Peace In the Midst of the Storm

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV

Paul wrote this letter to followers of Christ living in the southern portion of the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. Since these relatively new churches were located in a Greek-speaking Roman province, they would have consisted primarily of Gentile converts to Christianity. This is not to say that there were no Jews in their fellowships, but it seems more likely that Paul is writing to those who had little or no understanding of Judaism Jesus’ role as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

Based on the content of Paul’s letter, it appears that these Gentile converts to Christianity had come under the influence of Judaizers. These were individuals of Jewish descent who expressed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but who also demanded strict adherence to all Jewish religious laws and customs. Paul refers to these individuals throughout the letter and not in flattering terms.

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:14 ESV

The word Judaizer comes from the Greek verb Ἰουδαϊκῶς (ioudaikōs) which means “as do the Jews.” The Greek word for Jew is Ἰουδαῖος (ioudaios) and the similarity is obvious. In the verse above, Paul is setting up a contrast between the lifestyles of Gentiles and Jews but his primary point is the not-so-subtle teaching of these Judaizers who were demanding that true faith in Christ required conversion to Judaism and adherence to all its laws and customs.

Since Paul’s last visit to the region, these men had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, claiming to be Christ-followers but teaching a different brand of salvation than the one Paul had proclaimed on his first missionary journey.  These Judaizers seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left with no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.

Because of the vital importance of his letter’s content, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a latecomer who claimed to have been appointed an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:

“I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV

Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. It’s likely they raised doubts about the veracity of Paul’s claims and peppered him with questions. They probably demanded verification and evidence that any of Paul’s “testimony” ever took place.

Their rejection of Paul’s claim of apostolic authority led them to deny his credentials and reject his right to preach a gospel that was based on faith alone in Christ alone. As Jews, they saw Paul as a traitor to his Jewish heritage and the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It seems likely that these men also raised suspicions about Paul’s trustworthiness by reminding the believers in Galatia about his former life as a member of the Pharisees and a persecutor of the church.

But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters, and this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible.

It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. This is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul explains, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).

Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus appeared to a disciple named Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul staying and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. This is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV):: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible.

Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of his commissioning by the resurrected Jesus. His salvation had been made possible by God and the content of his message had come directly from the Son of God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship but the gospel itself. Paul was less concerned about his reputation or identity than he was with the integrity of the gospel message. He wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. Just a few verses later Paul denies any desire to engage in a popularity contest with the Judaizers.

I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. – Galatians 1:10 NLT

The gospel was under attack and Paul was ready to go to war to protect it. And this deep desire to preserve the simple message of the good news compelled Paul to go on the offensive.

But there was another desire that motivated Paul. He wanted the recipients of his letter to enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wanted them to comprehend the magnitude of the remarkable gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given Himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile, anti-Christian, and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for having placed their faith in Christ. Some had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. Others were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it.

We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we’re still here and surrounded by increasing levels of animosity and pressure to compromise our convictions, but we are not alone. We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the promise of our future eternal state.  God has promised us an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin that brought pain, sorrow, and death to the world.

Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).

Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they could rest in the fact that they were right in the middle of God’s will for their lives.

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.

Stop Pointing Your Finger and Point Them to God

1 And Elihu continued, and said:

“Bear with me a little, and I will show you,
    for I have yet something to say on God’s behalf.
I will get my knowledge from afar
    and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.
For truly my words are not false;
    one who is perfect in knowledge is with you.

“Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any;
    he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,
    but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
    but with kings on the throne
    he sets them forever, and they are exalted.
And if they are bound in chains
    and caught in the cords of affliction,
then he declares to them their work
    and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.
10 He opens their ears to instruction
    and commands that they return from iniquity.
11 If they listen and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
12 But if they do not listen, they perish by the sword
    and die without knowledge.

13 “The godless in heart cherish anger;
    they do not cry for help when he binds them.
14 They die in youth,
    and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
15 He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
    and opens their ear by adversity.
16 He also allured you out of distress
    into a broad place where there was no cramping,
    and what was set on your table was full of fatness.

17 “But you are full of the judgment on the wicked;
    judgment and justice seize you.
18 Beware lest wrath entice you into scoffing,
    and let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside.
19 Will your cry for help avail to keep you from distress,
    or all the force of your strength?
20 Do not long for the night,
    when peoples vanish in their place.
21 Take care; do not turn to iniquity,
    for this you have chosen rather than affliction.” – Job 36:1-21 ESV

Okay, I’ve officially had enough of Elihu. He is a highly eloquent, but loquacious young man who just doesn’t know when to shut up. While he has said a lot of wonderful things about God, he has ended up painting a very conflicted and confusing image of the Almighty. He boastfully claims that all he is doing is defending the integrity and name of God.

“Let me go on, and I will show you the truth.
    For I have not finished defending God!
I will present profound arguments
    for the righteousness of my Creator. – Job 36:2-3 NLT

But his lofty words concerning God seem to be a thinly veiled excuse for condemning Job and trying to coerce a confession out of him. This young man has had more to say than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar combined. He is on a roll and shows no signs of letting up. His attacks on Job have been relentless and severe, but he continues to wrap them in a thin veneer of pious-sounding rhetoric meant to sanctify his words and justify his anger with Job.

Much of what he says about God is true but he is using these powerful truths as weapons in his attacks on Job. They are not intended to provide Job with comfort, but are meant to convict him of sin. Look closely at what he says.

“God is mighty, but he does not despise anyone!
    He is mighty in both power and understanding.
He does not let the wicked live
    but gives justice to the afflicted.
He never takes his eyes off the innocent,
    but he sets them on thrones with kings
    and exalts them forever. – Job 36:5-7 NLT

There is no way for Job to argue with those statements because they are true. But Job knows that Elihu is using these lofty statements about God as a way to condemn him of guilt. It was perfectly clear to Job that he was one of the “wicked” whom God will not allow to live. And just in case Job missed the point and placed himself in the role of the innocent, Elihu makes sure that he understands that they too will suffer at the hands of God.

If they are bound in chains
    and caught up in a web of trouble,
he shows them the reason.
    He shows them their sins of pride.
He gets their attention
    and commands that they turn from evil. – Job 36:8-10 NLT

According to Elihu, even the innocent can enjoy great blessings or terrible tragedies. If they suddenly find themselves cast from the throne room and into chains, it is because of sin – case closed. God is simply trying to get their attention by breaking their pride and turning from their wicked ways. Basically, Elihu is stating that bad things don’t happen to good people; they are reserved for the wicked. So, Job must be a wicked person.

Elihu never mentions Job by name and does not address him directly, but it’s clear that his entire speech is directed at his suffering friend. He has designated Job as a wicked and stubborn sinner who will continue to suffer the wrath of God until he repents. Job doesn’t need an audience with God, he needs to confess his sins.

“If they [the wicked] listen and obey God,
    they will be blessed with prosperity throughout their lives.
    All their years will be pleasant. – Job 36:11 NLT

Elihu is brutal and unwavering in his assessment of Job, and he warns his “friend” that the future will end in death and not deliverance unless Job repents.

“But if they refuse to listen to him,
    they will cross over the river of death,
    dying from lack of understanding.
For the godless are full of resentment.
    Even when he punishes them,
    they refuse to cry out to him for help. – Job 36:12-13 NLT

When Elihu looked at Job, he saw a man who was obviously a sinner who refused to admit his guilt, Job’s relentless defense of his innocence was the proof. Elihu firmly believed that Job remained blind to his sins because he was too busy trying to prove his innocence. What Job failed to understand was that all the pain and suffering he had endured had been a divine wake-up call designed to show him his sins and lead him to repentance.

