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.

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.

Jesus, King of the Jews

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:17-27 ESV

John presents the trials of Jesus in an abbreviated form, choosing to leave out many of the details provided in the Synoptic gospels. His record of these events is rather short and to the point, but the one thing he clearly intended to emphasize was the kingship of Jesus. The very first question Pilate asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33 ESV).

From Matthew’s account of this scene, it appears that the Jewish leaders had brought a series of charges against Jesus, which most likely included such things as sedition, insurrection, and an accusation that Jesus had claimed to be the King of the Jews. When Jesus had refused to answer Pilate’s question, the governor had responded with a second question.

“Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” – Matthew 27:13 ESV

Unknowingly, the Jewish religious leaders were speaking prophetically. In their attempt to convince the Roman government to put Jesus to death, they had concocted the story that Jesus was a dangerous radical who was fomenting revolution and claiming to be the rightful King of Israel. But as the events unfold, it will become increasingly clear that they did not believe what they were saying about Jesus. And yet, John will use their words against them. While they saw their mention of Jesus’ kingly aspirations as a way to get Him killed, John viewed it as the focal point of the entire narrative.

The abusive and demeaning treatment of Jesus by the Roman soldiers was intended to mock and humiliate Him.

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. – John 19:2-3 ESV

But their words, while spoken with mocking sarcasm and disdain, were actually true. They were unwittingly declaring the identity of Jesus. These unbelieving and hard-hearted Romans soldiers had become unwilling and unknowing ambassadors for God. They were making known the truth regarding the Son of God.

This brings to mind an earlier encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees that took place immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Luke records that as Jesus made His way into the city, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). But the Pharisees had accosted Jesus, demanding that He rebuke these people for their preposterous claims. But Jesus had simply responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV).

The Greek word for “stones” is lithos, and it refers to a small rock or pebble. It is the same word John the Baptist used when speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees.

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Matthew 3:9 NLT

John the Baptist had declared that God could create children out of inanimate, unthinking rocks. And Jesus had claimed that, should the Jews stopped declaring His Kingship, the common, everyday stones would pick up the cry.

So, when these unbelieving Gentile soldiers shouted, “Hail, King of the Jews!,” they were fulfilling Jesus’ prediction. The Jewish crowds had long disappeared and their voices had grown silent. The streets of Jerusalem were dark and empty, but the sound of voices declaring the Kingship of Jesus still echoed through the night.

When Pilate presented Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders, he had sarcastically declared, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14 ESV). To which they had replied, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15 ESV). And when Pilate mockingly asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?,” the chief priest of the Jews had angrily declared, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15 ESV).

Pilate mocked Jesus for claiming to be the King of the Jews. But the high priest and his companions, who because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, should have recognized Jesus for who He claimed to be, chose to reject Him instead. And they would not be content until this would-be-king was put to death. So Pilate, having decided to give into their demands, handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Once again, John provides an abbreviated account of the crucifixion. He leaves out many of the details contained in the other three gospels. But he continues to focus His attention on the kingship of Jesus. The scene shifts to a hillside outside the city walls, a location known as Golgotha, which meant “The Place of the Skull.” It was evidently a common site used by the Romans for crucifixions and that may have led to its grim-sounding name. While the other gospel writers spend a great deal of time describing the details of Jesus agonizing transition from Pilate’s residence to the place of His crucifixion, John chose to concentrate his attention on one particular and often overlooked aspect of Jesus’ death.

It was a common practice for the Romans to place a sign above the head of the one being crucified describing the nature of the crime they had committed. In this case, Pilate personally dictated what was to be inscribed on the placard that was placed above the head of Jesus.

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” – John 19:19 ESV

There is little doubt that Pilate meant this as mockery of Jesus but also as a subtleslight to the Jewish religious leaders. He knew that it would infuriate them and he was not disappointed. Pilate had ordered that the inscription be written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, insuring that the Jewish pilgrims, who had come from all over the world for the Passover celebration, would be able to read what was written.

Caiaphas, the high priest, accompanied by Annas, his father-in-law, attempted to convince Pilate to make a slight, but significant edit to the wording on the sign.

So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” – John 19:21 ESV

But Pilate refused. So, the sign that hung above the head of Jesus, declaring the nature of His crime and the reason for His death, read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The Rabbi from Nazareth was being put to death for being exactly who He claimed to be. He was killed for being the King of kings and Lord of lords.

There is a sense in which this inscription was intended as a not-so-subtle reminder to the Jews of what happens when anyone attempt to stand opposed to the rule and reign of Caesar. The sight of Jesus hanging on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns, would have been a very gruesome, yet effective means of deterring any future would-be kings.

