them, and she defiled herself with all the idols of everyone after whom she lusted. She did not give up her whoring that she had begun in Egypt; for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their whoring lust upon her. Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted. 10 These uncovered her nakedness; they seized her sons and her daughters; and as for her, they killed her with the sword; and she became a byword among women, when judgment had been executed on her.

11 “Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. 12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. 13 And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. 14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, 15 wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. 16 When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. 18 When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. 19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt 20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. 21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.” – Ezekiel 23:1-21 ESV

This chapter needs a graphic-warning label. It is full of sexual imagery and illicit language that makes it difficult to read and even harder to reconcile as content befitting God’s Word. But its message was meant to produce shock and disgust by comparing the behavior of God’s people with the grossest and most unacceptable sexual sins imaginable.

God begins this unflattering portrayal of His people by alluding to them by different names. The northern kingdom of Israel becomes Oholah and the southern kingdom of Judah becomes Oholibah. These pseudonyms were meant to depict each kingdom in a negative light, portraying them as two sisters who each display a penchant for sexual promiscuity and immorality. Oholah means “her tent,” and is meant to represent Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom. This designation most likely refers to King Jeroboam’s determination to set up his own houses of worship in Israel to prevent the people from returning to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. His actions are recorded in 1 Kings.

…on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. And Jeroboam instituted a religious festival in Bethel, held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in imitation of the annual Festival of Shelters in Judah. There at Bethel he himself offered sacrifices to the calves he had made, and he appointed priests for the pagan shrines he had made. So on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a day that he himself had designated, Jeroboam offered sacrifices on the altar at Bethel. He instituted a religious festival for Israel, and he went up to the altar to burn incense. – 1 Kings 12:18-31 NLT

In a sense, Jeroboam, the first king to rule over the northern kingdom, made the grave error of erecting an alternative house of worship, tempting the people to reject Yahweh as their god.

By contrast, the name Oholibah means “my tent is in her,” and stands for Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah where God’s temple was located. It was at this one “tent” that the people of Judah were to worship the one true God: Yahweh. But like their northern neighbors, the Judahites had proven themselves to be unfaithful. 

This entire chapter acts as a metaphorical version of Jeremiah 3:6-11, where God outlines the sins of Israel and Judah.

During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Then the Lord said to me, “Even faithless Israel is less guilty than treacherous Judah!” – Jeremiah 3:6-11 NLT

In the Ezekiel passage, God describes Ohalah and Oholibah as His “wives.” This is not intended to be a divine endorsement of polygamy but is simply meant to be a picture of the intimate relationship between God and His chosen people. The two kingdoms comprised the 12 tribes of Israel and they had been set apart as His own. But God accuses them of having committed adultery. The northern kingdom, allured by the power and prestige of the Assyrian Empire, made unsanctioned alliances with this up-and-coming global power. God deems these dalliances as nothing short of adulterous.

“Oholah lusted after other lovers instead of me, and she gave her love to the Assyrian officers.” – Ezekiel 23:5 NLT

The kings of Judah literally prostrated themselves as the feet of the Assyrian kings, hoping to evade defeat at their hands. This scene is depicted in The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser,  which shows King Jehu of Israel bowing in submission before King Shalmaneser III of Assyria and giving him tribute money.

The primary problem with these alliances was that they encouraged the people to place their hopes in someone other than God. Secondarily, they led to idolatry. Each time Israel made a treaty with a foreign power, they ended up embracing the false gods of their newfound “lovers.”

“…she prostituted herself with the most desirable men of Assyria, worshiping their idols and defiling herself.” – Ezekiel 23:7 NLT

And God reveals that this tendency to spiritual adultery had begun all the way back in Egypt. At one time, Israel and Judah had been one nation, formed by God in the crucible of captivity in Egypt. There, for 400 years, the descendants of Abraham had suffered under the oppressive hand of their Egyptian overlords, but they had also grown into a mighty nation. And during their four-century-long stay in the land of the Pharaohs, they had turned their backs on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, embracing instead the gods of the Egyptians. So, idolatry was nothing new for them. It had been a problem from the very beginning.

