The Protection of God’s Grace

36 Then the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Build yourself a house in Jerusalem and dwell there, and do not go out from there to any place whatever. 37 For on the day you go out and cross the brook Kidron, know for certain that you shall die. Your blood shall be on your own head.” 38 And Shimei said to the king, “What you say is good; as my lord the king has said, so will your servant do.” So Shimei lived in Jerusalem many days.

39 But it happened at the end of three years that two of Shimei’s servants ran away to Achish, son of Maacah, king of Gath. And when it was told Shimei, “Behold, your servants are in Gath,” 40 Shimei arose and saddled a donkey and went to Gath to Achish to seek his servants. Shimei went and brought his servants from Gath. 41 And when Solomon was told that Shimei had gone from Jerusalem to Gath and returned, 42 the king sent and summoned Shimei and said to him, “Did I not make you swear by the Lord and solemnly warn you, saying, ‘Know for certain that on the day you go out and go to any place whatever, you shall die’? And you said to me, ‘What you say is good; I will obey.’ 43 Why then have you not kept your oath to the Lord and the commandment with which I commanded you?” 44 The king also said to Shimei, “You know in your own heart all the harm that you did to David my father. So the Lord will bring back your harm on your own head. 45 But King Solomon shall be blessed, and the throne of David shall be established before the Lord forever.” 46 Then the king commanded Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he went out and struck him down, and he died.

So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon. – 1 Kings 2:36-46 ESV

There was one last piece of unfinished business that Solomon had to take care of. Just before his death, his father had charged him with the task of repaying Shimei for the disrespectful way he had treated David while he was evacuating Jerusalem after Absalom had taken over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:5-14). This relative of David’s predecessor, King Saul, had held a grudge against David ever since he had supplanted Saul as the king of Israel. He was overjoyed to see David having to suffer the indignity of sneaking out of the capital city because his own son had stolen his kingdom. Shimei even threw stones at David, hurling insults and curses as he did so.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

Some of David’s faithful soldiers, who had accompanied him out of the city, offered to strike Shimei down, but David would not allow it. Instead, he told them, ““My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today” (2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT). David could empathize with Shimei’s anger and resentment. He understood why Shimei was so upset, and he had concluded that God was behind it all. When Shimei had called David a murderer, he had struck a very sensitive nerve. David would have immediately recalled his complicity in the death of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:14-17). Shimei was right; he was a murderer. And perhaps God was still repaying him for his sinful actions against an innocent man. So, David refused to punish Shimei for his actions.

But some time later, when the attempted coup had been thwarted, and Absalom had been killed, David returned to the city of Jerusalem. And one of the first people to greet him upon his arrival was Shimei.

As the king was about to cross the river, Shimei fell down before him. “My lord the king, please forgive me,” he pleaded. “Forget the terrible thing your servant did when you left Jerusalem. May the king put it out of his mind. I know how much I sinned. That is why I have come here today, the very first person in all Israel to greet my lord the king.” – 2 Samuel 19:18-20 NLT

With the news of Absalom’s death and David’s return to Jerusalem, Shimei had feared for his life. He knew he was a dead man unless he could convince David of his remorse and regret for his previous actions. Feigning sorrow for his emotionally driven display of anger, Shimei begged the king for forgiveness.

Though Shimei deserved punishment, David was unwilling to spoil the joy of the occasion by meting out judgment. He could have had Shimei executed on the spot, but instead, “the king said to Shimei, ‘You shall not die.’ And the king gave him his oath” (2 Samuel 19:23 ESV).

David had kept that oath, but on his deathbed, it became clear that he had never really forgiven Shimei for what he had done. He had allowed Shimei to live but had never stopped dreaming of getting his revenge. So, as he lay dying, David gave Solomon a not-so-subtle hint about what should be done with Shimei.

“And remember Shimei son of Gera, the man from Bahurim in Benjamin. He cursed me with a terrible curse as I was fleeing to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan River, I swore by the Lord that I would not kill him. But that oath does not make him innocent. You are a wise man, and you will know how to arrange a bloody death for him.” – 1 Kings 2:8-9 NLT

David didn’t tell Solomon what to do. He simply reminded Solomon of what Shimei had done. And he fully expected Solomon to defend his honor by having Shimei put to death.

But Solomon had other plans. Rather than subjecting Shimei to capital punishment, he had him confined to the city of Jerusalem. Shimei, as a Benjamite, lived within the territory of his tribe. But Solomon ordered that he relocate within the city walls where his actions could be carefully monitored. And Shimei was given strict instructions never to venture outside the walls of the city for any reason, under penalty of death.

“Build a house here in Jerusalem and live there. But don’t step outside the city to go anywhere else. On the day you so much as cross the Kidron Valley, you will surely die; and your blood will be on your own head.” – 1 Kings 2:36-37 NLT

Solomon graciously spared Shimei’s life but placed him under house arrest. And this arrangement seemed to work well for Shimei. For three years, he enjoyed a peaceful and prosperous life. But then, the unexpected happened. Two of his servants ran away and, without thinking about it, Shimei saddled a donkey and pursued his missing property. But when he had recaptured his runaway servants and returned to Jerusalem, he was surprised to learn that he had been summoned to the king’s palace.

By this time, Shimei must have understood the gravity of his situation. He had broken his oath to the king. And Solomon reminded Shimei of their agreement.

“Didn’t I make you swear by the Lord and warn you not to go anywhere else or you would surely die? And you replied, ‘The sentence is fair; I will do as you say.’ Then why haven’t you kept your oath to the Lord and obeyed my command?” – 1 Kings 2:42-43 NLT

Notice that Solomon describes Shimei’s oath as having been made to the Lord. When he had agreed to the stipulations handed down by the king, he had been swearing an oath before God. Solomon had been acting as God’s appointed leader, and when Shimei had agreed to the terms of the contract, he had made a binding covenant with God Almighty. And now, he had broken that vow. He had failed to keep his word and would have to suffer the consequences. And Solomon made sure that Shimei understood the gravity of his situation.

“You certainly remember all the wicked things you did to my father, David. May the Lord now bring that evil on your own head. But may I, King Solomon, receive the Lord’s blessings, and may one of David’s descendants always sit on this throne in the presence of the Lord.” – 1 Kings 2:44-45 NLT

David had kept his word and had allowed Shimei to live. Now, Solomon was going to keep his word and have Shimei executed for the violation of his oath. Shimei’s death would not be because he had left the confines of the city of Jerusalem. The death sentence that hung over his head was due to his unlawful treatment of and rebellion against the Lord’s anointed, King David. He deserved to die because he was a rebel. But Solomon had shown him grace and mercy. And the city of Jerusalem had become a city of refuge, a place where he could find release from the condemnation of death he so richly deserved. As long as he remained within the walls of the city, he would be spared. The city was not a prison; it was actually a form of protection. As long as Shimei remained faithful to reside within the confines of the city, he was spared the penalty of death. But as soon as he walked outside the gates, he violated his oath and forfeited his right to life.

In so many ways, this narrative foreshadows what Jesus Christ would do for guilty sinners. He would become the place of refuge, the living Jerusalem, where those condemned to death could find mercy, grace, and life. As long as Shimei remained within Jerusalem’s protective walls, he would be spared the penalty he deserved. But when he allowed himself to be distracted by the cares of this world and went in pursuit of his runaway servants, Shimei revealed his true heart. He placed a greater value on material things than he did on the gift of life he had been offered by the king.