And as the King of kings hung dying on the cross, a handful of “stones” gambled over his garments. These hardened and discompassionate Roman soldiers were attempting to profit from Jesus’ death, and little did they know that their callous actions were in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Hundreds of years earlier, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the great King David had penned these prophetic words:

For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots. – Psalm 22:16-18 ESV

And as the soldiers gambled over what they believed to be the sparse remains of Jesus’ inheritance, another group of individuals looked on in horror and heartache.

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. – John 19:25 NLT

While the soldiers were hoping to gain some small financial advantage from the death of Jesus, these women were forced to face the loss of all their hopes and dreams. For Mary, the mother of Jesus, this was not what she had been expecting. At no time over the last 33 years had Mary ever expected this outcome. As she stood watching her Son being nailed to the cross and hoisted up before the angry crowd, she must have replayed over and over again the words that Gabriel had spoken to her 33 years earlier.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And yet, here was her Son hanging on a cross rather than reigning over the house of Jacob. And to make matters worse, some of the last words she would hear her Son say simply emphasized the finality of the horrific scene she was having to endure.

“Woman, behold, your son!” – John 19:26 ESV

Jesus was letting His mother know that John would be responsible for her care from this point on. His earthly life was coming to an end. And His imminent death would also bring with it a change to His relationship with Mary. With His resurrection, Jesus would no longer be her earthly Son. He would be her King, Lord, and Savior. Everything was about to undergo a radical and revolutionary change. The insurrection the Romans feared was going to take place, but it would be nothing like what they expected. It was as Jesus had told Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 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.

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

The Light Will Shine

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
    when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
    because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
    and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication.
10 Then my enemy will see,
    and shame will cover her who said to me,
    “Where is the Lord your God?”
My eyes will look upon her;
    now she will be trampled down
    like the mire of the streets.

11 A day for the building of your walls!
    In that day the boundary shall be far extended.
12 In that day they will come to you,
    from Assyria and the cities of Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River,
    from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.
13 But the earth will be desolate
    because of its inhabitants,
    for the fruit of their deeds. Micah 7:8-13 ESV

As Micah prepares to bring his treatise to a close, he personalizes its content, addressing his own feelings as he watches all the events he has prophesied about begin to transpire. He is in distress, having to witness the very judgments God had warned about as they actually come about.

The nation is in a sorry state, filled with wicked, unethical, and immoral people. And as they stubbornly cling to their greed, selfishness, and idolatry, Micah declares his allegiance to the Lord.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord;
    I will wait for the God of my salvation;
    my God will hear me. – Micah 7:7 ESV

And in a sense, Micah is speaking on behalf of the faithful remnant who remain in Israel and Judah. Micah feels all alone, so, he speaks in the first-person singular, referring to himself with the terms, “me, my, and I.” You can sense the loneliness and isolation in his words. And they express the same sentiment the prophet Elijah felt after he had defeated the false prophets of Baal and was running from the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

Elijah traveled for 40 days and night and got as far as Mount Sinai, where he rested in a cave. It was there that God asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 NLT). And Elijah had responded to God with a pitiful and pitiable story of self-sacrifice and suffering.

“I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:10 NLT

But rather than affirm Elijah’s assessment of his situation, God had him stand outside the entrance to the cave. He then provided the prophet with a pyrotechnic show he would not soon forget.

And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12 NLT

And God followed up that divine display of His power and glory with the same question He had asked before. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13 NLT). And Elijah gave the same self-absorbed answer.

“I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” – 1 Kings 19:14 NLT

But God was not going to allow what happened on Mount Carmel to be turned into a referendum on Elijah’s sacrifice and subsequent suffering. It was not about Elijah. It was about the work that God was doing on behalf of the nation of Israel. Elijah was under the impression that he was the only one left. He was the only faithful servant of Yahweh remaining. But he was wrong. And God informed Elijah of the truth and assured him that he was far from alone. There were others.

“Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” – 1 Kings 19:18 NLT

And the same thing was true in Micah’s day. His myopic view of reality was wrong. And whether he realized it or not, his words were spoken on behalf of all those among the people of Israel who remained faithful to God. Micah may not have known their identities, but God did. So, when Micah spoke, he did so as the representative of all those Israelites who had kept their covenant commitment to Yahweh. Yes, they were few in number, but they were there.

Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
    For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.
I will be patient as the Lord punishes me,
    for I have sinned against him. – Micah 7:8-9 NLT

Micah was not the last man standing. God was not going to leave His prophet as the sole survivor of His judgment. He had preserved a remnant, a small but faithful number of His people who had refused to bow their knees to false gods or to follow the lead of Israel’s lousy leaders.

Micah expressed confidence in God’s mercy and justice, declaring that Israel’s well-deserved judgment would be followed by God’s undeserved restoration.

he will take up my case
    and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies.
The Lord will bring me into the light,
   and I will see his righteousness. – Micah 7:9 NLT

In the midst of all that was happening around him, Micah placed his hope in the character of God. He kept focusing on God’s love, mercy, and faithfulness. He fully understood the need for God’s wrath, but he also rested in what he knew of God’s righteousness and unwavering love. God was not going to abandon His own. The darkness would be followed by light. But that light would not be for the benefit of Micah alone.

