He Rules Over the Nations

1 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Moab,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he burned to lime
    the bones of the king of Edom.
So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. Amos 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Moab shared more than a border with Ammon and Israel. Located along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, this Semitic nation held close genealogical as well as geographic ties to the people of Israel. As the story in Genesis reveals, the Moabites were the result of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). In Hebrew, the name Moab sounds similar to the word that means “from father.” Moab’s very name seemed to celebrate the fact he was the son of his mother’s father – a child born from immorality.

The Bible provides virtually no information regarding the destiny of Lot’s son, Moab. And the Scriptures provide scant record regarding the fate of his descendants. They originally settled in the plain of Zoar at the southern tip of the Dead Sea. From there they expanded their borders north and south, gradually claiming all the territory east of the Dead Sea. One of the most detailed accounts we have of the Moabites is found in 2 Kings 3. In this chapter, the kings of Israel and Judah join forces with the king of Edom to do battle with the Moabites. This conflict was precipitated by the king of Moab’s decision to stop paying tribute to the king of Israel.

King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But after Ahab’s death, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. – 2 Kings 3:4-5 NLT

Jehoram had inherited the crown of Israel after the death of his father, Ahab. King Mesha of Moab seems to have viewed the change in Israel’s leadership as an official termination of the agreement he had made with Ahab. His refusal to send any more tribute payments to Samaria infuriated Jehoram and led him to declare war on Moab.

The ensuing battle did not fare well for King Mesha. Even though Jehoram “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:2 ESV), God promised to give him victory over the Moabites. Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh, delivered the good news:

“…he [God] will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

And the prophecy of Elisha proved to be true. God gave the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom a great victory over the Moabites. And, in a last-ditch effort to sway the battle in his favor, King Mesha resorted to offering his own son as a sacrifice to the god Chemosh.

When the king of Moab saw that he was losing the battle, he led 700 of his swordsmen in a desperate attempt to break through the enemy lines near the king of Edom, but they failed. Then the king of Moab took his oldest son, who would have been the next king, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall. So there was great anger against Israel, and the Israelites withdrew and returned to their own land. – 2 Kings 3:26-27 NLT

This story is significant because it has been used to explain the indictment delivered by God against the Moabites as found in the Amos 2 passage. Amos’ mention of the Moabites having “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom” (Amos 2:1 NLT) has been linked to the human sacrifice described in the 2 Kings passage. There are those who believe that when the author of 2 Kings states that “he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV), it is a reference to the son of the king of Edom. In other words, King Mesha captured and sacrificed the son of the king of Edom, who would have been the successor to his throne. But there is little evidence to support this conclusion. It makes much more sense that Mesha, a worshiper of the god, Chemosh, used his own son as a human sacrifice, in a last desperate attempt to garner divine intervention.

The fact is, we don’t know when the Moabites burned the bones of the king of Edom. It could have taken place sometime after the battle, an act of revenge against the Edomites for their role in Moab’s defeat. It seems likely that the Moabites desecrated the grave of a former Edomite king, disinterring and burning the bones. It could be that the king of Edom died in the battle described in 2 Kings 3, and that the Moabites later came and dug up his bones, burning them as a sign of disrespect and as payback for their defeat. 

Amos provides no explanation or elaboration concerning Moab’s transgression. He simply states that God will pay them back. By desecrating the grave and the body of the king of Edom, the Moabites were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were refusing to admit that their defeat had been His doing. God had given Israel, Judah, and Edom a decisive victory over the Moabites. And just as King Mesha had refused to pay tribute to King Jehoram, the Moabites refused to pay tribute to Yahweh. These descendants of Lot stood opposed to the God of Abraham, and they would pay dearly for their stubborn resistance to His will.

“So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. – Amos 2:2-3 NLT

The prophet Isaiah provides further insight into the coming destruction of Moab.

This message came to me concerning Moab:

In one night the town of Ar will be leveled,
    and the city of Kir will be destroyed.
Your people will go to their temple in Dibon to mourn.
    They will go to their sacred shrines to weep.
They will wail for the fate of Nebo and Medeba,
    shaving their heads in sorrow and cutting off their beards.
They will wear burlap as they wander the streets.
    From every home and public square will come the sound of wailing.
The people of Heshbon and Elealeh will cry out;
    their voices will be heard as far away as Jahaz!
The bravest warriors of Moab will cry out in utter terror.
    They will be helpless with fear. – Isaiah 15:1-4 NLT

At the root of Moab’s rebellion lie the sin of pride. They were an arrogant and self-possessed people who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty and superiority of Yahweh. And Isaiah makes this point painfully clear.

We have heard about proud Moab—
    about its pride and arrogance and rage.
    But all that boasting has disappeared. – Isaiah 16:6 NLT

Despite their defeat, the Moabites would remain deluded by their visions of grandeur, and committed to their false gods to restore their good fortunes. But Isaiah reveals that their aspirations of corporate revitalization are ill-founded.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

It was only a matter of time before the God of Israel paid back the Moabites for their many transgressions. Like all the rest of the nations outlined in these opening chapters of Amos, the Moabites stood condemned before God and would face His righteous indignation. Their pride would be broken. Their false gods would be exposed as unreliable. And their days of glory would come to an abrupt and decisive end.

But now the Lord says, “Within three years, counting each day, the glory of Moab will be ended. From its great population, only a feeble few will be left alive.” – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

In 598 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar would invade the land of Canaan and bring the nation of Moab to its knees, fulfilling the word of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.

Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
    you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
    will be hauled off to distant lands! – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

The Moabites would experience the judgment of God. Their pride, arrogance, independence, and stubborn resistance to the will of God would eventually catch up with them. All the nations of the world will one day answer for their actions because “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28 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

Time Is On God’s Side

13 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of the Ammonites,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead,
    that they might enlarge their border.
14 So I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah,
    and it shall devour her strongholds,
with shouting on the day of battle,
    with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind;
15 and their king shall go into exile,
    he and his princes together,”
says the Lord. Amos 1:13-15 ESV

The next nation on Amos’ “naughty” list is Ammon, a relatively small country located north of Edom and east of the Jordan River. Like the Edomites, the Ammonites had blood ties to the Israelites. Their relationship goes back to the days of Abraham and Lot and is recorded in the book of Genesis. When Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland of Ur and go to Canaan, he brought his nephew, Lot, with him. During their time in Canaan, both men became “very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents” (Genesis 13:5 NLT). When Abraham offered his nephew the choice of land on which to settle, “Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram” (Genesis 13:10-11 NLT). It just so happened that this area included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, infamous for their immorality. And Lot settled his family, flocks, and herds within the vicinity of Sodom.

Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord. – Genesis 13:12-13 NLT

As the story goes, Lot ended up actually moving into the city of Sodom, and later had to be rescued by two heavenly messengers. After narrowly escaping the city before God rained down judgment upon it, Lot found himself without a wife and caring for two adult daughters whose husbands had stayed behind and died in the destruction of the Sodom. Lot and his widowed daughters took up residence in a cave. But the story does not end there.

One day the older daughter said to her sister, “There are no men left anywhere in this entire area, so we can’t get married like everyone else. And our father will soon be too old to have children. Come, let’s get him drunk with wine, and then we will have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” – Genesis 19:31-32 NLT

It seems apparent that these two women had been negatively influenced by their time in Sodom. Their immoral plan provides ample evidence to that fact. And they carried it out. The result being that both daughters became pregnant by their own father. One gave birth to a son, Moab, who became the progenitor of the Moabite people. The other daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Ben-ammi (son of my kinsman). He would become the father of the Ammonites.

With this as background, it’s easy to see how the relationship between the Israelites and Ammonites was going to end up strained. Fast-forward to the days of Moses, and you find the Israelites, Ammonites, and Moabites reunited after more than 400 years of separation. While the Israelites had been suffering in captivity in Egypt, the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his two daughters had settled and been living in the land east of the Jordan River. When Moses attempted to lead the nation of Israel through the lands belonging to their distant relatives, they were met with resistance. As a result, God ordered Moses to ban them from ever reentering the assembly of Israel.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NLT

With the story of Lot and his daughters as a backdrop, it’s not difficult to understand how the Ammonites eventually became paganized by the culture around them. It seems that they were predisposed to immorality and apostasy, and they eventually embraced Milcom and Molech, the false gods of the Canaanites.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, the Ammonites would remain a constant source of trouble. God had forbidden the Israelites to intermarry with them and had declared, “As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites” (Deuteronomy 23:6 NLT). King Solomon would violate God’s command, marrying an Ammonite princess named Naamah. Her son, Rehoboam, would be the successor to Solomon’s throne. Under his leadership, “Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done” (1 Kings 14:22 NLT).

But whether from without or from within, the influence of the Ammonites was particularly devastating to the people of Israel. They were a prideful people who harbored jealousy for their more prosperous and populace relatives to the west. In an effort to expand their borders, the Ammonites would make raids into Israelite territory. But on one such raid, they overstepped their bounds, brutally butchering civilians, including pregnant women. And all for the sake of material gain, not self-preservation. This attack was unprovoked and unnecessarily violent. And God is unsparing in His judgment of the Ammonites because “they ripped open pregnant women with their swords” (Amos 1:13 NLT).

God would hold the Ammonites responsible for their actions, eventually sending judgment in the form of foreign armies who would destroy their cities and take their people captive. Even the king of the Ammonites would end up in exile, living as a slave to his enemies. And all of this would begin in 734 B.C. with the invasion of Ammon by Tiglath-Pileser III. But the final fulfillment of God’s prophetic word would take place nearly 150 years later when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded the region in 586 B.C.

Because He is eternal, God has time on His side. He is in no rush. He never has to hurry or respond in haste. For hundreds of years, the Ammonites had lived in the land of Canaan, worshiping their false gods and harassing the people of Israel. And whether they realized it or not, God had given them the land on which they lived. He had made that point perfectly clear to Moses when the Israelites were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

And for centuries, the Ammonites had enjoyed the benefits of living on the land provided to them by God. But when they arrogantly chose to slaughter innocent Israelites in a self-aggrandizing effort to expand their borders, God would not tolerate it. They would pay dearly for their mistake. And while it might take hundreds of years for their judgment to come, it was not because God was impotent or disinterested. It was simply because He had a plan and that plan had a timeline. God had no reason to hurry because He has all the time in the world. And while the centuries may pass, God’s plan is always accomplished – in His time and according to His 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

To the Glory of God

“I have heard the taunts of Moab
    and the revilings of the Ammonites,
how they have taunted my people
    and made boasts against their territory.
Therefore, as I live,” declares the Lord of hosts,
    the God of Israel,
“Moab shall become like Sodom,
    and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
    and a waste forever.
The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
    and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.”
10 This shall be their lot in return for their pride,
    because they taunted and boasted
    against the people of the Lord of hosts.
11 The Lord will be awesome against them;
    for he will famish all the gods of the earth,
and to him shall bow down,
    each in its place,
    all the lands of the nations. Zephaniah 2:8-11 ESV

After having issued His warning of coming judgment upon the Philistines, God now addresses Judah’s neighbors to the east. Moab and Ammon lie on the opposite side of the Dead Sea in land that is often referred to as the Transjordan.

Hundreds of years earlier, when the people of Israel were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they had to pass through this region of the Transjordan. And when they arrived at the border of Moab, God commanded Moses to avoid any confrontation with the people who lived there.

“And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’” – Deuteronomy 2:8-9 ESV

God also commanded that the Israelites treat the people of Ammon in the same way and for a similar reason.

“And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.…” – Deuteronomy 2:19 ESV

To grasp what’s going on here, you have to understand why God had given “the sons of Lot” possession of these territories. Lot was the nephew of Abraham who, according to the book of Genesis, accompanied his uncle when he began his God-ordained relocation to Canaan.

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. – Genesis 12:12:5 ESV

Upon their arrival in the land of Canaan, Lot and Abram eventually parted ways.