“God is leading you away from danger, Job,
    to a place free from distress.
    He is setting your table with the best food.
But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. – Job 36:16-17 NLT

Again, there is an element of truth in what Elihu says but is applying it like a sledge hammer. He accuses Job of wickedness and assures him that he is suffering at the hand of God for his sinful actions. He tells Job to repent of his sins and all will go well with him. Elihu’s is a simple and simplistic view of God. He keeps talking about the majesty and incomprehensibility of God, yet he seems to have God boxed in and figured out. He alone knows the ways of God. He even brags that he speaks on behalf of God.

“Be patient with me a little longer and I will instruct you, for I still have words to speak on God’s behalf.” – Job 36:2 NET

He even brags that his wisdom is perfect and complete.

“For in truth, my words are not false; it is one complete in knowledge who is with you.” – Job 36:4 NET

Here is a young man who is wise in his own conceit. Not only does he have Job figured out, he has a handle on God as well. For all his spouting about God’s majesty and power, his God is really a small, petty, vengeful and reactionary God. But his God is not the God of the Bible. He doesn’t know or understand the ways of God. None of us do. Just about the time we think we have Him figured out, He surprises us. We will never fully know or understand His ways. We can never predict His actions. But we can rest assured in His character. He is a loving, holy, and righteous God. He is a God of judgment but He is also a God of mercy.

Where we get into trouble is when we start trying to determine what He is doing in the world or in the lives of those we know. We can jump to wrong conclusions and assume that natural disasters like earthquakes are meant to punish nations for their sins. We can’t make that claim because we don’t know the mind of God. We can’t make those kind of sweeping assumptions because we do NOT know. Rather than trying to figure out the why, we need to ask God what and how. What does He want us to do about it? How does He want us to react to it? We know God has a purpose. We know He has a plan. Our job is not to determine the cause of what has happened, but to reach out in love and compassion to those who are caught in the midst of it.

I have no problem with Job’s friends pointing out that Job might have sinned and that his suffering could be a result of that sin. But once Job denied it, they needed to move on and help Job seek God in the midst of it all. They needed to point Job back to God and keep him focused on the mercy and love of God. We need to do the same. And this ministry of pointing people to God needs to be self-applied. When we find ourselves going through difficult times, we need to look to God. Rather than seeking the cause of our suffering, we need to pursue the hope of our restoration. We need to look for the God who is ultimately in charge of all that goes on in the world. We need to ask Him to examine our hearts and expose anything that needs to be revealed. But more importantly, we need to ask Him to open our eyes so that we might see Him more clearly.

Elihu had reached his conclusion and he was not willing to consider any other option. Job was guilty and there was no need for discussion or debate. That is what led him to matter-of-factually state:

“Be on guard! Turn back from evil,
    for God sent this suffering
    to keep you from a life of evil.” – Job 36:21 NLT

But what if he was wrong?

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

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

The Truth About False Words

1 And Job again took up his discourse, and said:

“As God lives, who has taken away my right,

    and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me,
    and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
    and my tongue will not utter deceit.
Far be it from me to say that you are right;
    till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.
I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go;
    my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.

“Let my enemy be as the wicked,
    and let him who rises up against me be as the unrighteous.
For what is the hope of the godless when God cuts him off,
    when God takes away his life?
Will God hear his cry
    when distress comes upon him?
10 Will he take delight in the Almighty?
    Will he call upon God at all times?
11 I will teach you concerning the hand of God;
    what is with the Almighty I will not conceal.
12 Behold, all of you have seen it yourselves;
    why then have you become altogether vain?

13 “This is the portion of a wicked man with God,
    and the heritage that oppressors receive from the Almighty:
14 If his children are multiplied, it is for the sword,
    and his descendants have not enough bread.
15 Those who survive him the pestilence buries,
    and his widows do not weep.
16 Though he heap up silver like dust,
    and pile up clothing like clay,
17 he may pile it up, but the righteous will wear it,
    and the innocent will divide the silver.
18 He builds his house like a moth’s,
    like a booth that a watchman makes.
19 He goes to bed rich, but will do so no more;
    he opens his eyes, and his wealth is gone.
20 Terrors overtake him like a flood;
    in the night a whirlwind carries him off.
21 The east wind lifts him up and he is gone;
    it sweeps him out of his place.
22 It hurls at him without pity;
    he flees from its power in headlong flight.
23 It claps its hands at him
    and hisses at him from its place.” Job 27:1-23 ESV

In this follow-up to his previous response to Bildad, Job takes all three of his friends to task. In Hebrew, his use of the word “you” is in the plural form and he repeats it several times.

I will never concede that you are right;
    I will defend my integrity until I die. – Job 27:5 NLT

I will teach you about God’s power.
    I will not conceal anything concerning the Almighty.
But you have seen all this,
    yet you say all these useless things to me. – Job 27:11-12 NLT

Job has reached the end of his patience and wants Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar to know that he will never give in to their demands that he confess his sin. In fact, the first six verses of this speech are his unequivocal claim of innocence, and he backs it up by a vow or oath that is based on the very existence of God.

“As surely as God lives,” Job begins. The existence of God is undeniable and irrefutable, and on that basis, Job declares that his innocence is just as sure and steadfast. His steadfast belief in his innocence was as firm as his belief in the existence of God. Even the life-altering nature of his fall had not shaken his belief in God. Yes, he had plenty of questions he wanted to direct to God, but he had never questioned God’s existence. And he was willing to take unwavering belief in his own righteousness to the grave. No amount of pressure from his three friends was going to change his mind or shatter his faith in his own integrity.

“I will never say that you are right; I will maintain my integrity until I die. I will cling to my righteousness and never let go. As long as I live, my conscience will not accuse me.” – Job 27:5-6 BSB

Job was so insistent because he refused to place himself within the company of the wicked. For him, that was unthinkable because it would be a virtual death sentence. His view of the fate of the wicked was dark and hopeless. He flatly states, “what hope do the godless have when God cuts them off and takes away their life?” (Job 27:8 NLT). Their fate is sealed because they will fall into the hands of the righteous Judge of the universe. No amount of regret or remorse will change their future because God will not listen to their cries or defer His judgment.

Will God listen to their cry
    when trouble comes upon them?
Can they take delight in the Almighty?
    Can they call to God at any time? – Job 27:9-10 NLT

Job’s questions are rhetorical and have only one answer.: “No!” One day, as they face their inevitable judgment, the wicked of this world will see the error of their ways and attempt to make things right with God, but it will be too little, too late. Job is not describing true repentance or what we might call “saving faith.” He is talking about those who live their entire lives in opposition to the will of God and then, at death, when facing their just and righteous judgment, try to escape their fate by a sudden death-bed display of godliness. It won’t work, asserts Job.

The most surprising aspect of Job’s assessment of the fate of the wicked is that he hopes his three friends will experience it.

May my enemy be like the wicked and my opponent like the unjust.” – Job 27:7 BSB

This statement appears harsh and unjustified to the modern reader but it was a common rhetorical device in Job’s day. This over-the-top denunciation of his three friends was meant to accentuate the unjust nature of their false accusations of him.

King David uses a similar style of imprecatation when dealing with his own false accusers.

O God, whom I praise,
    don’t stand silent and aloof
while the wicked slander me
    and tell lies about me.
They surround me with hateful words
    and fight against me for no reason.
I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations
    even as I am praying for them! – Psalm 109:1-4 NLT

These “friends” of David were not only guilty of slandering him but were going out of their way to ruin his reputation and life.