The prophet knew that the day would come when God turned the tables on Israel’s enemies, all those who had taunted and mocked them by asking, “So where is the Lordthat God of yours?” (Micah 7:10 NLT). The faithful remnant would one day see their God show up and dress down their enemies, giving them what they deserved. And Micah, speaking on behalf of the remnant, shares his eager anticipation for that day.

With my own eyes I will see their downfall;
    they will be trampled like mud in the streets. – Micah 7:10 NLT

In verse 11, Micah shifts his focus to the “latter days,” which he has addressed before. This is a reference to the Millennium, that future period of time when God will re-gather and reestablish Israel in her land and place His Son on the throne of David. This will be a time marked by redemption, restoration, and the re-establishment of Israel as His chosen people. And Micah excitedly describes the unprecedented nature of those days.

In that day, Israel, your cities will be rebuilt,
    and your borders will be extended.
People from many lands will come and honor you—
    from Assyria all the way to the towns of Egypt,
from Egypt all the way to the Euphrates River,
    and from distant seas and mountains. – Micah 7:11-12 NLT

Micah was confident that God would restore Israel. And he was not alone. The prophet, Obadiah, also wrote of Israel’s future restoration by God.

“But Jerusalem will become a refuge for those who escape;
    it will be a holy place.
And the people of Israel will come back
    to reclaim their inheritance.” – Obadiah 1:17 NLT

And the prophet, Zechariah, provided further details concerning that day.

“Jerusalem will someday be so full of people and livestock that there won’t be room enough for everyone! Many will live outside the city walls. Then I, myself, will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem, says the Lord. And I will be the glory inside the city!” – Zechariah 2:4-5 NLT

But before that future day of restoration could happen, judgment would have to come. In verse 13, Micah returns to his prediction of God’s pending punishment on the nation of Israel.

But the land will become empty and desolate
    because of the wickedness of those who live there. – Micah 7:13 NLT

The future of Israel was bright, but there was going to be a period of prolonged darkness in the land as God delivered His promised judgment on them for their sins against Him. This darkness would pervade the land for generations and would still be evident when Jesus arrived on the scene at His incarnation. Jesus declared of Himself:

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” – John 3:19-20 NLT

And that darkness would remain throughout the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, ending with His death on a cross. And when He died, darkness covered the land (Matthew 27:45). But He rose from the dead. And He eventually returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the day is coming when Jesus will return.

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

The Light of the world will penetrate the darkness once again. But this time, He will bring a permanent end to the gloom of sin and death that has shrouded the world in darkness for generations. He and His Father will become the permanent source of light for the world.

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. – Revelation 21:23-24 NLT

And even in the midst of his less-than-ideal circumstances, the prophet Micah could eagerly long for that day.

He will bring me out to the light;
    I shall look upon his vindication. – Micah 7:9 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.

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

And All Ends Well

1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
    siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike the judge of Israel
    on the cheek.
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

When the Assyrian comes into our land
    and treads in our palaces,
then we will raise against him seven shepherds
    and eight princes of men;
they shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword,
    and the land of Nimrod at its entrances;
and he shall deliver us from the Assyrian
    when he comes into our land
    and treads within our border. Micah 5:1-6 ESV

One of the things that makes reading this section of Micah’s prophecy so difficult is that his timeline seems to be all over the place. One minute he is talking about end times events that remain as yet unfulfilled, and then, suddenly, he seems to be refocusing the lens of prophecy on more recent, yet still future events.

In the Hebrew Bible, verse 1 of chapter 5 is actually the last verse of chapter 4. If you recall, chapter 4 ends with these words:

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

This is meant to be a message of comfort and joy, telling the people of Judah and Jerusalem that there is a day in their future when the table will turn and they will become the conqueror rather than the conquered. But before that can take place, something else must occur.

Mobilize! Marshal your troops!
    The enemy is laying siege to Jerusalem.
They will strike Israel’s leader
    in the face with a rod. – Micah 5:1 NLT

Before the good news can be experienced, the bad news will have to take place. It’s as if Micah is refocusing the lens of the camera and allowing the people of Judah to see what is much closer on the prophetic timeline. The enemy was close at hand. Babylon was going to lay siege to Jerusalem and their leader/judge was going to suffer ignominy at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his forces. The prophet Jeremiah describes the end of Zedekiah’s reign.

Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon. So on January 15, during the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon led his entire army against Jerusalem. They surrounded the city and built siege ramps against its walls. Jerusalem was kept under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s reign.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down, and all the soldiers fled. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased King Zedekiah and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. The king of Babylon made Zedekiah watch as he slaughtered his sons. He also slaughtered all the officials of Judah at Riblah. Then he gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him in bronze chains, and the king of Babylon led him away to Babylon. Zedekiah remained there in prison until the day of his death. – Jeremiah 52:3-11 NLT

This would be the beginning of the end. The Babylonians would destroy the temple of God, slaughter the priests, and take thousands of the cities inhabitants as captives back to Babylon.