“…when she left Egypt, she did not leave her spirit of prostitution behind. She was still as lewd as in her youth, when the Egyptians slept with her, fondled her breasts, and used her as a prostitute. – Ezekiel 23:8 NLT

They brought their adulterous tendencies with them to the land of promise, continuing to give their affections to other gods. Even when Solomon, the son of King David, ascended to the throne of Israel, he promoted idolatry. Having disobeyed God by marrying many foreign wives, he soon found himself embracing their false gods and erecting shrines and worship centers all over the kingdom. It was for this reason that God split Solomon’s kingdom in half, creating Judah and Israel.

And after the division of the kingdom, the adultery continued virtually unabated. Eventually, God punished the northern kingdom, using the Assyrians to destroy the capital city of Samaria and subjugate the disobedient citizens of Israel.

I handed her over to her Assyrian lovers, whom she desired so much. They stripped her, took away her children as their slaves, and then killed her. After she received her punishment, her reputation was known to every woman in the land. – Ezekiel 23:9-10 NLT

Yet, the fall of Judah did nothing to change the behavior of the southern kingdom of Israel. Having watched their northern “sister” suffer humiliation and annihilation at the hands of their enemies, they stubbornly continued to pursue the same adulterous path.

“Yet even though Oholibah saw what had happened to Oholah, her sister, she followed right in her footsteps. And she was even more depraved, abandoning herself to her lust and prostitution. – Ezekiel 23:11 NLT

Rather than learn a valuable lesson from the fall of Judah, the southern kingdom upped the ante and escalated their idolatrous ways. And God uses extremely graphic language to describe just how wicked Judah became.

“…she turned to even greater prostitution, remembering her youth when she was a prostitute in Egypt. She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse.” – Ezekiel 23:19-20 NLT

To understand just how disturbing this message must have been for Ezekiel to deliver and for his audience to receive, imagine going to church one Sunday morning and hearing your pastor present a message that contained some of the same imagery and language that Ezekiel used. Just think how you would feel if he accused you of spiritual prostitution and used the same graphic details to describe your spiritual indiscretions. You would be shocked, appalled, and probably offended. So were the people of Judah. And that is exactly what God intended. He wanted to shock them. He wanted to offend them. And He wanted them to be appalled at the gravity of their guilt. So He used extremely graphic language to describe just how serious their sin was.

Sometimes we can become overly comfortable with our sin that we view it with a kind of casualness. We get so used to it that we forget just how detestable it is to God. That was Judah’s problem. They had sinned for so long that it no longer bothered them. They had learned to live with it and excuse it. They become accustomed to justifying their behavior. But God made it graphicly clear that this was anything but normal. Like two sisters who blatantly prostituted themselves with other men, Israel and Judah pursued relationships with other nations and other gods. They turned their backs on God and sought satisfaction elsewhere. They looked to other nations for their security. They turned to other gods for hope and healing. And while we might consider those actions less-than-shocking, God makes it clear that He viewed their actions as nothing short of immoral and unthinkable. Like a woman who walks out on her loving husband and gives herself physically to every man she meets, Israel and Judah had prostituted themselves time and time again – right in front of the very God who had chosen them, rescued them, and blessed them with His Law, His Temple, and His presence.

This chapter should disturb us and wake us up to the reality of the seriousness of sin. It should shock us and make us understand just how serious spiritual adultery is to God. He doesn’t take it lightly. He won’t tolerate it among His people. He would not and could not turn a blind eye to the actions of Judah or Israel. Spiritual unfaithfulness was and still is an offense to a holy God. If it bothered Him this much, back in the day of Ezekiel, it must still bother Him today. He is warning us to consider the seriousness of unfaithfulness and spiritual infidelity in the life of the child of God.