They say, “Get an evil person to turn against him.
    Send an accuser to bring him to trial.
When his case comes up for judgment,
    let him be pronounced guilty.
    Count his prayers as sins.” – Psalm 109:6-7 NLT

David provides a shocking list of their prayers for his downfall and they are unsparing in their desire to see him completely humiliated and ruined, not only for life, but for eternity.

“May all his offspring die.
    May his family name be blotted out in the next generation.
May the Lord never forget the sins of his fathers;
    may his mother’s sins never be erased from the record.” – Psalm 109:13-14 NLT

So, David responds with a prayer of his own.

May those curses become the Lord’s punishment
    for my accusers who speak evil of me. – Psalm 109:20 NLT

Again, those kinds of words seem out of place and unacceptable for a child of God to pray. But they are a common form of rhetorical argument among all the semitic people groups. In those days, a man’s name was considered sacred and an extension of his very nature. That is why false accusations were taken so seriously and dealt with so harshly. One of the commands in the Decalogue dealt with this very issue.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:18 ESV

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses outlines a further extension of this law, providing legal judgment concerning anyone who made a libelous accusation against another.

If the accuser has brought false charges against his fellow Israelite, you must impose on the accuser the sentence he intended for the other person. In this way, you will purge such evil from among you.” – Deuteronomy 19:18-19 NLT

In a sense, this is what Job was calling for. He wanted the slanderous accusations of his three friends to have consequences. In his mind, they were attempting to ruin his name and tarnish his reputation amongst his neighbors. In Job’s case, the integrity of his name was all he had left and the malicious words of his three accusers were robbing him of even that.

Job’s anger is understandable. He has been through a lot and the attacks of his three friends have been relentless. It’s likely that these discussions did not take place in private but were conducted in front of an audience of Job’s peers. Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar had put their friend on trial. They probably sought evidence against Job by interviewing his neighbors. To bolster their case, they would have conducted pre-trial research and found individuals willing to testify against Job. The meteoric fall of Job would have been known to all in Uz, but the presence of the three friends would have fired up the rumor mill and stirred up all kinds of speculation concerning Job’s fate.

So, weighed down by his pain and suffering and angered by the destruction of his reputation among his neighbors and friends, Job lashed out. He couldn’t help but wish that his three friends would have their own words turned against them. It was only just and right in his mind that his false accusers suffer some kind of consequences for their actions, and his assessment was right in line with the will of God.

“Be sure never to charge anyone falsely with evil. Never sentence an innocent or blameless person to death, for I never declare a guilty person to be innocent. – Exodus 23:7 NLT

Job was convinced of his own innocence, so his friends must be guilty of slander. It was a simple as that. His friends had been adamant that God punishes the wicked, and Job fully agreed. But in Job’s mind, the roles were reversed. They were the guilty ones and fully liable to the wrath of God. Their righteous-sounding rhetoric would not save them. Their claims of godly wisdom wouldn’t protect them. They had ruined Job’s name and they would pay dearly for their crime.

“Terror overwhelms them like a flood,
    and they are blown away in the storms of the night.
The east wind carries them away, and they are gone.
    It sweeps them away.” – Job 27:20-21 NLT

These verses are difficult to read and reconcile. But Job was desperately trying to protect and preserve the only thing of value that remained: His name. Without a good name, he had nothing. His future was ruined and his legacy was utterly destroyed. But the only way he could restore his soiled reputation was by having God step in and declare him innocent. He knew that only God could provide a just and righteous verdict in this case and he longed for that day to come.

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.

Lessons from the Land of Uz

1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. – Job 1:1-5 ESV

This book contains the story of a man named Job; a rather obscure individual whose life would have passed on with little fanfare and no recollection in the collective human memory, except for the fateful events of his life recorded by an unnamed writer and eventually included in the canon of Scripture. In a sense, Job represents every man, with his life serving as a living lesson on the sometimes inexplicable and often unexpected ways of God.

While the book bears his name, Job is not intended to be the hero of the story it contains. All of the events recorded by the author revolve around the life of Job but the primary focus of the book’s message is on God. He is the real point of the story. Verse 7 of the opening chapter introduces us to the LORD (Yᵊhōvâ), better known to us as Jehovah. He is the same God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which has led many scholars to believe that this book was written sometime during the patriarchal period. There is no clear consensus regarding the dating of this book or its authorship, but its inclusion in the canon of Scripture provides ample evidence of its divine inspiration and the reliability of the message it contains. It is not a work of fiction or a cleverly crafted tale from the mind of a superstitious individual living in a less enlightened age.

“God inspired this book to reveal answers to questions that arise from God’s nature and His ways with human beings. Specifically, what is the basis on which God deals with people?” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Job: 2023 Edition

Job is described as an inhabitant of the land of Uz. While there is no consensus on the exact location of Uz, the Book of Lamentations associates it with the land of Edom.

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
    you who dwell in the land of Uz – Lamentations 4:21 ESV

Most likely, Uz was located somewhere south of the Dead Sea. In this somewhat inhospitable region of the Middle East, Job had managed to establish for himself a very comfortable lifestyle. He was a successful man who had a large family, plenty of assets, and a glowing reputation among his neighbors and peers. He was well-off and well-liked.

Not only that, Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 ESV). This glowing assessment of Job is not intended as flattery or a ringing endorsement of his spotless spiritual qualifications. Like any other man, Job was born with a sin nature and a built-in propensity to pursue his own will and to act as his own god. But somewhere along the way, Job had been introduced to Jehovah, the one true God, and become an ardent follower and God-fearer. Job was neither sinless nor perfectly righteous, but he was faithful.

Job is described as “blameless,” a Hebrew word (tām) that means “sound, whole, or complete.” He was a man of integrity and spiritual maturity. The idea of “wholeness” is meant to convey a sense of completeness. Job didn’t live a compartmentalized life. There were no areas of his life that he had deemed off-limits to God. His entire life was an open book and every facet of his daily experience was lived out in full view of his all-knowing God. This is the same idea that God conveyed to Abraham when he was 90 years old.

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless (tām)…” – Genesis 17:1 ESV

Abraham was being ordered to “walk” or to conduct his life with the constant awareness that God was watching. He was to live with integrity or wholeness, never withholding or attempting to conceal any part of his life from God. And that was the way Job had lived his life.

It seems quite clear that the author wants his readers to understand that Job was well-off, both spiritually and materially. He had seven sons and three daughters, a sign of God’s blessings.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
    are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them! – Psalm 127:3-5 NLT

Not only did Job have a quiver full of arrows, but he also had fields full of flocks and herds. He was a wealthy man; “in fact, the richest person in that entire area” (Job 1:3 NLT). Job had a reputation for godliness and, because of his extensive wealth, would have been viewed as a man who had been greatly blessed by God. In that day and age, wealth was considered to be practical proof that a man was living in a way that pleased God. His assets were viewed as rewards for a life well-lived.

The blessing of the Lord makes rich,
    and he adds no sorrow with it. – Proverbs 10:22 ESV

Even Moses reminded the people of Israel that wealth and success were the purview of God Almighty.

“You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers…” – Deuteronomy 8:18 ESV

So, Job is portrayed as a poster boy of God’s pleasure, and his prosperity is provided as proof. This man was so well-off that his seven sons took turns hosting elaborate and expensive parties in their homes to which they invited all their siblings.

Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. – Job 1:4 NLT

It seems that this recurring feast cycle was always ended by Job offering a sacrifice to “purify his children” (Job 1:5 NLT). Perhaps that was a father’s attempt to remedy any debauchery or immorality that may have taken place during the seven days of feasting and festivities. Job cared about the spiritual well-being of his children and acted as a priest for his family, ensuring that any sins they may have committed were properly atoned for.

“Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” – Job 1:5 NLT

This was a man who cared. He had a deep and abiding love for God and a desire to see that his children remained faithful to Jehovah all their lives. He was not willing to let his affluence negatively influence his children to live lives of excess and immorality.

Here is a man who had it all: Wealth, material possessions, a lovely family, and a vibrant relationship with his God. But these opening verses are meant to be the preface for all that comes next. The reader is given a glimpse into the life of a man who was living a storybook life. In a way, Job’s circumstances are meant to create a certain sense of jealousy or envy. It’s as if we’re reading a headline story about someone who just won the national lottery. It’s difficult to read these five verses and not want to picture yourself in Job’s sandals. What would it be like to have those kinds of resources at your disposal? How would it feel to be revered for your spiritual life and envied for your material success? There is little doubt that Job had plenty of friends and neighbors who outwardly conveyed their love and respect for him, while at the same time harboring deep and resentful feelings of jealousy and anger. There were likely those who wished his trouble-free world would come crashing down around him.

That’s where the rest of the story comes in. Unbelievable tragedy was about to rock Job’s righteous and all’s-right-with-the-world life. This faithful servant of God would suddenly find himself wrestling with an unexpected and seemingly unwarranted wave of tragic circumstances that would leave his head spinning and his world turned upside down. And worse yet, his long-held views of God would be tested like never before.

Everything he knew about his God was about to be challenged. How would he feel about Jehovah when the blessings were taken away? What would his response be when the seeming incongruities of life disrupted his once-perfect world? How would his faith hold up when it appears as if his faithful God failed to show up? The story of Job is the story of all those who choose to follow God in a fallen world.

“The book of Job deals essentially with man’s relationship with God, centering on two questions. The first question is, Why does man worship God? . . .

“The second question is, How will man react to God when God seems unconcerned about his problems?” – Roy B. Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament

The stage is set. The protagonist has been introduced. But the rest of the players wait in the wings and the rest of the story waits to be revealed.

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.

Holy to the Lord

26 “But a firstborn of animals, which as a firstborn belongs to the Lord, no man may dedicate; whether ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s. 27 And if it is an unclean animal, then he shall buy it back at the valuation, and add a fifth to it; or, if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at the valuation.

28 “But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. 29 No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death.

30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. 31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. 32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. 33 One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.”

34 These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. Leviticus 27:26-34 ESV

These last nine verses almost appear to be an afterthought, as if Moses ran out of steam or couldn’t come up with a better ending. But with this closing, he records God’s final words concerning the need for His chosen people to behave with integrity. Throughout the book, Yahweh’s expectations that the Israelites live up to His holy standards have been clearly and repeatedly articulated. He has left little to the imagination and nothing up to their discretion. When it came to maintaining their relationship with Him, there were rules to be followed that were intended to govern virtually every area of life.

But God knew that those whom He had set apart to be His royal priesthood and a holy nation would find it difficult to walk according to His ways. They would be constantly tempted to reject His authority and question His faithfulness. In fact, they had already proven their propensity for apostasy with their worship of the golden calf. And the omniscient Yahweh knew that His children remained just as obstinate and stiff-necked as ever, even after having received all His laws contained in the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant. While they had eagerly vowed to keep all His commands, God knew that they would fail to follow through on their commitment.

That seems to be why God ends this book with an entire chapter on the need for His people to maintain their vows and avoid any hint of hypocrisy. When it came to fulfilling their vows, cutting corners or seeking loopholes was strictly forbidden. They were not to seek workarounds or ingenious ways to game the system.

Yet, God knew that was exactly what His people would tend to do. The prophet Jeremiah provides Yahweh’s less-than-flattering assessment of the human heart.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

That’s why God ends this book with a series of warnings involving “secret motives.” The first involves attempting to give something to God that already belonged to Him. According to the Mosaic Law, all firstborn children and animals belonged to the Lord.

“Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” – Exodus 13:2 ESV

Yet, a clever Israelite might come up with the idea to rededicate a firstborn as a fulfillment of a vow or pledge. This would have been a cost-saving measure, giving to God what was already rightfully His. But this would have been nothing less than an attempt to cheat God. In a sense, anyone who tried to do this was trying to scam God, using His own property to pay off their vow. It would be like stealing flowers from someone’s garden and then giving them back as a gift.

God also makes it clear that those firstborn animals were unredeemable. In other words, they could not be purchased back. They were the permanent possession of the Almighty and considered wholly consecrated to Him. But unclean animals could be redeemed as the valuation price and the 20 percent tax were paid in full.

The next area of emphasis involved those things that had been devoted to God. The Hebrew word (ḥērem) refers to a “devoted thing, proscribed thing, banned thing, cursed thing.”

“The basic idea of the Hebrew word is that the person or thing was devoted to God; it could either be sanctified for use in his service or utterly destroyed. But it was banned from possession or use by humans.…So if anything had been devoted to the Lord b some such means, it could not then be vowed as a gift to him. The devoted thing could not be sold by a priest and could not be redeemed by the owner.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

God makes it perfectly clear.

“However, anything specially set apart for the Lord—whether a person, an animal, or family property—must never be sold or bought back. Anything devoted in this way has been set apart as holy, and it belongs to the Lord.” – Leviticus 27:28 NLT

Once something was devoted to God, there was no going back. You could not renege on the commitment. This stipulation involved not only people and animals dedicated to God, but also individuals and entire communities that had been devoted to destruction.

“The word ‘devoted’ in the text is the same word used for ‘putting something or someone under the ban.’ This was true of cities, person, and things committed to total destruction because they were an offense to the Lord.” – Kenneth A. Matthews, Exodus: Holy God, Holy People

Once again, God is setting up boundaries that were intended to keep the Israelites from making unwise and unholy decisions. If something or someone belonged to God, whether as a gift or as that which had been devoted to destruction, there was no going back. According to the law, “If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox must be stoned, and its flesh may not be eaten” (Exodus 21:28 NLT). The owner was not allowed to dedicate that condemned ox as a gift to God and the animal was unredeemable. In essence, it belonged to God, and because God had ordered its destruction, that was the only option available.

The final section involves the giving of a tithe. God had ordered His people to give a tenth of all their produce and flocks as an offering to Him. This was used to care for the needs of the Levites, who received no inheritance of land in Canaan.

“You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 14:22-23 NLT

But God knew that the Israelites would find this command to be onerous and difficult to keep. So, He reminds them that this tithe belonged to Him and was to be treated as holy.

“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord‘s; it is holy to the Lord. – Leviticus 27:30 ESV

They were forbidden from holding it back. To do so would have been like robbing God. And centuries later, the prophet Malachi recorded Yahweh’s stinging indictment of His people.

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’

“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!

“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’

“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me.” – Malachi 3:6-9 NLT

Knowing their predisposition, God provided His people with a concession. While all animals that had been dedicated to God were unredeemable, a portion of the produce that had been tithed could be redeemed. God allowed His people to redeem back a portion of the grain they had dedicated to Him so that they might feed their flocks or their families. He was gracious and kind in this respect, but all animals that had been dedicated to Him remained His and were to be considered holy.