Jesus would later remind His disciples about the necessity of abiding in Him. He would challenge them to remain faithful, recognizing that their hope of eternal life was found in Him alone.

“Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” – John 15:5-7 NLT

Shimei had failed to remain in Jerusalem, and it cost him his life. He had seen the walls of the city as a prison rather than a protection. He had seen his agreement with the king as restrictive rather than redemptive. And how often do those who are offered the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ come to see that offer as a burden rather than a blessing? They prefer the “freedom” of sin over the emancipation from death that is offered within the protective walls of God’s gracious love. And, like Shimei, they end up forfeiting their lives.

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

Undeserved Grace. Unmerited Favor.

41 Adonijah and all the guests who were with him heard it as they finished feasting. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, “What does this uproar in the city mean?” 42 While he was still speaking, behold, Jonathan the son of Abiathar the priest came. And Adonijah said, “Come in, for you are a worthy man and bring good news.” 43 Jonathan answered Adonijah, “No, for our lord King David has made Solomon king, 44 and the king has sent with him Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites and the Pelethites. And they had him ride on the king’s mule. 45 And Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet have anointed him king at Gihon, and they have gone up from there rejoicing, so that the city is in an uproar. This is the noise that you have heard. 46 Solomon sits on the royal throne. 47 Moreover, the king’s servants came to congratulate our lord King David, saying, ‘May your God make the name of Solomon more famous than yours, and make his throne greater than your throne.’ And the king bowed himself on the bed. 48 And the king also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who has granted someone to sit on my throne this day, my own eyes seeing it.’”

49 Then all the guests of Adonijah trembled and rose, and each went his own way. 50 And Adonijah feared Solomon. So he arose and went and took hold of the horns of the altar. 51 Then it was told Solomon, “Behold, Adonijah fears King Solomon, for behold, he has laid hold of the horns of the altar, saying, ‘Let King Solomon swear to me first that he will not put his servant to death with the sword.’” 52 And Solomon said, “If he will show himself a worthy man, not one of his hairs shall fall to the earth, but if wickedness is found in him, he shall die.” 53 So King Solomon sent, and they brought him down from the altar. And he came and paid homage to King Solomon, and Solomon said to him, “Go to your house.” – 1 Kings 1:41-53 ESV

As Solomon was being anointed the next king of Israel, his brother, Adonijah was just a few hundred yards away at En-rogel, throwing what he believed to be his own pre-coronation party. But just as they were finishing their festivities, the sound of a trumpet could be heard emanating from the city of David. Something of great significance was going on, and it was just a matter of time before the news of the events taking place in Jerusalem made its way to Adonijah and his rebel companions.

Suddenly, the son of Abiathar the priest burst into the room with a stunning and unexpected revelation that was going to take everyone by complete surprise, including Adonijah. But the self-assured and over-confident host of the party welcomed Abiathar with open arms, eager to hear what he had to say.

“Come in,” Adonijah said to him, you are a good man. You must have good news.” – 1 Kings 1:42 NLT

But what Jonathan had to tell them was anything but good news. In fact, it’s likely that this young man risked interrupting Adonijah’s invitation-only party because his father was one of the guests. Jonathan was fully aware of Adonijah’s plans to usurp David’s throne, and he knew his own father was complicit in the plot. So, he burst into the room, hoping to warn his father about the dramatic turn of events in Jerusalem.

“Our lord King David has just declared Solomon king! The king sent him down to Gihon Spring with Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada, protected by the king’s bodyguard. They had him ride on the king’s own mule, and Zadok and Nathan have anointed him at Gihon Spring as the new king. They have just returned, and the whole city is celebrating and rejoicing. That’s what all the noise is about.” – 1 Kings 1:43-45 NLT

It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine the impact these words had on the mood in the room. Jaws dropped in shock. Hearts, once merry and expectant, sank in fear. And wine glasses probably crashed to the floor as the shocked guests took in this devastating news. No one in the room had seen this coming, especially Adonijah. He had not factored this contingency into his planning. So, as Jonathan continued to report the late-breaking news from Jerusalem, a dark and foreboding cloud settled over the room.

“What’s more, Solomon is now sitting on the royal throne as king. And all the royal officials have gone to King David and congratulated him, saying, ‘May your God make Solomon’s fame even greater than your own, and may Solomon’s reign be even greater than yours!’” – 1 Kings 1:46-47 NLT

Everyone present was shaken to their core. They had each chosen to align themselves with Adonijah, in the vain hope that his coup would succeed and he would reward them handsomely for their commitment to his cause. But now, having heard the news from Jerusalem, they were having some serious second thoughts and overwhelming regrets. They had bet on the wrong team. They had risked everything in the hopes of a big return on their investment. But King David had just thrown a wrench into their plans, by crowning his son, Solomon, as the next king of Israel. And Jonathan revealed the final bit of news that must have hit Adonijah and his guests like a sucker punch to the gut. The king himself had pronounced a blessing on the whole proceedings. Unlike Adonijah, Solomon had not attempted a coup. He had been anointed the king of Israel by royal decree and with the full support of David

“Then the king bowed his head in worship as he lay in his bed, and he said, ‘Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who today has chosen a successor to sit on my throne while I am still alive to see it.’” – 1 Kings 1:47-48 NLT

This last bit of news brought an abrupt and immediate end to the party. Any joy that had been in the room was long gone and the guests were quick to follow. They bailed on Adonijah, leaving him completely alone and with no other option than to seek refuge in the tabernacle. He knew he was a dead man. With his newly acquired authority as king, Solomon would be quick to execute all those who had played a part in this failed insurrection. So, Adonijah, in an attempt to save his life, entered the holy place within the sanctuary in the hopes that he might receive asylum from God Himself. He sought shelter at the altar, grabbing hold of its decorative horns and, in essence, offering himself as a sacrifice to God.

News soon reached Solomon that his half-brother had sought refuge in the tabernacle, where he was demanding clemency.

“Let King Solomon swear today that he will not kill me!” – 1 Kings 1:51 NLT

Amazingly, Solomon agreed to Adonijah’s demand, but with very clear conditions.

“If he proves himself to be loyal, not a hair on his head will be touched. But if he makes trouble, he will die.” – 1 Kings 1:52 NLT

Solomon would have been fully justified and well within his rights as king, if he had chosen to put Adonijah to death. But he decided to extend mercy instead. He absolved his brother of all guilt and allowed him to return to his home. Despite all that Adonijah had done to deny him his God-ordained right to the throne, Solomon sought restitution rather than revenge. He would inaugurate his reign with an act of unmerited favor, extending mercy and grace to the guilty and justifiably condemned.

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 of the Impossible

24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Mark 10:24-31 ESV

By this time, the disciples must have begun to regret that they had ever argued over which of them was the greatest. Ever since Jesus had overheard their childish squabble, He had been giving them a non-stop lesson about what it means to be great in the Kingdom of God. And the latest iteration of that lesson had come in the form of a rich young man who had come seeking his rightful inheritance. He wanted to know what was keeping him from enjoying the riches and rewards of eternal life right here, right now. He viewed himself as a good and righteous man who had kept God’s commands, and he believed his wealth was proof of God’s blessings on his life. But he wanted more. He was looking for the ultimate reward of eternal life.

