Our Indescribable and Inexplicable God

15 Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. 16 As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. 17 When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. 18 And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 20 Wherever the spirit wanted to go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. 21 When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads. 23 And under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another. And each creature had two wings covering its body. 24 And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army. When they stood still, they let down their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

26 And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. 27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:15-28 ESV

For centuries, artists have attempted to recreate the fantastic scene described in Ezekiel’s vision, and their efforts have resulted in a host of ethereal, otherworldly depictions that almost defy the range of man’s imagination. Their depictions border on the surreal and illustrate man’s incapacity to understand or explain the glory of God. But in their defense, each of them based their artwork on the words of Ezekiel. They simply illustrated what Ezekiel attempted to elucidate. But this young priest was at a great disadvantage because he was trying to describe the indescribable and explain the inexplicable. Hampered by a finite human mind and a limited vocabulary, Ezekiel did his best to recreate his vision with words. But his efforts would prove futile because he was attempting to describe “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28 ESV).

While Ezekiel appears to be describing a series of different individuals and objects, the scene is meant to illustrate the glory of the Lord. This entire chapter should be viewed as a depiction of the majesty and magnificence of Jehovah, the Creator-God who rules and reigns over all. The all-mighty, transcendent God of the universe was providing Ezekiel with a composite picture of His essence that was intended to engender a response of awe and reverential fear. And it worked, because Ezekiel claims, “When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground” (Ezekiel 1:28 NLT).

Ezekiel got the big picture. He correctly viewed the entire scene as a divine depiction of his God. And, as a priest, Ezekiel would have known that it was impossible for any human being to see God and live to tell about it. He would have been well versed in the words that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The man whom God had chosen to liberate His people from their captivity in Egypt had expressed his desire to see God’s glory. Moses had seen God’s glory displayed in the burning bush and had repeatedly spoken with Him, but he longed for something greater.

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” – Exodus 33:18 ESV

But God let Moses that his request was not only impossible, but it would also be suicidal. So, He provided Moses with a viable alternative.

…and he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Ezekiel 33:19-20 ESV

Like Moses, Ezekiel would see God’s glory and live to tell about it. He would see indescribable things and attempt to explain them with words that could never do them justice. The four living creatures, the wheels within wheels, the crystal expanse, and the sapphire thrown were all intended to depict God’s glory. Ezekiel was being given a rare opportunity to see the Almighty but in a way that produced awe and wonder instead of death.

It was the apostle Paul who described Yahweh as “the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords” (1 Timothy 6:15 NLT). And he went on to explain God’s transcendent, unapproachable nature.

He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! – 1 Timothy 6:16 NLT

It is impossible to know exactly what Ezekiel saw but that has not stopped artists from trying to depict it. But no painting, engraving, or illustration will ever be able to capture the glory of God.

Every aspect of Ezekiel’s vision was meant to reinforce the greatness and glory of God. The four different faces of the four living creatures reveal that God is sovereign over all creation. He rules over humanity, the wild beasts, domesticated animals, and the birds of the air – because He made them all. And the wheels within wheels were intended to depict God’s omnipresence; completely unhindered by time or space. According to Ezekiel, the wheels “went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” ( Ezekiel 1:17 ESV). The rims of the wheels were covered with eyes, illustrating the omniscience of God. He knows all because He sees all.

And He accomplishes all this while sitting on His throne above the great expanse. Ezekiel’s focus becomes fixed upon “a figure whose appearance resembled a man” (Ezekiel 1:26 NLT). But He is far from human in nature.

From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. – Ezekiel 1:27-28 NLT

This is no ordinary king seated on a man-made throne. It is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Ezekiel is being given a glimpse of God Almighty, but it is a representation and not the real thing.

“It was a deeply-held tenet of Israelite religion from Moses onwards that God could not be visibly expressed, and for that very reason idolatry was out. But given the possibility of a theophany, no form but the human form could conceivably have been used to represent the Deity. It was, however, no mere human that Ezekiel saw: His radiance was surrounded by the glory of a rainbow, and the prophet could show his awe in no other way than by falling on his face in the dust before his God.” – L. E. Cooper Sr., Ezekiel

It is interesting to note that Ezekiel does not attempt to describe God’s face or countenance. All he writes about is the appearance of gleaming metal, fire, and brightness. According to Paul, God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16 ESV). The psalmist states that God “wraps Himself in light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2 BSB). The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of God and he described it in similar terms.

…the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 ESV

Both Daniel and Ezekiel were given the privilege of seeing God’s glory, and both found it nearly impossible to put it into words. They were struck by the brightness of His very presence. He emanated light so bright that it could only be described as burning fire. It was intense and virtually unapproachable. This imagery reflects the holiness and purity of God. It was the apostle John who wrote, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV).

This majestic, all-knowing, holy, omnipresent God of the universe was reminding Ezekiel that He was still on His throne and well aware of the fate of the people of Judah. He had not turned His back on them. His power had not diminished and His love for them had not faded. The all-powerful, ever-loving, always-faithful God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was about to deliver a message to His chosen people and He had chosen Ezekiel as His messenger. God had gotten Ezekiel’s attention, and now Ezekiel was ready to listen to what his glorious God had to say.

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. – Ezekiel 1:28 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.

A Vision of Things to Come

15 And he took up his discourse and said,

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!”

20 Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,

“Amalek was the first among the nations,
    but its end is utter destruction.”

21 And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,

“Enduring is your dwelling place,
    and your nest is set in the rock.
22 Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned
    when Asshur takes you away captive.”

23 And he took up his discourse and said,

“Alas, who shall live when God does this?
24     But ships shall come from Kittim
and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;
    and he too shall come to utter destruction.”

