Protections For Man and Beast

1 “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’– Deuteronomy 25:1-10 ESV

It would be difficult to ignore the extreme specificity of many of these laws. Moses brings up a wide range of scenarios that deal with some of the most peculiar and particular situations imaginable. In these ten verses alone, he shifts from talking about just punishment for the guilty to the proper treatment of domesticated animals.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he brings up the law concerning levirate marriage.

While these three topics appear to have no common link to bind them together, they each fall under the overarching topic of justice. God demanded that His people live together in a society marked by justice and righteousness. It was essential that they treat one another well, exhibiting respect and reverence for every one of God’s chosen people, regardless of their social status or financial condition. God even placed a high regard on the ethical treatment of animals, expecting His people to care for them as exactly what they were: Blessings or gifts from His gracious hand.

In the case of a dispute between two individuals, they were instructed to go before the appointed judges and present their evidence. The judges were charged with acquiting the innocent and condemning the guilty. In prosecuting the case, if it was determined that the guilty party’s crime required a public beating as punishment, there were to be limits placed on the number of stripes delivered. The punishment must fit the crime. There was to be no abuse of the guilty through excessive discipline. In fact, Moses indicated that no more than 40 stripes or lashes were to be allowed. Obviously, this is dealing with crimes undeserving of capital punishment. But the guilty were to be justly tried, convicted, and disciplined for their crimes. But it was important that criminals not be degraded through excessive and unnecessary punishment. Even while meting out justice, the judges of Israel were expected to treat the guilty with dignity and respect.

At this point, Moses makes another one of his seemingly awkward transitions as he shifts his focus from dealing with criminals to the proper care of farm animals. Oxen played a vital role in the agrarian culture of the Israelites. In this case, they were used to tread the grain in order to separate the wheat from the husk. The basic idea was that, if the ox was forced to tread the grain, it should also be allowed to graze at it labored. Even animals should be treated fairly.

The apostle Paul would use this very law as an argument for the financial support of those who were called by God as ministers of the gospel.

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? – 1 Corinthians 9:9-12 ESV

He would bring this topic up again in his first letter to Timothy.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18 ESV

According to Paul, the underlying principle behind this law had to do with fairness. A criminal was to be treated with dignity and respect, and so was a common farm animal. There was no place for abuse or mistreatment of man or beast.

In the third scenario, Moses brings up the case of a woman whose husband dies unexpectedly. This law deals with what has become known as the levirate marriage. This term comes from the Latin word levir, which refers to a husband’s brother. If a man died without having an heir, his widow could appeal to one of his unmarried brothers, requesting that he marry her. The purpose behind this union was to preserve the  deceased man’s legacy through the birth of a son who would bear his name.

It seems clear from the text that this regulation concerned two brothers who shared the same home. And since the Mosaic law prohibited polygamy, it would seem obvious that the brother of the deceased would have to be unmarried to fulfill his commitment to the widow. But if the man was unwilling to marry his dead brother’s wife, there was a process she was to follow. She was to take the matter before the elders of the city, who were then required to approach the reluctant brother and give him a second opportunity to do what was right and just. Should he persist with his refusal to marry her, the woman was required to  “go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face” (Deuteronomy 25:9 ESV). And this physical display of humiliation was to be accompanied by a verbal curse: “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house” (Deuteronomy 25:9 ESV).

From that point forward, the brother would be forced to carry the reputation of one who refused to do the right thing. He had shown justice to his widowed sister-in-law. And this was a serious issue in the culture of that day, because a widowed woman was considered damaged goods. She would have a difficult time finding a husband and, in most cases, would end up living in poverty. So, for this brother to shirk his responsibility to perpetuate his brother’s name was a serious issue that could have dire consequences for the widow.

As with the other scenarios covered in this section, this is all about justice. God was extremely concerned about how His people treated one another. They were not free to do as they wished. Yes, the brother could refuse to marry his widowed sister-in-law, but not without consequences. A man could refuse to allow his ox to eat from the grain it was threshing, but this would be considered inhumane and limit the effectiveness of the animal.  A guilty man could be given more punishment than he deserved, but it would be unjust and, ultimately, non-productive.

God had His ways of doing things and He expected His people to abide by His will. If they did, it would go well with them. If they refused, they would have to reap the results of their stubbornness. Ultimately, all their behavior, whether good or bad, reflected back on God because they were His chosen people. They represented Him on earth and all that they did was intended to reflect His glory. Which is why Moses spent so much time addressing these highly specific situations that dealt with every area of daily life. Nothing is unimportant to God.

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

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

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

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The Great, Mighty, and Awesome God

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. – Deuteronomy 10:12-22 ESV

Moses has more than established Israel’s unrighteousness and God’s holiness. They were undeserving of their status as His chosen people. And he has proven it by citing well-documented examples of their stubbornness toward and rebellion against God. Yet, in spite of their serial unfaithfulness, God had displayed amazing patience and unwavering faithfulness.

