Mission: Impossible

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36 ESV

Because Luke is writing to his Greek friend, Theophilus, he does not include all that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. Matthew, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, recorded all of Jesus’ lessons concerning the Mosaic Law. In his account, Jesus addressed such topics as murder, adultery, divorce, the making of oaths, and retaliation, and He did so by taking what they understood about the law and expanding upon it. In other words, Jesus began with a common point of interest, the law and its list of well-known prohibitions or restrictions. Then He went beyond the letter of the law to explain the intentions of God that lie behind it. God’s command to not murder was really a call to refrain from anger. In His eyes, the two were inseparable and carried the same moral weight. The same was true of adultery and lust. To do one was to do the other. According to Jesus, merely keeping the letter of the law was not enough.

But due to the Greek nature of his audience, Luke chose to focus on the more general aspects of Jesus’ message, leaving out all references to the Mosaic Law. After letting Theophilus know what Jesus had to say about the blessings and woes, Luke picks up Jesus’ comments concerning love for one another. And what Jesus had to say would have sounded strange and impossible, regardless of whether Theophilus was a Greek or a Jew. Jesus boldly declared, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies…” (Luke 6:27 ESV). In any culture, that admonition sounds counterintuitive because it goes counter to human nature. Regardless of your religious affiliation, ethnic background, or cultural context, the command to love your enemies would have sounded impossible and illogical. It made no sense.

Yet, Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to add, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28 ESV). It’s important to remember that as Jesus spoke these words, He had His newly appointed disciples in mind. Yes, there were others in the crowd that day, but Jesus is focusing His attention on the men He has chosen to be His future apostles or messengers. This would have been the first of many lectures they would receive from their new teacher, and it would have left their minds reeling with confusion and filled with questions.

First of all, the twelve would not yet have been aware of the intense hatred to which they would be subjected as disciples of Jesus. From their perspective, they saw Jesus as a popular figure who was attracting huge crowds and gathering a growing number of followers. They believed Him to be the Messiah and had high hopes that He was going to usher in the utopian-like future of Israel. So, all this talk of loving their enemies must have sounded strange to them. Each of them could have probably counted the number of their enemies on one hand. But before long they would learn that their association with Jesus would place them in the eye of the storm of controversy and contention that would engulf His life and ministry.

And Jesus gave them very specific examples of what He meant by loving their enemies.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.” – Luke 6:29 NLT

All of this would have sounded unthinkable and highly unappealing to His disciples. For the most part, these were unsophisticated men who would have considered Jesus’ words to be a call to social suicide. No one would survive the rough-and-tumble culture of 1st-Century Palestine if they followed this kind of advice. The kind of meekness and mild-mannered mousiness Jesus was describing would get you abused, if not killed.

But what these men don’t yet understand is that Jesus is describing the character of those who belong to the Kingdom of God. He is presenting them with a picture of their future sanctified, Spirit-filled state. Jesus knew that all of this was impossible in their current condition. They were still operating in the power of their fallen human natures. They had not yet received the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God. But Jesus wanted them to know that His followers were expected to live distinctively different lives, and through faith in Him, they would one day receive the power to put into practice all that He is describing.

Jesus was describing a life of true righteousness. With His arrival, things were about to take a dramatically different turn. Up to this point, the disciples and every other Jew living at that time were trying to earn favor with God by keeping the law and observing all the rites and rituals associated with the sacrificial system. Their hope of getting into God’s good graces was based on their ability to live up to the exacting standard of His commands. And now, Jesus seemed to be upping the ante. He was demanding even more from them. But His whole point was that a truly righteous life was impossible to attain without His help.

His call to love was nothing new. The Old Testament law had demanded that they love God and love others. But, according to Jesus, anyone could do that. Loving those who love you earned you no special favor with God.

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them.” – Luke 6:32 NLT

No, Jesus was describing a kind of love that was indiscriminate and non-reciprocal. In other words, it was a kind of love that expected nothing in return. And this same one-directional mindset applied to acts of kindness as well. Simply doing good to those who did good to you was not going to cut it.

“And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” – Luke 6:33 NLT

Jesus was letting His disciples know that God expected behavior that was not based on what you get out of it. Giving to get and loving only when loved were not sufficient. Even sinners can do that. But the kind of life Jesus was describing was impossible. It was humanly unachievable and unattainable.

But Jesus promises all those who can somehow pull off what He is describing, “your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35 ESV). The selfless and sacrificial kind of love He is describing will end up paying off in the long run. It comes with a remarkable reward: Inclusion in the family of God and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. And that would be true for Jesus’ 12 Jewish disciples and Luke’s Greek friend, Theophilus.

Jesus was calling His disciples to mirror the very character of God, “who is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35 ESV). God is not a discriminator of persons. He shows no favoritism. As Peter later put it, He “shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT). So, Jesus calls His disciples to emulate the very nature of God.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36 ESV

Even for those of us living on this side of the cross, these words still convey a sense of impossibility. They sound unattainable. Jesus seems to be asking us to do something that is beyond our capacity as fallen human beings. But we fail to remember that we have been equipped with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT).