25 Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way. Numbers 24:15-25 ESV

Balaam, the seer, had seen and heard all he needed to determine the will of Jehovah. No more altars were necessary and there was no need to spill the blood of another animal. God had made Himself perfectly clear and had left nothing up to doubt or debate. While King Balak was still holding out hope that a curse of the Israelites was forthcoming, In a sense, Balaam was saying, “I can see clearly now!”

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open…” – Numbers 24:15-16 NLT

There was no further need to consult with the Lord. This newly enlightened soothsayer was transformed into a spokesman of God and given a series of disturbing prophecies to deliver to King Balak. First, true to his reputation as a seer, Balaam spoke of seeing an individual whose arrival was sometime in the foreseeable future.

“I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

And Balaam informs King Balak that the origins of this coming one would be of a supernatural nature and accompanied by kingly authority.

“…a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

From the very people group that Balak had hoped to curse would come a future king.

“That stars could be used metaphorically for kings is suggested by Isaiah 14:12, where the king of Babylon is called ‘Day Star’, and Revelation 22:16, which calls Jesus ‘the offspring of David, the bright morning star.’ That a king is meant here is confirmed by the second line of the couplet: a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, a sceptre being part of the royal insignia (Ps. 45:6; Amos 1:5,8; Gen. 49:10).” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

And that king will “crush the forehead of Moab” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the king of Moab, the title held by Balak. This bit of bad news only confirmed Balak’s earlier suspicions and further fueled his desire to see the Israelites cursed. They were a direct threat to his rule and reign.

But the news only gets worse. Balaam goes on to mention the sons of Sheth as well as the kingdoms of Edom and Seir. This coming king would break down and dispossess them all.

“Edom will be taken over,
    and Seir, its enemy, will be conquered,
    while Israel marches on in triumph.” – Numbers 24:18 NLT

No one would be able to stand against God’s appointed leader and His chosen people. That included the Amalekites and the Kenites. This future king would be powerful and successful in leading the Israelites against all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. And this prophecy was right in line with the blessing that Jacob had given to his son Judah centuries earlier.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

Whether he realized it or not, Balaam was being used by God to confirm that very prophecy. The promise of a future king who would come from the tribe of Judah was still yet to be fulfilled. There is sense in which much of this prophecy was fulfilled under the reign of King David, a member of the tribe of Judah. David would prove to be a warrior-king whose military victories helped put Israel on the map politically speaking. He would expand the boundaries of Israel through military conquest and create one of the most powerful nations on the face of the earth at that time. And he would bequeath that nation to his son, Solomon, who would continue to build and expand the kingdom of Israel. But the day would come when Solomon’s kingdom would be divided in half, never again to enjoy its former glory. So, the final phase of Balaam’s prophecy remains unfulfilled.

“Alas, who can survive
    unless God has willed it?
Ships will come from the coasts of Cyprus;
    they will oppress Assyria and afflict Eber,
but they, too, will be utterly destroyed.” – Numbers 24:23-24 NLT

This appears to be a reference to future kingdoms that will come to power in the region and attempt to overthrow God’s people. But even these powers-to-be will meet a similar fate as the Moabites, Kenites, and Edomites. They will be utterly destroyed by God’s people with the help of the “star” who holds the “scepter” in his hand. And the book of Revelation predicts this coming time when a descendant of Jacob from the tribe of Judah will bring victory over all of Israel’s enemies once and for all.

To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end,

To them I will give authority over all the nations.
They will rule the nations with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.

They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star! – Revelation 2:26-28 NLT

And in Revelation 22, the apostle John provides insight into the identity of “the morning star.”

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

Jesus is the one of whom Balaam prophesied. He is the one who will bring destruction to the enemies of Israel. And the apostle John was given a vision of this end-times event, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

There is no way that Balaam understood the full import of his words. He had no way of seeing into the future and identifying this conquering king to come. But once he had delivered his Spirit-inspired message to King Balak, he went on his way. And Balak was left to consider the words of Jehovah and the impact they might have on his life and kingdom.

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.

Man Rages and God Laughs

13 And Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there.” 14 And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offering, while I meet the Lord over there.” 16 And the Lord met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak.” 17 And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?” 18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said,

“Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19 God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20 Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
21 He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
    and the shout of a king is among them.
22 God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23 For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
24 Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.”

25 And Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.” 26 But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the Lord says, that I must do’?” Numbers 23:13-26 ESV

Balak was doggedly determined in his efforts to have the Israelites cursed. And he seems to have believed that Balaam’s reluctance to do so was based on fear of their overwhelming numbers. After all, from his earlier vantage point, Balaam had stressed the size of the Israelite camp.

“I see them from the cliff tops;
    I watch them from the hills.
I see a people who live by themselves,
    set apart from other nations.
Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust?
    Who can count even a fourth of Israel’s people?” – Numbers 23:9-10 NLT

So, Balak suggested a change of venue where Balaam’s view of the Israelite encampment might be somewhat restricted. Perhaps if the seer saw fewer Israelites he would be less wary of issuing a curse on them.

“Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there.” – Numbers 23:13 NLT

Balak’s desperation was at an all-time high, and he was willing to do anything to ensure that his hired diviner carried out his assignment. He even built seven more altars and sacrificed an additional seven bulls in the hopes that this location might create the right environment for Balaam to conjure up a devastating curse on the enemy camp. But, once again, Balaam informed the king that he would have to consult Jehovah, the God of the Israelites.

“Stand here by your burnt offerings while I go over there to meet the Lord.” – Numbers 23: 15 NLT

By this point, Balaam knew that he would be a fool to do anything that angered Israel’s God. It wasn’t the size of Israel’s camp that scared Balaam; it was the power of their God. Yet, there seems to be a part of Balaam that hoped he could convince Jehovah to change His mind. Why else would he agree to offer additional sacrifices and call on Jehovah yet again? He must have harbored hopes that this time would be different.