The book of Leviticus ends with the simple statement: “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34 ESV). As they stood at the base of Mount Sinai, the people were in possession of the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant. They had the Tabernacle standing in their midst, which assured them of God’s constant presence among them. They had been given the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness and atonement for their sins. And God had renewed His covenant promise to lead them to the land of Canaan where they would receive their inheritance. They were Yahweh’s chosen people and they could expect to receive great blessings from Him, but those blessings would be directly tied to their obedience to His commands. He would continue to lead them, provide for them, and reside among them as long as they remained faithful to Him. The road to Canaan lay before them and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was committed to going with them. But He expected His people to trust and obey – in all things. They were considered holy to the Lord but their lives needed to reflect that reality. Holiness is not a label; it is a way of life. 

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

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

A People of Their Word

“If the vow is an animal that may be offered as an offering to the Lord, all of it that he gives to the Lord is holy. 10 He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. 11 And if it is any unclean animal that may not be offered as an offering to the Lord, then he shall stand the animal before the priest, 12 and the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall be. 13 But if he wishes to redeem it, he shall add a fifth to the valuation.

14 “When a man dedicates his house as a holy gift to the Lord, the priest shall value it as either good or bad; as the priest values it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the donor wishes to redeem his house, he shall add a fifth to the valuation price, and it shall be his.

16 “If a man dedicates to the Lord part of the land that is his possession, then the valuation shall be in proportion to its seed. A homer of barley seed shall be valued at fifty shekels of silver. 17 If he dedicates his field from the year of jubilee, the valuation shall stand, 18 but if he dedicates his field after the jubilee, then the priest shall calculate the price according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and a deduction shall be made from the valuation. 19 And if he who dedicates the field wishes to redeem it, then he shall add a fifth to its valuation price, and it shall remain his. 20 But if he does not wish to redeem the field, or if he has sold the field to another man, it shall not be redeemed anymore. 21 But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the Lord, like a field that has been devoted. The priest shall be in possession of it. 22 If he dedicates to the Lord a field that he has bought, which is not a part of his possession, 23 then the priest shall calculate the amount of the valuation for it up to the year of jubilee, and the man shall give the valuation on that day as a holy gift to the Lord. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to him from whom it was bought, to whom the land belongs as a possession. 25 Every valuation shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel. Leviticus 27:9-25 ESV

God now turns His attention to vows involving animals, houses, and land. In this section, the emphasis is on the proper protocol for dedicating gifts to God. These voluntary votive offerings were to be taken seriously and faithfully fulfilled. To renege on a vow made to God was unacceptable and worthy of judgment. If an Israelite vowed to dedicate one of his animals to the Lord, he was legally bound to fulfill his commitment. Failure or refusal to do so would result in serious consequences.

God takes time to differentiate between the two types of animals that may be used as vows. The first involved any “animal that may be offered as an offering to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:9 ESV). This is a reference to a “clean” animal, one which would be acceptable as a sacrifice in the Tabernacle. Once that animal was dedicated to God, it became holy or set apart for His use. If the one who gave the votive offering changed his mind, He could not substitute that gift with an animal of lesser quality and, most certainly, he could not attempt to redeem it with an “unclean” animal. God strictly forbade any attempts to substitute an animal that had been dedicated to Him. If someone tried to do so, they would lose both animals.

“He shall not exchange it or make a substitute for it, good for bad, or bad for good; and if he does in fact substitute one animal for another, then both it and the substitute shall be holy. – Leviticus 27:10 ESV

Both animals would become the property of God. When the first animal was vowed, it immediately became holy to the Lord. If the giver attempted to take it back and replace it with another animal of greater or lesser quality, he would end up forfeiting both animals as a penalty for going back on his vow.

But if someone offered an unclean animal as a votive offering, it was redeemable because it was not acceptable as a sacrifice. These animals would become the property of the priests and could be sold or used for other purposes, therefore they were redeemable. If the giver decided he wanted the animal back, the priest would determine its value and add an additional 20 percent surcharge as the redemption price.

This same calculation was used to determine the redemption price of a home. If someone made a vow to God pledging to give Him their house in return for some act of divine deliverance, there were expected to keep their word. But God did allow the giver a way of retaining their home through a similar process of redemption. The giver was allowed to change their mind, but the decision would not be without cost.

If the person who dedicated the house wants to buy it back, he must pay the value set by the priest, plus 20 percent. Then the house will again be his.” – Leviticus 27:15 NLT

It seems that God made this provision because of the importance of the home in the Hebrew culture. It would be rash for a man to make a vow that would involve the loss of his family’s source of shelter. So, God provided a way for that individual to keep his commitment without penalizing his entire family in the process. He could redeem his home but at a high price. This penalty was probably intended to serve as a form of deterrent, keeping any Israelite from making a vow he was not willing to keep.

The next form of votive offerings involved the dedication of property. This section gets far more complicated because of a number of factors. First, there was the issue of rightful ownership. If someone dedicated a portion of their property to God, it must be determined whether they had legal rights to that land. Secondly, consideration must be made for the Year of Jubilee. Every fiftieth year the land was to return to the possession of its original owner. This divine decree had to be factored in when determining the redemption value of any property dedicated to God.

Once again, God made provision for the redemption of any land that was dedicated as a votive offering to Him.

“If the person who dedicated the field wants to buy it back, he must pay the value set by the priest, plus 20 percent. Then the field will again be legally his.” – Leviticus 27:19 NLT

In order to make their determination of the land’s value, the priests would have to take into account the years left until the Year of Jubilee. Once they came to a fair valuation, the giver could redeem the property by paying the price along with a 20 percent surcharge. But if the giver did not redeem the land, it became the property of the priests, who were free to sell the land to someone else. During the year of Jubilee that property would no longer revert back to the original landowner but to the priests.

When the field is released in the Year of Jubilee, it will be holy, a field specially set apart for the Lord. It will become the property of the priests. – Leviticus 27:21 NLT

If someone purchased a piece of land that was not part of his family’s inheritance, and that person decided to pledge it as a votive offering to God, the priests were to “assess its value based on the number of years left until the next Year of Jubilee” (Leviticus 27:23 NLT). When the Year of Jubilee arrived, the landowner was obligated to “give the assessed value of the land as a sacred donation to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:23 NLT). But the land would no longer be his. It reverted back to its original owner. This regulation was intended to keep someone from dedicating land that he knew would no longer be his in the Year of Jubilee. If someone bought a piece of land with just two years remaining until the Year of Jubilee, he might be tempted to use it as a votive offering, knowing that he was going to forfeit his rights to the land anyway. That’s why God placed a price on the land. When the Jubilee year arrived, the giver was obligated to pay the redemption price even though the land was no longer his. God would not allow any kind of deceit or underhandedness when it came to making vows. His people were to keep their commitment at all costs.

“Making and faithfully keeping one’s vows was a sign of a person’s spiritual condition. Vows were considered holy gifts to the Lord that were to be given out of a holy motivation and for a holy purpose.” – Kenneth A. Matthews, Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People

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

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

Wholeness and Holiness

1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days. And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the disease is checked and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut him up for another seven days. And the priest shall examine him again on the seventh day, and if the diseased area has faded and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only an eruption. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean. But if the eruption spreads in the skin, after he has shown himself to the priest for his cleansing, he shall appear again before the priest. And the priest shall look, and if the eruption has spread in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous disease.