But for the disciples of Jesus, sitting on that hillside, His words were impossible. They did not yet have the Spirit of God living within them to energize and empower them. They were enthusiastic and motivated men who believed Jesus to be their long-awaited Messiah, but they were not yet ready or equipped to accomplish all that Jesus was calling them to do. But in time, they would be.

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

Not What They Were Expecting

38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them.

40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:38-44 ESV

After casting out the demon(s) from the man in the synagogue, Jesus made His way to the home of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29), two of His disciples who lived in the town of Capernaum. Upon entering the house, He discovered that the mother-in-law of Simon (Peter) was bedridden, suffering from the effects of a high fever. Luke’s account of this scene differs slightly from that of Matthew and Mark. They both indicate that Jesus healed the woman by taking her by the hand. But Luke states that Jesus “rebuked the fever.” As he has done before, Luke places the emphasis on the words of Jesus. When Jesus had cast out the demon, the crowd had responded, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” (Luke 4:36 ESV). When Jesus had taught in the synagogues, Luke reports that he was “praised by everyone” (Luke 4:15 NLT).

So, while Matthew and Mark place their emphasis on the physical touch of Jesus, Luke focuses on the power and authority of His words. Just as the demons were subject to the command of Jesus, so was the fever. Whatever illness had caused the fever was immediately eliminated from the woman’s body, leaving her completely whole. So much so, that each of the gospel authors indicates that she set about preparing a meal for her son-in-law’s guests.

For Luke, everything about Jesus revolved around His God-given power and authority. He records that Jesus began His ministry by visiting the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth and reading from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

After reading this text, Jesus told the audience, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). In doing so, He was making the bold claim that He had been sent by God and was the Messiah, the anointed one for whom they had long waited. He was filled with the Spirit of God and had the power and authority to proclaim good news to the poor, set free all those who were enslaved and oppressed, and restore sight to the blind. He had come to declare that “the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:19 NLT). 

News of what Jesus had done for Simon’s mother-in-law soon spread throughout the town of Capernaum. By that evening, Jesus found Himself surrounded by people who were sick, lame, and even demon-possessed. What’s interesting to note is that Luke indicates that Jesus “laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40 ESV). For some undisclosed reason, Luke changes his emphasis and focuses on the “hands-on” approach of Jesus. Yet Matthew reports that Jesus “cast out the evil spirits with a simple command” (Matthew 4:16 NLT). Each of these men wrote their respective gospel accounts with a particular audience in mind and with a specific message concerning Jesus that they were trying to convey. Matthew was an eye-witness to these events, while Luke was writing based on interviews he had conducted with those who were there at the time the events took place. The slight variations in their accounts do not reflect contradictions in the Scriptures, but they simply reflect each man’s attempt to communicate his particular message concerning Jesus. 

Each of the gospel authors was trying to illustrate the power and authority of Jesus. Just as the Isaiah passage had predicted, Jesus was preaching, teaching, proclaiming, healing, releasing, and displaying the favor of God to sinful men and women. He was the Messiah. And even the demons were subject to His commands.

And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” – Luke 4:41 ESV

Jesus spoke and they were obligated to obey because they recognized Him for who He was: The Son of God. The demons were not worshiping Jesus but they were acknowledging His identity as the Messiah. They inherently understood that Jesus was more than just a rabbi from the town of Nazareth. When He spoke, they were forced to obey His command. They had no choice but to do as He said because He had the full power and authority of God behind His words.

But Jesus “rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ” (Luke 4:41 ESV). At first glance, it might seem odd that Jesus prevented the demons from declaring His identity as the Son of God. But Jesus was on a God-ordained mission that had a firm and highly specific timeline attached to it. The testimony of the demons could have led the people to see Jesus as the political/military Messiah they had been looking for. His obvious power over the spiritual realm could have led them to speculate that He could just as easily defeat the physical enemies of Israel, such as the Romans. As we will see later on in Luke’s gospel, the people were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule and oppression, and, on more than one occasion, they would attempt to take Jesus by force and make Him their King. So, Jesus silenced the demons, refusing them to declare His true identity. He had a job to do and it would not be complete until He had faithfully obeyed His Father’s will by sacrificing His life on the cross.

After a busy day in the town of Capernaum, Jesus sought a place of refuge, to rest and, most likely, to seek time alone with His Heavenly Father. But the crowds were persistent and eventually found Him. The needs of the people were great and they begged Jesus to remain with them. You can sense that they knew He was someone special and they wanted to keep Him for themselves. But Jesus responded by informing them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43 ESV).

The people of Capernaum were focused on the physical benefits that Jesus seemed to provide. They had seen Him heal the sick and set free those who were demon-possessed, and they wanted more. But Jesus had a different agenda in mind. He had come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God. Whether they believed Him to be the Messiah or not, Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom or rule from a throne in Jerusalem. He had come “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19 ESV). God was preparing to show His undeserved favor and mercy on a condemned and death-deserving mankind by offering His Son as the substitutionary atonement for their sin debt. They were looking for a Messiah who would set them free from Roman rule, but Jesus had come to provide freedom to those who were held captive by sin and death. And as Jesus would later state, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

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

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

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

An Unlikely Vessel

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.’ 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 ESV

The birth of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah, while obviously divinely ordained and miraculous in nature, was meant to be a precursor to the more important and paradigm-shifting birth that was to follow. John’s entire life and ministry would be that of a herald or preparer of the way.