“Balaam is constantly shifting, prevaricating, equivocating, changing—he is himself the prime example of the distinction between God and man.” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

But, unlike Balaam, God would prove to be unchanging in His covenant commitment to Israel. He was not fickle or easily swayed to change His mind. So, when Balaam heard from God a second time, the message he received was aimed directly at Balak and it contained a stern lesson concerning God’s faithfulness and His commitment to bless His chosen people. There was nothing Balaam or Balak could do to alter His plans for the nation of Israel.

First, God had Balaam teach Balaam the doctrine of divine immutability.

“Rise up, Balak, and listen!
    Hear me, son of Zippor.
God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:18-19 NLT

Jehovah was not anything like the false gods that Balak worshiped. He wasn’t a human on steroids, a mere man with supernatural powers and a flawed character. Israel’s God was otherworldly and without equal. He could not be bought off, coerced, or expected to do anything that would violate His divine will.

And Balaam delivered the less-than-encouraging news that there was nothing he could do to thwart God’s plans for Israel.

“God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!
No misfortune is in his plan for Jacob;
    no trouble is in store for Israel.
For the Lord their God is with them;
    he has been proclaimed their king.” – Numbers 23:20-21 NLT

This not-so-subtle point was aimed directly at Balak. God was letting this inconsequential king know he was no match for the one true King. Balak was outclassed and out of his league. His paltry army and insignificant kingdom were up against the God of the universe and the odds were totally against him. And Balaam was forced to admit that his parlor tricks would be of no use against the all-powerful God of Israel.

“God brought them out of Egypt;
    for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.” – Numbers 23:22-23 NLT

Whether Balaam realized it or not, he was echoing the failures of the Egyptian magicians who had tried to replicate the supernatural miracles of Moses.

So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded them. When Aaron raised his hand and struck the ground with his staff, gnats infested the entire land, covering the Egyptians and their animals. All the dust in the land of Egypt turned into gnats. Pharaoh’s magicians tried to do the same thing with their secret arts, but this time they failed. – Exodus 8:17-18 NLT

Magicians and magistrates are powerless against Jehovah. Human kings and kingdoms have no hope of victory against the King of kings. And the psalmist pointed out the futility of attempting to wage war against the Almighty.

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.” – Psalm 2:1-6 ESV

The King on Zion had one last bit of bad news for the king of Moab. And this final part of the message must have left Balak on the verge of depression.

“For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’
These people rise up like a lioness,
    like a majestic lion rousing itself.
They refuse to rest
    until they have feasted on prey,
    drinking the blood of the slaughtered!” – Numbers 23:23-24 NLT

Desperate to find a silver lining on this dark cloud of depressing news, Balak pleaded with Balaam, “if you won’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!” (Numbers 23:25 NLT). He was grasping for any semblance of hope among all the doom and gloom of Balaam’s latest message. But, once again, the hapless sage was forced to confess his powerlessness to do anything that would conflict with God’s will.

“Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?” – Numbers 23:26 NLT

But it will become evident that Balak was just as unchanging and immutable as Jehovah. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the stubborn potentate would try one last time to convince Balaam to curse the Israelites. It was his only hope. But his stubbornness would prove to be no match for God’s covenant faithfulness.

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

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

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

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. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

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 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“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. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

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

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

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

Future Blessings

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
    listen to Israel your father.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father’s bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
    O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
    and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
    and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
    and scatter them in Israel.

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
    and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.– Genesis 49:1-12 ESV

Nearing death, Jacob called his 12 sons to him. It was time for him to share his patriarchal blessing on the young men who would carry on the legacy of his name and play vital roles in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jacob understood that his time on earth was over and it was time to pass the baton the next generation of Israelites. It would be through them that God would create a great nation that would eventually return to and fill the land of Canaan.

As Jacob gathered his sons around him, he pronounced a prophetic word concerning each of their futures. This section of Genesis is written in a poetic style, but is no less historical or reliable. In it, the words of Jacob are intended to convey future realities that will be based on the sovereign will of God as it is played out through the personalities and character qualities of each son. His 12 sons, each bearing distinctively different temperaments, will be the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jacob, under divine inspiration, conveys to each of them the vital, yet divergent, roles they will play in the creation of the Israelite nation. No two sons is alike and the tribes that will emanate from them will end up reflecting their disparate characters.

Beginning with the oldest to the youngest, Jacob delivers a brief, yet powerful prophetic pronouncement concerning each son. And what they heard must have surprised and confused them. It is not clear whether they knew about the blessing he had given to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” – Genesis 48:20 ESV

Jacob had already made the unexpected decision to adopt Joseph’s two sons, born to him by an Egyptian woman. Jacob had chosen to make his two grandsons heirs to his inheritance, placing them on equal standing with his own sons. He had declared a powerful and irrevocable blessing on both of them.

“…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 48:16 ESV

And while Jacob had frustrated Joseph by purposefully awarding the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim, the younger of his two sons, Jacob had also assured that Joseph that Manasseh would not be forgotten.

“He 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

But now Jacob turned his attention to his own sons, speaking over them a word of blessing and prophecy.

“Each son learned how his branch of the family would benefit from and be a channel of blessing relative to the patriarchal promises. The natural character of each son and the consequences of that character would have their outcome in the future of the Israelites. The choices and consequently the characters of the patriarchs affected their descendants for generations to come, as is usually true.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

It is unlikely that Jacob understood the full import of his own words. Much of what he had to say to his sons was future-oriented, stretching from the not-so-distant future all the way to the Millennial Age. Jacob did not possess the power of clairvoyance. He could not see into the future or discern with accuracy and confidence the outcome of his words, but he knew that what he was saying was divinely inspired.

Like any loving father, Jacob longed for each of his sons to be successful and to leave a lasting legacy that would positively impact the world in which they lived. So, beginning with Reuben, his firstborn, Jacob delivered a brief, but timeless prediction concerning each of their fates.