“When a man is afflicted with a leprous disease, he shall be brought to the priest, 10 and the priest shall look. And if there is a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white, and there is raw flesh in the swelling, 11 it is a chronic leprous disease in the skin of his body, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean. He shall not shut him up, for he is unclean. 12 And if the leprous disease breaks out in the skin, so that the leprous disease covers all the skin of the diseased person from head to foot, so far as the priest can see, 13 then the priest shall look, and if the leprous disease has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean of the disease; it has all turned white, and he is clean. 14 But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. 15 And the priest shall examine the raw flesh and pronounce him unclean. Raw flesh is unclean, for it is a leprous disease. 16 But if the raw flesh recovers and turns white again, then he shall come to the priest, 17 and the priest shall examine him, and if the disease has turned white, then the priest shall pronounce the diseased person clean; he is clean.” – Leviticus 13:1-17 ESV

Decay, disease, and death are the inevitable result of sin’s entrance into the world, and even God’s chosen people are susceptible to their influence. The Israelites had been set apart by God as His treasured possession and had been ordered to conduct themselves according to His laws so that they might reflect His holiness. Their lives were to mirror His.

“I am the LORD your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 NLT

But even if the Israelites managed to keep all of God’s laws, a formidable and impossible task, they still faced the constant threat of being made impure or unholy simply as a result of living in a fallen world. Their relationship with God did not exempt them from contracting diseases or succumbing to death. The world was a dangerous place in which exposure to defilement was an everyday reality. Maintaining ritual purity was virtually impossible and the risk of spiritual contamination was unavoidable. It was just a matter of time.

So God established a series of purity laws that are outlined in Leviticus 13-15. The key to understanding these rather obscure and strangely specific laws is to focus one’s attention on the concepts of holiness and wholeness. These two characteristics are inseparable and interrelated. In the book of Genesis, Moses records a statement God made to Abraham in which He called His servant to a life of wholeness.

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” – Genesis 17:1-2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated as “blameless” is תָּמִים (tāmîm), and it is sometimes translated as “perfect.” Abraham was 99 years old when he received this command from God and it would seem that a divine call to live a perfect life would have been an impossible task for him to carry out. Was God demanding absolute perfection from His elderly servant? Was He expecting Abraham to live a sinless and totally righteous life at all times?

The word, tāmîm, might be better understood as a call to wholeness or completeness. Its root word, תָּם (tām), carries the idea of uprightness or integrity. There is a sense in which God expected His servant Abraham to live a life marked by integrity and wholeness. There was to be no compartmentalization or secular/sacred split when it came to how Abraham “walked” before God. And this call to wholeness and holiness was passed down to Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites. They too were expected to walk before God and be blameless or whole. That is what the purification laws are all about.

In attempting to live holy lives in an unholy environment, they would find themselves occasionally contaminated by contact with a fallen world. Their wholeness and holiness would be compromised. They were not inoculated from disease and were not immune from its potentially deadly effects. It is important to note that the diseases and disorders discussed in these chapters are not sins in and of themselves. They are the byproducts of sin’s presence in the world. God’s point is not that the one who contracts these diseases has sinned, but that they have become ceremonially un-whole and, therefore, unholy before God. Just as the act of childbirth is not a sin, neither is contracting leprosy or any other skin disease to be considered a sin.

As chapter 12 revealed, a woman giving birth to her child is subjected to pain and suffers the loss of blood and bodily fluids in bringing new life into the world. This natural and necessary process renders her un-whole and in need of restoration. In the same way, “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous disease on the skin of his body” (Leviticus 13:2 ESV), he shall be considered unclean. The presence of the disease will have affected the wholeness of his body. The physical integrity of his body will have been compromised, rendering him unholy before the Lord. Again, it is important to remember that the disease is not an indication that the individual has sinned. This was a common misunderstanding among the Jews. Even Jesus’ disciples had been influenced by this misperception and it caused them to see those afflicted with maladies and disorders as somehow under the judgment of God. At one point, Jesus and His disciples passed by a man who had been born blind, and His disciples logically concluded that his disorder was the result of sin. So, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). To which Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3 ESV).

The man’s problem was not due to anyone’s personal sin but was simply evidence of the world’s fallen state. And it reflected this man’s lack of wholeness and need for healing. Jesus graciously healed the man by miraculously restoring his sight. He made the blind man whole.

In essence, that is what is taking place in Leviticus 13. The skin disorder described in verses 1-13 is referred to as “a leprous disease” (Leviticus 13:3 ESV). But the term, “leprous” can be misleading. What God describes bears little resemblance to what we know now as Hansen’s disease or leprosy. The skin conditions outlined in chapter 13 refer to a wide range of pathologies, from relatively mild to severe. But each had the potential to render its “victim” unwhole and unholy before God. The various symptoms provided evidence of a lack of bodily integrity or wholeness. These symptoms were visible to the eye and easily examined by a priest to determine their level of danger.

“Anyone who develops a serious skin disease must go to the priest for an examination. If the priest finds a white swelling on the skin, and some hair on the spot has turned white, and there is an open sore in the affected area, it is a chronic skin disease, and the priest must pronounce the person ceremonially unclean. – Leviticus 13:9-11 NLT

While the results of these examinations could include quarantine or expulsion from the community, the ultimate goal was purification and restoration. Through a series of elaborate and detailed tests, the priests were to determine the ongoing state of the infected individual’s condition. The objective was to isolate in order to eventually reinstate the person to fellowship with God and the faith community.

“…the priest will then pronounce the person ceremonially clean by declaring, ‘You are clean!’ – Leviticus 13:17 NLT

Wholeness was the goal because the integrity of the entire nation was at stake. In a sense, the disease was a symbol of sin, which was a constant threat to the Israelite’s relationship with God. By focusing their attention on the visible signs of disease, God was helping them understand the invisible and even more dangerous presence of sin in their lives. These diseases, because of their infectious nature, could easily spread throughout the camp, and threaten the wholeness of the entire nation. The same thing was true of sin. If left unchecked, unconfessed, and unatoned for, sin could do serious damage to God’s chosen people, rendering them unwhole and unholy.

The presence of disease required separation and purification. Healing was necessary before access to God could be restored and reinstatement within the community could be enjoyed. By teaching His people to take skin disorders seriously, God was helping them to understand their need for moral and spiritual wholeness. Every area of their lives was critical to maintaining their relationship with God. Nothing could be overlooked or ignored. Examination and purification were necessary steps in protecting and preserving the physical and spiritual purity of the community.

King David reflected on his understanding of the need for constant examination and purification. He was a man who recognized his own inability to determine the wholeness and holiness of his life, so he pleaded with God to shine the light of His righteousness on the inner recesses of his own heart so that his sin might be exposed and his wholeness restored.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

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

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

All For the Glory of God

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:12-17 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles records Solomon’s dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. He had spent years supervising the construction of this magnificent structure that was to serve as the dwelling place of God on earth.

I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” – 2 Chronicles 6:2 ESV

But Solomon understood that the God of the universe could not be contained in a structure built by human hands – no matter how glorious and opulent it may be. So, he asked God to honor the temple by answering the prayers of all those who view it as a symbol of His glory and greatness.

“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” – 2 Chronicles 6:18-21 ESV

On that auspicious occasion, God gave His visible approval of Solomon’s beautiful creation by filling it with His glory (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). Then He made Solomon a promise.

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 ESV

God reminded Solomon that the people of Israel bore His name. They were His representatives on earth and, as such, they were to honor Him by the way they lived their lives. But His people had a track record of disobedience and rebellion. They found it difficult to live in keeping with His will and in compliance with His law; a problem that extended all the way back to Mount Sinai. Ever since God gave His law to Moses, the people of Israel had revealed their inability to live up to its exacting standards. And yet, each of the laws found in the Decalogue was intended to help differentiate the people of Israel from the rest of humanity. They alone bore God’s name and their adherence to His law was intended to set them apart as a one-of-a-kind nation that shared a totally unique relationship with Him.