“…he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:17 ESV

In the same way, Luke records John’s birth as if it was merely a sign of greater things to come. While there are obvious similarities between the two birth accounts, Luke wants his readers to understand that there were glaring and significant differences as well. Years later, after beginning his ministry announcing the arrival of the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, John would elaborate on the differences between him and Jesus.

“You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of Him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands and listens for him, and is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must increase; I must decrease.

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.” – John 3:28-31 BSB

Once again, the angel Gabriel is sent to earth by God with a message. This time, he appears to a young virgin girl named Mary. Unlike Zechariah, Mary bears no title or job responsibility that would give her an air of importance or worth. She lived in Nazareth, a relatively obscure town located in the region of Galilee. With the mention of her place of residence, Luke has moved the narrative outside the walls of the capital city of Jerusalem where Zechariah received his message from Gabriel. In doing so, he has shifted the reader’s attention from the sacred environs of the temple to the less-than-holy confines of Nazareth. The reputation of this backwater town was far from stellar. Years later, when Philip told Nathanael “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” (John 1:45 ESV), Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

But it was in this unimpressive place and to an unassuming young girl that God sent His angelic messenger with unexpected news.

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:28 ESV

Luke records that Mary’s response to seeing an angel was markedly different than that of Zechariah. He had been troubled and filled with fear at the sight of Gabriel but Mary seems to have been more disturbed by the content of the message than the heavenly status of its deliverer.

…she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. – Luke 1:29 NLT

Mary was a nobody. It’s likely that she was no more than a teenager at the time. And besides her name and the fact that she was a virgin, all Luke tells us about her is that she was “betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:27 ESV). There is nothing about Mary that should have set her apart as special in any way. And that seems to be the point. When Gabriel announced her “favored” status, he was not declaring that she had somehow earned her way into God’s good graces.

The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη, and it means “to grace” or “to indue with special honor.” It is only used one other time in the New Testament. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul refers to the grace or unmerited favor that God had poured out on them.

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:4-6 ESV

They had done nothing to earn their adoption as sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. It had all been a gift from God. And he would elaborate on the undeserved nature of that gift in the very next chapter.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV

Mary had done nothing to merit her visitation from Gabriel, and her designation as God’s “favored one” was unearned as well. God had chosen her. He had set her apart to be the earthly vessel that would carry the priceless treasure of His Son. It was her relative obscurity and apparent inadequacy that set her apart. And Mary seemed to recognize the incongruity of Gabriel’s words with her own understanding of her value. She was troubled by what she heard and couldn’t reconcile the confusing nature of the angel’s message. But the apostle Paul provides us with a statement that helps to explain what was going on as Gabriel declared God’s message to Mary.

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-289 NLT

Mary was an unlikely vessel to contain the glory of God. But then, so are we.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

This young girl was going to be used by God to bring light into the world. She would bear and give birth to the Son of God. For nine months, she would carry the hope of the world in her womb, and eventually, she would deliver God’s priceless gift of grace into the waiting arms of a rebellious and sin-stained world.

Gabriel assured Mary that she had “found favor with God!” (Luke 1:30 NLT). Once again, this does not mean that Mary had earned favor, but that God had graciously chosen to act on her behalf. He was gracing her with His favor. And then Gabriel explains to her how the favor of God would manifest itself.

“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:31-33 NLT

If Mary had been troubled before, she had to have been reeling at this point. This was mind-boggling, earth-shattering information that must have left her head spinning and her heart racing. And her confusion is evidenced by her reaction: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV). She and Joseph were still in the betrothal stage of their relationship and were not yet officially married. It sounded like Gabriel was getting the cart before the horse. She and Joseph still needed to complete their betrothal, go through the marriage ceremony, and then consummate their relationship.

That’s when Gabriel drops the next bombshell.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. – Luke 1:35 NLT

This was all uncharted waters for this young Jewish girl. She had no way of understanding what Gabriel meant. There was no precedent to which she could turn to understand this kind of supernatural explanation. It is doubtful that she fully comprehended the nature of Gabriel’s words. But rather than ask more questions, she simply responded: “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NLT). There may have been a tone of confused compliance behind Mary’s statement. She had no idea what was about to happen but because it was the will of God, Mary was ready to humbly submit.  

It all had to have sounded improbable and impossible to Mary. But Gabriel had assured her that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NLT). And he gave Elizabeth’s pregnancy as evidence of God’s involvement in all that was going on. The creator of the universe was working behind the scenes to bring about the greatest event in human history, and He was using broken, barren, insignificant, and undeserving individuals to make it happen.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Compassionate, Merciful God

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord. – Hosea 11:8-11 ESV

One of the problems we face as fallen human beings is trying to comprehend the ways of a holy and fully righteous God. The prophet Isaiah provides us with God’s explanation for why finite men will never grasp His infinite and inexplicable actions.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

But while we might agree with God’s assessment of the problem, we too often miss the circumstances surrounding our lack of understanding. Take a look at the verses that precede the Lord’s declaration regarding His unfathomable ways. What we have difficulty comprehending is His divine willingness to show compassion on those who least deserve it.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7 NLT

God specifically addresses “the wicked” and “the unrighteous.” He calls on sinners to seek Him while they still have the opportunity. He doesn’t require that they clean up their proverbial act and start living righteous lives before they seek Him. But He does ask them to turn from their wicked lifestyles and their unrighteous ways of thinking, and to seek Him instead. All so that He might shower them with His compassion and bless them with His undeserved pardon.