Reuben was in for a not-so-pleasant surprise. Because of his ill-fated decision to sleep with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), he would forfeit his right to the blessing of the firstborn. It must have stung Reuben deeply to hear his father pronounce, “you will be first no longer.
For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch” (Genesis 49:4 NLT). Like his uncle, Esau, Reuben had allowed his physical passions to rule over him and rob him of his rightful place of prominence and power among his brothers. And his decision would have long-lasting effects, determining the fate of his future descendants.

Simeon and Levi were probably also a bit surprised when they heard their father’s pronouncement over them. These two sons had brought shame to the name of Jacob by murdering all the men of Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah (Genesis 34). They had chosen to take matters into their own hands and, as a result, had made the Israelites “stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites” (Genesis 34:30 NLT). Now, they were having to pay the consequences for their rash and costly action.

Yet, despite the rather negative nature of Jacob’s words concerning Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, he still declared that they would each enjoy fruitfulness and future blessings from God. Their natural role as leaders over the clan had been forfeited but not their right to enjoy status as heirs of the patriarchal blessing.

At this point, Jacob turns his attention to Judah, and it is to this son that he dedicates the greatest portion of his time and his most positive statements of praise and prophetic revelation. Among all his brothers, Judah was destined to play the most vital role of all. It must have been a rather awkward moment when Jacob declared of Judah in the hearing of all his brothers, “your brothers shall praise youyour father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV). For each of the sons, this would have brought back the memories of Joseph’s dreams. And while those dreams had already been fulfilled, now they were hearing that they would have to bow before yet another brother.

And while Jacob’s words would have short-term implications, he was really speaking of events that lie in the distant future. The tribe of Judah would become a leading faction among the nation of Israel, but it would not be until the coming of the Messiah that most of these prophecies would be fulfilled.

Jacob declared that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10 ESV), and this would eventually be fulfilled through King David and his royal line. But it would ultimately be fulfilled with the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lord, the Messiah of Israel.

All of the imagery used by Jacob points to a future fulfillment that has yet to take place. Even during the days when Moses penned these words, the people of Israel had not yet entered the land of promised, the dynasty of David had not yet come, and the prediction of Judah’s preeminence had not yet taken place. But it would. All of those things would come to pass, just as Jacob predicted. Yet, even today, the scepter has passed from the hand of Judah. There is no king in Israel. No son of David sits on the throne in Jerusalem. But the day is coming when even those prophetic words will be fulfilled.

Jacob declared some rather cryptic words concerning the future of Judah that must have left each of the brothers scratching their heads in confusion.

“He ties his foal to a grapevine,
    the colt of his donkey to a choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.” – Genesis 49:11 NLT

None of this would have made sense to them. This imagery is nonsensical and counterintuitive. No one would tie his foal to a grapevine. To do so would end up damaging the valuable vine. And who in their right mind would wash garments in wine? The result would be far from productive or beneficial.

Yet, Jacob was predicting a future event that would result in the judgment of Israel. Though he did not know it at the time, Jacob was predicting the coming of the seed of Judah who would rule and reign over Israel. Jesus would be the Son of David who would be the foal who was tied to the vine of Israel. God would send His Son to be the relatively innocent looking and unimpressive Rabbi whose very existence would bring judgment upon the God-blessed, but rebellious vine of Israel.

And the day will come when this very same Son of David will return to earth and wash his garments in the blood (wine) of His enemies – all those who refuse to recognize Him as the Messiah and Savior sent from God, including the people of Israel. The book of Revelation describes the day when the King will return to earth a second time and “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13 13 ESV).

And the apostle John goes on to declare that the Messiah “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 19:15-16 ESV).

Jacob was speaking of future events both near and distant. And God would see that each and every statement made by the dying patriarch would be fulfilled at just the right time and in perfect keeping with His divine will.

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

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

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

A Sign of Things to Come

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

In these closing verses of Haggai’s prophecy, he records a somewhat enigmatic statement made by God concerning Zerubbabel. Up to this point, all that has been revealed about Zerubabbal is his role as the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21). But Haggai has repeatedly described Zerubbabel as “the son of Shealtiel” (Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2). While it was not uncommon to describe someone’s patriarchal lineage in this manner, Haggai’s repeated mention of Zerubbabel’s “father” is particularly interesting and will take on greater significance as we examine these closing verses.

Zerubbabel’s designation as the son of Shealtiel establishes him as a grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah. Jehoiachin was a direct descendant of King David and one of the last kings to sit on the Davidic throne ruling over the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoiachin shared David’s bloodline, but not his great-great grandfather’s love for Yahweh. The book of 2 Chronicles describes his short reign and ignoble end.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:9-10 ESV

According to the book of 1 Chronicles, Jehoiachin had a number of sons. Two of them play important roles in Haggai’s narrative. One was Shealtiel and the other was Pedaiah. A close look at the following passage reveals an important clue to Zerubbabel’s identity and provides insights into the final four verses of Haggai’s prophecy.

The sons of Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner by the Babylonians, were Shealtiel, Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah.

The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. – 1 Chronicles 3:17-19 NLT

Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel. This would have made Zerubbabel the nephew of Shealtiel. But it would appear that there is something else going on here. In ancient days, it was important that the family name be preserved because the inheritance was passed down from father to son. In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the Mosaic Law describes what is often referred to as levirate marriage.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 25:5-6 ESV

The word levirate comes from the Latin word levir, which means “a husband’s brother.” A levirate marriage, therefore, is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” According to the 1 Chronicles 3 passage, it would appear that Pedaiah, the son of Jehoiachin, died not long after his wife gave birth to Zerubbabel. Then his brother, Shealtiel adopted Zerubbabel as his own son, in order to help preserve his brother’s lineage. Or, it could be that Pedaiah died before Zerubbabel was born, and according to the law of levirate marriage, Shealtiel married his brother’s widow and she bore Zerubbabel. Either way, Zerubbabel would have been a direct descendant of King David and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne.