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

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

Taking Sin Seriously

1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

10 And the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

14 The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.

16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.” Numbers 25:1-18 ESV

There is no way to escape the fact that this is a graphic and disturbing text. And its close proximity to the oracles of blessing pronounced by God through Balaam makes it all the more difficult to reconcile. In what appears to be a relatively short period of time, King Balak’s hopes of placing Israel under a curse seem to take place without the help of Balaam or any other seer or sage. And the amazing thing is, the Israelites bring it on themselves.

Moses describes the situation in less-than-flattering terms: “ the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). It seems that the residents of Moab had done what their king had not been able to do. They had managed to find a chink in the armor of God’s chosen people, and it involved the two evils of immorality and idolatry. While Balaam had been unsuccessful in pronouncing a curse on the people of God, the citizens of Moab had come up with an ingenious plan for destroying the Israelites from within.

While the Israelites were encamped in the plains of Moab, waiting for the next phase of their conquest of Canaan, the men became distracted by and attracted to the women of Moab. And before long, “the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women” (Numbers 25:1 NLT).

Concessions were made, compromises were considered, and in no time the set-apart status of the Israelites was eventually jeopardized. What began as illicit sexual encounters between the men of Israel and the women of Moab turned into spiritual adultery and apostasy.

These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. – Numbers 25:2 NLT

Uncontrolled sexual desires led to compromised convictions. Suddenly, the Israelites’ physical allure for the Moabite women created a spiritual attraction for their rogues’ gallery of deities. Forbidden fruit created an insatiable appetite for false gods.

What makes this whole affair so egregious is that it comes fresh on the heels of God’s promise to bless the people of Israel.

No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’” – Numbers 23:23 NLT

Balaam had not been allowed to curse them. His “magic” had proven unsuccessful. But the women of Moab had managed to cast a spell on the unsuspecting men of Israel. They simply used their feminine wiles to bewitch the hapless Israelites and cause them to turn their backs on Jehovah. And because men were responsible for the spiritual oversight of their households, it wasn’t long before the apostasy spread throughout the camp.

Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:3 NLT

The fallout from this act of unfaithfulness was immediate and widespread. But God quickly intervened, ordering Moses to take immediate action.

“Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.” – Numbers 25:4 NLT

There would be no compromise on God’s part. He would not tolerate sin in the camp of Israel, especially that involving immorality and idolatry. The guilty were to be made examples of, delivering a sobering warning to the rest of the nation of Israel. And Moses was quick to follow God’s instructions, calling on the judges of the tribes of Israel to carry out the executions of all those who had taken part in this act of rebellion against God.

And this is where the story earns its NC-17 rating. What happens next is both shocking and unimaginable. As a result of this corporate act of sin and God’s prescribed solution, the people had been called to gather before the tabernacle. Moses describes the tone as sorrowful, likely because of sorrow for the deaths of some of their sons, fathers, and husbands. Yet as the people wept over their sin and the loss of their loved ones, one of the guilty men did something that is difficult to believe. He brazenly took a Moabite woman into his tent, in full view of Moses and the rest of the assembly. He exhibits no shame and, completely controlled by his sexual desires, he displays no self-control.

He does the unthinkable. Either he was flaunting his personal preferences in the face of Moses and God, or he was so consumed by his physical appetites that he could no longer control himself. The apostle Paul describes such people in condemning terms: “Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:19 NLT).

As Moses and the rest of the people looked on in shock, this moral reprobate flaunted his disdain for the holiness of God and rejected his own personal guilt. He shows no regret, remorse, or repentance. But his unprecedented display of disrespect for God got the attention of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest. This young man was the grandson of Aaron the former high priest and he took his role as servant of God seriously. Unwilling to stand back and watch this affront to God’s holiness take place, he took matters into his own hands – literally. 

he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. – Numbers 25:7-8 NLT

The actions of this man were more than an uncontrolled sexual encounter with a pagan woman. They were engaged in an act of worship associated with Baal, the false god of the Moabites. Sexual promiscuity was a regular feature in the rites and rituals associated with this pagan deity. But Phinehas refused to turn a blind eye to their immorality and idolatry, executing the guilty couple on the spot. And Moses indicates that the quick action of Phinehas brought an end to a plague that had already ravaged the lives of 24,000 Israelites.