And Jesus confirmed that the man “lacked one thing” (Mark 10:21 ESV). So, He told him to “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21 ESV). In essence, Jesus told the man that he would have to let go of all that he treasured in this life if he wanted to receive the reward of eternal life. And this statement from Jesus should have sounded vaguely familiar to His disciples. They had heard Him say similar in His sermon on the mount more than 3 years earlier.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

The young man, unwilling to wait for the treasures of heaven, chose to walk away from Jesus. He ignored the call of Jesus to follow Him and, instead, returned to his life of wealth and earthly greatness. And in doing so, he became an illustration of what Jesus had said in His sermon on the mount.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. – Matthew 6:24 ESV

Upon the man’s departure, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23 ESV). And this statement shocked them. It went against all their preconceived notions regarding righteousness and rewards. They had been raised to believe that was wealth was a sign of God’s blessings. After all, even Abraham, the great patriarch of the Hebrew people had been blessed by God with abundant livestock and great wealth. God had even blessed Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. He ended up becoming the second-most-powerful man in Egypt. He enjoyed great power and prominence and used both to help protect the Israelites when a famine came to the land of Canaan.

But Jesus was not saying that riches are never a sign of God’s blessing. He was trying to help the disciples to understand that the material and physical blessings God bestows can actually become roadblocks that prevent men from seeking God Himself. The gifts begin to take precedence over the Giver. How easy it is to begin to worship the things of this earth, rather than the God of heaven, who is the giver of all good gifts.

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father… – James 1:17 NLT

Any earthly blessings we receive in this life should be received with open arms but they are to be held loosely in our hands. We should have the same attitude that Lot had. He had been greatly blessed by God but had everything, including his family, his wealth, and his health. And yet, his response was: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21 NLT).

But Jesus knew that His disciples were having a difficult time accepting what He was saying. So, He repeated His words but in a slightly different and even more controversial way.

“Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!” – Mark 10:24 ESV

He addressed the 12 as teknon, the Greek term for a male child. Jesus considered these men as His children. He cared for them deeply and wanted them to understand these deep truths concerning the Kingdom of God. He knew they were struggling and having a difficult time accepting all that He was saying. There was so much they needed to unlearn. Their concept of the Kingdom of God and how to enter it was weighed down by so many misconceptions.

Wealth was not an advantage when it came to gaining entrance into the Kingdom. Not even a good track record of law-keeping could earn someone a spot in God’s Kingdom. Gaining access into the presence of God was difficult and the rich young ruler had failed the test. Which left the disciples feeling a bit concerned for their own prospects for success. And what Jesus told them next didn’t restore their confidence.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10:25 ESV

This little parable did nothing to ease their concerns. In fact, Mark describes them as being “exceedingly astonished” at this news. And it led them to ask, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26 ESV). You can sense their anxiety. Jesus had begun by describing entrance into the Kingdom of God as difficult. But now, He was declaring it to be impossible. It didn’t take a genius to understand that a camel cannot pass through the eye of a needle. And if it was impossible for a rich man to enter eternity, what hope did they have? The disciples had no visible manifestations of God’s blessings. They weren’t rich, influential, or powerful. In their minds, they had nothing going for them. But they failed to recognize that they were teknon – the children or sons of Jesus. They belonged to Him. They shared an intimate and personal relationship with the Son of God.

But their minds were stuck on the rather ludicrous image of a camel trying to pass through the eye of a sewing needle. It was impossible. And so was their salvation. But Jesus attempted to calm their anxiety by stating, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27 ESV). What Jesus wanted His “sons” to know was that salvation was a work of God, and not based on the efforts of men. Entrance into the Kingdom of God was impossible. There was absolutely nothing man could do to earn his way into God’s favor and guarantee himself a place in the eternal Kingdom to come. And the apostle Paul would make this point repeatedly.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

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

Well, if the rich were denied access into the Kingdom and law-keeping was not the key that opened the door, what were the disciples to do? They were at a loss as to what it was going to take to secure a place in God’s eternal realm. And it led Peter to blurt out, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28 ESV). He had taken to heart what Jesus had said to the rich young man:

“…go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” – Mark 10:21 ESV

This had led Peter to believe that the key to eternal life must be a life of sacrifice. If the young man had done what Jesus had said, he would have received exactly what he desired. But Peter had missed the point. He had wrongly concluded that Jesus was saying that salvation was reserved for those who were willing to sell out and follow Him. And just like the rich young ruler, Peter wanted Jesus to confirm his suspicions. He was hoping Jesus would declare him to have earned his place in the Kingdom.

And Jesus let Peter know that he was partially right. Salvation did require self-sacrifice. Jesus had already made that reality clear to them.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” – Matthew 16:24-26 NLT

Following Jesus was going to be costly. Becoming one of His disciples was going to require letting go of the earthly and temporal in order to gain the eternal. And Jesus assured Peter that whatever he had given up in this life would be well worth it. He would be repaid in full and in ways he could never have imagined.

“I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 NLT

Yes, Peter and his companions had walked away from their careers and families. But Jesus assured them that their sacrifice would come with great blessings. They. would become part of a larger extended family and enjoy careers that would prove far more fulfilling and impactful than the ones they had given up. And the best part would be that any sacrifices they made in this life would be rewarded with eternal life. By making Jesus first and themselves last, they would enjoy eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

And then Jesus added one last lesson on greatness.

“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” – Mark 10:31 ESV

The scribes and Pharisees, the rich and influential, the powerful and the outwardly righteous were not guaranteed a spot in God’s Kingdom. It was reserved for those who recognized their own inadequacy and their need for a Savior. The healthy don’t think they need a doctor, but the sick do. And while it was impossible for men to enter the Kingdom, with God all things are possible.

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 Tables Will Turn

14 Shepherd your people with your staff,
    the flock of your inheritance,
who dwell alone in a forest
    in the midst of a garden land;
let them graze in Bashan and Gilead
    as in the days of old.
15 As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt,
    I will show them marvelous things.
16 The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might;
they shall lay their hands on their mouths;
    their ears shall be deaf;
17 they shall lick the dust like a serpent,
    like the crawling things of the earth;
they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you. – Micah 7:14-17 ESV

In verse 14, Micah petitions God on behalf of the nation of Judah. Even with knowledge of all the future blessings God has in store for HIs chosen people, Micah asks that God would continue to shepherd them in the present. He refers to the shepherd’s rod or staff. The Hebrew word is shebet, and it can also mean “scepter,” a symbol of kingly rule. It is the same word used by Jacob in the blessing he gave to his son, Judah.

“The scepter [shebet] 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

The Old Testament promise concerning the coming Messiah will be fully realized with the second coming of Christ. But at the time Micah penned the words of his prayer, he and the people of Judah were still waiting for their long-awaited Messiah. They were longing to see the coming of the promised one who would reign as David had.

He chose his servant David,
    calling him from the sheep pens.
He took David from tending the ewes and lambs
    and made him the shepherd of Jacob’s descendants—
    God’s own people, Israel.
He cared for them with a true heart
    and led them with skillful hands. – Psalm 78:70-72 NLT

Micah is far from subtle when he reminds God that Judah is the “flock of your inheritance” (Micah 7:14 ESV). They were His chosen possession, His prized and precious sheep.