But then, just as quickly as he has prophesied bad news, Micah shifts the focus back to the far-distant future and describes the coming of another king. From the small and relatively obscure town of Bethlehem, will come another, greater ruler.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

This king would be born in the town of Bethlehem (House of Bread) in the region formerly known as Ephrathah (Fruitful). Bethlehem was the birthplace of another king of Israel, David, the man after God’s own heart. But Micah is prophesying about a time in the future when another man who shares God’s heart will be sent by God to rule over Israel. And centuries later, Matthew would make the obvious connection between Micah’s prophecy and the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
    are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
   who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” – Matthew 2:1-6 NLT

In verses 3-5, Micah collapses thousands of years of history into three short lines. Writing while under the influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Micah was being given a vision he could not fully comprehend. He was explaining future events that would span millenniums and include everything from Jesus’s first advent to His second coming.

The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
    And he will be the source of peace. – Micah 5:3-5 NLT

The Israelites would find themselves living under the oppressive rule of their enemies all the way up until the point that Jesus was born. He would arrive on the scene at the height of Rome’s rule over Judah and the surrounding region. And even long after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the nation of Israel would remain like sheep without a shepherd. Many of the Jews would be scattered abroad, forced to live outside the land of promise. And even to this day, the vast majority of the Jews live outside the nation of Israel.

But Micah speaks of a day when they will return from exile to their own land. And they will be led by this future king, the Messiah, who will become their source of strength and peace. He will provide for them the security, safety, and significance for which they have longed. This will all be in fulfillment of the prophecy found in chapter 4.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

Micah is being given a glimpse into the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal thousand-year period of time when Jesus will return to earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign in righteousness from the throne of David. The book of Revelation provides a glimpse into this future day and how it will come about.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. – Revelation 20:2-6 NLT

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ will be marked by peace, righteousness, justice, and mercy. He will rule over the world as the holy, God-appointed King of kings and Lord of lords. And it will be in fulfillment of the covenant God had made with David.

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

And with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as their righteous ruler, the people of God will have nothing to fear. At the point in time when Micah was penning these words, the Assyrians were the greatest threat to the people of Israel. The Babylonians had not yet arrived on the scene, and the Assyrians were throwing around their weight in the region, and would eventually defeat the northern kingdom of Israel. But Micah speaks of another Assyrian conquest, far into the future, when invaders would attempt to defeat the nation of Israel once again, but their efforts would fail.

These invaders will find Israel being led by the Messiah, and the King will guide His people to victory over their enemies. They will have more than enough shepherds and princes to lead the people. And they will have the Son of God as their champion, leading them in battle against the nations of the earth.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. – Zechariah 14:3 NLT

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The story of Israel has a very happy ending. And while Micah was not privy to all the details, he was faithful to proclaim the good news concerning God’s future plans for the nation of Israel. And the apostle John was given the privilege of witnessing the final stage in God’s victory over Satan and his forces as Jesus, the Messiah and King, delivers the final blow.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 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

They Do Not Know

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. Micah 4:6-13 ESV

As we have seen, this chapter is all about the good news concerning Israel. Micah is delivering an addendum to his message that is remarkably positive when compared to all that he has told them up to this point. He is not altering God’s message of pending judgment in any way, he is simply adding a very important detail concerning God’s long-term plans for His people.

In the “latter days” of which Micah is speaking, God will gather a remnant of the people of Israel from exile all over the world and return them to the promised land. Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem sits, will become the center of the geopolitical landscape of the world. People from all over the world will make their way to Israel and its capital city, in order to learn the ways of the God of Israel.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Micah 4:2 ESV

A God-appointed ruler will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem, where he “shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away” (Micah 4:3 ESV). This king will usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Micah 4:3 ESV

But who is this king? And when will he arrive on the scene? We know that the nation of Israel has had no king, ever since the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. To this day, they remain without a king. So, when will these latter days be fulfilled and who will be the one whom God chooses to sit on the throne of David and bring about these auspicious events?

The prophet, Zechariah gives us some insight into these last days.

Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming… – Zechariah 14:1 NLT

He warns that those days will be accompanied by yet another war waged against the people of Israel. And, as before, God will be the instigator behind that conflict.

“I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city.” – Zechariah 14:2 NLT

But Zechariah explains that this time, God will intervene on Israel’s behalf. He will send a representative to fight on behalf of His people.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

God will send His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, back to earth a second time, but this time He will come as a conquering King, not a helpless baby in a manger. The apostle John was given a glimpse of Jesus as He returns to earth at His second coming.