As sinful human beings, we find this kind of offer incomprehensible and inexplicable. It makes no sense. Because to our way of thinking, love is always conditional. Rewards must be earned. We have been raised on a steady diet of moral rhetoric that has convinced us that you don’t get something for nothing. Yet, the apostle Paul would remind us that it was for our sinfulness that Jesus came to earth and offered up His life.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

Even Jesus declared that His incarnation, call to repentance, and offer of redemption was aimed at the spiritually sick and hopeless.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32 ESV

On another occasion, Jesus reiterated this same sentiment, declaring His intention to show compassion on those who least deserved it.

“For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

So, when we read a book like Hosea, we can become confused by what appears to be apparent contradictions in the character of God. One minute we find Him castigating and condemning the Israelites for their immorality and idolatry. He declares His dissatisfaction with them and delivers warnings of His pending judgment. Then, almost out of nowhere, God declares His intention to show them mercy.

Take a look a verses 8-9. They stand in stark contrast to verse 7, where God just declared His intention to ignore Israel’s pleas for help. They will cry out, but “he shall not raise them up at all.”

Yet, in the very next verse, God reveals what appears to be a dramatic change of heart.

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”
– Hosea 11:8-9 NLT

While God is determined to bring judgment against His wicked and unrighteous people, He cannot bear the thought of destroying them completely. He mentions the cities of Admah and Zeboiim, which, at one time, had enjoyed a close physical and moral relationship with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Deuteronomy 29:23, God destroyed these two cities when He brought His judgment to bear on Sodom and Gomorrah.

And the thought of bringing that level of destruction on His chosen people caused God’s heart to soften. His compassion overwhelmed Him. He declares that “My heart recoils within me” (Hosea 11:8 ESV). That word “recoils” has a very interesting meaning in Hebrew. It is the word, hāp̄aḵ, and it can mean “to turn” or “overturn.” It also has a negative connotation, referring to the overthrow of someone or something. Hans Walter Wolfe provides a helpful explanation regarding what seems to be going on in the heart of God.

“Israel will not be completely ‘overturned’ as the cities mentioned here; rather, there will be an ‘overturning,’ that is, a change, in Yahweh’s heart.” – Wolff, Hans Walter. Hosea. Translated by Gary Stansell. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974

God is holy and must punish sin. But God also desires to extend mercy and compassion to sinners. The apostle Peter describes God as incredibly patient, and reminds us that “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). The same was true regarding His relationship with the people of Israel.

Israel would face God’s judgment, but would not have to undergo the full weight of His divine wrath.

“No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
    I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
    I am the Holy One living among you,
    and I will not come to destroy.” – Hosea 11:9 NLT

Unlike fallen mankind, God is not motivated by sinful desires. Even in His anger, He always acts righteously and justly. He is never capricious or vindictive. According to the psalmist, “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17 ESV).

This is not a picture of God relenting, repenting, or even changing His mind. He is simply stating that He is a God who is balanced and just in all that He does. He is going to punish Israel, but He is also going to keep every covenant promise He has made to them. His destruction will come, but it will not be complete and comprehensive. He will severely discipline them, but refrain from annihilating them. Why? Because He has promised to use them to bring a blessing to the nations, and He will accomplish that promise through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s ways are not our ways. His plans do not always make sense to us. But His grand plan for the redemption of mankind included His Son being born into the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Judah, as a descendant of Abraham, and the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, God will restore His people to power and prominence when His Son sets up His earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Which is exactly what God promised to the rebellious people of Israel through His prophet, Hosea.

“For someday the people will follow me.
    I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
    my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
    Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
    says the Lord. – Hosea 11:11-12 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Measured and Found Wanting

7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
    and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
    and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Amos 7:7-9 ESV

The book of Jonah could easily be classified as a cliff-hanger. It ends rather abruptly, leaving the reader with a lot of unanswered questions, not the least of which is what happened to Jonah. We can safely assume that God did not answer Jonah’s pitty-filled plea to kill him. But did he remain in Nineveh or return home to Gath-hepher in Galilee? Regardless of his disposition or destination, he remained a prophet of God. So, did he receive a new assignment? Was he called to minister God’s Word to the new converts in Nineveh?