The laws God gave them were not disciplinary or punitive. They were a reflection of His divine character and provided insights into His priorities concerning mankind. They reveal God’s divine perspective on the human condition. That’s why six of the ten commandments are horizontal in their emphasis, dealing with the interactions between God’s people.

In the fifth commandment, God places a high priority on authority, demanding that His people show proper respect and honor to their parents. The family unit was God’s idea and He created it with a hierarchical structure that served as a model of His own role as the Heavenly Father. Just as He gave life to all humanity, the father and mother were the means by which children came into the world. And as God’s co-creators, they were worthy of honor. A child who refuses to live in obedience to his parents will find it difficult to submit to the will of a God he cannot see.

The apostle Paul reiterated this command in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3 ESV

It is essential that children learn to live in submission to God-ordained authority if they are going to be contributing members of God’s family. Learning to obey begins at home. Household rules are the foundational platform for teaching obedience to God’s law. A child who refuses to obey and honor his parents will find it impossible to submit to the will of God.

It is interesting to note that the very next commandment prohibits murder – the willful taking of innocent human life. This appears to reflect back on the very first family God created. Adam and Eve produced two sons, Cain and Abel, and it was not long after sin entered the world, that Cain made the fateful decision to murder his brother. Motivated by jealousy and driven by a desire for self-determination, Cain decided to play god and take the life of his brother. In doing so, he took that which did not belong to him. He robbed Abel of life and stole glory from God, who is the giver of life.

The next command continues the theme of taking that which does not belong to you. In this case, it deals with adultery, the sin of taking another man’s wife. With this command, God is displaying His high regard for the institution of marriage and all covenantal relationships. Adultery reveals a blatant disregard for that which God deems binding and unbreakable. Jesus would echo His Father’s words when addressing the issue of divorce in His own day.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” – Matthew 19:5-6 ESV

It is not a coincidence that God used the sin of adultery to describe the unfaithfulness of His own people, declaring, “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” (Jeremiah 3:6 NLT). Infidelity would become a regular and recurring problem for the Israelites – within their marriage relationships but also in terms of their faithlessness to God.

Again, the eighth commandment carries a prohibition against taking that which does not belong to you. This time the context is stealing the property of others. Theft shows a disregard for the other person’s rights and reveals a lack of faith in the providential care of God. To take what belongs to another is to say that God has not provided for your needs. An Israelite who would steal from one of his brothers or sisters was giving evidence of a lack of faith in God. The apostle James describes the real problem behind the act of theft.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:2-3 NLT

The ninth commandment prohibits the taking of someone else’s reputation. To bear false witness is to spread inaccurate and damaging information about another person designed to question their integrity and destroy their name. It is hateful and harmful. It is to purposefully spread lies about another person with the intent to rob them of honor and esteem in the eyes of others. This was the very sin God accused His people of in the book of Ezekiel.

I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

The people of Israel had robbed God of glory by questioning and doubting His integrity and honor. Their behavior demonstrated their lack of trust in His goodness and greatness. Their actions were a form of bearing false witness, making false statements about the faithfulness of God that questioned His power and provision.

The last of the ten commandments deals with the problem of coveteousness. At the core of coveteousness is a lack of contentment. Coveteousness is an obsessive desire to possess what God has not provided. That which we covet is not a legitimate need but a self-determined want that we demand to be fulfilled at all costs. The focus here is less on the external act than the motivation behind it. Coveteousness displays a lack of faith in God’s provision. Seeing someone who has been blessed with a spouse, a house, an asset, or anything else of value, and demanding that those things be yours, is to question the integrity and goodness of God. It accuses God of favoritism, inequity, and injustice.

Ultimately, all of these commands point back to God. The interrelational aspect they describe has far more to do with the Israelites’ views of God than anything else. The manner in which they treated one another would be a direct reflection of their understanding of God and their relationship with Him. He was calling them to a life of holiness that was intended to illustrate His own set-apart status. They were to be holy as He is holy. They were to reflect His character by valuing what He valued and holding in high esteem those things that were near and dear to His heart.

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.

For the Sake of His Name

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Let them know the abominations of their fathers, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, ‘Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.’ But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10 So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. 12 Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. 14 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, 16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless, my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness.

18 “And I said to their children in the wilderness, ‘Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God.’ 21 But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. 25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 20:1-26 NLT

Sometime around 591 BC, Ezekiel received a delegation of Jewish officials who sought to receive a word from the Lord. Rumors had been circulating among the exiles that the Egyptians had secured a victory in Sudan and were flexing their muscles in Palestine. They had also heard that Zedekiah, the king of Judah, was seeking an alliance with the Egyptians in hopes of overthrowing the occupation of the Babylonians. So, the dignitaries who knocked on Ezekiel’s door were most likely looking for divine confirmation that their hopes for a successful alliance with Egypt would be confirmed. But God had a different message for them.

First, He confronted them for their audacity to seek His face when they had been defaming His name for so many years. They had no interest in getting to know God but simply wanted to know what He knew. They were attempting to use God as a fortune teller, hoping to extract from Him the information they wanted to hear. But what God had to tell them would not be music to their ears.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: How dare you come to ask me for a message? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing! – Ezekiel 20:3 NLT

Yet, God went on to tell them more than they wanted to know. He revisited their long track record of idolatry and apostasy, reminding them how little had changed over the centuries. From the moment He chose them as His special possession, they had made a habit of worshiping other gods. In fact, when God had come to the descendants of Jacob who had been living in captivity in Egypt for more than 400 years, He found them worshiping the false gods of Egypt. But, He promised to deliver them and take them to the land of Canaan, but with one condition.

“Each of you, get rid of the vile images you are so obsessed with. Do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt, for I am the Lord your God.” – Ezekiel 20:7 NLT

Even after hearing God’s promise of deliverance and His description of the fruitful land they would receive as their inheritance, they continued to worship the gods of Egypt.

“They did not get rid of the vile images they were obsessed with, or forsake the idols of Egypt. Then I threatened to pour out my fury on them to satisfy my anger while they were still in Egypt. – Ezekiel 20:8 NLT

Yet, God kept His word and freed them from their captivity. But He did so in order to protect the honor of His name. He had committed Himself to love and protect the descendants of Abraham. He was their God and they were His chosen people. If He abandoned them, the honor of His name would be diminished among the nations.

God’s name represents who He is. It encompasses His character and nature. His name isn’t just a label or designation to help differentiate Him from something or someone else. It is His essence. And as the chosen children of God, the people of Israel were to help set apart His name by living lives that were distinctly different from the nations around them.

In this chapter, God reminds the people of their repeated rejection of Him over the centuries. Over and over again, He says, “But they rebelled…” God had made a solemn oath to deliver them from captivity and give them the Promised Land. In return, He had asked them to get rid of their idols and worship Him alone. But they couldn’t do it. They repeatedly rebelled and refused to obey His law – all throughout their years in the wilderness and even after they arrived in the Promised Land. So God was forced to punish them for their rebellion. He would have been absolutely just in wiping them out completely, but instead, He showed them grace and mercy – all to protect the integrity of His name.

He was going to do what He said He would do. He was going to keep the terms of His covenant. He had promised them the land and He was going to give it to them – in spite of their unfaithfulness and rebellion. God’s name and His character were at stake. If He failed to bring the people of Israel into the promised land, the nations would have questioned His integrity. They would have doubted His power. They would have never seen His holiness or set-apartness – those characteristics about Him that made Him distinct from all other gods.

Over the years, the people of God had brought shame on His name. They had been set apart by God as distinct and holy. They were His possession and were to live like it. That is why He gave them the Law. That is why He provided the sacrificial system.