And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. – Genesis 13:10-13 ESV

This little bit of historical context is going to be important as we move through God’s judgment upon Moab and Ammon. Lot ended up settling in the wicked city of Sodom, rather than taking up residence in the “well-watered” Jordan Valley. And sometime later, when God brought judgment upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He would spare Lot and his family “because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him” (2 Peter 4:7 NLT).

But during their escape from the city of Sodom, Lot’s wife would die for violating God’s command. He had commanded them, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away” (Genesis 19:17 ESV). 

But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26 ESV). With the death of his wife, “Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters” (Genesis 19:30 ESV). And it didn’t take long before the negative influence of having grown up in Sodom became apparent. Fearful that they would both become old maids, unmarried and childless, the two daughters of Lot conspired to get their father drunk and have sex with him. The result of their illicit and immoral decision would be the nations of Moab and Ammon.

Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day. The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day. – Genesis 19:36-38 ESV

Now that we have the historical context, let’s got back to the prophecy of Zephaniah. God specifically calls out Moab and Ammon, the descendants of Lot and the close relatives of God’s chosen people. And He accuses them of having taunted and reviled the people of Judah. As far back as Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Moabites had been guilty of trying to prevent the Israelites from settling in the land of Canaan. The sheer number of Israelites had frightened the people of Moab.

And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” – Numbers 22:3-4 ESV

So, the king of Moab had hired a local diviner named Balaam, ordering him to pronounce a curse of the people of Israel.

Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:6 ESV

But God prevented Balaam from cursing the people of Israel. In fact, he would actually end up pronouncing a God-ordained blessing upon the people of Israel. And that blessing would take the form of a prophetic message concerning the coming Messiah and the Savior of the world.

“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.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!” – Numbers 24:17-19 ESV

The Ammonites would also prove to be a constant source of animosity for the people of Israel, waging war against them throughout the period of the judges and well into the reigns of Saul and David. The Ammonites and Moabites, while descendants of Lot, were a pagan people who worshiped false gods. And God commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with them because those relationships would lead the Israelites to turn their backs on Him. Yet, even King Solomon would choose to disobey God, marrying Naamah, who was an Ammonite (1 Kings 14:21). And Solomon would end up worshiping the gods of his many pagan wives and concubines, resulting in God dividing his kingdom in half, creating the northern nation of Israel and the southern nation of Judah.

But back to Moab and Ammon. God had plans for them. They were not going to enjoy their pagan ways forever. Their pride and arrogance and their hostility toward the people of Judah would be repaid.

“Moab shall become like Sodom,
    and the Ammonites like Gomorrah,
a land possessed by nettles and salt pits,
    and a waste forever.
The remnant of my people shall plunder them,
    and the survivors of my nation shall possess them.” – Zephaniah 2:9 ESV

God foreshadows the coming destruction of these two nations, comparing their fall to that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Isn’t it fascinating that God chooses to use these two wicked cities to describe the fall of Ammon and Moab? The common link is Lot, the progenitor of the Ammonites and Moabites. But the two cities and the two nations also share a track record of wickedness, pride, sin, immorality, and godlessness.

Ultimately, the sins of Moab and Ammon were against God. By rejecting Israel, they had rejected Him.

“Make him drunk, because he magnified himself against the Lord, so that Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he too shall be held in derision.

We have heard of the pride of Moab—
    he is very proud—
of his loftiness, his pride, and his arrogance,
    and the haughtiness of his heart.
I know his insolence, declares the Lord;
    his boasts are false,
    his deeds are false.” – Jeremiah 48:26, 29-30 ESV

“I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels and Ammon a fold for flocks. Then you will know that I am the Lord. For thus says the Lord God: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel…” – Ezekiel 25:5-6 ESV

The day is coming, the “great day of the Lord,” when He will bring His judgment against all the nations of the earth. And there will be a reason for God’s destruction of these pagan nations.

The Lord will terrify them
    as he destroys all the gods in the land.
Then nations around the world will worship the Lord,
    each in their own land. – Zephaniah 2:11 NLT

He will remove all vestiges of the false gods that have led the nations to live in open rebellion to Him. He will destroy them, making it perfectly clear that He is the one and only God. And the end result will be that the nations of the world will bow down in worship of Him and Him alone.

“‘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

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

   

 

God Has Been With You

1 “Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord told me. And for many days we traveled around Mount Seir. Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, “You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall purchase food from them with money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink. For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.”’ So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber.

“And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. 12 The Horites also lived in Seir formerly, but the people of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them and settled in their place, as Israel did to the land of their possession, which the Lord gave to them.) 13 ‘Now rise up and go over the brook Zered.’ So we went over the brook Zered. 14 And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. 15 For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished.” – Deuteronomy 2:1-15 ESV

Moses continues his recounting of the Israelites’ history, in an effort to remind his audience of all that had happened over the last four decades and prior to their arrival at the border of the land of promise.

Moses seems to have at least two objectives in giving this impromptu history lesson. First, he wants to remind his audience of what happens when God’s people prove unfaithful and disobedient. There will be consequences. More than 40 years had passed and the nation of Israel was just now preparing to cross over into the land that God had promised to Abraham. But the delay was Israel’s fault, not God’s. They had been to this very same spot before, but had refused to take God at His word and trust that He would give them victory over their enemies. So, He had sentenced them to 40-years confinement in the wilderness. But, in a sense, it was a life sentence, because that entire generation died in the wilderness, having been forbidden from every stepping foot in the land of promise. And Moses is out to ensure that the offspring of those unfaithful rebels do not repeat the same mistake

But there is a second point that Moses is trying to make and it is of even greater importance. He wants this new generation of Israelites to recognize and appreciate the faithfulness of God. In spite of all that the nation had done to offend God by refusing to trust and obey Him, He was still going through with His promise to give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance. Here they were, 40 years later, and poised to enter the very same land their fathers and mothers had turned their backs on. And it was all because their God was faithful.