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

He will return to do battle with the nations of the earth and to deal with Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet. And with Christ’s arrival, He will establish Himself as the King of all the earth. Which is exactly how Zechariah describes that day.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, also provides a stirring image of this last-days event.

“In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the Lord.’ All nations will come there to honor the Lord. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires. In those days the people of Judah and Israel will return together from exile in the north. They will return to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance forever.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

And, not to be left out, Micah adds his divinely inspired insights into the latter days.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

It seems quite obvious that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be. It is a promise of God that has been recorded by the prophets of God. And whatever God says He will do, He will do.

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 23:19 NLT

And God has promised to restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, reestablishing it as a formidable city but, more importantly, as the capital of His Son, the King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

But in the midst of all the good news concerning the latter days, Micah addresses those living in a less-distant time period. Verse 9 is prophetic in nature, in that it addresses a future day, but one that is much close in proximity than the end times events described in verses 1-8. Micah turns his attention to those who will be living in exile as a result of the Babylonian invasion and the fall of Jerusalem. And he addresses the desperate nature of their circumstances. Notice the stark contrast between verses 1-8 and what follows.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth. – Micah 4:9 NLT

He goes on to describe Jerusalem’s fall and the long march of the people as they make their way to Babylon where they will live as slaves for 70 years. But he also provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the gloom.

But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

Even this part of their story has a silver lining. The nation will fall, but God will not abandon them. He fully realizes the state of affairs in Judah.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:11 NLT

God knows what is going on because He is the one behind it all. But Micah adds an important note that we often overlook. These very same nations that He will use to punish His own people have no idea that they are nothing more than tools in His hands. They are oblivious to His sovereign control over all their actions.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had no idea that God was behind his success. And He was totally unaware that God had plans in place for his ultimate demise. The nations of the earth operate as if God does not exist, but that does not change the reality that He is in complete control of all things. The psalmist paints a vivid picture of God’s mastery over the nations and His plan to bring all mankind under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:1-6 NLT

Yes, Judah was going to fall and many of its citizens would be exiled to Babylon. While there, they would have no king and they would suffer under the hand of the Babylonians. But God would one day restore them to the land of promise. And the story does not end there. Because God will also send His Son to earth a second time, with the express purpose of defeating the nations of the earth and establishing His Kingdom in Jerusalem. And with the close of chapter four, Micah returns to his message concerning those end-times events.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

The nations of the world do not know what God has planned. They act as if they are the ones who are in control. But God has given us a glimpse into the future. He has provided us with an outline of His plans for the latter days. And all mankind will state shocked and amazed when they see what God has in store for His chosen people and for His creation.

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

Good News, But According to God’s Timing

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

The false prophets were busy telling the people what they wanted to hear, but the problem was that their message, while easy on the ears, was not from God. In spite of all that was taking place around them, they were attempting to paint a very rosy picture, portraying Judah’s future as bright and devoid of any destruction. “Disgrace will not overtake us” they claimed. It was as if these guys were quoting the lyrics from an old Timbuk 3 song: “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

But little did these false prophets know that they were partially right. Judah’s future was quite bright, but it would be preceded by a long period of darkness and despair. God was going to punish them for their sins, but the day would come when He would redeem and restore them.

Micah wants the rebellious people of Judah to understand the nature of their God. Yes, He was a holy and righteous God who took sin seriously and dealt with it harshly. But He was also a loving and faithful God who kept His covenant commitments. He could be trusted to fulfill each and every promise He had made to the people of Israel.

So, Micah shares the encouraging words of God with the disobedient people of Judah.

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
– Micah 2:12 ESV

God addresses both the northern and southern kingdoms by using the name of their mutual patriarch, Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac who had a personal encounter with God, where he “wrestled with him until the dawn began to break” (Genesis 32:24 NLT). And, after this divine sparring match, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:28 LT

Jacob had spent most of his life as a deceiver and a manipulator, attempting to fulfill his own will by doing things his own way. He had been unwilling to trust God and rest in His divine promises. And with his divinely ordained name change, Israel would become the symbol of the nation who would descend from him. They too would become deceivers and manipulators, attempting to fulfill their own desires according to their own standards, rather than trusting in the promises of God.

And yet, God promises to gather then like lost sheep and restore them to His pasture. But first, they would have to experience the pain and suffering associated with exile. The northern kingdom of Israel and its capital of Samaria would fall to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. And for the next 70 years, a significant number of Judah’s population would spend their lives in exile in Babylon. Those who were left behind in Judah would be forced to live in a land that had been devastated by war, struggling to survive the devastation, disease, and despair God’s judgment had brought upon the land.

But eventually, God would bring an end to their suffering in Babylon. Just as He had promised, after 70 years of exile, the Jews were allowed to return to the land of Israel. Nehemiah, a Jew working in the administration of King Cyrus of Persia, approached the king and asked for permission to take a remnant of his people back to Israel in order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Under God’s sovereign plan, the king agreed and funded the entire expedition.