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. – Psalm 95:7 ESV

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3 ESV

Micah longed for the day when Judah would have a king who would guide and protect them as David had. He knew that the key to their well-being was a godly leader who feared and was faithful to God. Due to a long line of godless kings who had ruled over them, the people of Judah were like sheep that lived in garden-like land but had wandered and gotten lost in the forest. The prophet Jeremiah provides God’s bleak assessment of His flock.

“My people have been lost sheep.
    Their shepherds have led them astray
    and turned them loose in the mountains.
They have lost their way
    and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold. – Jeremiah 50:6 NLT

So, Micah begs God to restore His lost and wandering flock, allowing them to “graze in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old” (Micah 7:14 ESV). The two regions that Micah mentions were well-known for their rich and fertile grazing land. He is essentially asking God to restore things to the way they used to be. He is longing for the ethereal and non-existent “good old days.” But those days never really existed. Even during the reigns of David and Solomon, the people of Israel had been marked by immorality, idolatry, and spiritual adultery. There was no time in Israel’s past when they had grazed contentedly in God’s pastures, fully satisfied with Him as their shepherd.

But God graciously answers Micah’s prayer, telling him “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 ESV). God had rescued His lost and wandering sheep once before and He would do it again. Their 400-year stint in the land of Egypt had been marked by persecution, enslavement, and misery. They had been like sheep lost in the forest. But God had performed a series of unprecedented miracles that resulted in their freedom and had restored them to His care. He had rescued them and then led them – all the way to the promised land – a land flowing with milk and honey.

And God wants Micah to know that the day will come when He repeats His miraculous rescue of His chosen people. The shepherd of king Micah longs for will appear and he will redeem the lost and wandering flock of God, scattered among the nations,and return them to the land of Israel once again. And this time, their occupation of the land will be permanent.

the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. – Deuteronomy 30:3 ESV

“Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.” – Isaiah 43:5-7 ESV

“Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.” – Ezekiel 34:11-13 ESV

Ezekiel goes on to record God’s promise to restore His sheep to the rich and fertile land of promise, fulfilling the request that Micah has expressed.

“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 ESV

But the day of Israel’s restoration lies in the distant future. What Ezekiel is describing will not take place until the Millennial Kingdom, the thousand-year reign of Christ which will take place upon His return at the end of the Great Tribulation. At that time, God will restore the fortunes of Israel, regathering His scattered flock from among the nations and reestablishing them in the land He had given them as an inheritance. And all the nations that had persecuted them over the centuries and during the seven years of the Tribulation will receive the just and righteous sentence of God for their efforts.

God gives Micah a little preview of what that day will look like for all the enemies of Israel.

“All the nations of the world will stand amazed
    at what the Lord will do for you.
They will be embarrassed
    at their feeble power.
They will cover their mouths in silent awe,
    deaf to everything around them.” – Micah 7:16 NLT

God describes the nations as snakes crawling on their bellies, licking the dust with their tongues. This is an image of abject subjugation and humiliation. It is the same imagery used by God in His message to the prophet Isaiah.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
    “See, I will give a signal to the godless nations.
They will carry your little sons back to you in their arms;
    they will bring your daughters on their shoulders.
Kings and queens will serve you
    and care for all your needs.
They will bow to the earth before you
    and lick the dust from your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.
    Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.” – Isaiah 49:22-23 NLT

God will bring about a seismic shift in fortunes. The once-humiliated and persecuted people of Israel will be restored to glory, while the nations of the earth grovel before them. And, once and for all, everyone on earth will know that God alone is Lord. And God promises that, on that day, the people of Israel and Judah will once again be His chosen ones, sharing in His glory and basking in the greatness of His power. All the nations of the earth will bow down before the God of Israel.

they shall come trembling out of their strongholds;
    they shall turn in dread to the Lord our God,
    and they shall be in fear of you.
 
– Micah 7:17 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

A God You Can Count On

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:1-2 ESV

Habakkuk has heard from God. The Almighty has provided the prophet with an assurance that Babylon will receive a just sentence for its role in the judgment of Judah. Yes, they will be used by God to bring about the divine discipline of God’s chosen people, but the Babylonians will also fall under His divine wrath for every act of aggression and subjugation they enact against Judah.

And with this assurance from God, Habakkuk begins to sing another tune – literally. This closing chapter is written in the form of a psalm or song. It is a prayer of praise in the form of a poem that was most likely put to music so that it could be sung by the people of God. The phrase, “according to Shigionoth” may be a reference to the melody that was to accompany Habakkuk’s words. The singular form of the Hebrew word is found in the introduction to Psalm 7, a psalm of David.

A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.

But the Hebrew root word, shagah, provides some insight into what Habakkuk may have in mind with his prayer of praise to God. It means “to err, wander, go astray (morally), to sin through ignorance.” In David’s psalm, faced with apparent accusations of guilt from the lips of someone named Cush, he declares his innocence and asks God to either acquit or convict him.

O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
    or am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
then let my enemies capture me. – Psalm 7:3-5 NLT

He goes on to ask God for vindication and protection.

Declare me righteous, O Lord,
    for I am innocent, O Most High! – Psalm 7:8 NLT

He appeals to God as the one who “judges the nations” (Psalm 7:8 NLT).

God is my shield,
    saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
    He is angry with the wicked every day. – Psalm 7:10-11 NLT

And David is convinced that God will judge him fairly and eventually, fully vindicate him.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. – Psalm 7:17 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk’s song carries the same idea. Nowhere does he claim the nation of Judah to be innocent, but he does seem to appeal to God as a righteous judge who will one day vindicate His people. Having heard from God regarding the future judgment of Babylon, Habakkuk shares his intense longing to see that day come. He is expressing his belief that God will prove Himself faithful by fulfilling every promise He has made regarding Judah’s eventual vindication through Babylon’s destruction.

Habakkuk begins his song with a statement of wonder and praise for God’s remarkable reputation. As a prophet of God, he had been exposed to the very words of God, hearing firsthand what Yahweh had planned for Judah’s future. And it left him in a state of awe and amazement.

I have heard all about you, Lord.
    I am filled with awe by your amazing works. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

But, as a Hebrew, Habakkuk had also been raised on a steady diet of the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. He had heard the creation story, the account of the flood and the preservation of Noah and his family. He had been told the story of God’s call of Abraham’s and the promise to make of him a great nation. As a child, he would have been exposed to all the stories about Joseph and the sons of Jacob in Egypt. The account of God’s amazing redemption of His people and their exodus out of Egypt would have been very familiar to him. The conquering of the land of promise, the rise of King David, the greatness of Solomon, the division of the kingdom, and the historical record of all the kings of Judah and Israel would have been well known to him. And through all those accounts, Habakkuk would have recognized the “amazing works” of God and been blown away by His power and persevering patience with His less-than-faithful people.

Unlike David, Habakkuk could not appeal to God based on a claim of Judah’s innocence. There was no way he could ask God to vindicate them because they were undeserving of His judgment. He knew full well that the people of Judah were guilty. In fact, he had begun his book with the admission that things had gotten so bad in Judah, that the wicked outnumbered the righteous.