So, as Moses tells the story of Israel’s long and somewhat meteoric relationship with God, he comes to another chapter in which God’s faithfulness can be seen. But this time, it is a bit less obvious. In these verses, Moses describes Israel’s journey around Mount Seir and into the regions of Edom and Moab. To us, those two names mean nothing, but to an Israelite, they would have carried a special significance. Edom was the land given by God to Esau, the older brother of Jacob. And Moab was the land occupied by the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.

The book of Genesis records the story of Jacob and Esau, the two twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. While the two boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had decreed that Jacob, who would exit the womb after his brother, was to receive the blessing of the firstborn. God, according to His sovereign will and in keeping with His divine plan for mankind, made the decision to choose Jacob over Esau. It made no sense from a human perspective and seemed to go against all accepted protocols concerning the firstborn and the inheritance. But God, who is just and right in all He does, had a good reason for His actions. And the prophet Malachi puts God’s decision in very black and white terms. Addressing the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, God said:

“This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.” – Malachi 1:2-3 NLT

The apostle Paul picks up this story in his letter to the Romans and expands on its significance.

For God had promised, “I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

This son was our ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau.”

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.” – Romans 9:9-15 NLT

Neither Malachi or Paul are insisting that God literally hated Esau. The point is that, in comparison to His treatment of Jacob and his descendants, God’s actions toward Esau appear hostile. He had chosen to bless one and not the other. And yet, God still gave Esau and his descendants land. And God would not allow the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, to have any of the land He had given to Esau.

“You will pass through the country belonging to your relatives the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. The Edomites will feel threatened, so be careful. Do not bother them, for I have given them all the hill country around Mount Seir as their property, and I will not give you even one square foot of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:4-5 NLT

God was faithful to Esau and his descendants. He had given them land and had obviously blessed them with food and water, because the people of Israel were able to buy provisions from the Edomites. It’s interesting to note that, all these generations later, God was sovereignly using the descendants of Esau to meet the needs of the descendants of Jacob. God had strategically placed the Edomites right where they were so that they could play a role in helping the Israelites reach the inheritance God had promised them.

Moses goes on to record that the Israelites left Edom and headed for the land of Moab. Once again, God warned the Israelites, “Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land” (Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT).

Here we have yet another example of God’s faithfulness and, to understand it, we have to turn back to the book of Genesis. Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation. Lot had accompanied Abraham from Ur and had settled in the land of Canaan. In fact, at one point Abraham had allowed Lot to take his pick of all the land and the book of Genesis records:

Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram. So Abram settled in the land of Canaan, and Lot moved his tents to a place near Sodom and settled among the cities of the plain. – Genesis 13:11-12 NLT

Lot picked “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar” and we’re told that “The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10 NLT). 

But Lot didn’t stay in the fertile plains for long. He ended up settling in the city of Sodom, a place of great wickedness. And when God eventually decided to destroy Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah, He allowed Lot to escape with his two daughters. And after their narrow escape, Lot and his daughters settled in a cave. But fearing that their family line was doomed to die out, Lot’s two daughters, who must have been heavily influenced by their time in Sodom, came up with a plan to get their father drunk and have sex with him, so they could prolong their clan. And the book of Genesis records the outcome of their immoral decision.

When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. – Genesis 19:37-38 NLT

Now, here were the descendants of Abraham, the uncle of Lot, getting ready to pass through the land occupied by the descendants of Lot. And Moses makes a point to stress that this portion of the land had been occupied by “A race of giants called the Emites.” And Moses goes out his way to stress that these people were “as strong and numerous and tall as the Anakites, another race of giants” (Deuteronomy 2:10 NLT).

Don’t miss the significance of what Moses is saying. Back in chapter one, he pointed out that the first time the Israelites reached the edge of the land of Canaan, they had refused to enter because they said, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there” (Deuteronomy 1:28 ESV).  God had used the Edomites to rid Anakites from the land east of Canaan, but the Israelites had failed to believe that God could do the same thing for them. In a sense, Moses is pointing out that God had faithfully used the descendants of Esau to help prepare the way for the descendants of Jacob.

This whole portion of Moses’ story is meant to stress the faithfulness of God. Everything that had happened in Israel’s long history had been the work of God – all the way back to the days of Abraham and Lot and Jacob and Esau. God had been sovereignly orchestrating every single incident in order to set up this moment in time. And Moses wanted the next generation to recognize that God was with them and had been with them all along. He was and is faithful.

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

 

 

 

Planning Without God Results in Godless Outcomes.

But when Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done, they took all their men and went to fight against Ishmael the son of Nethaniah. They came upon him at the great pool that is in Gibeon. And when all the people who were with Ishmael saw Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him, they rejoiced. So all the people whom Ishmael had carried away captive from Mizpah turned around and came back, and went to Johanan the son of Kareah. But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites. Then Johanan the son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took from Mizpah all the rest of the people whom he had recovered from Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, after he had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam—soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. And they went and stayed at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans. For they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land. Jeremiah 41:11-18 ESV

If you recall, at the close of chapter 40, there was an encounter between Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah and Johanan son of Kareah. Johanan and some other military leaders had come to warn Gedaliah of a plot on his life.

“Did you know that Baalis, king of Ammon, has sent Ishmael son of Nethaniah to assassinate you?” But Gedaliah refused to believe them. – Jeremiah 40:14 NLT

Johanan warned and Gedaliah ignored. And within days, Gedaliah was dead, murdered by Ishmael. But Johanan, rather than simply walk away with an I-told-you-so attitude, decides to avenge the death of Gedaliah and rescue all those Ishmael had taken captive. Johanan and his troops catch up to Ishmael at a watering spot near the town of Gibeon. We’re not told why Ishmael took this route, and it was not exactly a direct route to Ammon, where he was headed. But regardless of his motivation, Ishmael’s plans took him to Gibeon, where Johanah and his troops surprised them. Immediately, the people who had been taken captive by Ishmael turn on him and begin fighting alongside Johanan and his men. In the midst of all the chaos, Ishmael and eight of his men escape. But Johanan sets the captives free and takes them with him “to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt” (Jeremiah 41:17 NLT).