And due to his actions, Phinehas received a covenant promise from God.

“Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by being as zealous among them as I was. So I stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my zealous anger. Now tell him that I am making my special covenant of peace with him. In this covenant, I give him and his descendants a permanent right to the priesthood, for in his zeal for me, his God, he purified the people of Israel, making them right with me.” – Numbers 25:11-13 NLT

Phinehas was rewarded for his efforts. This young man had executed the righteous judgment of God but, in so doing, had spared the nation from further deaths. God’s anger was satisfied and the sins of the nation were atoned for. But God was not done carrying out His judgment. Because the woman found in the tent was of Midianite extraction, God ordered that the Midianites be completely destroyed for the role they played in Israel’s rebellion against Him.

“Attack the Midianites and destroy them, because they assaulted you with deceit and tricked you into worshiping Baal of Peor, and because of Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, who was killed at the time of the plague because of what happened at Peor.” – Numbers 25:17-18 NLT

In a sense, Cozbi had accomplished what Balaam had failed to do. She and the other Midianite and Moabite women had successfully cursed a portion of the Israelite camp by luring them into immorality and idolatry. And while this resulted in the deaths of 24,000 Israelites, it did nothing to thwart God’s plans to bless them and provide them with the inheritance He had promised to them. It would be the Moabites and Midianites who suffered the greatest losses due to this fateful event. But God would prove faithful to His covenant promises to Israel.

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.

Deadly Desires

1 My son, keep my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
    keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
    and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words.

For at the window of my house
    I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
    I have perceived among the youths,
    a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness.

10 And behold, the woman meets him,
    dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
11 She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the market,
    and at every corner she lies in wait.
13 She seizes him and kisses him,
    and with bold face she says to him,
14 “I had to offer sacrifices,
    and today I have paid my vows;
15 so now I have come out to meet you,
    to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
16 I have spread my couch with coverings,
    colored linens from Egyptian linen;
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
    aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
    let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey;
20 he took a bag of money with him;
    at full moon he will come home.”

21 With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
22 All at once he follows her,
    as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
23     till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

24 And now, O sons, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths,
26 for many a victim has she laid low,
    and all her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death. – Proverbs 7:1-27 ESV

When I was a child, whenever we would visit my father’s family in rural Pennsylvania we would always take one night to go out and look for deer. My dad had a high-powered flashlight that plugged into the cigarette lighter of the car and had a beam on it that would seemingly go for miles. At dusk, we would pile into our old station wagon and head out into the country in search of deer. My dad would cruise slowly down those one-lane roads with all of us kids hanging out the window, waiting in silence as he worked the powerful beam of that spotlight back and forth across the fields. Then suddenly, they would appear.

Pairs of glowing orbs mysteriously floating in the darkness. Then the spotlight would reveal their source: hundreds of deer standing like statues, ears up, tails twitching, and noses nervously sniffing the air for signs of danger. I was amazed by the power the spotlight held over them. It was like they were in a trance, transfixed to the spot on which they stood, unable to stand. It’s why, in most states, it is illegal to hunt deer using any kind of light source. It’s unfair. They can’t help themselves. They’re defenseless. And I can’t help but think of that scene every time I read the warnings that Solomon gives his son regarding the immoral woman.

He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter. He was like a stag caught in a trap, awaiting an arrow that would pierce its heart. – Proverbs 7:22-23 NLT

The innocent young man was transfixed and seduced by the mesmerizing allure of forbidden fruit and false flattery. Each and every day, young men AND old men get caught in the headlights of lust. The enemy trolls the highways and byways of life looking for men AND women who he can transfix with the bright light of sin. And unlike most law-abiding hunters, Satan ignores any and all rules, taking down as many innocent victims as possible, like stags caught in a trap. He finds his work easygoing because most men are easy prey.