All of these questions are left unanswered. We are not even told what happened to the citizens of Nineveh. But we know that God did not rain down destruction on them because the text tells us, “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). God showed them pity and spared their lives. But that is all we know. There is no extant record that corroborates or validates the author’s claim that the people of Nineveh experienced a revival. The Assyrians kept detailed accounts of their many exploits, but no archeological discoveries have ever unearthed a stone or tablet containing evidence of the mass conversion of the city of Nineveh. But that should not come as a shock. The Assyrians were not known for keeping objectively based or unbiased records of their history. The chronicles they penned were intended to glorify their successes while minimizing their failures. So, it would not be surprising that, if the king of Nineveh made a record of what is described in the book of Jonah, it was quickly expunged by his successor. And we know that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was short-lived. Their king’s mournful plea that they “turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence” (Jonah 3:8 ESV), seems to have resulted in a temporary change in behavior. But those same Assyrians would ultimately show up on Israel’s doorstep, besiege their capital city of Samaria, and eventually defeat and deport them.

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

God had repeatedly warned the people of Israel that they would suffer destruction for their sinfulness and for their stubborn refusal to repent and return to Him. Even Jonah’s contemporary, Amos, had prophesied that they would one day be defeated and deported, and it would be God’s doing.

The Sovereign Lord has sworn this by his holiness:
“The time will come when you will be led away
    with hooks in your noses.
Every last one of you will be dragged away
    like a fish on a hook!
You will be led out through the ruins of the wall;
    you will be thrown from your fortresses,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:2-3 NLT

And the author of 2 Kings does not sugarcoat the cause of their destruction.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:7-9 NLT

The fates of Jonah and Nineveh were not relevant to the author of the book of Jonah because they were not the focus of his story. He was writing to the Hebrew people and the entire purpose behind his book was to remind them of the sovereign will of God. It is likely that this book was penned after the nation of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians. They would have been living in exile “along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6 NLT). And this story was meant to convict them of their sin and remind them that their God was “a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love” (Jonah 4:2 NLT). He was “eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2 NLT).

And even though they were living as captives of war in Assyria, their God had not forgotten them. If He could redeem the wicked Ninevites, He most certainly could redeem His chosen but rebellious people. But even in their captivity, they remained stubbornly unwilling to obey God. They longed for His deliverance but remained opposed to keeping His commands. In a sense, they were just like Jonah. As they languished in the Assyria (the belly of the fish), they displayed a superficial form of repentance that had no teeth to it.

Come on! Let’s return to the Lord.
He himself has torn us to pieces,
but he will heal us!
He has injured us,
but he will bandage our wounds!
He will restore us in a very short time;
he will heal us in a little while,
so that we may live in his presence.
So let us search for him!
Let us seek to know the Lord!
He will come to our rescue as certainly as the appearance of the dawn,
as certainly as the winter rain comes,
as certainly as the spring rain that waters the land. – Hosea 6:1-3 NET

They were like Jonah, vowing to keep vows and pledging to offer up offerings, only if God would rescue them. But they remained just as stubborn as the prophet of God. And God saw through their sham display of repentance.

“…your faithfulness is as fleeting as the morning mist;
it disappears as quickly as dawn’s dew…” – Hosea 6:4 NET

God was not interested in pretense and false displays of piety. He was looking for true heart change.

“For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice;
I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 NET

God had taken stock of Israel and found them to be wanting. As the book of Amos reveals, God had measured the integrity of the house of Israel and found it to be of poor quality and construction. Amos was given a vision of God standing next to a wall with a plumb line in His hand. A plumb line was a simple, yet effective building tool that featured a heavy weight on the end of a string. It used the force of gravity to establish an accurate line of perpendicularity so that a wall would not lean in the wrong direction. And God told Amos, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins” (Amos 7:8 NLT). He was going to measure or assess their spiritual integrity. And God made it to Amos that the people of Israel were not going to measure up to His righteous standard.

“The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.” – Amos 7:9 NLT

God was going to deal with Israel according to their sins. Yes, they were His chosen people. He had set them apart as His prized possession. But they had repeatedly rejected Him as their God, chasing after false gods and refusing to acknowledge of confess their spiritual adultery. And God could not and would not tolerate their sin forever.

“I want to heal Israel, but its sins are too great.
    Samaria is filled with liars.
Thieves are on the inside
    and bandits on the outside!
Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all.” – Hosea 7:1-2 NLT

The people of Israel had become arrogant and prideful. Under the reign of King Jeroboam II, they had enjoyed renewed success and prosperity. He had expanded their borders and reestablished them as a major player in the region. Yet, rather than see these successes as the handiwork of God, they took credit for them.

Their arrogance testifies against them,
    yet they don’t return to the Lord their God
    or even try to find him. – Hosea 7:10 NLT

And listen closely to how God describes His chosen people.

“The people of Israel have become like silly, witless doves,
    first calling to Egypt, then flying to Assyria for help.
But as they fly about,
    I will throw my net over them
and bring them down like a bird from the sky.
    I will punish them for all the evil they do.” – Hosea 7:11-12 NLT

The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which just happens to be the name of the prophet whom God sent to Nineveh. As Jonah flitted about like a witless dove, flying to Joppa and then taking flight to Tarshish, he was mimicking the actions of the rebellious people of God. And just as he could not escape the soveriegn hand of God Almighty, neither would they.

