Faith is the Victory

29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. – Hebrews 11:29 ESV

After God had destroyed the firstborn of Egypt, including the son of Pharaoh, the Egyptians were ready to show the Israelites the door.

All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, “We will all die!” – Exodus 12:33 NLT

Not only did they urge them to leave, they literally paid them to do so, just as God had said they would.

And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:25-26 NLT

And they marched out, more than a million strong, under the leadership of Moses and the direction of God. This is where the story gets interesting. The Israelites are free to go and have their pockets lined with the treasures of the former Egyptian overlords. But watch what God does next.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. – Exodus 13:17 NLT

Instead, “God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exodus 13:18 NLT). In other words, God sent them on the less direct route, and not only that, He eventually had them do a U-turn.

Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Migdol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon.” – Exodus 14:1-2 NLT

They were headed right back to where they had started. At this point, the people must have begun to question Moses’ leadership skills or, at the least, his sense of direction. Their sudden about-face and march back toward Egypt would have made no sense. But God provided Moses with the method to His seeming madness.

“Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!’ And once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!’ So the Israelites camped there as they were told.” – Exodus 14:3-4 NLT

God was not done with Pharaoh. This stubborn, egotistical, and self-proclaimed god had dared to do battle with Yahweh and despite all the plagues his people had suffered, his overblown sense of pride would not allow him to admit defeat. So, God had one last surprise for the recalcitrant Pharaoh. God knew that once Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were camped nearby, he would change his mind once again and go on the attack. What happened next was all part of God’s plan.

Pharaoh didn’t disappoint. As soon as news of the Israelites’ circuitous trek reached his ears, he assembled his army, complete with 600 chariots, and went in hot pursuit of his former slaves. Much to his surprise and delight, Pharaoh found the Israelites camped along the banks of the Red Sea. He had them trapped. They had nowhere to run and no way to resist the might of his army. And he wasn’t the only one to recognize the dire nature of the situation.

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?  Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” – Exodus 14:10-12 NLT

The newly freed Israelites were not happy. The arrival of Pharaoh’s army had them in a full-blown panic. And yet, the author of Hebrews states, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.”

In the Exodus account, these people appear to be anything but faithful. In fact, they don’t seem to display any faith at all – either in God or Moses. They were scared, disillusioned, and confused. This was not what they had been expecting. Everything had looked so promising when they marched out of Egypt with their pockets filled with treasure. The future was bright and their hopes were high. But now they were facing potential annihilation by the Egyptian army.

They were in a bad spot. They were in a jam. Their circumstances could not have been any worse. But remember, God had led them there. This entire scenario was all part of His divinely ordained and predetermined plan. What looked like the beginning of an unmitigated disaster was actually going to be a scene of divine deliverance.

Moses knew something the people didn’t know, so he calmly encouraged them to resist the urge to panic and run.

Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV)

His words must have sounded like the ravings of a madman. How was Yahweh going to eck out a victory from this lopsided showdown between unarmed former slaves and the chariots of Egypt?

But what they failed to realize was that they had front-row seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. Despite the circumstances surrounding them, they had nothing to fear because God was with them. So, Moses encouraged them to stand their ground. But look closely. He doesn’t give them the choice between fight or flight. Running away would prove pointless. But attempting to go toe-to-toe with the Egyptian army would not bode well either. No, Moses simply told them to fear not and stand firm. They had no other responsibility than to watch God work. And we know the rest of the story.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV

There are those who say that the people of Israel displayed no faith. The faith to which the author of Hebrews refers must have been that of Moses. After all, it was his faith that got them across the sea. But the Exodus passage makes it clear that “the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:22 ESV).

First of all, they had to heed Moses’ admonition to stop fearing, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord. The temptation to run would have been strong. Fear, doubt, and pessimism would have been natural and normal reactions to such a devastatingly difficult situation.

Yet, each and every one of them had to place their sandals on the ground between those two walls of standing water. They had to take that initial step of faith and walk the path that God had provided. It would have been scary. It would have been intimidating. They would have had doubts along the way, wondering if the walls of water would suddenly crash down, drowning them all. And it would have taken a long time for more than a million people to make that crossing. The ones in the back of the line must have been wondering if they would ever make it across before Pharaoh’s army caught up with them. And yet, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land.”

Their salvation required that they step out in obedience. They had to walk if they wanted to live. They had to take the path God had provided, in spite of their fears, doubts, and apprehensions.

As we walk on this earth as followers of Christ, we will find ourselves facing difficult and sometimes disillusioning circumstances. God’s path for us is not always easy and doesn’t always make sense. There will be days filled with doubts and fears, second thoughts, and last-minute temptations to stop in our tracks and refuse to walk the path God has placed before us. But in those moments, we must remember the words of Moses, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV).

That doesn’t mean our fear is sin. It simply means that, at some point, we have to stop fearing and start trusting. We have to remember that God is in control and He has a plan for our lives. The path He lays out before us may seem illogical and even dangerous at times. His solution may appear worse than the problem we’re facing. But we must learn to trust Him and step out in faith.

The people of Israel doubted, but they walked. They feared, but they took the first step. When there had been no way of escape, God provided one. And they took it – in faith – weak and wavering as that faith may have been. And because they walked by faith, they arrived at the other side and were able to watch as God destroyed the enemy they had formerly feared. With their own eyes, they witnessed the salvation of the Lord.