But there is another factor involved in this scene that sets it slightly apart from my childhood memories of “deer spotting.” It’s subtle but significant. Solomon describes seeing a naive young man who lacked common sense. He is one of the simple ones, open-minded and foolish. He is gullible and lacking in common sense or moral character. He is incapable of making good choices or recognizing the danger of his situation. So he crosses the street near the house of an immoral woman. In other words, he puts himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. “It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell” (Proverbs 7:9 NLT). He had no business being there, but he also had no sense to know better. He was a fool. He was like a deer strolling smack dab into a camp of hunters.

Deer are naturally wary. They have a built-in defense mechanism – a fright and flight response wired into them by God. But due to the effects of the fall, men have had their spiritual senses deadened. Our spiritual receptors have been dulled by sin and we no longer have the capacity to sense danger or know what to do about it if we do. And we become easy prey for the enemy, like deer tied to a stake with a target painted on our side. So, Solomon warns his son. He begs him to listen to his words of warning. He says, “Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her. Don’t wander down her wayward path” (Proverbs 7:25 NLT).

Stray away from what? Wander away from what? It is when our hearts stray from God that we become prey for the enemy. It is when we wander off God’s path that we find ourselves in the high weeds or like a deer in the headlights. The words of an old hymn summarize our situation well.

Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Be warned. Be worried. Be wary. Keep your heart close to God. Walk His path. Keep close to His side. He will give you wisdom, discernment, and the sensory perception to see danger and run from it. His way is the way to true life.

You see, Godly wisdom has its benefits. That may sound like an understatement or an extreme case of overstating the obvious, but in either case, it’s true. When we seek God and follow His ways, we gain an extreme advantage in this life. Without Him, we are left vulnerable to the temptations that are guaranteed to come our way as we live our lives on this planet.

Solomon knew that and so he went out of his way to teach his sons to seek the wisdom and insight God had to offer them. In this Proverb, he warns his sons in very graphic detail about the one temptation that faces just about every member of the male side of the species: The adulterous woman. He uses a story to illustrate for his sons just how susceptible they will be without the wisdom and insight that God provides. He describes “some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense” (Proverbs 7:7 NLT). The Hebrew word translated “naive” here can also mean “open-minded, one easily persuaded or enticed.”

These young men lacked the capacity to defend themselves from temptation. They were naturally open-minded or, in a way, empty-headed, and unable to say no to the tempting offers this world throws at every young man. One of the young men, who becomes the focus of Solomon’s story, was “void of understanding” according to the King James Bible. He lacked common sense. He didn’t have any wisdom from God that would warn him of the dangers that lie ahead. So when the adulterous woman spotted him walking by her house, she pounced. One of the first things that should jump out at us is the fact that this young man was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It says, “He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house” (Proverbs 7:8 NLT). He had no business being there. Yet Solomon describes him as “strolling” along, completely unaware of just how much danger he was in. Without the wisdom of God, he was going to find himself defenseless to the temptations headed his way. He was going to buy into the flattering words from this woman’s lips that to a wise man would have been obvious lies. “You’re the one I was looking for!” she would say, and “like an ox going to the slaughter,” he would allow her to lead him to his own demise. He would be easily seduced by her “pretty speech” and suffer the devastating consequences of his mistake.

But he would not be alone. “For she has been the ruin of many; many men have been her victims” (Proverbs 7:26 NLT). The list of names of the men who have become victims of this temptation is long and continues to grow. All because men continue to reject the wisdom that God offers. Even so-called godly men fall prey to the adulterous woman because they reject the wisdom God offers them. They refuse to listen to His Word. Instead, they choose to give in to their desires and satisfy their natural pleasures. They live for the moment and seek to meet the needs of their flesh, rather than live in the power of the Spirit. The wisdom of God could protect them, but they refuse to listen. Wisdom has its benefits, but only if we take advantage of all it has to offer. We have to want the wisdom of God more than we want the pleasures of this world.