So, Habakkuk looked to God’s well-established track record of showing up and delivering His people in times of trouble.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

Sadly, this was not the first time Judah had been faced with difficult circumstances. There had been countless other occasions when the people of God had found themselves faced with insurmountable odds and the potential for a devastating outcome. But Habakkuk knew that God had intervened on behalf of His people. He had repeatedly rescued them from their predicaments, graciously restoring them and providing them with yet another undeserved opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. And Habakkuk longed to see God do the same thing in his day.

But Habakkuk recognizes that the people of Judah were fully deserving of all that God was about to do to them. They stood guilty and condemned before a holy God. So, he appeals to God’s covenant faithfulness and track-record of extending undeserved mercy.

…in your anger, remember your mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk would have been familiar with the content of the prayer prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the newly constructed temple. King Solomon had begun his prayer with a statement concerning God’s faithfulness: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion” (1 Kings 8:23 NLT).

But Solomon knew that he and his people were prone to unfaithfulness. He was concerned that their behavior would fail to live up to the terms of God’s covenantal agreement with them. So, he began describing potential scenarios in which the nation might violate their covenant commitment and stand guilty before God. And he petitioned God: “May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29-30 NLT). 

Solomon was appealing to God’s faithfulness because he knew there was little likelihood that the people of Israel would keep their end of the bargain. And when they failed to do so, He wanted to know that God would still intervene on their behalf. Solomon even included a worst-case scenario in which the people of Israel found themselves defeated and living in exile as a result of their disobedience to God.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Solomon knew that the only hope that Israel had for their present protection and future restoration was to be found in God alone. And Habakkuk echoed that same sentiment. He was appealing to his awe-inspiring, grace-bestowing, miracle-working God. And he greatly desired that God would continue to season His righteous anger with mercy. It was all the hope that the people of God had left. They had forsaken God. They had proven themselves incapable of living in faithful obedience to their covenant with God. And unless God showed them mercy, their future would be dark, and any hope of restoration, dim.

The words of the prophet, Jeremiah, written in the book of Lamentations, seem to indicate the heart behind Habakkuk’s prayer.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

God’s mercies are new every morning. Like the sun that shows up like clockwork at the start of each new day, God’s mercies never fail to arrive when needed. His faithfulness is unfailing. His love is unwavering. And, therefore, our hope in Him should be constant and abiding.

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

What Have I Done To You?

1 Hear what the Lord says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
    and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
    and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
    and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
    and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:1-8 ESV

Micah now shifts the focus of his message from the future to the present day, addressing the people of Israel with a personal plea from God Himself. He employs judicial terminology, deliberately speaking his audience as if they were on trial, with God standing before them as their judge.

In the first two verses, Micah uses the Hebrew Word riyb three times, which can be translated “dispute, contend, or plead.” In essence, God is demanding that the Israelites defend themselves and present their case against Him. And He calls the hills and mountains to act as the impartial jury, hearing the evidence from both parties in this epic legal proceeding.

God is going to bring His riyb, or indictment against His chosen people. He will provide evidence in the lawsuit and allow the “enduring foundations of the earth” to settle the case. The mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth are meant to suggest the creative order that has witnessed the unethical and immoral actions of God’s chosen people since the beginning of time. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak, they could give damning testimony to support Israel’s guilt and justify God’s judgment.

Now, God turns His attention to the people of Israel, the defendants in this divine court action. He wants to hear their explanation for their treatment of Him.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
    What have I done to make you tired of me?
    Answer me!” – Micah 6:3 NLT

Like a lawyer cross-examining the defendant, God gives Israel the opportunity to present their case against Him. What evidence do they have that would indict Him as the guilty party and excuse their treatment of Him? This is their chance to provide proof that their behavior was warranted because of something God had done. If the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth could speak up, they would echo the words of the psalmist, defending the integrity of the Almighty.

The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
    he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. – Psalm 18:30 ESV

And if Moses, the great deliverer of Israel, could appear as a witness in this trial, he too would give evidence of God’s undeniable innocence and unwavering righteousness.

“He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

And Moses would have been intimately familiar with the guilt of Israel, having spent 40 years leading them through the wilderness on their way to the land of promise. He had watched God redeem and rescue them from slavery in Egypt and then listened to their constant complaints as God led them and provided for them. And their dissatisfaction with God had begun just days after they had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).

Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. – Exodus 15:22-24 NLT

And days later, these same ungrateful people would find another excuse to turn their wrath against God’s appointed leader, demanding that he explain why he had brought them into the wilderness to die.

And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:2-3 ESV

And Moses would announce God’s intention to graciously provide for their need, but he would also reveal that their grumbling and complaining had been against the Almighty. Their ingratitude had been directed at their redeemer.

“When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.” – Exodus 16:8 ESV

The Israelites had an abysmal track record when it came to their relationship with Yahweh. And it lasted long after they got to Canaan and inherited the land promised to them by God. Their dissatisfaction with and disrespect for God continued for generations. It showed up in their failure to keep His commands. It was evident in their constant spiritual infidelity that showed up in their addiction to idolatry.

And God calls on the people of Israel to remember all that He had done for them. He demands that they contemplate and compare His actions to their own.

“I brought you out of Egypt
    and redeemed you from slavery.
    I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you. – Micah 6:4 NLT

And God gets specific, providing them with further evidence of His goodness, grace, and mercy.

“Don’t you remember, my people,
    how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
    and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
    when I, the Lord, did everything I could
    to teach you about my faithfulness.” – Micah 6:5 NLT

They had no right to point their finger at God, accusing Him of injustice or ill-treatment. He had done nothing but show them kindness and shower them with His gracious love. When their enemies had tried to curse them, God had intervened, turning the evil-intentions of King Balak into a divine blessing. And when the people had arrived at the Jordan River, God had provided them with yet another miracle, making it possible for them to cross over the rain-swollen river on dry ground.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

In all of this, God had been teaching Israel about His faithfulness. He could be depended upon. He could be trusted. He was righteous in all His ways. But the same could not be said about the people of Israel. And, at this point in the proceedings, Micah intervenes, addressing his fellow Israelites with a series of rhetorical questions meant to reinforce their guilt and remind them of what was missing in their relationship with Yahweh.

What can we bring to the Lord?
    Should we bring him burnt offerings?
Should we bow before God Most High
    with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
    and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins? – Micah 6:6-7 NLT

God had made it perfectly clear what He expected from His people.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love him and serve him with all your heart and soul.” – Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT

He desired faithfulness on the part of His people. He wasn’t interested in lip-service and some kind of mechanical observance of rituals and rules. And the prophet Isaiah recorded God’s assessment of His peoples’ relationship with Him.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And Micah, acting as a witness against his fellow Israelites, reminds them of what God had always desired of them.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

But they had failed. They had refused to do what is good and right. They had chosen to despise God’s mercy by refusing to extend it to one another. And they had decided to display a prideful and arrogant attitude toward their God, rather than walking humbly in His presence, grateful for His ever-present goodness and grace.

God was innocent, but they stood guilty as charged. He had done nothing to deserve their treatment of Him. And as the evidence continued to pile up, their chances of acquittal dried up. And God would be fully justified when He delivered His guilty verdict and pronounced their fate.