In 586 B.C., a remnant did return from exile. Under the direction of Nemehiam and later, Ezra, the people did rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, restore the temple, and reinstitute the sacrificial system. But God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel was only partially fulfilled at that time. From that moment until now, Israel has remained a nation without a king. Over the following centuries, they would remain in a weakened state, defenseless against their enemies and under constant threat of being subjugated once again. In fact, when Jesus appeared on the scene, Israel was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. They were living in the land. They had their capital city of Jerusalem and the rebuilt temple of God, but they were far from free and prosperous. And yet, listen to the words of God spoken through the prophet, Jeremiah:

“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.” – Jeremiah 33:6-9 NLT

Has that promise been fulfilled? Is Israel enjoying a time of prosperity and true peace? Yes, they have been restored to the land and they are a powerful force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. But they are not living in a time of true peace. They are still surrounded by enemies who despise them and are out to destroy them. The modern history of Israel is one filled with war, hostility, and constant threats to its existence as a nation. So, the prophecy of God contained in the book of Jeremiah must have a future fulfillment.

And Micah predicts a future day when the fortunes of Israel will change dramatically.

“Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:13 NLT

Again, this prophecy was partially fulfilled in the days of Nehemiah, when he helped lead a remant of the people of Israel from exile in Babylon back to the land of promise. But notice that God predicts that the people will be lead by a king. This can’t refer to Nehemiah or Ezra. So, has this prophecy been fulfilled? Not yet.

But in the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded yet another promise of God, where He pledges to rescue His flock and set over them a king, David.

“So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Ezekiel 34:22-24 NLT

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.” – Ezekiel 37:24-28 NLT

But when this prophecy was recorded, David had been dead for quite some time. So, who is this servant David to whom God refers and has this prophecy been fulfilled? It seems quite obvious that this is a prophecy concerning Jesus, the Son of David. He was the rightful heir to the throne, having been born in the line of David. These prophecies are speaking of a yet future point in time when God will fulfill His promise to David

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God reiterated that same promise to Solomon, the son of David, who ascended to the throne after his father’s death.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 NLT

Think about the significance of that promise: “One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.” There is no king in Israel at this moment. Let alone a descendant of David who is sitting on the throne of Israel. Israel has gone without a king for centuries. And yet, God promised David that his kingdom would continue for all time and that his throne would be secure forever.

And it will. “Your king will lead you; the Lord himself will guide you” (Micah 2:13 NLT). God has promised it and He will fulfill it. In His time and according to His sovereign will. In Romans 11, the apostle Paul predicts God’s restoration of a future remnant of the people of Israel. He is not yet done with His chosen people. And the day is coming when the King, Jesus Christ the Son of David, will restore them to a right relationship with God Almighty.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.”

Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. – Romans 11:25-28 NLT

 Judgment was coming to Judah. But, one day, grace and mercy will come as well. In the form of the Messiah, who will once again fulfill every aspect of the covenant God made with the people of Israel. Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God who never fails to fulfill His promises.

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

Wait For Me

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that no one walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely you will fear me;
    you will accept correction.
Then your dwelling would not be cut off
    according to all that I have appointed against you.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed. – Zephaniah 3:6-8 ESV

At the time when Zephaniah penned the words of his prophecy from the city of Jerusalem, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been defeated by the Assyrians and its people had been taken captive. Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had been destroyed. The initial conquest of Israel had begun in 740 BC, and 20 years later it culminated with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians under King Shalmaneser V, but only after a three-year-long siege of the city.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

And Shalmaneser V repopulated the northern kingdom with a vast array of people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

And the people who occupied the southern kingdom of Judah had watched all of this happen. And the unstoppable Assyrian war machine had left a long line of defeated nations in its wake. They had even marched as far south as Judah where, in the year 701 BC they attempted to add Jerusalem to its growing list of victories. But God had intervened on Judah’s behalf.

Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven. And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword.

That is how the Lord rescued Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from King Sennacherib of Assyria and from all the others who threatened them. So there was peace throughout the land. – 2 Chronicles 32:20-22 NLT

But by the time Zephaniah wrote the book that bears his name, it had been years since the people of Judah had witnessed the saving work of God. King Hezekiah had died and replaced by his son Manasseh of whom it was said, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had broken down. He constructed altars for the images of Baal and set up Asherah poles. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them” (2 Chronicles 33:2-3 NLT).

At his death, Manasseh was replaced by his son, Amon. And his reign was marked by increasing apostasy.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. He worshiped and sacrificed to all the idols his father had made. But unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord. Instead, Amon sinned even more. – 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 NLT

And Amon’s successor was his 8-year-old son, Josiah, whom the Scriptures paint in a far different light.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right. – 2 Chronicles 34:2 NLT

Josiah was a reformer. He attempted to restore Judah’s relationship with and dependence upon God. And while his efforts were well-intentioned and heartfelt, they did little to change the spiritual state of Judah’s inhabitants. That is why Zephaniah is having to deliver the words of this prophecy to God’s chosen, yet stubborn people.