This last statement is significant. Johanan had already made plans for he and his troops to escape to Egypt. And now, he decides to have the recently rescued citizens of Mizpah join them. But where did he get this idea from? Why had he determined to make his way to Egypt? It would seem that he feared what King Nebuchadnezzar would do when he found out that the governor he had appointed over Judah had been murdered, along with some Babylonian soldiers. Johanan knew that the king of Babylon was not going to look kindly on this act of abject rebellion against his authority. So, rather than wait around to see what Nebuchadnezzar might do, Johanan decided to seek refuge from Egypt, a supposed ally of Judah. But notice what is missing. There is no indication that Johanan received a word from God to go to Egypt. This does not appear to be a divinely ordained plan. And any plan that lacks God’s blessing is ultimately doomed to failure.

This brings to mind another journey to Egypt made by Abraham and his wife, Sarah. There little trip was due to a famine in the land of Canaan. Abraham made the call to leave Canaan and journey to Egypt where they might find food and water. But again, there is no indication that God had given His blessing on this trip. And it ended up with Sarah nearly being guilty of have adultery with the the Pharaoh. It was only because God struck Pharaoh and his household with disease that this whole affair didn’t end up being a total disaster. Pharaoh discovered that Sarah was Abraham’s wife and angrily confronted Abraham for deceiving him. But rather than kill Abraham, he returns his wife to him and expels them from Egypt.

What about David? Do you recall the time he was attempting to escape from King Saul and decided to escape to Gath? This whole story has a what-were-you-thinking aspect to it. Gath was the hometown of Goliath, the great warrior who David had killed. And to top it all off, David had stopped at the city of Nob to get food and provisions. While there, he had taken the sword of Goliath that was stored there for safe keeping. This was the very same sword David had used to cut off the head of Goliath. So, David, the killer of the Philistine champion, shows up in Goliath’s hometown, wearing Goliath’s sword on his belt. And the Philistines can’t believe their eyes. The Philistine military commanders are highly suspicious.

But the officers of Achish were unhappy about his being there. “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” they asked. “Isn’t he the one the people honor with dances, singing,

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” – 1 Samuel 21:11 NLT

Waking up to his senses, David immediately realized the stupidity of his decision and came up with the desperate idea to feign insanity – literally.

David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. – 1 Samuel 21:12-13 NLT

It worked. They let David go. But his trip almost cost him his life. And his stop in Nob would end up resulting in the deaths of the priests who lived there. When King Saul caught wind that they had assisted David in his escape he had them slaughtered.

So Doeg the Edomite turned on them and killed them that day, eighty-five priests in all, still wearing their priestly garments. Then he went to Nob, the town of the priests, and killed the priests’ families—men and women, children and babies—and all the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats. – 1 Samuel 22:18-19 NLT

None of this had been God’s plan. He had never sanctioned this little trip to Gath with a side stop in Nob. And because it was out of His will, it ended up resulting in needless suffering and death.

So, here we have Johanan leading a group of people to Egypt. He has not received a direct word from God. He has not heard anything from the prophet of God. It appears that he made his decision based on nothing more than fear and human reason – the very same motivating factors behind Abraham’s trip to Egypt and David’s journey to Gath. Making plans apart from God’s will can be life-threatening; not just to us, but to all those around us. But we all have a nasty way of coming up with our own Egypts and Gaths. We find ourselves in trouble and then start looking for somewhere to run or hide. We look for a way out, a way of escape. But unless that way comes from the Lord, it will always end up creating problems, not solving them. Now, you might say that Abraham ended up leaving Egypt loaded with gifts from Pharaoh. The passage in Genesis clearly states:

So Abram’s wife was taken into the household of Pharaoh, and he did treat Abram well on account of her. Abram received sheep and cattle, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels. – Genesis 12:15-16 NLT

And when Abraham left Egypt, it clearly tells us:

Pharaoh gave his men orders about Abram, and so they expelled him, along with his wife and all his possessions. – Genesis 12:20 NLT

Abraham left wealthier than he had arrived. And the very next chapter reinforces this idea.

So Abram went up from Egypt into the Negev. He took his wife and all his possessions with him, as well as Lot. (Now Abram was very wealthy in livestock, silver, and gold.)…

Now Lot, who was traveling with Abram, also had flocks, herds, and tents. But the land could not support them while they were living side by side. Because their possessions were so great, they were not able to live alongside one another. So there were quarrels between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen. – Genesis 13:1-2, 5-7 NLT

What appears to be good fortune as a result of his non-God-sanctioned trip to Egypt, turned out to be nothing but a headache over time. The “blessings” he got for heading to Egypt without God’s approval would prove to be curses. His abundance of flocks led to disunity between he and his nephew Lot. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land to occupy so they could part ways, Lot took the best land. Then, before long, Lot ended up moving to Sodom. And, eventually, Abraham would be forced to rescue Lot when he was captured along with the other citizens of Sodom. All because Abraham had gone to Egypt, lied to Pharaoh, and received an extravagant dowry from Pharaoh so he could have Sarah as his wife. Our best plans apart from God’s blessing and direction are futile and will prove fruitless. And Johanan’s plan would prove to be no less so.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was powerful enough to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.

He Will Right All Wrongs.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. – 2 Peter 2:4-10 ESV

Peter is not dispassionate when it comes to the topic of false teachers. He is deeply concerned and emotionally vested, and these verses give us a glimpse into just how seriously Peter took this matter. In his estimation, false teachers were to be expected, but not tolerated.

In the original Greek, these verses were actually one long sentence. It is as if Peter was speaking and was so intense and passionate, he failed to take a breath. He has two key points: First, God knows how to rescue the godly from trials. Secondly, God also knows how to deal with the unrighteous. There is a day of reckoning coming. God’s judgment is inevitable and unavoidable. And while we may suffer for our faith in this life, we will enjoy the blessings of God in the next life. But that is not the case for false teachers. Those who teach another gospel, attempting to discount God’s judgment or downplay the seriousness of sin, are in for a rude awakening some day. They may enjoy a certain degree of success for now and even gather a crowd willing to listen to their words, but the day of judgment is coming.