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

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

It All Begins With Faith

28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. – Hebrews 11:28 ESV

The author of Hebrews skips over a large section of the biography of Moses, leaping straight from his hasty departure from Egypt after killing another Egyptian to the days just prior to his second departure when he led the entire nation of Israel into the wilderness. The account in Hebrews leaves out large, seemingly significant sections of Moses’ life, including his call at the burning bush, his somewhat reluctant return to Egypt, his encounters with Pharaoh, and the first nine plagues. Yet, all of these events in Moses’ life required faith. From the moment God called Moses in Midian and told him he would be the deliverer of God’s people, Moses had to have faith in the word of God.

When God had appeared to him at the burning bush in Midian, He told Moses:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.– Exodus 3:7-9 ESV

This would have been good news to Moses. But then he heard the rest of God’s plan.

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:10 ESV

Moses was reluctant, even resistant to God’s plan. But God told him, “I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12 ESV). God had given Moses a promise; an assurance that he was the one to do the job. God would be with him and God would bring him and the people of Israel back to the very same spot – Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. God went on to tell Moses the rest of His plan.

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.  So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 23:19-22 ESV

So Moses eventually obeyed God, and everything went just as God had said.; all the way up to the point to which the author of Hebrews refers in verse 28 of chapter 11. There was going to be one last plague that God would bring to the land of Egypt. And while the first nine had been troubling and even devastating at times, the final plague would be deadly. God warned Pharaoh through His servant Moses.

Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle.’” – Exodus 11:4-5 ESV

While God had protected the people of Israel from most of the other plagues, this one was going to be nationwide and non-discriminatory. All the first-born males throughout the land would die, both man and animal, including the firstborn of the Israelites – unless they followed God’s directions.

On the tenth day of the month, every household was to select a lamb – a one-year-old, unblemished male lamb. They were to “keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:6 ESV). What the Israelites were to do next was not left up to their imaginations or up for debate.

“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:7-13 ESV

The people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of their lambs and sprinkle it on the doorposts and lentils of their homes. This final step was essential for their salvation. God had told them, “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you” (Exodus 12:23 ESV).

The blood of the innocent lamb would protect them. But this entire process would require both faith and obedience. Of all the plagues, this one hit the closest to home – literally. If the people of Israel failed to follow God’s commands, they would suffer the same fate as the Egyptians. Their protection and preservation required faith and action. And Moses led the way.

He placed his faith in God and did as he was told to do. The whole scenario must have sounded bizarre to Moses. There was no precedent for killing a lamb and sprinkling its blood as a form of protection from death. The sacrificial system had not yet been given. In addition, this would have been a costly command to keep because as shepherds the people of Israel put a high value on their livestock, especially those that were one year old and without blemish. A male lamb would have been prime breeding stock and invaluable to the future value of the flock.

God’s plan would have sounded far-fetched and fairly sketchy to most of the Israelites. They most likely had doubts as to whether it would work. You can imagine their fear and dismay as the “destroyer” passed over the city that night and they heard the cries coming from the homes of all those who had lost a firstborn. They would have wondered if the blood would work. But as the dawn came and they discovered their firstborn alive and well, they were greatly relieved. But what saved them from the pain of death and loss was not the quantity or quality of their faith, but the presence of the blood. The death angel looked for the sign of the blood. It was the blood of the unblemished lamb that saved them, not their faith. It was God who protected them, not their faith. Their faith was simply an instrument through which they expressed their trust in God. Moses and the people had to put their faith in God’s plan of salvation. And when they did, it worked. 

So, the author of Hebrews states that it was Moses’ faith in the word of God that ultimately convinced the people of God to sprinkle the blood on their doorposts and lentils. He believed what God had said, and his faith was influential and infectious. By faith, he obeyed the command of God. By faith, he instructed the people of God. His faith in God was instrumental in saving tens of thousands of firstborn Israelites. By faith, he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood. His faith showed up in action. He took God at His word and took steps to obey God’s word. And his faith in God resulted in the salvation of God’s people. His obedience led the Israelites to do the unimaginable and sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the doorposts of their home. And because they did, they were spared the penalty and pain of death. The death angel “passed over” their homes and their firstborn were allowed to live. And it all began with Moses’ faith in God.

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

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

Faith Even In Death

21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21 ESV

Jacob, the son of Isaac, had lived a full and far-from-boring life. He and his mother had conspired to deceive Isaac in order to receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Even though he and his brother, Esau, were twins, Jacob had been born second, coming out of the womb while hanging on to his brother’s heel. This is how he got his name, Ya`aqob, which means, “he takes by the heel or he cheats.”

Jacob would live up to his name, living a life in self-imposed exile after having cheated his brother out of his blessing. When Jacob left home, his father, Isaac, reiterated his earlier blessing, stating, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4 ESV).

Even while traveling to the land of Haran where his uncle Laban lived, Jacob had a dream and received a vision and a word from God.

“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 ESV

God reaffirmed the blessing Jacob had received from Isaac. In spite of the deceit and trickery Jacob and Rebekah utilized to get the blessing, God clearly affirmed it. It had been His plan all along, just as He had told Rebekah before the boys were even born.