What makes the idea of levirate marriage a likely explanation to Zerubbabel’s heritage is the way God refers to him in these closing verses of Haggai’s book. On the very same day that God vowed to bless the people of Judah, He had Haggai deliver a very specific and highly personal message to Zerubbabel. God tells the governor of a coming day when He will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “overthrow kingdoms” (Haggai 2:21-22 ESV). On that future day, God would “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

It is important to note that God gave this message directly to Zerubbabel and not to Joshua the high priest or the people. For some reason, God has set apart the governor and made him the sole recipient of this message of future divine judgment. What is significant is God’s repeated mention of kings and kingdoms. He promises Zerubbabel that a day is coming when He will overthrow and destroy all the kingdoms of the nations. This message is being given to a man who rules as governor over the disheveled and demoralized nation of Judah. They have no king. They can muster no army. And they are surrounded by enemies who constantly harass and threaten them. But God predicts a day when the tables will turn. And, amazingly, God informs Zerubbabel that he will have a role to play in that future reversal of fortunes takes place.

“On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:23 ESV

This message must have struck Zerubbabel like a ton of bricks. It was unexpected and must have come across as highly unlikely. A simple glance around him would have revealed to Zerubbabel a scene of disarray and disappointment. The city of Jerusalem remained in a state of disrepair. The construction of God’s house was incomplete and the nation was still suffering from the impact of the recent drought. And yet, here was God declaring to Zerubbabel that he was his chosen servant. He describes Zerubbabel as His “signet ring” – the symbol of a king’s authority and power. Affixed to the ring was an emblem that represented the king’s house. That emblem was impressed into wax in order to seal official documents and to designate them as authentic.

God was telling Zerubbabel that he would play the role of a signet ring or the official representation of kingly authority. What makes this so significant is the curse that God had placed on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “I will abandon you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, those you so desperately fear—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country, not in your native land. You will never again return to the land you yearn for.” – Jeremiah 22:24-27 NLT

Jehoiachin had proven to be an unfaithful king and a lousy bearer of God’s image. He was like a signet ring that no longer bore the image of its owner. Useless as a symbol of God’s authority, power, and honor, Jehoiachin had been set aside by God. But an unlikely descendant of this discarded king would be used by God to bring about the destruction of the kingdoms of the earth.

In this passage, Zerubbabel is presented as a type of Christ. He is a descendant of David and a rightful heir to the throne. And through him would come the Messiah, the one true servant of God who would fulfill all the promises and prophecies concerning Israel and the nations. The gospel of Matthew records the lineage of Jesus, and in it, we find the name of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel.

After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:12-16 NLT

Zerubbabel appears in the family tree of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And what makes this so remarkable is that God had placed a curse on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’” – Jeremiah 22:30 NLT

But remember, according to 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah. Yet, according to God’s sovereign will, He had arranged for Zerubbabel to be raised by his uncle, Shealtiel. Rather than Zerubbabel being the result of levirate marriage, it seems more likely that he was born to Pedaiah. But when his father died, Zerubbabel become the ward of his uncle, Shealtiel, and was raised like his son. This would have effectively bypassed the curse placed on Shealtiel by God.

Through Zerubbabel, God would raise up another unlikely heir who would sit on the throne of David and fulfill all the promises found in verses 21-22 of Haggai 2. Like a signet ring in the hand of God Almighty, Zerubbabel would become a seal of divine authority and power, guaranteeing the authenticity of God’s promises for the future.

Zerubbabel would die long before Jesus was born. Yet, his name is memorialized in the lineage of Jesus. He lives on as a symbol of God’s power and authority, like a signet ring that bears the image of its owner and authenticates His sovereign will over all things. God was not done with Judah. He had restored them to the land but He had far greater plans in place for them as a nation. Through the tribe of Judah was come the Lion of Judah. Zerubbabel was another in the long line of unlikely and undeserving individuals whom God used to accomplish His grand redemptive plan of salvation. And one day, God will fulfill His promise “to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

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

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

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

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

Enemy Intel

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. Luke 4:31-37ESV

After having escaped the wrath of his disbelieving neighbors in Nazareth, Jesus made His way to Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. As before, Jesus was invited to address the congregation at the local synagogue on the Sabbath. And, once again, those who heard Him speak “were astonished at his teaching” (Luke 4:32 ESV). Evidently, Jesus spoke with a sense of power and authority that was like nothing they had ever heard before. Luke does not divulge the content of Jesus’ teaching, but it seems likely that it would have been similar to what He had shared in Nazareth. It would have been natural for Jesus to read from the Torah, which contained the first five books of the Old Testament. But in most synagogues in the 1st-Century, it was also a common practice to read from the books of the Law and the Prophets. That’s why Jesus read from the book of Isaiah in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. This practice is mentioned in the book of Acts.

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” – Acts 13:13-15 ESV

Later on in his gospel, Luke records the interaction between the recently resurrected Jesus and two of His followers, who were traveling on the road to Emmaus. These two dejected disciples had been discussing the crucifixion of Jesus when He suddenly appeared by their side as they walked. They did not immediately recognize Him, but as Jesus walked alongside them, He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NLT). And later on, when they realized that they had been talking with the risen Lord, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NLT).

So, as Jesus opened up the Scriptures on that Sabbath day in Capernaum, He may have used the Word of God to reveal His identity to them. But whatever Jesus said, Luke reports that “his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32 ESV). The Greek word he used to describe the teaching of Jesus is exousia, which can also be translated as “one who possesses authority.” Jesus didn’t simply read Scripture and then share His opinion, He spoke with a sense of right and privilege, as the Son of God who was Himself the incarnate Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

While the majority of His audience were amazed by His teaching, there was one individual who made the connection between His words and His identity. Luke reports that “there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon” (Luke 4:33 ESV). And in the midst of Jesus’ teaching, the demon within this man suddenly interrupted the proceedings by causing him to shout, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34 ESV).