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. All rights reserved.


Listen, Learn, and Live

20 My son, keep your father’s commandment,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them on your heart always;
    tie them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will lead you;
    when you lie down, they will watch over you;
    and when you awake, they will talk with you.
23 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
    and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
24 to preserve you from the evil woman,
    from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
25 Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
    and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
26 for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread,
    but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
27 Can a man carry fire next to his chest
    and his clothes not be burned?
28 Or can one walk on hot coals
    and his feet not be scorched?
29 So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
    none who touches her will go unpunished.
30 People do not despise a thief if he steals
    to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
    he will give all the goods of his house.
32 He who commits adultery lacks sense;
    he who does it destroys himself.
33 He will get wounds and dishonor,
    and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
34 For jealousy makes a man furious,
    and he will not spare when he takes revenge.
35 He will accept no compensation;
    he will refuse though you multiply gifts. – Proverbs 6:20-35 ESV

We live in a society that is constantly trying to buck the system. And by the system, I mean the one that God has put in place. God has standards. He has rules for living that apply to all men, not just those who consider themselves God-followers. But ever since the fall, man has been trying to get around God’s standards and establish his own set of guidelines for living.

If God says that something is wrong or sinful, we go out of our way to justify it and convince ourselves that it is actually perfectly acceptable. To get there we either have to reject what God has said altogether or twist it in such a way that it no longer carries the meaning it once did. That is exactly what we have done with the subject of adultery. Once taboo, even among non-believers, it is not only acceptable but has become a regular part of daily life in America. In an effort to satisfy our own selfish desires and justify our sinful actions, we have played fast and loose with God’s laws and created an environment where we get to decide what is sin and what is not. It has all become highly subjective. The mantra, “If it feels good, do it” reigns supreme.

Yet Solomon warns his son, and us, “but sleeping with another man’s wife will cost you your life” (Proverbs 6:26b NLT). Far too many in our society, including Christian men and women, don’t believe that statement. They have convinced themselves that God wants them happy and, therefore, if they find another person who fulfills them better than their current mate, then there is nothing wrong with “falling in love” with that other person. They justify their actions by claiming that they were never really in love in the first place. They made a mistake. Surely, God wouldn’t want them to spend the rest of their lives miserable and unhappy just because they married the wrong person. Yet Solomon clearly states, “So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:29 NLT).

One of the things that have happened is that, as a society, we have removed the disgrace and shame that used to accompany adultery. It has become so commonplace and acceptable that there is no longer any stigma associated with it. Oh, we may be shocked for a time, but we have learned to go with the flow and accept adultery as the inevitable outcome of living in a fallen world. And while it is true that adultery, like all sins, is inevitable because of the fall, it is never to be acceptable. It should still shock and concern us. We should still view it as a sin against a holy God and an unjust crime against our fellow man.

Adultery is nothing less than stealing. Those who commit adultery are taking something that does not belong to them. And in doing so, they destroy that which God considers holy and sacred: A marriage between a husband and wife. Not only that, it destroys the adulterer’s marriage and violates a covenant made before God – even if the couple who made the covenant were outside a relationship with Christ at the time.

God views ALL marriages as sacred and holy. He does not apply His rules only to the marriages of believers. God’s standards apply to all men and women. None are excluded or exempt. Yet, it is within the body of Christ that willful obedience to His commands should be displayed most clearly. It is within our marriages that faithfulness and fidelity should be most readily visible. He has given us the power to live lives in keeping with His standards. He has placed His Spirit within us and equipped us with the capacity to live godly lives in the midst of an ungodly culture.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. –  (2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

Because we share in the divine nature, we can escape the influence of this world and its constant encouragement to live according to our own standards, without shame and unrepentant.