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

Yet, because of the way he and his mother had chosen to deceive Isaac, Jacob would spend years of his life living in exile in a foreign land far away from his father and mother. During his time in Haran, he continued his pattern of deception and even found himself on the receiving end when his uncle repeatedly deceived him. Part of his uncle’s trickery left Jacob with two wives who each bore him children. Yet, even while in exile, Jacob was blessed by God and grew rich and prosperous. But in time, he became homesick and decided to return to Canaan and face his brother’s anger.

On his way, he had a divine encounter with God. It took the form of a literal wrestling match when God appeared in human form and confronted His wayward servant. During this epic struggle, Jacob demanded that his opponent bless him, but rather than a blessing, Jacob received a new name.

Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 ESV

This scene aptly sums up Jacob’s entire life because, ever since his birth, he had spent his entire life wrestling with God. Rather than trust God with the outcome of his life, Jacob repeatedly tried to do things his way. He desperately wanted his will to be done and was willing to use deceit and trickery to make it happen. Even in his physical struggle with the Almighty, it appears that he won the match because it states that God [the man], “did not prevail against Jacob” (Genesis 32:25 ESV).

But did Jacob really best God? Did he somehow manage to defeat the God of the universe? The text states that Jacob’s wrestling match with God left him with a dislocated hip joint. His struggle was not without pain and consequences. And his newly disabled hip would be accompanied by a new name. God declared that Jacob, who would now be called Israel, had “striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

This was not a concession of defeat on God’s part. He was simply stating that Jacob had yet again managed to survive. The Hebrew word for “prevailed” is yakol and it means “to be able, be able to gain or accomplish, be able to endure, be able to reach.” Jacob had endured his exile. He had survived his own life of deceit. He had even managed to go toe-to-toe with God and live to tell about it. And despite all his deceit and self-empowered efforts to do things his way, he was going to gain all that God had promised. And he was going to learn the painful lesson that every blessing in his life had been God’s doing, not his own.

Jacob would eventually make it safely back to the land of Canaan, receive a surprisingly warm welcome from his brother, Esau, and have yet another visit from God.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:9-12 ESV

Jacob would father twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son and his favoritism would eventually cause his other sons to sell Joseph into slavery. Joseph would end up in Egypt where, through an amazing chain of God-ordained events, he would become the second most powerful ruler in the land. In the meantime, Jacob and his remaining sons would find themselves dealing with a terrible famine in the land of Canaan, which would eventually force them to seek out aid in the land of Egypt. This would lead to a surprising reunion with Joseph, who would end up not only forgiving his brothers but providing them with protection and land.

Thus Israel [Jacob] settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. So the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were 147 years. – Genesis 47:27-28 ESV

When the time came for Jacob to die, he asked Joseph to bring in his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, so that he might bless them. In an interesting turn of events, Joseph presented his two sons to Jacob so that the eldest, Manasseh, might receive the blessing of the firstborn. He held Manasseh in his left hand so that Jacob could easily bless him with his right hand. He held Ephraim in his right hand so that he would receive the blessing of the second-born from Jacob’s left hand.

The Scriptures tell us “Then Joseph removed them from his knees, and he bowed himself with his face to the earth” (Genesis 48:12 ESV). With his head bowed, he did not see his father, Jacob, switch his hands and place his right hand on the head of Ephraim, the younger of the two. The passage makes it clear that Jacob’s eyesight was dim from old age and he could not see well. With his hands crossed, Jacob pronounced his blessing.

“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:15-16 ESV

When Joseph saw what had been done, he tried to get his father to correct his apparent mistake. But Jacob refused, saying, “I know, my son, I know. He [Manasseh] also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19 ESV).

You might think that Jacob, because of his poor eyesight, inadvertently and mistakenly gave the blessing of the firstborn to the wrong son. But the mention of Jacob’s poor eyesight is there to indicate that he had to trust God for what he was doing. He had received a divine directive from God to give Ephraim the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Joseph was attempting to ensure that Manasseh received the blessing of the firstborn, but the nearly blind Jacob knew that it was God’s will for Ephraim to receive the blessing. So what Jacob did, he did by faith. He had to trust God with the outcome. He did not fully understand it or know how it would all turn out, but he knew that God was in control. He didn’t need strong eyesight, he simply needed strong faith.

Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, never returning to the land of Canaan, but he trusted that God would bring his people back to the land and fulfill His promise to make them prosperous and to bless them. Jacob blessed his two grandsons, “bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV). His hope was in God. His assurance was in the promises of God. He had a strong conviction that God knew what He was doing and he willingly obeyed God’s wishes. Jacob might not have always lived his life by faith, but he ended it that way – trusting God for the fate of his family and the future fulfillment of His promises.

Jacob had learned the reality of the statement that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). His eyes were dim but his hope for the future was bright and clear.

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.

Full Assurance of Faith

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

There should be a proper response when considering all that Jesus accomplished on behalf of sinful humanity. For ten chapters, the author of Hebrews has labored diligently to point out all the ways in which Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension have provided not only a better way for sinful men to be made right with God, but He has made possible the only way.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:8-10 ESV

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, this securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

The all-sufficient nature of His sacrifice should produce in the believer the confidence to come into the very presence of God, with “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV).