One of the first questions we should ask is why this man was in the synagogue, to begin with? If the people of Capernaum knew He was demon-possessed, he would have been considered unclean and unfit for entrance into this place of worship. Perhaps they were unaware of his condition, or it could that he entered the room unexpectedly while everyone was listening to Jesus speak. But regardless of how the man got there, the demon within him immediately recognized who Jesus was and revealed an awareness of why He had come. Evidently, the demon spoke on behalf of his companions, who had also taken up residence within this poor man.

While the rest of the audience recognized that Jesus spoke with authority, the demons understood the exact nature of that authority, and they feared the worst. The primary demon expressed their concern that Jesus had come to destroy them. They understood Him to be “the Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34 ESV), the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. And the demons seemed to be aware that Jesus possessed a power and authority that was greater than their own. Not only could He dispossess them, but He could also destroy them.

But before the demon could say anything more, Jesus shouted, “Be silent and come out of him!” (Luke 4:35 ESV). And at the word of Jesus, the demons were cast out, causing the man to collapse on the floor, exhausted but completely unharmed. And all those who witnessed this encounter were left slack-jawed and amazed. They whispered among themselves, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV).

They had just witnessed the authority of Jesus on full display and were left thoroughly blown away by the experience. They had never seen anything like this before. But what they didn’t fully realize was that Jesus had just demonstrated His Messianic power and proven His right to rule and reign. He had authority over both the natural and spiritual realms. Even the demons were subject to His word.

And with this miracle, Jesus gave evidence that His claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was true. When He had read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, He had boldly proclaimed, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). And one of the things Jesus had claimed He had been anointed by the Spirit of God to do was to “proclaim liberty to the captives” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed(Luke 4:18 ESV). And the man who stood in the synagogue that day was now demon-free thanks to the Holy One of God.

And, as one would expect, “The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region” (Luke 4:37 NLT). The rumors spread. His reputation grew. And the interest in this rabbi from Nazareth increased with each passing day. But apart from the confession of the demon, most people were still unsure of just who Jesus was and what He had come to do. They were impressed with His power, amazed by His words, and curious about His identity, but not quite ready to deem Him the Holy One of God.

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

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

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

The Impeccable Timing of God

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7 ESV

Chapter one ends with the note: “the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80 ESV). In a single sentence, Luke compresses the timeline of John’s life, taking the reader from his birth to the early days of his earthly ministry. In the space of 23 words, Luke has taken John from the womb to the wilderness. The one appointed to herald the arrival of the Messiah is now positioned to perform his God-ordained role. It appears that, at an early age, John left the confines of his family home and relocated to the wilderness of Judah, where he lived an ascetic lifestyle. Matthew records that John lived a simple and somewhat spartan life.

Now John wore clothing made from camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:4 NLT

When the angel Gabriel had announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, he had added the command that they were to deny him access to “wine or strong drink” (Luke 1:15). He would be Spirit-filled (Luke 1:15) and his entire life would be dedicated to one purpose: To prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Matthew records that, when John was questioned as to his identity, he responded:

“I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:23 NLT 

He was quoting directly from Isaiah 40:3, where, centuries earlier, the prophet had recorded his Spirit-inspired prophecy concerning John’s future earthly ministry.

A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God. – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

The messenger was in place. Now John turns his attention to the birth of the Messiah. To do so, he begins by setting up the historical setting into which the Son of God would be born. As we have seen before, Luke puts a high priority on time and timing. He goes out of his way to convey that the birth of the Messiah took place at a particular time and in a very specific place, according to the perfectly timed will of God.

He begins chapter two with the mention of two important individuals, which helps to place the birth of Jesus within a historical context.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. This was the first registration, taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. – Luke 2:1-2 NLT

The first man mentioned in this passage is Augustus Caesar, who served as the emperor of Rome from 63 BC to AD 14. His birth name was Gaius Octavius, and he was the nephew of Julius Caesar. His uncle eventually adopted him and appointed him to be his successor. Upon Julius’ death, Gaius Octavius found his path to the throne blocked by others who aspired to the position. But eventually, he consolidated his power and secured his role as the first Roman emperor.

Another interesting and pertinent note regarding Augustus Caesar was his reputation as a divine being. In 42 BC, the Roman Senate had officially declared his uncle, Julius Caesar, to be divine, giving him the title of divus Iulius (“the divine Julius”). When he became the Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar would assume the title of divi filius (“son of the god”). And it is no coincidence that Jesus, the true Son of God, was born during the reign of this man-appointed god.

The other individual Luke mentions is Quirinius, who is said to have been the governor of Syria. There has been much debate about this statement because, at the time Jesus was born, Herod the Great was governor. Some argue that this is evidence of a biblical error. But the easier and more likely explanation is that Luke is referring to two different censuses that were taken. Historically, we know that Quirinius served as governor on two different occasions (3-2 BC and AD 6-7). Herod had served as governor until 4 BC. The first census went out during his governorship, which places the birth of Jesus sometime around late 5 or early 4 BC

The phrase, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” can better be translated as “This was the first registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Luke is differentiating between two different censuses.  During the governorship of Herod, Augustus Caesar issued his first census, which required that Joseph return to his ancestral town of Bethlehem in order to be registered for taxation purposes. Augustus Caesar would later issue another decree which called for a second census. This took place somewhere around AD 6 and 7. It is mentioned by Luke in the book of Acts (Acts 5:37). The Jewish historian Josephus also mentions this second census and links it to an uprising led by Judas of Galilee. Luke is simply trying to provide “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) that gives an accurate portrayal of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

This decree, issued by the Roman Emperor, required that each Jew be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 2:3 ESV). As stated earlier, this census was for taxation purposes. Since land was one of the greatest assets any Jew possessed, they were required to return to their hometown in order to assess the value of their inherited property. Since Joseph was of “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), he returned to the small town of Bethlehem, where his ancestor, David, had been born.