It is interesting to note the parallels between Peter’s letter and that of Jude. Jude uses a similar argument to deal with the issue of false teachers:

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. – Jude 1:5-7 ESV

There is a pattern in Scripture. Those who disobey God, who rebel against Him and who, rather than seeing their sin as an affront to a holy God, pursue their passions willingly, are all doomed to God’s judgment. Both Peter and Jude refer to the angels who rebelled alongside Satan. In the book of Isaiah, we get a glimpse into rebellion that Satan led. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah presents the king of Babylon as a type or symbolic representation of Satan himself.

How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

At one time, Satan, an angel of light, rebelled against God. Desiring to be like God, he let his pride and arrogance get in the way. Rather than willingly submit to God, he boldly proclaimed, “I will…” It became a matter of his will over God’s will. His desires and passions took precedence over God’s commands. And evidently Satan was able to convince a host of angels to follow him in his plot to overthrow God. But they were cast down by God.

And what about those who lived during the days of Noah? Moses writes, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). He goes on to describe just how bad things had gotten since the fall. “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:11-12 ESV). And so God determined to destroy the earth and all who lived on it, except for Noah and his family. Peter tells us that God “preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). God rescued Noah, but destroyed the wicked. He preserved the righteous, but punished the unrighteous.

Then there’s the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two cities that had become the epicenters of unrighteousness during the days of Abraham. These two towns had reputations for wickedness, sexual sin and all kinds of immoral behavior. And interestingly enough, Lot, the nephew of Abraham had made his home in Sodom. While Abraham was living in tents as a nomad, Lot had chosen to enjoy the comfort and conveniences of city life. But Peter describes Lot as righteous. He was a God follower. And he was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7 ESV). Peter states that “he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Peter 2:8 ESV). So God determined to wipe out these two cities, but because of the prayers of Abraham, God spared Lot and his family. Peter tells us that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6 ESV).

Fallen angels. A corrupt world. Wicked men. What’s Peter’s point in all of this? It would seem that Peter wanted his readers to align themselves with the non-rebellious angels; with Noah, a herald of righteousness; and righteous Lot.  The false teachers, like Satan and the rebellious angels, corrupt mankind and the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah, will receive their punishment in time. We must trust that God will deal righteously and justly in the end. He will right all wrongs. He will punish all unrighteousness. He will reward the faithful and rescue the righteous.

The author of Hebrews tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:6-7 ESV). Living in this sin-filled world requires faith. It requires that we constantly keep our eyes focused on God. Like Noah and Lot, we are surrounded by sin and rebellion against God. Falsehood is everywhere. Wickedness is rampant. But we must continue to seek God and remember that He rewards those who seek Him. Our ultimate reward is eternal life. We may suffer for now, but we will rejoice forever. We may endure pain here and now, but we will one day enjoy pleasures forevermore.

 

Why Are You Asking?

Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” – Genesis 18:23-25 ESV

Abraham is living in a tent by the oaks of Mamre. His nephew, Lot is living an urban lifestyle in the city of Sodom. Some time earlier, after Abraham and his family had returned from a time in Egypt, he and Lot made a mutual decision to separate ways because they both had large flocks and could no longer afford to pasture them together. So in a highly generous move, Abraham gave Lot first dibs on choosing a land in which to settle. And the Scriptures tell us, “So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:11-13 ESV). In the very next chapter we learn that Lot not only settled in the land near Sodom, he took up residence in the city itself. “They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way” (Genesis 14:12 ESV). When a regional battle took place between nine cities in the region, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah were defeated and their cities pillaged. Lot had been taken captive and had to be rescued by Abraham. But even when he was rescued, Lot went right back to the city of Sodom. Then one day God let it be known to Abraham that He had had enough of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. He was going to destroy them. “Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know’” (Genesis 18:20-21 ESV).

What’s interesting to note is that Abraham seemed to already know what God was going to discover. Even he knew that Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked. Which led him to ask God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” The question was not whether the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked, but whether God would spare any of the righteous that were living in the cities. Abraham seemed to have no problem with God exacting His justice on these two cities, because he knew them to be very wicked places. But he struggled with the idea of God destroying the righteous along with the wicked. He knew that his nephew, Lot, and his family lived in Sodom. He viewed him as a God follower. He had come all the way from Ur of the Chaldees when God had first called Abraham. So it seems that Abraham’s intent was not to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as much as it was to secure deliverance for any righteous individuals who might be living in those cities. Abraham himself had rescued Lot when he had been taken captive. He sought the same action from God.

Some see what takes place next as an indication that Abraham bargained with God. He asked God, “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (Genesis 18:24 ESV). For Abraham, it is a matter of trying to understand the balance between God’s justice and mercy, so he asks God a hypothetical question. He wants to know if God would spare the city if 50 righteous people could be found living amongst the wicked. And when God agrees to his initial number, Abraham begins to lower the number, first to 45. “Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” (Genesis 18:25 ESV). Again, God agrees. Then Abraham begins to systematically lower the number until he gets it down to ten. Even then, God agrees. “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18:32 ESV). God told Abraham that if there were ten righteous people living in Sodom, He would spare the entire city. So what is going on here? Is Abraham successfully pressuring God to lower His standards or alter His plan? Is this a model of prayer for us? Why was Abraham seemingly successful in getting God to agree to spare the city if there were ten righteous people living in it? I think it is because Abraham’s greatest concern was for the reputation of God. Abraham had begun his dialogue with God with the statement: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Yes, Abraham was concerned about Lot and his family. But he was more concerned about God’s reputation among the nations. What would people think if God destroyed the righteous alongside the wicked? So now it became a matter of the extent of God’s mercy. How many righteous would it require for God to spare the cities? So Abraham started with 50 and then worked his way down to ten. And each step along the way, God agreed to spare the city for the sake of the righteous.