At the moment of Jesus’ death, a  number of supernatural events took place that signified the momentous nature of the occasion. In the dark recesses of the Temple the veil between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in half.

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. – Matthew 27:50-51 NLT

This elaborate tapestry served as the doorway into God’s presence and was accessible only by the high priest on one day out of the year, on the Day of Atonement. On no other occasion was it permissible for anyone to enter the Holy of Holies. To do so would result in divine judgment and certain death. For the high priest to pass through the veil into God’s presence, he had to obey all of God’s commands concerning personal purification and he had to perform every rite and ritual just as God had prescribed.

But when Jesus died, the veil was ripped in half from top to bottom, signifying that the barrier to God’s presence had been removed. That divine act symbolized what Jesus’ death had accomplished. The veil of separation between man and God had been removed – for all time. Up until that moment, only one man could gain access to God’s presence. But that all changed when Jesus died. The veil was torn, and the barrier to God was removed. It was a visible demonstration of the bold claim that Jesus had made.

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:9 ESV)

Those who place their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute can enjoy access to God. As His sheep, they can enter into His presence without fear of death or rejection. Their sins are forgiven and they bear the righteousness of Christ, making them worthy of standing before a holy God.

But this newly available access to God, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, should create in us not only a confident assurance but a desire to live in obedience to His will. The author reminds his readers to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). They were to continue to pursue righteousness, not in the hopes of gaining God’s approval, but in gratefulness for the fact that they were already approved in His eyes. Their hearts had already been sprinkled clean. Their bodies had been washed with pure water, which allowed them to stand before God as holy and wholly righteous.

The apostle Paul understood the remarkable nature of his new standing before God, made possible by his faith in Jesus. He confidently asserted that his acceptance by God had nothing to do with himself and everything to do with the work of Christ.

…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. – Philippians 3:8-9 ESV

His past accomplishments, Hebrew heritage, attempts at keeping the Law, and even his circumcision did nothing to earn him favor with God. It was his faith in the saving work of Jesus. Paul knew that he stood before God as righteous, based solely on what Jesus accomplished on the cross.

But this did not mean that Paul was without sin. He knew he still retained his old sin nature. He was fully aware that he still had the capacity for and propensity to sin. But his sins could no longer keep him apart from God. He had been extended forgiveness. he had been fully acquitted. Paul believed wholeheartedly what the apostle John wrote.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Paul had access to the Holy of Holies, at all times, where he could receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He was free from condemnation and no longer had to fear death as the penalty for his sins.

The author of Hebrews wanted his Jewish audience to embrace the good news that Paul proclaimed and personally believed. That is why he told them to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV).

This is the same thought he expressed back in chapter six.

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT

Earlier in that same chapter, he wrote, “Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance” (Hebrews 6:11-12 NLT).

We must keep our focus on the promise to come. Our hope is to be based on the completed work of Christ. He is coming again. That is why the author tells us, “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV).

Jesus came, but our hope is based on the fact that He is coming again. And we are to hold fast to that reality. It should provide us with the motivation we need to remain faithful until the end. It should give us the encouragement we need to live obediently and not complacently. The apostle John reminds us, “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children” (1 John 2:28-29 NLT).

It is our hope in Christ that gives us the help we need to live godly lives as we wait for His return. It is our faith in His return that provides us with the determination to remain faithful till the end. We must hold fast. We must finish strong. We must fight the good fight and finish the race set before us – “for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV).

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.

Out With the Old, In With the New

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. – Hebrews 8:8-13 ESV

In this passage, the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament to prove his point and bolster his case concerning the new and better covenant made possible by Jesus. He quotes from Jeremiah 31, verses 31-34. In this passage, the prophet Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the rebellious people of Israel who were living in exile in the land of Babylon. Jeremiah had spent years warning them that this would be their fate if they failed to repent of their sins and refused to keep their covenant commitments to Yahweh. Even after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, Jeremiah had sent a message to the captives living in Babylon.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:4-9 ESV

It was because of their failure to keep their end of the covenant that they found themselves living as exiles in a foreign land. But God wanted them to accept their fate and endure the punishment He had ordained for them. They were not to listen to the false prophets who tried to minimize their guilt and who promised them immediate salvation. God wanted them to know that their divine judgment came with a non-negotiable timeline.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:10-11 ESV

When the seven decades had passed, God would keep His promise and restore a remnant of the exiled people of Israel to the land of Canaan.

“For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.” – Jeremiah 30:3 ESV

And in chapter 31 of Jeremiah, God declares that their restoration will be accompanied by a new covenant. On the day that He restores them to their former homeland, God promises to do four things for them. Back in verse six, the author of Hebrews refers to these four things as the “better promises.” Each of these four promises falls under the new covenant, which will not be like the old covenant that God made with their fathers in the wilderness.

God said that when the new covenant was enacted, He would put His law into their minds and write them on their hearts. In other words, their motivation for obeying God would be internal and not external. Under the new covenant, they would have the capacity to obey Him willingly and gladly. He also promised that they would be His people and He would be their God. This was actually a recommitment on God’s part, a reiteration of the promise He had made to the people of Israel when they were living as slaves in Egypt.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

But this time, things would be different. This renewed relationship would be permanent and not based on their own capacity to keep God’s law. Unlike the old covenant which was conditional in nature, the new covenant would be the work of God. He promises them a special relationship with Him that will be better than the one they enjoyed during their days in the wilderness and as His chosen people living in the land of promise.