“I gave them my decrees and regulations so they could find life by keeping them. And I gave them my Sabbath days of rest as a sign between them and me. It was to remind them that I am the Lord, who had set them apart to be holy.” – Ezekiel 20:11-12 NLT

Unlike all the other nations, the Israelites were commanded to worship God alone. But they had failed to do so, and as a result, they had defiled His name. And while God would have been completely justified in destroying them, He was committed to keeping His promises because the honor of His name was at stake.

Yet, even after experiencing the grace of His miraculous deliverance from captivity, they continued to worship the false gods of Egypt.

“They wouldn’t obey my regulations even though obedience would have given them life. They also violated my Sabbath days. So I threatened to pour out my fury on them, and I made plans to utterly consume them in the wilderness. – Ezekiel 20:13 NLT

Several times along the way from Egypt to Canaan, the people of Israel tested God’s patience and pushed His mercy to the limits. But when they arrived at the banks of the Jordan River and refused to enter the land, God determined to curse them so they might wander in the wilderness until that first generation died off. Then He would allow their descendants to enter the land and enjoy His presence and provision. But even that second generation of Israelites proved to be far from faithful.

“But their children, too, rebelled against me. They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days.” – Ezekiel 20:21 NLT

The pattern continued. Each generation repeated the same deadly mistake, forsaking the one true God for the false gods of Egypt and Canaan. They refused to obey His commands and worship Him alone. For 40 long years, God endured the stubborn resistance of His covenant-breaking people. And while He refused to destroy them, He did predict their future downfall. He would bring them to the land and bless them abundantly, but He would also punish them for their unwillingness to honor Him as God.

“Nevertheless, I withdrew my judgment against them to protect the honor of my name before the nations that had seen my power in bringing them out of Egypt. But I took a solemn oath against them in the wilderness. I swore I would scatter them among all the nations because they did not obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 20:22-24 NLT

As the covenant-keeping God, if He failed to keep His promises, He would prove Himself either untrustworthy or incapable of doing what He had promised. So when the people failed to honor God’s name, He intervened so that he might protect the integrity of His name. He punished justly, spared them graciously, and continually extended mercy – refusing the wipe them out completely, all to protect the honor of His name.

But if the Jewish officials thought God was going to overlook their track record of sin and give them a favorable message concerning their deliverance, they were going to be disappointed. God warned Ezekiel that the day of judgment was about to come. The gracious and merciful God of Israel had seen and endured enough.

“I gave them over to worthless decrees and regulations that would not lead to life. I let them pollute themselves with the very gifts I had given them, and I allowed them to give their firstborn children as offerings to their gods—so I might devastate them and remind them that I alone am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 20:25-26 NLT

Zedekiah’s overtures to Egypt would amount to nothing. Any hopes of securing an alliance against the Babylonians would fail. If the Israelites would not honor the integrity of God’s name, He would do so Himself.

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

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

Good Leadership Doesn’t Just Happen

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. – 1 Timothy 5:17-25 ESV

Paul has already addressed the qualifications for elders earlier in his letter, but now he deals with the more practical realities of how Timothy is to interact with these essential church leaders. It’s interesting that he chooses to address elders immediately after giving Timothy advice on how to care for widows in the church. It would seem that, to Paul, both groups are important to the life of the church, and neither is to be overlooked or taken for granted.

It would be easy to forget about widows in the church because they tend to be out of sight and out of mind, even in society. Paul didn’t want that to happen in the church as well. And the same thing can be said of elders. Once a man is chosen to serve as an elder, it would be easy to overlook him and just assume that all is well and that his spiritual life is just fine. Paul didn’t want Timothy to take these men for granted and end up neglecting their needs or failing to show gratitude for the significant role they play in the health and well-being of the local church.

So, Paul tells Timothy to care for those men who voluntarily commit their time, talent, and energies to the oversight of the local church.

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. – 1 Timothy 5:17 NLT

It would appear that these men were financially compensated for their work. As teachers and preachers, they could expect to receive a “double honor.” This may refer to the respect that came with their position as leaders and some form of financial remuneration to compensate them for their hard work on behalf of the church.

They were to be honored, respected, and cared for, especially those who carried the extra responsibility of preaching and teaching. It would make sense that, in the early days of the church, these men would have received financial compensation for the time they spent ministering to the spiritual needs of the body of Christ. It would appear that they may have been bi-vocational, holding down secular jobs and sacrificing part of their work hours to serve the needs of the church.

Serving as an elder, which would have included teaching, preaching, leading, and praying for the local congregation, would have been a time-consuming job. So, Paul encourages Timothy to ensure that these men are taken care of adequately. Quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, Paul compares the efforts of an elder to those of an ox used to tread grain. “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.”

An ox, as it pulled a stone wheel over the stalks of wheat to separate out the grain, was allowed to eat as it worked, providing it with an incentive to continue to do its job. In a similar manner, elders who worked hard on behalf of the body of Christ should be compensated and cared for, in order to reward and encourage them for their efforts. But the apostle Peter warned elders against doing their job for profit.

Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Elders were never to do their job for what they could get out of it. Ultimately, they were servants of God, and any compensation they received was up to the local congregation. They were not to demand payment for services rendered. To do so would have altered the nature of their role as selfless shepherds of the flock of Jesus Christ.

Paul also knew that, because elders served in a leadership capacity, they were going to be open to criticism and accusations. There would be those who disagreed with their teaching and disliked their leadership at times. That’s why Paul told Timothy to “not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19 NLT).

He was to give these men the benefit of the doubt, refusing to take at face value the word of one individual who might bring an accusation against an elder. If Timothy ever discovered that an elder had sinned, he was to confront them in private, and if that man proved unrepentant, he was to be reprimanded before the entire congregation, serving as a strong warning to the other elders and reinforcing the seriousness of their role as the spiritual leaders of the church. In all of this, Timothy was to act as an objective party, not showing favoritism or taking sides. While treating elders with respect and honor, he was not to side with them unfairly side or show them any form of favoritism.

Paul also warned Timothy not to be too hasty when appointing elders. To lay hands on a man, ordaining him for this highly important spiritual role, was a serious matter and was to be done soberly and carefully. To appoint a man to this high office, only to find out that he was unqualified, would be to share in his sin and shame. The one who placed an unqualified man in this important leadership position would be culpable for having put the congregation at risk.

So, Timothy was to be extremely careful when selecting men for the role of elder. But Paul knew that not all sins are obvious at first glance. There would inevitably be those cases where a man was appointed to the position of elder, only to find out later that he had some hidden sin in his life that disqualified him. It was going to happen and, when it did, Timothy would have to deal with it.

But there would also be cases in which a man’s good character might lie hidden and unseen. There would be those men in the church who were less obvious and whose good deeds were done behind the scenes, out of sight, and unrecognized by those in the congregation. That’s why it was so important for Timothy to choose carefully. The “obvious” candidates are not always the right candidate. He must look into the hidden character of each man being considered for the role of elder. As God told the prophet, Samuel, when he was looking for the next king of Israel, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).

Finally, Paul gives Timothy some personal health advice. He was well aware that all of this could prove to be stressful and he knew that Timothy already suffered from some kind of chronic health issue. So, Paul recommended that Timothy “drink a little wine for the sake of your stomach because you are sick so often” (1 Timothy 5:23 NLT). Leading a church can be difficult and stressful. It is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. That’s why Paul pleaded with Timothy to take care of himself. He must be in good health if he is going to care for the body of Christ well.

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.