The real issue at hand is the motive behind Abraham’s actions. Why did he do what he did? Why did he ask what he asked of God? What was his motive? Abraham was still learning a lot about God. He was growing in his relationship with Yahweh. When faced with the news that God might destroy two whole cities, one of which contained his nephew and his family, Abraham had questions. He knew God to be just. But he also knew God to be merciful. So he appealed to both. But at the end of the day, Abraham seems to have been concerned with the name and reputation of God. He was attempting to understand how God’s reputation could be spared if He destroyed the righteous along with the wicked. But the focus of Abraham’s request seems to have been the reputation of God and his own understanding of God’s nature. Yes, he was concerned for Lot. But he was more concerned about God knowing how his God was going to balance His justice with His mercy. What about us? What is the motive behind our requests? What do we really want? Are we trying to get to know God better and understand His ways? Or are we simply bargaining with Him to get what WE want? Why we ask from God is far more important than what we ask of Him.

Genesis 19-20, Matthew 10

Our Multidimensional God.

Genesis 19-20, Matthew 10

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:29 ESV

Too often, we avoid the Old Testament because the image it seems to portray of God is one we find uncomfortable and seemingly at odds with that of the New Testament. God comes across as harsh, judgmental, vengeful and angry in the Old Testament. Yet, from the more familiar stories of the New Testament, we have come to understand Him to be loving, kind, gentle and full or mercy. But the truth is, the God of the Old and New Testaments is one God, and the two testaments simply portray the multidimensionality of His nature. Together they reveal His divine character in all its glory. They also give us a glimpse into God’s ever-changing and evolving relationship with mankind over the centuries. God does not change, but the manner in which He reveals Himself to mankind and the way in which He responds to their sin does change. God has already had to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants, except for Noah and his family – a devastating event He pledged to never repeat again.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But that does mean God was done punishing sin. He remained righteous and holy and, therefore, was obligated by His very nature to deal with the sin of mankind. God cannot simply tolerate sin or turn a blind on to the rebelliousness of mankind. Because He is righteous, He must always do the right thing. For Him to ignore sin would be for Him to cease to be God. So we have in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, an illustration of God’s righteous and completely justified wrath against the sins of man. When Lot separated from Abraham and chose the rich valley of the Jordan for himself, we are told that “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:12 ESV). By the time we get to chapter 19, we find Lot “sitting in the gate of Sodom” (Genesis 19:1 ESV).

In chapter 18, Abraham was visited by three angels disguised as men. They informed him that God was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave” (Genesis 18:20 ESV). Abraham, evidently knowing that his nephew and his family had moved into Sodom, intercedes on their behalf and begins to bargain for their salvation. As a result, God agrees to spare the cities if He can find tend righteous people living in them. What we have in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is a vivid reminder of the inevitable state of man without God. Things had become so bad in these two cities that God was unable to find even ten righteous people. But He does spare Lot, his wife and two daughters.

This story is a reminder of God’s well-deserved wrath against sin and His undeserved mercy toward mankind. It exists to teach us that God can and must respond to sin. As a righteous judge, He must judge righteously. But it also reassures us that God can and does show mercy. Peter tells us,  “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into helland committed them to chainsof gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials,and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-9 ESV).

When we read this stories from the Old Testament, they should reinforce for us the holy nature of God. They should remind us of just how wicked men can be apart from God. But they should also create in us a tremendous amount of gratitude for the grace that God has showered on us who have received His Son as our salvation from judgment. Like Lot, we have been spared. We have been rescued. Like Noah, we have been shown mercy and grace from God. The Old Testament portrays a less-than-flattering portrait of mankind as they continue to reject God and embrace the world. We see revealed a steadily growing stubborn streak, accompanied by an unhealthy self-sufficiency that causes mankind to live as if God does not exist. And the trend continues today. Yet, God also continues to show His mercy and grace to men by rescuing the godly from trials and preserving them from the judgment to come.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From the time Noah and his family stepped out of the ark onto dry ground, men spread throughout the earth, and with them, sin. God’s merciful sparing of a few did not eliminate the presence of sin. So by the time we get to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, things had gotten progressively worse. Once again, God is forced to deal with the sins of mankind. The story of the destruction of these two cities is a reminder to us of just how wicked men can become without God. Left to their own devices, mankind will always degenerate into godlessness of all kinds. Lot, while obviously a worshiper of God just as his uncle had been, had chosen to become part of the world around him. He had moved in and gotten comfortable with the world. And while Peter tells us that Lot was uncomfortable with the sins being committed around him, he was not willing to separate himself from the situation. He chose to remain in Sodom, exposing his family to the constant influence of ungodly people. And while he was there, he had had little influence on the citizens of Sodom. Even his sons-in-laws to be refused to heed his warnings and flee from the judgment to come. Lot was far from salt and light in the city of Sodom.

Lot loved the world. He loved what the world had to offer. Even when given the chance to save his life, Lot begged the angels to let him move to yet another city. He enjoyed all the amenities of city life. In the time he had lived in Sodom, he had grown comfortable and complacent with the world. Yes, he was bothered by the sins around him, but not enough to do anything about it. Such is the picture of far too many of us as Christians today.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples on their first missionary journey, He gave them detailed instructions and told them to be highly selective in terms of the villages they visited and homes they stayed in. Jesus sent them to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, they were to focus their attention on the descendants of Abraham. They were to announce the coming of the Messiah. They were to tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived. But to those towns where this message was rejected, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, ‘it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:15 ESV). The pagan, Gentile citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed for their godlessness. The Jewish inhabitants of the towns and villages the disciples visited would be guilty of rejecting the very one who was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The Jews knew the covenant promise made to Abraham by God. They had been expecting a Messiah for generations. But they would reject Him when He came. And their judgment would be far greater than that imposed on the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I have been given a chance to become part of the family of God through the merciful gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been placed into the household of faith and grafted into the family tree of Abraham. And yet, like righteous Lot, I can find myself growing comfortable and complacent in this world, tolerating the wickedness all around me. And while I will be spared ultimate judgment to come because of my relationship with Jesus Christ, I can still suffer the consequences of love affair with the world. Like Abraham, I have been called to live a life set apart from the world. I am a sojourner here, just passing through on my way to someplace far better. I am not to “pitch my tent toward Sodom” and gradually settle into the midst of the wickedness all around me. I must be in the world, but not of it. I must live as salt and light, an agent of change and influence in the midst of the darkness that exists all around me. I must recognize God’s hatred of sin, and appreciate His mercy toward me, a sinner. I am not to allow myself to grow comfortable and complacent with sin, any more than He does. My God is holy, set apart and distinctively different. So should I be.