The history of the people of Israel was one marked by blessing and cursing and with faithfulness and apostasy. And ultimately, because of their unfaithfulness, God was forced to give them over into the hands of their enemies, as punishment for their failure to remain obedient to the covenant commitment they had made. That is why He says, “they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them” (Hebrews 8:9b ESV).

The third promise God said would come with the new covenant was an intimate relationship with Him – for all Jews. They would no longer need to be taught about God because they would know Him closely and personally. Finally, God promised that the new covenant would bring complete and permanent forgiveness of their sins. No more sacrifices would be needed. No more threat of punishment, condemnation, or death.

When God spoke these words through Jeremiah, He was indicating that the old covenant was on its way out. With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the sacrificial system was put on hold. There was no way for the people of God to receive forgiveness and atonement for their sins. And even after the people returned to the land, the Temple was rebuilt, and the sacrificial system was restored, the old covenant remained in a weak and ineffective state.

The new Temple cast a dim shadow of its former glory. The great city of Jerusalem would never achieve the status it once enjoyed in the days of King David and his son, Solomon. Over the following centuries, the Israelites would find themselves a conquered people, living under the heavy yoke of a long line of foreign kings, all the way up to the occupation of Rome in the days of Jesus.

But the promises God gave them in association with the new covenant were fulfilled, in part, with the coming of Jesus. His death, burial, and resurrection made them possible. That is why Jesus, on the night He shared His last Passover meal with the disciples, told them, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT).

The sacrificial death of Jesus made possible the new covenant, and with the coming of the new, the old became obsolete. Even at the time the letter of Hebrews was written, the old covenant, based on the Mosaic law, was passing away. With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system was brought to an end. Jesus had predicted this event when He announced to His disciples that all the beautiful buildings associated with Herod’s Temple would soon be destroyed.

Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:1-2 NLT

In quoting the passage from Jeremiah, the author of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that God is not yet done with the people of Israel. The promises found in Jeremiah were specifically for the people of Judah and Israel. But Gentile believers have been grafted into the family of God and have become descendants of Abraham. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “…if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV).

Paul also wrote, “…you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree” (Romans 11:17 NLT).

But while the Gentiles have been included in the promises found in Jeremiah 31, God has not forgotten His original covenant people, the nation of Israel. That is the point the author of Hebrews is trying to make. There is no reason for them, as Jewish Christians, to return to their reliance on the old covenant with its rules, rituals, and regulations. The old covenant remained incapable of saving or sanctifying anyone; as was the case in the days of Moses, David, and Solomon.

Jesus has ushered in something far greater and better. A better high priest. A better covenant based on better promises. A better sacrifice. A better mediator. A better outcome altogether. And to those Gentiles who enjoy a restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, the new covenant has brought freedom from law-keeping and self-righteousness. Obedience and faithfulness to God are no longer based on external motivators or the self-produced capacity to keep a list of rules and rituals. It is based on the indwelling Spirit of God who encourages and empowers us to live in faithful service to God. We don’t have to earn His favor, we already have it. That is why Paul reminds us:

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 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.

New and Improved

1 TNow the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. – Hebrews 8:1-7 ESV

A better covenant. A better high priest. A better ministry. A better promise. Everything about Jesus is better. To borrow from an age-old, tried, and true advertising slogan, you might say that everything about Jesus is “new and improved.” Jesus didn’t just provide man with one more option among many. No, He made possible the one and only means by which sinful men and women could be restored to a right relationship with God.

Unlike the priests who served in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus ministers in the divine Tabernacle of God located in heaven. His is not an earthly or temporal ministry, but a heavenly and eternal one. He is no longer offering up sacrifices to appease or propitiate God, because His death fully paid the penalty for sin and satisfied the just demands of a righteous God – once and for all.

In this first section of chapter eight, the author continues to establish Jesus as superior to all and everyone else. But he does so by contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. In verses 22-28 of chapter seven, he pointed out that Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant.” This new covenant only requires one priest: Jesus. And what sets this new high priest apart is that He will never die or need to be replaced. Unlike Aaron and his successors, Jesus died but rose again. His earthly ministry ended in death but was followed by His resurrection and ascension. Now, He is seated at the right hand of God the Father and intercedes on behalf of all those who have placed their faith in Him as Savior.

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. – Romans 8:34 ESV

The new covenant that Jesus inaugurated by the shedding of His blood on a Roman cross requires no more daily sacrifices for sin. Under the old covenant, the people of Israel were required to offer repeated sacrifices day after day and year after year because their sins never ceased and their atonement was never full or complete. They were in constant need of purification and forgiveness, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).

Under the old covenant, the rituals and rites performed by Aaron and his sons were incapable of providing inner purification. They were primarily ceremonial in nature and dealt with the external problem of uncleanness or impurity.

For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies—physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established. – Hebrews 9:9-10 ESV

During the days of the Tabernacle and the Temple, the simple act of touching a forbidden object or eating one of many prohibited foods could render someone unclean and unworthy to enter God’s presence. Purification was necessary but the process only produced a temporary state of acceptability before God. It could do nothing to change the condition of the human heart. The entire process could only make the individual acceptable to God but could not produce a permanent state of righteousness.