Once again, Luke is emphasizing the role that timing played in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Had not the emperor issued his decree when he did, Joseph would not have made the trip to Bethlehem, especially with a pregnant wife. But he was required by law to travel from Nazareth in Galilee all the way to Bethlehem in Judah. This would have been a 90-mile trek that took as many as four days to make. But it was all part of God’s sovereign plan and so that the prophetic promises found in Scripture might be fulfilled. Centuries earlier, the prophet Micah had recorded that the Messiah would be born in the small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 NLT

And Luke announces that while Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to give birth. This was all part of God’s impeccable timing. Luke wants the reader to know that every aspect of this story was divinely preordained and happened according to plan. There was no chance involved. Nothing was left to fate. From Caesar’s decree to Joseph’s lineage, it was all part of God’s sovereign will. And Luke ends this section by stating that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 ESV).

The Son of God had entered the world, but there was no place for Him. Rather than giving birth to the King of kings in a well-appointed palace assisted by servants and in an atmosphere of splendor, Mary was forced to deliver God incarnate in less-than-regal surroundings. There were no royal dignitaries present. The birth of the heir-apparent was not met with the cheers of adoring citizens. The humble village of Bethlehem was a far cry from the royal palace in Jerusalem. But this was the way God intended for His Son to enter the world. And the apostle Paul described the Messiah’s invasion of earth in stark but highly significant terms.

though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

As Mary and Joseph looked at their small, newborn son, they were filled with the usual awe and wonder that all parents feel at such a time. But there must have been a certain amount of fear and apprehension. What did the future hold for their Son? What would it be like raising the Son of God? And as they celebrated the joyous occasion of their son’s birth and pondered His uncertain future, the rest of the world went on as usual. They were completely unaware that anything of significance had taken place.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy One of Israel

20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

22 “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
24 I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’

25 “Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
26 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

27 “But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
28 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

29 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this.

32 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 19:20-37 ESV

This is essentially the story of three kings. First, there is King Sennacherib, the sovereign ruler over the rapidly expanding Assyrian empire. He is the commander-in-chief of one of the most powerful armies on earth, and his ambitious plans of global conquest have met with little to no resistance. Kingdom after kingdom has fallen before his army and now he has his sights set on the nation of Judah, where Hezekiah, the second king in our story, rules from his throne in Jerusalem. But King Hezekiah finds himself in the unenviable position of ruling over a city under siege. His capital city is surrounded by the Assyrian army and he has been given an ultimatum to surrender or face annihilation.

Two kings. One is dressed in his royal robes and reveling in the indisputable reality of his own success. The other has discarded his regal attire for sackcloth and ashes, the garments of mourning. Sennacherib is a confident and self-assured king who sees no end to his plans for global conquest and domination. He is unstoppable. And it would appear that Hezekiah agrees with that assessment because he has turned to Yahweh for help. With his city completely surrounded and his allies nowhere to be seen, Hezekiah has called on the God of Judah to come to their aid.

“O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God.” – 2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT

This penitent petition engages the attention of the third king in our story.  From His royal throne room in heaven, God heard the humble and contrite prayer of the king of Judah and immediately responded with an answer. The sovereign King of kings, who rules over all the kingdoms of the earth, sent a message to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah.

But this message, while delivered to King Hezekiah, was really directed at Sennacherib. God, the King of all kings, had a few choice words for the pompous and prideful potentate of Assyria. He warns the over-confident king that his plans for Judah’s conquest will fail.

“The virgin daughter of Zion
    despises you and laughs at you.
The daughter of Jerusalem
    shakes her head in derision as you flee. – 2 Kings 19:21 NLT

Despite Sennacherib’s boastful claims, Jerusalem will remain pure and undefiled, her walls unbreached and her population spared the indignities of conquest or capture. The day is coming when the citizens of Jerusalem will rejoice and celebrate as the Assyrians abandon their siege and disappear over the horizon.

Sennacherib had made the fateful mistake of mocking the wrong deity, and Yahweh let him know that his derisive and disrespectful words were going to cost him. He had offended the Holy One of Israel and would soon suffer the consequences for his error. But first, God points out Sennacherib’s primary problem: His pride.

“By your messengers you have defied the Lord.
    You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest corners
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – 2 Kings 19:23-24 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from a terminal “I” condition. His unbridled success had gone to his head and he had begun to believe that he was invincible and, in a sense, divine. By his own boastful admission, Sennacherib had claimed that the kings of Assyria had defeated the gods of all their enemies.

“Have the gods of other nations rescued them—such nations as Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel-assar? My predecessors destroyed them all! What happened to the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad? What happened to the kings of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?” – 2 Kings 19:12-13 NLT

And he was convinced that Yahweh, the God of Judah, would fair no better than any of the other gods. But what Sennacherib failed to understand was that Yahweh was the sovereign ruler over all the nations of the world. The Assyrian’s rise to global dominance had been a part of God’s preordained plan. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands and actors in His divine drama that will culminate in the redemption and restoration of all creation.

God let Sennacherib know that he had no right to boast or brag. He could take no credit for any of his success. It had all been according to the sovereign will of the King of the universe.

“I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.
That is why their people have so little power
    and are so frightened and confused.
They are as weak as grass,
    as easily trampled as tender green shoots.
They are like grass sprouting on a housetop,
    scorched before it can grow lush and tall.” – 2 Kings 19:25-26 NLT

This message, while directed at Sennacherib, was meant to encourage Hezekiah. It was intended as a well-timed reminder to the king of Judah that his God was sovereign over all things. Regardless of the circumstances of life, the people of God can and should rest in the fact that their God reigns.