All of this reminds me of another incident recorded in the Word of God. It involves King Belshazzar and the prophet, Daniel. The southern kingdom of Judah has fallen to the Babylonians and Daniel is among those who were taken captive and transported to Babylon as slaves. Fortunately, he has ended up on the payroll of the king. At one point, the king threw an extravagant party, and to impress his guests, he ordered that they bring in all the “gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem” (Danuel 5:3 NLT). Belshazzar, in a display of pride and arrogance, had his guests drink wine from these sacred vessels, and they toasted “their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4 NLT). And as they reveled in the superior nature of their gods, a startling scene unfolded.

Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. – Daniel 5:5-6 NLT

The king sent for Daniel, who was known for his ability to interpret dreams and visions. And Daniel gave the king a brief, but sobering history lesson.

“Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them.” – Daniel 5:18-21 NLT

Daniel reminded the arrogant king that his predecessor had suffered from the same malady and had paid dearly for it. Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that his success had been God-ordained. He had taken credit for something God had done. And now, Belshazzar was repeating that mistake.

You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven.” – Daniel 5:22-23 NLT

And when Daniel finally got around to interpreting the vision, he simply informed the king, “…you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27 ESV). In essence, God had given Belshazzar a plumb-line assessment of his reign:

“God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.” – Daniel 5:26 NLT

“…you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.” – Daniel 5:27 NLT

God is sovereign over all nations. He alone places kings of their thrones. And He had sovereignly chosen to make Israel His set-apart people. They had enjoyed a unique relationship with Him, unprecedented among all the nations of the earth. But they had failed to remain faithful. They had chosen to reject their calling to be a blessing to the nations and a light to the world. As, as a result, God was compelled to punish them.

Listen to this message that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel—against the entire family I rescued from Egypt:

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:1-2 NLT

But despite their unfaithfulness, God would remain faithful. He would punish them, but He would also restore them. Yahweh would remain the covenant-keeping God, who fulfills all the promises He has made.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:14-15 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

Blind to His Own Sin

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Jonah 4:1-5 ESV

Once again, Jonah finds himself in an unexpected and unpleasant situation. This entire portion of the narrative parallels Jonah’s experience in chapter 2. But this time, rather than praying from the belly of the fish, Jonah cries out to God from inside the walls of Nineveh, where a spiritual revival seems to be taking place. But in both cases, Jonah shares with God his dissatisfaction with his uncomfortable circumstances. Upon finding himself trapped inside the gullet of the giant fish, Jonah turned his attention to Yahweh.

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress – Jonah 2:1 ESV

The Hebrew word translated as “distress” is ṣārâ, which literally means “tightness.” Jonah was in a literal and figurative “tight spot.” To put it another way, he was in dire straits, something the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as “a very bad or difficult situation.” And it was the unpleasant conditions of his surroundings that produced in him feelings of anguish and distress. He wanted out. He was looking for a way of escape. And he ended that prayer with the confident assertion: “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9 ESV).

But fast forward to chapter four. Jonah now stands in the crowded streets of Nineveh, where the citizens, covered in sackcloth and ashes as a sign of mourning for their sins, are calling out to Yahweh. But rather than rejoicing in this incredible display of repentance, Jonah is “displeased…exceedingly” (Jonah 4:1 ESV). In Hebrew, that phrase literally reads, “Jonah was displeased with great displeasure.” He is enraged by what he is witnessing. And raʿ, the Hebrew word describing his displeasure, is also translated as “evil” elsewhere in the book. The previous chapter ended with the statement, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil (raʿ) way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 ESV). 

The Ninevites had repented of their evil ways while Jonah was consumed by evil thoughts. He was angered by the thought that God might spare these pagan idolaters. He was repulsed by their displays of mourning and their cries for mercy from his God. And at this point in the narrative, Jonah had no way of knowing whether their actions would result in God sparing their lives. He wasn’t yet aware that God had already “relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them” (Jonah 1:10 ESV). But he suspected as much, and the very thought of it left him in a fit of rage. He is literally “hot and bothered.” The Hebrew word is ḥārâ, and it means “to burn up.”

In chapter 3, the king of Nineveh expressed his hope that God might “turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger” (Jonah 3:9 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “fierce” is ḥārôn, and it comes from the same root word as ḥārâ. It means “burning anger.” So, while God relented or turned from His righteous anger against the Ninevites, Jonah found himself consumed by self-righteous indignation.

So, in his “distress,” he called out to Yahweh, trying to explain the source of his consternation and concern.

“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. – Jonah 4:2 NLT

He justified his rage by claiming that his worst fears had been realized. The potential repentance of the Ninevites was exactly why he had run away in the first place. Now, as he stood in the streets of Nineveh, he realized that his compassionate, gracious, and loving God might change His mind and let the guilty Ninevites off the hook. And that prospect appalled and angered him.

Jonah described Yahweh as being “slow to anger” and yet, here he was filled with uncontrollable rage at the thought of the Ninevites literally getting away with murder, torture, idolatry, and immorality. But Jonah seems to have an inflated sense of his own righteousness and that of the people of Israel. Somehow he believed that the chosen people of God were somehow deserving of God’s mercy and grace, but not the Gentiles of the world.