The life of godliness was never meant to be impossible or impractical. It is impossible only if we attempt to live it in our own strength or on our own terms. It is impractical if we fail to apply its lessons to our daily lives. We always run the risk of becoming so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good. In other words, we fill our heads with all kinds of pious-sounding religious platitudes but never apply them to our daily lives. Yet, Solomon reminds us that righteousness is to be highly practical. It is to be visible to those around us, impacting every area of our lives and changing the way we live, altering the way we think, and influencing our decisions. Righteous living is wise living. It is living according to God’s standards, and God is a highly practical God.

When you walk, their counsel will lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up, they will advise you. For their command is a lamp and their instruction a light; their corrective discipline is the way to life. – Proverbs 6:22-23 NLT

Solomon attempted to take what he knew about God and apply it to everyday life. He pleaded with his son to listen to and apply the commandments he was sharing. They were not simply moral platitudes in the form of fatherly advice. They were divinely-ordained requirements that were intended to promote and preserve human flourishing.

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
    and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman,
    from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. – Proverbs 6:23-24 ESV

Knowing the commands of God but failing to obey them is like having a lamp filled with oil, yet refusing to light the wick. The one who knowingly disobeys the commands of God is nothing more than an unlit lamp in the darkness. They receive no benefit from their knowledge because they refuse to apply it.

So, Solomon encourages his son to listen to wise counsel, from parents, peers, friends, and from the Word of God. Piety that is not practical is useless. It becomes hypocrisy. Our beliefs must impact our behavior. Our righteousness must result in right living. The way we live should reflect the God in whom we believe.

But for the commands of God to have their full effect requires listening. And there is an art to listening. All of us can hear, but not all of us know how to listen well. And the few of us who do know how to listen sometimes struggle with doing something with what we hear – especially when it has to do with obeying the wise counsel we receive from others. This is especially true of young people. This is why so many of the Proverbs are addressed to sons (and daughters). Solomon wants his children to know the value of listening to godly counsel. In Proverbs 6 the assumption is that the commands and instructions given by the father and mother are godly and worthy of compliance. The son is told to obey the commands of his father and not neglect the instructions of his mother. He is to value them and personally apply them to his life, hiding them in his heart and keeping them close like a valuable necklace or an expensive ring tied to a cord and hung around his neck.

Solomon is not suggesting that we wear these commands like ornaments designed to make us appear more righteous. He is simply accentuating their incredible value and worth. They are priceless treasures that provide life, not decorative trinkets that make us look more holy to our peers. He stresses their life-preserving nature.

Wherever you walk, they’ll guide you; whenever you rest, they’ll guard you; when you wake up, they’ll tell you what’s next. – Proverbs 6:22 MSG

Godly counsel can provide guidance on life’s journey. It is based on the wisdom of God and has been proven in the crucible of life. Wise counsel tends to speak from experience. It is able to say, “Do as I do, not just as I say.”

The godly counsel of parents and other well-traveled Christ-followers can save us a lot of pain and trouble, and prevent us from taking wrong turns and ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. But not only does godly counsel guide, but it also guards and protects us – even in our sleep. Even when we’re inactive, godly counsel makes sure we’re safe and sound. We can rest easy and sleep well knowing that we have made the right choices and followed the right path in life. We don’t have to live anxiously or nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop and the walls of our life to cave in. We can know that we’re on the right path and headed in the right direction.

Finally, godly counsel speaks to us. It’s amazing how the wise advice of others can crop up and pop into our minds at just the right moment. When we wake up in the morning, we have a repository of wise advice to which we can turn. It speaks to us. It counsels us. It prepares us for the day ahead. Like a lamp, it lights our path and shows us the right way to go. It keeps us on the straight and narrow and out of the high weeds of life.

Wise counsel is like good, nutritious food. It not only feeds us for the moment, but it equips us for the journey. It gives us the strength, energy, and stamina to face all that lies ahead. It encourages, educates, and equips us for life in this world. Without it, we are lost, vulnerable to attack, and clueless as to what we should do and which way we should go.

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. All rights reserved.


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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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