So, something better was needed and God provided it. This better covenant administered by a better high priest had been part of God’s plan from the very beginning. All that came before it was intended to be a foreshadowing of something better to come. The Mosaic Law, the Tabernacle, and the sacrificial system were earthly representations of the heavenly realm.

Chapter eight discloses that the high priest of the new covenant sits at the right hand of God in a heavenly Tabernacle, not an earthly one. The Tabernacle in the wilderness was a replica of the real thing, what the author describes as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV).

And over the centuries, the millions of animal sacrifices offered in both the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem were simply foreshadowings of a better sacrifice to come.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:4 ESV

They could provide temporary atonement or relief from sin’s condemnation but were not intended to offer a permanent fix. That is why the sacrifices were “continually offered every year” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV). In his gospel, Luke records the words Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He shared His last Passover meal with them.

After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for.” – Luke 22:20 NLT

With the death of Jesus, a new covenant was made between God and man. It replaced the old covenant. Why? Because it provided a better way for men to be made right with God. In fact, it provided the only way for men to be made right with God. Under the old covenant, the shedding of blood provided temporary relief from the condemnation of sin. But with His death, Jesus provided a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. Rather than sinful men having to try and earn a right standing with God through self-effort, Jesus provided the gift of His own righteousness. He took on man’s sin and, in exchange, gave the formerly condemned His righteousness in return. That is why Paul wrote, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

And Paul further elaborates on this point in his letter to the Romans.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

In chapter nine, the author of Hebrews continues his elaboration on the point that Jesus was the better mediator of a better covenant.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. – Hebrews 9:15 ESV

It was not that the old covenant was bad; it was simply that it was incomplete. It could reveal sin but could not remove it. It could display what righteousness looked like but was not able to produce righteousness in a man’s heart. It all pointed to something better to come. It was a foreshadowing of something greater to be revealed. It revealed man’s sinfulness so that he would understand his desperate need for a Savior.

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus walked this earth, He offered the following commentary on the spiritual state of man:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17 NLT

His point? Those who think they are without sin and in no need of a Savior will never turn to Him. It is those who are “weary and carry heavy burdens” (Matthew 11:29) who will find rest for their souls. The apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8 NLT). To deny the presence of sin is to live a lie, and the apostle warns that it is tantamount to calling God a liar.

If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:10 NLT

Jesus offers a better ministry as a better high priest and the mediator of a better covenant based on better promises. But to take advantage of it, men must recognize their sin and their desperate need for a Savior. They must desire something better. They must turn from the old covenant with its laws, rules, and regulations. They must give up the hope of achieving righteousness in their own effort and receive by faith the new covenant that Christ has made possible through His blood.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

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.

It’s Time To Grow Up

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV

The author of Hebrews admits that what he has been writing about is difficult to explain and just as difficult to understand. But it doesn’t help that his audience has “become dull of hearing.” The Greek word the author used literally means “slow” and was used in the figurative sense to refer to someone as “stupid.” The Hebrew believers to whom he wrote had become unaccustomed to hearing difficult doctrine and deeper truths.

These Christ-following Jews had begun to question their faith and were considering a return to their former way of life as Law-abiding Hebrews. But the author wants them to understand that they run the risk of abandoning the only true way of achieving a right standing with God. According to the apostle Paul, any attempt to return to a life of law-keeping would end in a curse, not righteousness.

…those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” – Galatians 3:10-12 NLT

…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

Righteousness cannot be earned; it must be received. It is a gift given to those who place their faith in the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished on the cross and through His resurrection. Once again, the apostle Paul, a former law-abiding Pharisee and a self-proclaimed “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) provided a stark distinction between the role of the law and the saving work of Jesus.

…no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:20-22 NLT

In his letter to the Hebrews, the author has been trying to remind his audience of the importance of their faith in Christ. The righteousness they had received was not available any other way. All his talk about Jesus’ sonship, deity, priesthood, suffering, sacrifice, and glory were designed to remind his readers of the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. He didn’t want them to fall back into their old habits of trying to gain a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. Their heritage as Hebrews, while a blessing, could become a curse if they let it lead them back into a works-based form of righteousness. Paul made it clear that this path was futile and a waste of time.

The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

The law could convict and condemn, but it couldn’t save because no one could keep all of God’s laws perfectly. That’s the whole reason God accompanied His law with the sacrificial system. He knew His people would fail to live up to His holy standards, so He provided them with a way of receiving forgiveness and atonement for their sins.

But the author of Hebrews knew that his readers had regressed. He told them, “you have gone back to needing milk” (Hebrews 5:12 NET). Their lack of knowledge regarding the things about which he had been writing revealed that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13 ESV). They were tempted to fall back on the old truths associated with Moses, the Law, temple worship, and all that was associated with their old way of life.

Their problem was that they had not progressed in their faith. They were like infants who had failed to move on to adolescence and were still surviving on milk rather than moving on to solid food. They had become stuck in their spiritual maturation process, remaining in a state of perpetual infancy and dependency upon “the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV). As a result, they stopped learning and growing in their faith, and their lack of progression had led to regression.