Back in chapter 1, Jonah slept like a baby while the Gentile sailors desperately struggled to save the ship and their lives. Even when they discovered that Jonah was the source of their predicament, they made one last attempt to row to shore rather than throw him overboard. They showed him mercy and extended him grace. But Jonah seemed unconcerned with either the physical or spiritual well-being of these pagan men. And it was only after he got exposed as the guilty party that he offered to sacrifice himself. But it seems that Jonah was more interested in ending his own life than in saving theirs. He would rather die than have to obey God’s command and go to Nineveh.

And as Jonah considered the unacceptable prospect of Nineveh being spared, he called on God to put him out of his misery.

“Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” – Jonah 4:3 NLT

Jonah would rather die than have to watch the sinful Ninevites escape the wrath of God. But his arrogant attitude failed to recognize his own guilt and worthiness of God’s judgment. When he had been trapped inside the belly of the great fish, Jonah had called on God to extend him mercy and grace. And God had heard his cry and spared his life. But Jonah suffered from short-term memory loss. And he seems to have conveniently forgotten the words of his fellow prophets, who had repeatedly declared the guilt of the people of Israel. Poor Hosea had been commanded by God to marry a prostitute who ended up bearing him three children. The first child was a son, whom God told Hosea to name Jezreel, “because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel” (Hosea 1:4 ESV).

At the birth of Hosea’s second child, God told him, “Name her No Pity’ (Lo-Ruhamah) because I will no longer have pity on the nation of Israel. For I will certainly not forgive their guilt” (Hosea 1:6 ESV). When Hosea’s wife gave birth to another son, God told him, “Name him ‘Not My People’ (Lo-Ammi), because you are not my people and I am not your God” (Hosea 1:9 ESV).

And yet, despite these sobering and convicting words from God, Hosea had also recorded the good news of God’s gracious and merciful forgiveness.

“However, in the future the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea that can be neither measured nor numbered. Although it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it will be said to them, “You are children of the living God!” Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great!” – Hosea 1:10-11 NLT

The nation of Israel was guilty of having rejected God. They stood condemned before Him and worthy of His just and righteous judgment. God would be fully justified in punishing them for having broken their covenant commitment to Him.

“…you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust.” – Hosea 6:7 NLT

God would go on to describe the people of Israel as “silly, witless doves” (Hosea 7:11 ESV). The Hebrew word for “dove” is yônâ, which should sound familiar because it just happens to be Jonah’s name. This arrogant prophet, just like the people of Israel, was worthy of death. He didn’t need to give God an excuse to kill him. He was already worthy of God’s judgment and deserving of death. Yet God had spared his life. Jonah had been miraculously rescued from “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:2 ESV. He had been able to praise God for having, “snatched me from the jaws of death” (Jonah 2:6 NLT). After having been graciously spared by God, Jonah had declared, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9 ESV). And yet, here was this same man demanding that God take his life so he wouldn’t have to witness the salvation of the Ninevites.

But God, who is all-righteous and yet slow to anger, asked his pouting prophet if his rage was justified.

“Is it right for you to be angry about this?” – Jonah 4:4 NLT

Did Jonah really believe he had a right to stand in judgment over the Ninevites? Was he so blind to his own sin that he couldn’t see the hypocrisy of his own actions? But Jonah refused to answer God’s question. Instead, he simply walked away. Jonah “went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there” (Jonah 4:5 ESV). Still unaware of God’s plans for Nineveh, Jonah erected a shelter from which he could view the city and wait to see what God was going to do. The fact that he sought shelter outside the walls of the city reveals that he still had hopes that the destruction of Nineveh was a possibility. And there he sat, “till he should see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5 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 Day of Good News

Now there were four men who were lepers at the entrance to the gate. And they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. So now come, let us go over to the camp of the Syrians. If they spare our lives we shall live, and if they kill us we shall but die.” So they arose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians. But when they came to the edge of the camp of the Syrians, behold, there was no one there. For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, “Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.” So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.

Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.” 10 So they came and called to the gatekeepers of the city and told them, “We came to the camp of the Syrians, and behold, there was no one to be seen or heard there, nothing but the horses tied and the donkeys tied and the tents as they were.” 11 Then the gatekeepers called out, and it was told within the king’s household. 12 And the king rose in the night and said to his servants, “I will tell you what the Syrians have done to us. They know that we are hungry. Therefore they have gone out of the camp to hide themselves in the open country, thinking, ‘When they come out of the city, we shall take them alive and get into the city.’” 13 And one of his servants said, “Let some men take five of the remaining horses, seeing that those who are left here will fare like the whole multitude of Israel who have already perished. Let us send and see.” 14 So they took two horsemen, and the king sent them after the army of the Syrians, saying, “Go and see.” 15 So they went after them as far as the Jordan, and behold, all the way was littered with garments and equipment that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste. And the messengers returned and told the king.