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

A God Worth Worshiping

1 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it,
    and many nations shall come, and say:
“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.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
    and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
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;
but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree,
    and no one shall make them afraid,
    for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever.
Micah 4:1-5 ESV

Chapter four features a dramatic shift in the tone and language of Micah’s prophetic message. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he moves from speaking about the coming judgment of God to the future restoration of the kingdom. It’s as if Micah was saying, “I have bad news and I have good news.” He delivered the bad news first and is now letting his audience know that there is a silver lining to the dark cloud hanging over their heads.

As with all prophecies, it will be essential to establish the timing involved in Micah’s message. Has what he predicted already happened or does it remain as yet unfulfilled. It is interesting to note that the prophet Jeremiah penned an almost identical message in the book that bears his name.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
   and many peoples shall come, and say:
“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.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
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. – Isaiah 2:2-4 ESV

The glaring similarity between the messages of these two prophets has left commentators and scholars debating the original source of their prophetic word. Did Isaiah borrow it from Micah or was it the other way around? But if you look at Isaiah’s own words, he makes it clear that he derived his message from God.

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem – Isaiah 2:1 ESV

And Isaiah opened his book with the following explanation:

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. – Isaiah 1:1 ESV

The same thing could be said of Micah. He opened his book with these words:

This is the Lord’s message that came to Micah of Moresheth during the time of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem. – Micah 1:1 ESV

Both of these men received their messages from the same divine source, so why should we be surprised when what they have to say sounds similar. They were prophesying during the same period of time to the same generation of people living in Judah and Israel. And God’s message was consistent and cohesive.

But the primary focus of our attention should be on the content of their message. They were predicting a vastly different future for the people of God that seemed to contradict all they had been saying up until this point. For three chapters, Micah has had nothing but bad news to share. The days ahead were dark and foreboding. The coming judgment of God was going to be devastating and inescapable. And then, suddenly, as if out of nowhere, he says, “And now for the good news!”

Micah refers to this future time period as “the latter days.” In Hebrew, it is ‘achariyth yowm and it can be translated “last days” or “end times.” This is what is often described as an eschatological reference. It has to do with the eschaton or end times and deals with those days in the distant future when God finalizes His plans for the world He has made. Virtually all of the prophets of God included messages concerning the “end times” in their writings.

“In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 38:16 ESV

Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.” – Daniel 10:13-14 ESV

Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days. – Hosea 3:5 ESV

Notice was the Daniel passage states: “For the vision is for days yet to come.” Now, that could be said about all prophetic messages since they all deal with future events. But what we have to understand is that some of those predictions have already taken place, while others remain as yet unfulfilled. When reading the prophetic books, we can look back over history and connect certain prophecies with actual events. We know that the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and their capital of Samaria was destroyed. We also know that the Babylonians defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, ransacking the capital of Jerusalem and taking tens of thousands of its citizens captive.

These events were prophesied by God and He sovereignly orchestrated their fulfillment. But what about this particular message recorded by both Micah and Isaiah? Has it taken place yet? Has it already been fulfilled? To answer those questions, we have to examine the content of the message and search the history of Israel to see if any past event accurately fulfills the prophetic promise it contains.

First of all, Micah refers to “the mountain of the house of the Lord.” This is a reference to Mount Zion, the outcropping upon which the city of Jerusalem still resides, and where the temple dedicated to God had been built. Micah describes a day when Mount Zion will be “the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship” (Micah 4:1 NLT).

At this point, one must ask the question, “Has this prophecy been fulfilled?” Is there a time in Israel’s distant or recent past when this promise of God has taken place? And the answer would be an emphatic, “No.” And the next part of the prophecy substantiates that conclusion.

People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
 – Micah 4:2 NLT

There has been no fulfillment of this prophecy. At no time in Israel’s past have we seen any such event take place. That means it remains as yet unfulfilled. So, the “latter days” must pertain to a time that lies in the future. And, as if to support that notion, Micah adds some aspects about this future time period that prove its eschatological nature.

For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Micah 4:2-3 NLT

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to determine that this promise remains unfulfilled. At no time in Israel’s distant or more recent history has any part of this message taken place. Even after the people of Judah were allowed to return to Jerusalem after 70 years in captivity, they never experienced anything like what is described in these verses. When Israel declared its independence as a nation on May 14, 1948, it did not see anything happen that remotely fulfilled this prophecy. In fact, the succeeding years have been filled with war, open hostility, and a growing animosity for the nation of Israel by its geographic neighbors.

We know, from our own experience, that nations have not hammered their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Wars have continued unabated since this message was first delivered to the people of Israel, and the animosity between nations has not diminished in any way, share, or form.

Yet, Micah predicts a future day when…

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
    for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has made this promise! – Micah 4:4 NLT

This is a divine promise guaranteed by the “Lord of Heaven’s Armies,” the Lord of hosts. Which means it will take place. But the question remains: “When?” When will we see everyone living in peace and prosperity? Surely, that time is not now. But according to God’s promise, it will take place.

These verses describe a future day when everything on this planet will be radically and unalterably changed for the good. God will bring about a miraculous alteration to the geopolitical landscape of the world. It will be a time when all the world will recognize Him as the one true God. Israel will be returned to a place of prominence and power, with the Messiah, the Son of God, reigning from the throne of David and ruling over the nations of the world. And Micah uses this good news to encourage his audience to refocus their attention on the one who was going to make it happen. If this is to be Israel’s preferred future, then Micah begs them to start experiencing it now.

For all the peoples walk
    each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
    forever and ever. – Micah 4:5 ESV

God is going to one day make Israel great again. So, why not worship Him now? Micah wants his contemporaries to understand that their God is great and He has incredible plans in store for them as a nation. But they must begin to walk in His name now. They must live according to His will, behaving in ways that reflect their calling as His chosen people. For Micah, it made no sense to reject a God who was so gracious and great and who had such a remarkable future planned for them. And he is going to continue to paint a vivid portrait of Israel’s future as promised by the gracious hand of God.

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

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

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

Because of You…

Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
    and rulers of the house of Israel,
who detest justice
    and make crooked all that is straight,
10 who build Zion with blood
    and Jerusalem with iniquity.
11 Its heads give judgment for a bribe;
    its priests teach for a price;
    its prophets practice divination for money;
yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.”
12 Therefore because of you
    Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
    and the mountain of the house a wooded height. Micah 3:9-12 ES

Micah continues his merciless indictment of the religious and civil leaders of Israel. He holds them personally responsible for the judgment of God that is about to fall upon the nation. Their actions, which he outlines in detail, have played a significant role in the spiritual demise of the people under their care.

What they had failed to understand was the high view God held of their positions. He had placed upon them the mantle of leadership and it came with a divine expectation that they provide His flock with loving care and compassion. But they had dropped the ball. They had abused their authority and abandoned those over whom God had made them shepherds.

“…though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:8-10 NLT

And Micah pulls no punches when leveling his charges against these men.  He accuses them of hating justice and twisting all that is right. And it’s likely that they wholeheartedly denied Micah’s charges. But their actions betrayed them. They were hypocrites who claimed to be serving on behalf of God, but were busy serving their own interests. The prophet Isaiah was equally harsh in his assessment of these self-ascribed leaders of Israel.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them
    with ropes made of lies,
    who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!
They even mock God and say,
    “Hurry up and do something!
    We want to see what you can do.
Let the Holy One of Israel carry out his plan,
    for we want to know what it is.”