For the Christian, there really is no middle ground. You are either growing in maturity or you are regressing. These people had known the Lord long enough that they should have been ready to teach others, but instead, they were unprepared and unequipped for the job. They were stuck on the basics and were unskilled when it came to the message regarding the righteousness found in Christ alone. They knew the elementary truths of the faith, such as how one is saved, but they had failed to go deeper in their knowledge. Peter provided his readers with this word of encouragement:

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

In his second letter, Peter writes, “you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). There is no place for stagnancy or complacency in the life of a believer. As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of the value of the gift of righteousness we have received. We become increasingly more cognizant of our sin and just how great a salvation we have received. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food. We must develop a hunger for the deeper truths found in God’s Word and we must rely upon His Spirit to make those truths understandable and applicable to our lives. We can’t remain on spiritual pablum and expect to grow in maturity. The old adage “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is true, but it is not a sufficient source of spiritual sustenance for the growing Christian.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we must become givers, not just receivers. The author of Hebrews scolded his audience, telling them, “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV), but they were still having to be spoon-fed. They had become comfortably content with their current status as believers in Christ. But one of the non-negotiable realities regarding faith in Christ is the fact that God expects His children to grow. Again, the apostle Peter provides some strong words regarding this matter.

Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 NLT

Coming to faith in Christ should result in our growing increasingly more like Him in character. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had provided leaders for the church whose primary responsibility was to equip the members of the body of Christ so that they could build up one another in the faith. And then he told them…

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT

Spiritual maturity is not a solo sport; it is a group activity. We grow in Christ-likeness as we share with one another, as we encourage one another, and as we use our spiritual gifts on behalf of one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we receive insight into His will. As we share what we are learning with others, they are encouraged and our faith is strengthened. Growth requires interaction with others. Isolation is deadly to spiritual maturity. Complacency is as well. The message of righteousness is not just that we have been made right with God through faith in Christ, but that we are being made righteous in our attitudes and actions as we grow up in our salvation and in our dependence upon the body of Christ.

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.

Firm to the End

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. – Hebrews 3:7-19 ESV

Reaching back into the pages of the Old Testament narrative, the author quotes from Psalm 95, using the history of the people of Israel as a life lesson for his Hebrew audience. The psalmist recounts the story of Israel’s rebellion against God during their journey from Egypt to the promised land. Under the direction of God, they reached a place called Rephidim, and after setting up camp they discovered, “there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’” (Exodus 17:1-2 ESV).

Moses’ response was to ask them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2 ESV). But driven by their physical thirst, they demanded, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3 ESV). The people were so angry with Moses that he feared for his life, suspecting they would resort to stoning him. But God knew the people were using Moses as an easy target because their anger was really directed at Him. So, God gave Moses some interesting instructions.

Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” – Exodus 17:5-7 ESV

That last line is key to understanding the story and grasping the point that the author of Hebrews is trying to make. Influenced by the negative nature of their circumstances and their own physical desires, they doubted the presence, power, and provision of God. This was in spite of all He had done to deliver them from Egypt and secure their freedom from slavery. The miracles of the ten plagues and the wonder of the crossing of the Red Sea faded into oblivion at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly, their God was no match for their personal problems, and they grumbled. They complained. They revealed their ingratitude for all that God had done. And yet, in the face of their rebellion, God graciously provided them with water – from a rock. The apostle Paul provides insight into what was going on behind the scenes.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 NLT

The rock was Christ. It was a representation of the mercy and grace of God that would one day be expressed through the gift of His Son. Moses was instructed to strike the rock and from it came living water. God provided for them the very thing for which they had grumbled and complained. But while they “drank the same spiritual water,” God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Many of them never made it to the land of promise, the place of rest. The psalmist clearly portrays that the anger of God was directed at those who doubted His saving power.

“For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known “my ways.” Therefore, I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” – Psalm 95:10-11 ESV

The letter to the Hebrews provides us with the application.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT

The author is not suggesting that we can lose our salvation. But he warns against having “evil and unbelieving” hearts. The danger the Jewish believers in his audience faced was turning away from the saving grace provided by God through Jesus Christ and returning to their old, familiar faith in Judaism. Warren Wiersbe writes, “every believer is tempted to give up his confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage.”

Again, this is not about losing our salvation but about missing out on all that God has promised us as believers in this life, simply by turning away from God and doubting the sufficiency of His Son’s saving work. F. F. Bruce provides with the context:

“…a relapse from Christianity into Judaism would be comparable to the action of the Israelites when they ‘turned back in their hearts unto Egypt’ (Acts 7:30); it would not be a mere return to a position previously occupied, but a gesture of outright apostasty, a complete break with God.” – F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews

When Christians face difficulties, there will always be the temptation to doubt God and return to their former way of life. Relapse into our old ways is a natural response to the unexpected and unwanted trials that sometimes accompany the Christian life. We may even be tempted to try something completely new and different, other than the walk of faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews warns us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV).