16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians. So a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, according to the word of the Lord. 17 Now the king had appointed the captain on whose hand he leaned to have charge of the gate. And the people trampled him in the gate, so that he died, as the man of God had said when the king came down to him. 18 For when the man of God had said to the king, “Two seahs of barley shall be sold for a shekel, and a seah of fine flour for a shekel, about this time tomorrow in the gate of Samaria,” 19 the captain had answered the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could such a thing be?” And he had said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” 20 And so it happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gate and he died. 2 Kings 7:3-20 ESV

A protracted siege by the Syrians had left the royal city of Samaria in dire straits. The people inside the walls were starving to death due to the lack of food and some had even resorted to cannibalism, eating their own children to survive. Jehoram, the king of Israel, was powerless to do anything about the situation. He recognized that this was some form of punishment from the hand of Yahweh, but he refused to repent of his apostasy and idolatry. Defenseless against the Syrians and completely powerless to thwart the divine wrath of Yahweh, Jehoram turned his anger and frustration against the prophet Elisha.

Jehoram knew that Elisha was somehow to blame for the devastating conditions in Samaria. And he fully expected the prophet to bring nothing but bad news regarding the ultimate outcome of the siege. But to his surprise, Elisha predicted a dramatic and virtually instantaneous reversal of fortunes.

“By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” – 2 Kings 7:1 NLT

Elisha informed the king that within 24 hours, the conditions within the walls of Samaria would improve so dramatically that it would be as if the siege never took place. But Elisha provided no explanation as to how this remarkable transformation would take place. And at least one individual responded to his words with doubt and derision.

The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” – 2 Kings 7:2 NLT

The author then transitions his story from the doubting officer to four lepers who sat at the gate of the city. Because of their disease, these men were social outcasts whose survival was based on the generosity of others. They were forced to beg for handouts in order to survive. And the siege had made their circumstances worse than ever. Their appearance in the story at this particular point in time is purely intentional. In a sense, they serve as proxies for the entire nation of Israel. Their disease reflects the spiritual state of God’s people. And their abject state of hopelessness and helplessness is meant to mirror the plight of all those who have abandoned Yahweh.

As they sat at the gate of the city, these four men assessed their situation and determined to do something about it. They could stay where they were and starve to death, or they could risk entering the Syrian camp and placing themselves at the mercy of the enemy. So, sometime before sunrise, they made their fateful decision and walked the short distance from the walls of Samaria to the Syrian encampment. Fully expecting to encounter a Syrian sentry somewhere along the way, they were surprised to find that they were able to walk into the camp uninhibited and unaccosted. The place was a virtual ghost town with not a single Syrian sight. It was as if the entire Syrian army had just evaporated into thin air, leaving behind all their tents, equipment,  and provisions, including mass quantities of food and wine. These four starving lepers found themselves living in a dream come true. Suddenly and unexpectedly, these men who had spent their entire lives begging for food, found themselves surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of delicious delicacies and fine wines.

…they went into one tent after another, eating and drinking wine; and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and hid it. – 2 Kings 7:8 NLT

Like kids let loose in a candy store, they greedily stuffed their faces and their pockets. They had no idea what had happened to the Syrians, and they didn’t seem to care. Their minds were focused on the perpetual feast in front of them and all the silver and gold that had been left for them. Little did they know that their good fortune had been an act of God.

For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. – 2 Kings 7:6 NLT

Sometime before the lepers had made their decision to enter the Syrian camp, God had performed a miracle. He had caused the Syrians to hear what sounded like a large army headed their way. They immediately concluded that the Israelites had somehow gotten word to their allies and help was on the way.

“The king of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!” they cried to one another. So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives. – 2 Kings 7:6-7 NLT

There were no Hittites or Egyptians. There were no chariots or horses. It had all been a divine ruse. And when the four lepers finally stopped pillaging long enough to consider the incredible nature of what they were witnessing, they had second thoughts.

“This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on, let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.” – 2 Kings 7:9 NLT

But when their good news reached the ears of King Jehoram, he reacted with derision. He saw it as nothing more than a clever ploy by the Syrians to lure the Israelite troops out of the safety of the city. It was all too good to be true. Jehoram could not bring himself to believe that victory could come that easily. There was no way that the long-standing siege could end without a fight and the fall of the city. So, he sent scouts to verify the report of the lepers, and they discovered “a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape” (2 Kings 7:15 NLT).

It was true. The Syrians were gone and the siege was over. But not only that, the Syrian camp was filled with more than enough food to feed the citizens of the city. And when the Israelites had finished plundering the camp, the conditions within the walls of Samaria were instantaneously reversed.

Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. – 2 Kings 7:16 NLT

And the author makes sure that we understand the nature of this amazing turn of events.

…everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted. – 2 Kings 7:17 NLT

God had intervened on behalf of His disobedient children. He had graciously and mercifully delivered them from their enemy and rescued them from imminent death. Overnight, the four lepers had experienced a dramatic shift in their fortunes. They not only had full stomachs but they had hidden enough treasure to transform themselves from paupers to princes. And the people of Samaria were blessed with food they didn’t deserve and riches they had not earned. Their good and gracious God had lovingly spared them – one more time.

But the one man who had expressed doubt concerning God’s ability to deliver His people would find himself suffering a different fate. Elisha had warned him, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” (2 Kings 7:2 NLT). And when the starving masses flowed out of the city to plunder the Syrian camp, this man was crushed to death. He never lived long enough to see what God had done. And not one morsel of the fine Syrian cuisine or one drop of their wine ever touched his lips. He had doubted the power of God and suffered the consequences. The day of good news turned out to be very bad news for him.

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 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