This entire book was intended as a wake-up call for the people of Judah. God was reminding them of His unwavering expectation that they obey Him. He had created them for His glory. They were meant to shine as lights in the darkness of the pagan world, revealing how sinful men could live in communion with a holy God. But they had failed. Rather than remain faithful to God and live according to His righteous law, they had chosen to emulate the nations around them. They had compromised their convictions and accommodated their beliefs to such a degree that it was difficult to discern any meaningful difference between themselves and the nations that surrounded them.

And God reminded them that these nations with whom they had chosen to associate and whose practices they had determined to assimilate, had all been the victims of His divine judgment.

“I have wiped out many nations,
    devastating their fortress walls and towers.
Their streets are now deserted;
    their cities lie in silent ruin.
There are no survivors—
    none at all.” – Zephaniah 3:6 NLT

Judah had to look no further than the borders of Israel to the north. Their cities were in ruins. And the once-prolific Jewish population had been supplanted by foreigners. Their towns, villages, and homes were occupied by people from other countries, and what few Jews remained in the land had intermarried with these invaders, creating a new mixed-race population that would later be referred to with the pejorative term, “Samaritans.”

But in spite of all that had happened around them, the people of Judah remained unrepentant and blissfully oblivious to God’s gracious intentions.

“Surely they will have reverence for me now!
    Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again,
    destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early
    to continue their evil deeds.” – Zephaniah 3:7 NLT

Even Zephaniah’s warnings would fall on deaf ears. But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God would not tolerate their behavior forever. He had given them ample warning. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to call His stubborn people to repentance. And He had shown them just how harsh His judgment could be by pouring out His wrath on the northern kingdom of Israel. They too had been descendants of Abraham. Their land had been part of the inheritance promised to the patriarchs and allocated to the various tribes of Israel. But now, ten of those tribes were all but destroyed and their land was occupied by foreign invaders.

Yet, the people of Judah still held onto the false hope that their status as God’s chosen people would act as an inoculation from further harm. They believed themselves to be immune from judgment because they belonged to God. But they were mistaken.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed.” – Zephaniah 3:8 ESV

God was going to bring His judgment. And in this verse, Zephaniah records the full extent of that coming judgment: “all the earth shall be consumed.”

Zephaniah had opened his prophecy with the very same warning from God.

“I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
    and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
    I will cut off mankind
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. – Zephaniah 1:2-3 ESV

The people of Judah were not to have a false sense of security. If God was willing to destroy all mankind from the face of the earth, what right did they have to think they were exempt?

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. God has not yet cut off mankind from the face of the earth. But God did bring judgment upon Judah. It took place when He called the nation of Babylon and used them as His chosen instrument to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the southern kingdom. For 70 years, the land of Judah would lay in a state of suspended animation, its cities and villages unoccupied, its fields untilled and its orchards untended. The once-great city of Jerusalem would be a heap of rubble, its walls and gates destroyed, and the former glory of its temple reduced to a pile of smoke-blackened stones.

Yet, after 70 years in captivity, God would allow a remnant of the people of Judah to return to the land, where they would once again occupy the city of Jerusalem, rebuilding its walls and restoring the temple and the sacrificial system. And it would be hundreds of years later that Jesus, the Messiah of the Jewish people, would enter the city of Jerusalem to the joyous shouts of the people.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

And yet, those shouts would later turn to angry demands for His crucifixion. The people would reject God’s own Son. They would turn their backs on the very one who had come to offer them atonement for their sins and the hope of reconciliation with God.

But God is going to send His Son again. The day is coming when the Messiah will return to earth and the location of His arrival will be Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah describes that future day.

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:3-4 ESV

The nations of the earth, under the leadership of Antichrist and the control of Satan, will gather to do battle with Jesus and His heavenly host.

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 19:14-16 ESV

The people of Judah needed to recognize the full plan of God. It was extensive in nature and spanned the centuries. Their little slice of the divine timeline was nothing when compared with the full range of God’s redemptive plan. They were insignificant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And they not exempt from God’s wrath. He would judge them for their sins and discipline them for their rebellion. But He would also restore them to the land because He had long-range plans that included the city of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. He was going to send His Son in human flesh, born into the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, and as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. And all of this had been prophesied long ago by the patriarch, Jacob.

Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
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 49:9-10 NLT

God is not done with Judah. And He has not yet fulfilled all the prophecies found in the book of Zephaniah. But He 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.