The issue is one of unbelief. That is why we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’’’ (Hebrews 3:13 ESV). We need to encourage one another to keep the faith and remain committed to Christ’s cause. We must not allow circumstances or our own personal passions to draw us away from God and back to the false promises of this world. We must continue to believe in and rest on the promises of God, despite all we see happening around us. A little later in his letter, the author of Hebrews provides us with the key to standing firm in the face of trials.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

The Israelites to whom the author refers in this passage were those who had been miraculously delivered from captivity in Egypt and promised the hope of a new land in which they would live and enjoy God’s rest. But because of their rebellion, that generation would never make it to Canaan. That initial group of freed Israelites took their eyes off the prize and focused their attention on the circumstances taking place around them. Rather than trust God to keep His word and fulfill His promises, they displayed doubt and disbelief, attacking God’s messenger and questioning God’s will for them.

And the believing Jews to whom the author was writing were facing a similar test. They were allowing their current circumstances to cloud their thinking and cause them “to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). Like their long-forgotten ancestors, these Jews were running the risk of rebelling against God’s will and missing out on all the blessings He had in store for them. They wouldn’t lose their salvation but they would jeopardize any hope of experiencing the life-transforming and sanctifying power of God’s Spirit in their lives. Their eternal future would remain secure in Christ, but they would find it difficult to find rest in the midst of the unrest of this world.

Just before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words:

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 NLT

Take heart. Stand firm. Remain committed to the cause. And if you do, the reward will be rest, both now and in the age 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.

Our Incomparable Savior

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
    and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.” – Hebrews 1:5-7 ESV

For the author of Hebrews, it seemed important to establish Christ’s uniqueness and complete sufficiency. Writing to a Jewish audience, he wanted to ensure that they understood that Jesus was much more than just a man, so he presented seven facts concerning Jesus. 1) He was appointed the heir of all things by God. All that belongs to God, which includes everything, belongs to Jesus as His Son. 2) He created the universe. All that exists in time and space was made possible by Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae:

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

Jesus wasn’t created by God. He is the God who created all things. 3) He is the radiance of the glory of God. In His incarnation, Jesus made God visible to man. During His incarnation, He shone forth the glory of God; but in a veiled sense. Yet His words and works revealed the power and majesty of God to man. 4) He is the exact imprint of God’s nature. In seeing Jesus, men were able to see the nature of God revealed. He made God’s goodness, wisdom, glory, and righteousness visible to men. 5) He upholds the universe by the word of His power. His very word sustains and maintains the universe. His word has power beyond that of any other source. 6) He made purification for sins. By sacrificing His own life, Jesus made it possible for mankind to experience both the cleansing from and removal of sin and its deadly consequences. 7) He sat down at the right hand of God. Having faithfully and obediently completed His God-appointed task, Jesus ascended back to heaven and retained His rightful place next to God the Father, where He rules and reigns at this very moment.

All of this puts Jesus on a different plane than anyone and everything else. There is nothing that can compare with Him, including angels. These heavenly beings, who played a vital role in the history and religious understanding of the Jews, were not to be compared with Jesus.

In Judaism, angels were viewed as divine messengers from God. In fact, the Jews closely associated angels with the giving of the Law of Moses. We read in Deuteronomy 33:

The Lord came from Sinai and revealed himself to Israel from Seir. He appeared in splendor from Mount Paran, and came forth with ten thousand holy ones. With his right hand he gave a fiery law to them. – Deuteronomy 33:2 NET

Paul tells us that the law “was administered through angels by an intermediary” (Galatians 3:19 NET). So angels were venerated by the Jews, and it would seem that there were some in the early days of the church who took the veneration of angels and turned it into worship. Paul warned about it in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. – Colossians 2:18-19 NLT

The author of Hebrews wants us to understand that angels, while superior beings in many ways are not to be compared with Jesus. And to support his point, he provides four Old Testament passages as evidence. Quoting from Psalm 2:7, he asks if God had ever said to any angel, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you?” And the answer is no. The Jews in his audience would have understood this Davidic psalm as speaking of the Messiah. And while angels were often referred to in the Old Testament Scriptures as “sons of God,” no angel was ever called “the Son of God.”

Quoting from 2 Samuel 7:14, the author asks whether God ever said of any angel, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (Hebrews 1:5 ESV). Again, the Jews would have recognized this as a promise of God given to David the king. It was a Messianic passage, partially fulfilled in the life of Solomon, David’s son, but ultimately fulfilled in Christ, “who was descended from David – according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3 ESV). Using Deuteronomy 32:14 as his reference, the author reminds his readers that God said even the angels would one day worship Jesus.

Finally, using Psalm 104:4, the author presents angels as nothing more than divine messengers. The psalmist compares them to wind, invisible and at the mercy of a far greater power. There were created by God and were designed for His glory, not their own. Like flames of fire, they sometimes brought illumination and, at other times, judgment. But they were never meant to be worshiped.

In the book of Revelation, John was visited by an angel and given words from God that he was to write down. John’s response was to fall down and worship the angel, but he was told, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God” (Revelation 19:10 ESV). And then the angel gave John an important point of clarification: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10 ESV). All that John was being shown in his vision concerning the end times revolved around the person of Christ. In fact, in the very next verses of John’s revelation, we read:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Jesus is superior to angels. He alone is to be worshiped and revered. It is He who sits at the right hand of God and who will one day return as the King of kings and Lord of lords. There is nothing and no one to compare with Jesus. He alone is worthy of our praise, worship, glory, honor, and love.

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.