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:18-21 NLT

Evil is good and good is evil. Not exactly the kind of conclusions one would expect from the leaders of God’s people. But as Micah said, their actions betrayed that they hated God’s brand of justice and twisted the truth of God into a lie. And as a result, they had built “Jerusalem on a foundation of murder and corruption” (Micah 3:10 NLT). They had led the way in modeling deceit, disobedience, and immoral behavior. As the leadership went, so did the people.

There’s an old adage that says, “What parents do in moderation, children do to excess.” That timeless truism applies to civic and spiritual leadership as well. What leaders do in moderation, citizens do to excess. And Micah makes it clear that Israel’s leaders had been far less than moderate in their sinful behavior.

You rulers make decisions based on bribes;
    you priests teach God’s laws only for a price;
you prophets won’t prophesy unless you are paid. – Micah 3:11 NLT

They were all in it for what they could get out of it. Leadership had become nothing more than a means to an end and the end was personal gain. Even the prophets were profiteering from their positions. And, once again, Micah was not alone in his less-than-flattering assessment of these men. Isaiah was equally as harsh and unsparing in his indictment of these men.

Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:23 NLT

They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. – Isaiah 5:23 NLT

For the leaders of my people—
    the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
    are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
    that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
   Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
    all following their own path
    and intent on personal gain. – Isaiah 56:10-11 NLT

Not a pretty picture. But sadly, it was an accurate one. Both Micah and Isaiah provide an irrefutable assessment of the state of affairs in Israel. And it all started at the top. The nation of Israel had a long track record of lousy leadership. And it had taken its toll on the population.

And the worst part was that these men feigned allegiance to God. They claimed to be dependent upon God. And they were quick to claim that they held their positions of leadership because of God. Yet Micah exposed them for the hypocrites they were.

yet they lean on the Lord and say,
    “Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
    No disaster shall come upon us.” – Micah 3:11 ESV

The word translated as “lean” is the Hebrew word sha`an, and it can mean “to trust in” or “to lean upon.” But these men were not really trusting in or relying upon God. They were simply giving Him lip service. Their words were little more than spiritual rhetoric, pious-sounding platitudes intended to give the appearance of godliness. But God was not fooled. He knew their hearts. And in the book of Isaiah, we have God’s no-holds-barred assessment of their true spiritual condition.

And so the Lord says,
    “These people say they are mine.
They honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
And their worship of me
    is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.
Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites
    with amazing wonders.
The wisdom of the wise will pass away,
    and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.” – Isaiah 29:13-14 NLT

They were quick to claim God’s presence and provision. They were depending upon the Almighty to place His force-field of divine protection over them. Which had led them to falsely claim, “No harm can come to us for the Lord is here among us” (Micah 3:11 NLT). But they had failed to consider God’s commands concerning faithfulness, obedience, justice, mercy, and compassion.

Back in Isaiah 1, we find God’s clear communication of His divine will concerning His disobedient people.

Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows. – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

But from the top down, the people of Israel had been guilty of doing just the opposite. And, as a result, God was going to bring His judgment against the nation.

Because of you, Mount Zion will be plowed like an open field;
    Jerusalem will be reduced to ruins!
A thicket will grow on the heights
    where the Temple now stands. – Micah 3:12 NLT

They had no excuse for their behavior. They couldn’t claim ignorance or blame their actions on a lack of information. God had faithfully, persistently, and lovingly called them to change their ways. He had sent prophet after prophet, each declaring His message of pending judgment. These men had begged the people of Israel to repent and return to the Lord. But their messages had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, time was running out. God would not tolerate their stubborn rejection of His gracious offer of redemption forever. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God was not done with Israel. Despite the actions of their lousy leaders and the lemming-like behavior of the people, God was going to act on their behalf. He had a plan in place that included their judgment as well as their future redemption.

And chapter four opens up with words of hope that shine like a bright light in the midst of the darkness of Israel’s despair.

It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and it shall be lifted up above the hills;
and peoples shall flow to it… – Micah 4:1 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 Blame Game

1 How the Lord in his anger
    has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
    the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.

The Lord has swallowed up without mercy
    all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
    the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
    the kingdom and its rulers.

He has cut down in fierce anger
    all the might of Israel;
he has withdrawn from them his right hand
    in the face of the enemy;
he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob,
    consuming all around.

He has bent his bow like an enemy,
    with his right hand set like a foe;
and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes
    in the tent of the daughter of Zion;
he has poured out his fury like fire.

The Lord has become like an enemy;
    he has swallowed up Israel;
he has swallowed up all its palaces;
    he has laid in ruins its strongholds,
and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah
    mourning and lamentation.” – Lamentations 2:1-5 ESV

Chapter one ended with the admission, “my groans are many, and my heart is faint” (Lamentations 1:22 ESV). The nation of Judah is portrayed as weak, demoralized, and helpless. The city of Jerusalem, serving as a representative for the entire nation, lies in a state of ruins, a victim of the years-long Babylonian siege that had ended with the city’s complete destruction.

Jeremiah, penning the words of this dirge-like poem, expresses the nation’s acknowledgment of God’s role in their fall.

“…you have punished me for all my sins.” – Lamentations 1:11 NLT

But their admission of guilt is missing something: A willingness to repent. At no point have we heard them express their desire to return to the Lord and renew their covenant commitment to Him. In fact, chapter two opens up with the nation pointing a finger of blame on God, casting Him as an angry deity who they view as an enemy and not as their Heavenly Father.

“How the Lord in his anger
    has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
    the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
    in the day of his anger.” – Lamentations 2:1 ESV

This verse is filled with accusations against God. In His anger, He destroyed the once-beautiful city of Jerusalem. In essence, they are saying that God let His emotions get away with Him and in a fit of uncontrolled rage, He destroyed the very temple Solomon had built as a dwelling place for the Almighty.

But this portrayal of God as a deity with anger-control issues is inaccurate. It is a one-sided view of God based on the perspective of those who had been on the receiving end of His judgment. Unhappy with their circumstances, they attempted to blame their predicament on the anger of God.

Yet, God had warned them that this would happen. When Solomon had held a ceremony to dedicate the newly completed temple, God had responded with the following words of warning:

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’” – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

Was God angry with Judah? Yes, but His anger was justified and His actions were not the result of uncontrolled rage. He was doing exactly what He said He would do if the people of Judah abandoned Him. And they had.

God’s destruction of the temple was symbolic. It was to have been the place where His glory dwelt. It was intended to symbolize His honor and to be a reminder of His presence among them. But through their persistent pursuit of idolatry, they had relegated the temple to second-class status, having replaced the glory of God with golden statues of false gods. The kings of Judah had been so arrogant that they had set up idols in the temple that was intended to honor the name of Yahweh.

But from the perspective of the people of Judah, God’s anger appeared unjustified and over-the-top. And then, they accuse Him of acting without mercy.

The Lord has swallowed up without mercy
    all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
    the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
    the kingdom and its rulers.”
– Lamentations 2:2 ESV

They are much more concerned about the former glory of their kingdom than they are about the damage they had done to the glory of God. They accuse God of being merciless in His destruction of their land and its inhabitants. But the question is, did they deserve His mercy? What had they done that would have justified God showing them compassion or sparing them for their sins against Him?