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

   

 

The Great Parenthesis

32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. – Matthew 27:32-44 ESV

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 9.10.59 AMThe crucifixion is a well-known and highly venerated part of Jesus’ earthly life. It is the fulcrum upon which the message of the Gospel balances. His sacrificial death on behalf of sinful mankind is what makes the Gospel good news. Had He not died, there would be no remission for sin. God’s righteous indignation for the rebellion of mankind against His sovereign rule would remain unsatisfied. The debt owed by sinful men to a holy and righteous God would remain unpaid. The penalty of death and subsequent separation from God for eternity would still loom large over the lives of every single human being, with no hope of a solution to their dilemma.

But Jesus died. And that scene, described by the gospel writers, has been illustrated in countless ways by a vast array of painters, sculptures, and artisans. And while most are familiar with the details surrounding this well-documented scene, there is one aspect that begs further examination and concentration. Matthew records, “two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left” (Matthew 27:38 ESV). John puts it this way: “they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:18 ESV).

It is fascinating to consider what these two statements reveal. While we’re familiar with the idea of Jesus being crucified alongside two common criminals, we probably haven’t given this dimension of His death much thought. After all, there is so much going on in the story that appears to be of greater importance. The deaths of these two unknown criminals appear to have no significance. Other than the conflicting statements each of them makes to Jesus while they are being crucified, these men seem to be little more than side notes in this grand drama.

And yet the gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, make it a point to include these two men in their descriptions of Jesus’ death. And John makes it clear that they were crucified on either side of Jesus. In a sense, their crosses bracketed that of Jesus. And, as has been depicted in so many artistic renderings of the scene, John describes Jesus as hanging on the middle cross. Don’t overlook the scene as it is presented by the gospel writers. On either side of Jesus was a criminal, an unknown and unnamed individual whose guilt had warranted his execution. Each of them deserved to die. In fact, one of these men would freely admit their guilt and the appropriate nature of their executions.

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” – Luke 23:41 ESV

Why is this important? It is because this scene depicts the sinless Son of God surrounded by two sinful men. He is innocent, while they are guilty. They are receiving the just punishment for their sins, while He is dying as a substitute for their sins and the sins of all mankind. In a sense, these two men form a kind of human parenthesis, with Jesus, the focal point of all human history, located between them.

One of the men, unrepentant and angry at his fate, shouts at Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). While the other man, just as sinful and just as deserving of his death, cries out, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 ESV). Two sinners, but two distinctly different responses to the Savior in their midst.

All three men were being executed for the crimes of which they had been accused. But one man, the one in the middle, was guiltless. The Jewish religious leaders had accused Him of blasphemy – of claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus had displayed the audacity and arrogance to declare Himself as divine. And they found His boasts unthinkable and unacceptable. 

But Jesus was the Son of God. He had been speaking truth, not blasphemy. He was innocent. Even the words inscribed on the sign attached to the cross of Jesus were intended to describe His crime: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

John records that the words on this placard had been placed there by the command of Pilate. And the charge it carried had been written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish religious leaders had been incensed at the words inscribed on the sign and had demanded that Pilate have them altered. They wanted the statement amended to say, “This man said, I am King of the Jews” (John 19:21 ESV).

But Pilate had refused to change a thing. The sign remained, and the charge stuck. And of this particular charge, Jesus was guilty. He was the King of the Jews. He was guilty of being exactly who He had claimed to be all along. He was the Messiah of Israel, but His own people had rejected Him. He was the sovereign King of the nation of Israel, but they had refused to acknowledge Him as such. Just as the ancient Israelites had rejected God as their King and had demanded that He give them a king like all the other nations, the Jews of Jesus day had rejected the King of kings.

Three men, all accused of crimes. Two of them were guilty as charged, having broken the laws of the land. Their crimes were deserving of death, and they were simply receiving what the law required. But the man in the middle, Jesus of Nazareth, was only guilty of being who He claimed to be: The King of the Jews. He was dying because He was the Savior of the world. He was dying in order to save the world. He was sinless, and yet He would die a sinner’s death. He was completely blameless, and yet He would willingly take on the sins of mankind in order that the penalty for our sins could be marked “paid in full” by God.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:24-25 NLT

It is no coincidence that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was bracketed by two guilty sinners who were experiencing the just punishment for their crimes. In-between them hung the Savior of the world. They both had access to Him. They could both see Him and hear the words He spoke. But one chose to curse and insult Him, while the other begged to be remembered by Him. In the midst of his pain and suffering, caused by his own sinful choices, this man called out to Jesus, and he received a response.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 27:43 ESV

And that’s the way it has always been. The life of Jesus has always been bracketed by two parenthetical marks, in the form of two diametrically opposed responses made by equally guilty sinners. One sees Jesus as nothing more than a man, equally hopeless and helpless to do anything about the sinful condition of mankind. But the other sees the suffering, yet sinless Savior who has a kingdom and the power to restore life to all those who submit to His Lordship. Jesus came to the world, a place filled with darkness and mired in sin. He inserted Himself into the hopeless state that plagued mankind and provided a solution to man’s condition. And John puts it in terms that describe why Jesus’ death between two sinners forms the great parenthesis.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 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