“…the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” – Daniel 4:17 NLT

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
 – Psalm 103:19 ESV

For the LORD Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. – Psalm 47:2 NLT

God reigns above the nations, sitting on his holy throne. – Psalm 47:8 NLT

For all the kings of the earth belong to God. – Psalm 47:9 NLT

God wanted both of these men to understand that they had nothing to do with their positions or power. Their very existence was God-ordained and God-caused. Their kingdoms and their crowns were fully attributable to God and He had the divine right to remove them from power should He so choose. Which is exactly what He warned Sennacherib was going to happen.

“I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – 2 Kings 19:28 NLT

Man’s plans must always give way to God’s sovereign will.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Sennacherib had ambitious plans for global dominance, but he would soon find that God’s plans superseded his own. And the King of the universe assured Hezekiah that He would protect Jerusalem and continue to provide for all their needs. Sennacherib and his forces would remain a threat for three more years, but God made it clear that “His armies will not enter Jerusalem. They will not even shoot an arrow at it” (2 Kings 19:32 NLT).

And as a sign to prove that He was in full control of the situation, God sent an angel who slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night. The next morning, the citizens of Jerusalem woke up to find the land outside the walls covered in corpses, but the rest of the Assyrian army was nowhere to be seen. The King of kings had displayed His sovereign power by sending a single angel to wreak havoc among the Assyrians.

And when Sennacherib returned home, he would find his days of glory and conquest come to an abrupt and ignominious end. He would be assassinated by two of his own sons. And this less-than-glorious conclusion to his life would take place in the temple of his god. The circumstances of Sennacherib’s demise should not go unnoticed. It was as the vainglorious king of Assyria was safely ensconced in his capital and worshiping in the temple of his false god that the King of kings chose to demonstrate His sovereign power over all the kingdoms of the earth. The Holy One of Israel proved yet again that He is the one and only King.

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

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

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

No Expense Spared

14 So Solomon built the house and finished it. 15 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar. From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the Most Holy Place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen. 19 The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar. 21 And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. 22 And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.

23 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. 24 Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. 25 The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. 26 The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. 27 He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. 28 And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.

29 Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30 The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms.

31 For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. 32 He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees.

33 So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, 34 and two doors of cypress wood. The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35 On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work. 36 He built the inner court with three courses of cut stone and one course of cedar beams.

37 In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid, in the month of Ziv. 38 And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it. 1 Kings 6:14-38 ESV

According to 1 Chronicles 28, David provided his son with a full set of plans for the construction of the temple. He left nothing to chance, even leaving detailed instructions for the duties of the priests and Levites, and outlining the various utensils to be used in the worship of Yahweh.

Then David gave Solomon the plans for the Temple and its surroundings, including the entry room, the storerooms, the upstairs rooms, the inner rooms, and the inner sanctuary—which was the place of atonement. David also gave Solomon all the plans he had in mind for the courtyards of the Lord’s Temple, the outside rooms, the treasuries, and the rooms for the gifts dedicated to the Lord. – 1 Chronicles 28:11-12 NLT

It is obvious from the descriptions given in these verses that David was modeling the temple according to the plans of the tabernacle that God had given to Moses. The tabernacle, while a beautiful and ornate structure, was actually little more than a glorified tent designed for easy tear down and set up, so that it could transported from one place to the other. Yet David had designed the temple to be a permanent building that would stand as a perpetual monument to the greatness of God.

Solomon spared no expense in creating this “house” for the God of Israel. He lined the walls and ceiling with imported cedar wood. He had the floors adorned with hand-crafted planks made from the finest cypress. He commissioned skilled craftsmen to carve doors made from olivewood. And following the pattern of the tabernacle and the plans provided by his father, the Solomon ensured that the temple featured a Holy Place and a Most Holy Place, sometimes referred to as the Holy of Holies. Each of these rooms had special significance and purpose, and they were designed to mirror the glory and greatness of God. Eight separate times the author mentions the prominent use of solid gold in the construction. The entire building was filled with intricately carved reliefs featuring cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.

This entire structure was meant to be a feast for the eyes. It was designed to create a virtual overload on the senses, drawing the attention of the onlooker upward and inward, into the inner recesses of the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat of God would be located. Everything about the building was meant to be symbolic or representative of a greater reality. This was intended to be the dwelling place of God on earth, and Solomon did everything in his power to ensure that this building, though built with human hands, declared the incomparable greatness of God.

For nearly seven-and-a-half years, Solomon oversaw and underwrote this ambitious project. He poured countless hours into its planning. He spent endless days orchestrating all the details surrounding its construction and allocated vast sums of money to see that it would be without equal when finally completed. This was not a side project for Solomon. While he still had a kingdom to run, he never allowed the temple to become a second-tier priority. And though he must have delegated many of the responsibilities related to its construction, he always maintained control over every aspect of its creation.

This was a labor of love that reveals Solomon’s determination to honor the God of his father. But it also displays Solomon’s own commitment to glorify the God of Israel by creating the finest temple that money and manpower could provide. Solomon wanted this to be a showplace, not to stroke his own ego, but to exalt his Yahweh as the one true God. It was to be a house fit for a King – the King of the universe. And Solomon’s unwavering determination to spare no expense in its construction reflects his grasp on the unparalleled greatness of God. Ultimately, he knew that his efforts to construct a house worthy of God would prove woefully inadequate because, like the psalmist, he understood the incomparable nature of its occupant.

O Lord my God, how great you are!
    You are robed with honor and majesty.
    You are dressed in a robe of light.
You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens;
    you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants. – Psalm 104-1-4 NLT

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

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

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