Father, You are a God of judgment because You have to deal righteously with sin. But You are also a God of love, grace and mercy. In Your love, You came up with a way to deal justly with sin and deal mercifully with sinners. Thank You for sending Your Son as the Savior of the world. Thank You for revealing Your mercy and grace to me. Show me how to live my life in gratitude for Your love by living set apart from the world around me. Help me live in this world but not become part of it. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Genesis 13-14, Matthew 7

Separate AND Different.

Genesis 13-14, Matthew 7

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12 ESV

It’s interesting to note that after Abram made what appears to be a non-authorized side strip to Egypt, he returned to right where he started. Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes this point quite clear. He uses two phrases, “at the beginning” (Genesis 13:3) and “at the first” (Genesis 13:4) to emphasize that Abram eventually returned to where he belonged – the place where God had told him to go in the first place. It’s also interesting to note that one of the consequences of his trip into Egypt was the accumulation of a lot of material resources, due to Pharaoh’s attempt to assuage his guilty conscience regarding Sarai. Moses tells us, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2 ESV). What appeared to be a blessing was to prove to be a problem. It wasn’t long before he and Lot were at odds over the pasture land and water rights. Competing agendas led to conflict and, eventually, the need for separation. It became necessary for Abram to part ways with Lot. So he offered his nephew first choice when it came to the land, and Lot chose well. In fact, Moses makes it clear that he chose best. “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other” (Genesis 7:10-11 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

It never ceases to amaze me how God can use even our apparent acts of rebellion and disobedience to accomplish His will for our lives. There is no indication that God ever commanded Abram to go to Egypt. It appears that the decision was solely Abram’s. And while it could have turned out poorly, God intervened and protected Abram and Sarai. I can only guess that Abram walked out feeling pretty proud of himself for having escaped Egypt with not only his wife and his life but an increased net worth. And God was going to use this new-found financial windfall to accomplish His will for Abram’s life. God wanted to separate Abram from Lot. It seems quite obvious that these two men had two competing agendas. Lot was driven by his own personal desires and passions. When given the chance, he chose the best. He selfishly selected the prime real estate for himself, giving no thought to the fact that the region he chose contained the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, a point Moses makes perfectly clear. In fact, Moses leaves nothing to the imagination, making a clear distinction between the land in which Abram settled and that in which Lot pitched his tent. “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:12-13 ESV).

God was going to not only separate Abram from Lot, he was going to make sure that Abram was separated from Sodom and its inhabitants. The entire conflict over resources was used by God to protect Abram. Verses 14-17 record God’s reiteration of His covenant promise to Abram. God was going to give Abram the land of Canaan. Not only that, He was going to bless Abram with innumerable offspring. When Lot chose the well-watered, fruitful Jordan valley, it was well within the will of God. It was what God had intended all along. And it wouldn’t be long before both Lot and Abram recognized that God’s will was well worth waiting for.

What does this passage reveal about man?

What a contrast between these two men. One was chosen by God. The other was a free-loader, a hanger-on who tagged along for the ride, having never received a call from God. This is not to say that Lot was not right where he belonged. God clearly used this man to accomplish His will. In fact, Peter refers to Lot as a righteous man. “if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:6-8 ESV). Evidently, Lot was a God-worshiper, but he also struggled with a love affair with the things of this world. He wanted to have it both ways. He pitched his tent toward Sodom, then wrestled with his conscience over all to which he exposed himself and his family. He found himself separated from Abram and separated from God.

And yet, we see in Abram a man who chose to trust God. He gave Lot first dibs when it comes to the land and placed his future in the hands of God. And interestingly enough, God would use Abram to rescue the very man who selfishly chose to reward himself with the best land. In doing so, Abram was living out the Golden Rule long before Jesus spoke the words as recorded in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Rather than judge Lot, Abram rescued him. Abram chose to build his house on the solid rock. He placed his trust in God and rested in His provision and providence. Lot unwisely built his house on sand. He cut corners and took chances, and reaped the whirlwind. He proved to be a fool, because he chose to live his life according to his will instead of God’s. Two men. Two contrasting life styles. One chose to live for himself, while the other chose to live for God. One chose selfishly and the other, selflessly. One chose temporal blessings, while the other was willing to wait. One, in an effort to experience all that life had to offer now, exposed himself to danger and spiritual destruction. The other was willing to see what God in store in the future. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abram was willing to live in temporary conditions, making his home in tents, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Abram and Lot. Two men who lived separate AND different lives.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The constant temptation is to live like Lot. While he had not been called directly by God, he was part of the family that left Ur of the Chaldeas with Abram. In that sense, he had been set apart by God to live the same life of faith to which God had called Abram. But he chose to live by sight, not faith. He was driven by his senses and controlled by his passions. And his choices would come back to haunt him.

If I had been Abram, I would have let Lot suffer the consequences of his poor choices. But Abram exhibited the very characteristics taught by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. Rather than judge, Abram intervened and rescued. He didn’t fret over what Lot got, but trusted his “Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11 ESV). He determined to enter the narrow gate and walk the less-chosen path. He wisely chose to build his house on the solid rock of God’s faithfulness. I want to live like Abram. He wasn’t perfect, but he was persistent in placing his faith in God. Yes, he sometimes doubted, but he kept coming back to the one thing he knew he could trust: the Word of God. I want to live my life separate AND different. I want to live a life that is holy, different and distinctive.

Father, help me to keep my faith in Your never-ending faithfulness. Don’t let me be swayed by the temporary blessings of this world, but wholly lean on the eternal blessings provided by You through Your Son Jesus Christ. This world is not my home. I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up elsewhere. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org