God had been merciful and compassionate to the people of Judah for centuries. In the face of their persistent rebellion against them, He had repeatedly spared them from destruction. He had replaced their bad kings with good kings. He had given them victories they did not deserve over enemies greater in strength and numbers. He had repeatedly spared them from harm. But God will not allow His people to treat Him as the proverbial doormat, trampling His glory while at the same time demanding His grace. The prophet, Nahum, describes God as being incredibly patient and slow to anger, but He will not tolerate sin forever.

The Lord is a jealous God,
    filled with vengeance and rage.
He takes revenge on all who oppose him
    and continues to rage against his enemies!
The Lord is slow to get angry, but his power is great,
    and he never lets the guilty go unpunished. – Nahum 1:2-3 NLT

But once again, notice how Jeremiah portrays the people of Judah as a disgruntled, finger-pointing mob who refuse to admit their culpability in all that they have suffered. They describe God as an all-consuming fire, an enemy with a bow, and a mass murderer who “has killed all who were delightful in our eyes” (Lamentations 2:4 ESV).

They view God as having “swallowed up” Israel and its palaces. The Hebrew word is bala` and it conjures the image of someone who devours his food greedily and eagerly. It portrays God as a glutton who can’t control himself. But nothing could be further from the truth. God’s destruction of Judah, the capital city of Jerusalem, and the temple that bore His name were all part of the judgment He had warned would come. His response had not been a knee-jerk reaction or out-of-control response to an unexpected turn of events. As the sovereign, omniscient God of the universe, He had known about this day from before the foundation of the world. And while their perspective of God was less-than-flattering, He stands as fully justified and completely righteous in all that He does to punish them for their sins.

The people of Judah were devastated by their circumstances and rightfully so. Their losses had been great. The destruction of their cities and their nation had been substantial and would leave them in a state of poverty and weakness for generations to come. They would never experience the glory days of David and Solomon again. They would go centuries without a king or an army to protect them. For 70 long years, many of their fellow citizens would languish in captivity in Babylon. And those who remained in Judah would suffer the constant harassment of their enemies, the blight of poverty, the stigma of defeat, and the absence of God’s presence.

But God will not always be angry with His people. The mercy they longed for would day come. But it would be on God’s terms and according to His timing. It will require a spirit of contrition and humility on the part of His people. It will demand that they repent of their sins and return to Him in faithfulness. As the prophet Isaiah predicted, the day would come when God restores His people, graciously and mercifully.

God says, “Rebuild the road!
Clear away the rocks and stones
so my people can return from captivity.”
The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
For I will not fight against you forever;
I will not always be angry.” – Isaiah 57:14-16 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

Bright Hope For Dark Days

1 How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave. – Lamentations 1:1 ESV

As of midnight last night, my community is under a “shelter-in-place” order mandated by the local authorities. It is just the latest in a long list of changes to our way of life. And it is likely that there will be more to come. We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, that is radically altering life as we know it.

This unprecedented worldwide catastrophe has impacted the health of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, with the current number of cases reaching the half-million mark. And sadly, as of this writing, there have been in excess of 20,000 deaths as a result of this deadly disease.

On top of the devastating toll it is taking on human life, COVI-D-19 has wreaked havoc on the global economy, shutting down countless businesses both large and small, putting millions of people out of work and without sources of income. It would be an understatement to say that these are difficult days.

So, as I was preparing to begin a new Devotionary, I was drawn to the Old Testament book of Lamentations. Sadly, the unfortunate title given to this book has kept many people from ever digging into its rich and rewarding content. Yes, the name is a bit depressing, but as the old saying goes, “There’s more to a book than its cover.”

The title “Lamentations” was given to the book long after it was written and actually comes from the Hebrew Talmud. The Hebrew Bible provided the book with a different, but no less depressing title: “Ah, how” or “Alas” (Heb. ‘ekah). It comes from the first word in the first, second, and fourth chapters.

There is no clear consensus as to the book’s author, but tradition has usually pointed to Jeremiah. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, opens the book of Lamentations with the following preface: “And it came to pass after Israel had been taken away into captivity and Jerusalem had been laid waste that Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lamentation over Jerusalem and said.”

The content of the book focuses on the immediate aftermath of the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians. As God had warned repeatedly through His prophets, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had destroyed the nation of Judah and its capital city, taking captive tens of thousands of its people and leaving a destroyed economy, a ravaged landscape, and an emotionally devastated people behind.

For centuries, after the book was written, the people of Israel would read its content as part of an annual fast day recalled Jerusalem’s destruction. It was intended to be a much-needed reminder to future generations of Israelites that unfaithfulness was unacceptable to God. The destruction of Judah and Jerusalem had been the result of their ancestors’ disobedience and disloyalty to God. But the book also chronicles God’s remarkable faithfulness. Despite the failure of God’s chosen covenant-people to remain faithful to Him, He would refuse to abandon them completely.

The message contained in Lamentations, while directed at the nation of Judah, has lasting implications and timeless lessons that remain applicable for the people of God in all ages. Charles Swindoll describes the book’s relevance for anyone who would consider themselves a child of God.

“It [Lamentations] is a mute reminder that sin, in spite of all its allurement and excitement, carries with it heavy weights of sorrow, grief, misery, barrenness, and pain. It is the other side of the ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ coin.” – Charles R. Swindoll, The Lamentations of Jeremiah

This book reveals the God-ordained ramifications of a life of disobedience. The fate of the people of Judah was directly tied to their refusal to keep their covenant commitment to God. Long before the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, God had warned the people of Judah what would happen as a result of the unfaithfulness to Him.

“The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away.” – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 ESV

And God had left them with no doubt as to the cause of their future suffering.

“All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you.  – Deuteronomy 28:45 ESV

Centuries later, the apostle Paul would pick up on the basic theme of this book when he wrote to the believers in Galatia.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. – Galatians 6:7-8 ESV

Simply put, sin has consequences. That is the message of Numbers 32:23: “be sure your sin will find you out.”

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not insinuating that the COVID-19 virus is the punishment of God on the sins of mankind. I am not trying to make a correlation between the destruction of Jerusalem and the current state of affairs in America. All I want to do is allow this Spirit-inspired book to remind each of us that our God is faithful. Even in the midst of the worst circumstances, our God is loving, gracious, kind, merciful, and all-powerful. He does not abandon His own.

I am reminded of the words David wrote in the 23rd Psalm.

Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 NLT

These are dark days. We are walking (six-feet apart) in “the valley of the shadow of death,” but our God is by our side. Of all people, we should be able to rest and rejoice in the faithfulness of our God. We should find comfort in His consistency. We should find hope in His heart of compassion and mercy. The truly remarkable thing about the book of Lamentations is that while it vividly portrays Judah’s suffering, it also revels in the goodness of God.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV

For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men. – Lamentations 3:31-33 ESV

What could God be trying to teach us during these difficult days? In what ways could He be trying to get our attention in order to remind us that His love is steadfast, His mercies are never-ending, and His faithfulness is great? The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Will we choose to believe this great truth about our God, even when the circumstances of life seem to call it into question? That is the message of Lamentation.

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