Now, as the people of Israel prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses attempts to provide them with some context. They were fortunate to be where they were. Their very existence as a nation had been up to God, not them. Like the creation itself, God had formed them out of nothing. He had chosen a man named Abram and had promised to make of him a great nation, a people to whom God would give the entire land of Canaan as their inheritance. From that one man, who wasn’t even a Jew, God created the Hebrew nation and, as Moses reminds them, “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:22 ESV).

This detail is confirmed in the book of Exodus, where Moses recorded the arrival in Egypt of Jacob (Israel) and his family.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons. – Exodus 1:1-4 ESV

More than 400 years earlier, the small and insignificant family of Jacob (Israel), had made their way to Egypt in order to escape a devastating famine in the land of Canaan. But by the time they left Egypt four centuries later, they would be a massive nation that numbered in the millions. And this was the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham.

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

Now, the nation of Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan, and, this time, there was no famine. It was a country flowing in milk and honey, rich in produce, and filled with well-fortified cities and furnished home that would soon belong to the people of Israel. God was about to bless the people of Israel, not because of them, but in spite of them. And, with this amazing fact in mind, Moses asked them a sobering question:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you…?” – Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV

In light of the fact that they were about to re-enter the land their forefathers had left four centuries earlier and reap a harvest of blessings they didn’t even deserve, what should their reaction be? What was it that God expected in return for His undeserved blessings? Moses provided a clear and non-debatable answer:

“…to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good.” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 ESV

God expected full-blown and unwavering allegiance from His people. First of all, they were to have a healthy and well-deserved fear of Him. He was holy and all-powerful, and they were well-documented sinners who fully deserved His righteous wrath, but had been shown mercy and grace.

They were to “walk” or conduct their lives according to His ways and not their own. They were to live by His rules in every area of their lives, refusing to compromise their convictions by following the ways of the Canaanites.

And their love for God was to be evidenced by tangible and visible displays of service and obedience. God wasn’t going to be satisfied with robotic-like rule-keeping. He wanted obedience that flowed from the heart and soul and was a byproduct of their love and affection for Him. He desired that they keep His commands because they loved and trusted the giver of the commands.

And, just in case they had missed the point in all that he had said to them, Moses reminded them one more time of the unique privilege they enjoyed as God’s chosen people.

“Look, the highest heavens and the earth and everything in it all belong to the Lord your God. Yet the Lord chose your ancestors as the objects of his love. And he chose you, their descendants, above all other nations, as is evident today. Therefore, change your hearts and stop being stubborn.” – Deuteronomy 10:14-16 NLT

Again, notice the emphasis on the heart. Their problem was not an ignorance of God’s laws. They knew them well. They were suffering from a heart problem. And it would prove to be a long-term, hereditary ailment that plagued the nation of Israel for generations. Hundreds of years later, God would indict them for their heart-less worship of Him.

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

And centuries after that, Jesus would use this very same passage to call out the Jewish people of His own day.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

God demanded heartfelt obedience, not ritualistic, and legalistic adherence to a set of rules. And Moses reminded the Israelites that their God wasn’t going to allow them to simply go through the motions.

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed.” – Deuteronomy 10:17 NLT

They weren’t going to be able to fool God with their outer displays of conformity to His laws. He could see into their hearts, and He would know whether they were acting out of love or legalism. Their actions, if from the heart, would display the character of God, including His love of justice and mercy.

He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18 NLT

One of the ways they could prove their love for God was through acts of love and mercy to the needy and neglected in their midst. When they had been without food and water in the wilderness, God had provided for them. God had prevented their clothes and sandals from wearing out. He had protected and provided for them for more than four decades. And now, they were to extend that same level of love, justice, and mercy to others.

Hundreds of years later, the prophet Micah would document this divine expectation on the people of God.

He has shown you, O mankind, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 BSB

God expects His people to love as they have been loved. He demands that they extend to others the same level of grace, mercy, justice, and love that they have received from Him. And, as Moses made clear, God also expected that His people remain committed to Him and Him alone.

“You must fear the Lord your God and worship him and cling to him…He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise.” – Deuteronomy 10:20, 21 NLT

He is great, mighty, and awesome. He is loving, gracious, and kind. He is just, holy, and righteous. And He longs for His chosen people to reflect His character in all that they do.

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

 

 

 

In Those Days

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
29 Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:28-32 ESV

With the content of these verses, the message Joel is delivering on behalf of God fast forwards to the end times. In the original Hebrew text, verses 28-32 are actually arranged as a separate chapter in the book of Joel. That arrangement further designates this part of the message and accentuates it as being distinct from the rest. The Hebrew text opens up with the words, “Now it will be after this.” Sometime after the events recorded in the rest of chapter two, God is going to do something radically and dramatically different.

Joel refers to this future time period as “those days” and “the great and awesome day of the Lord.” These will not be your run-of-the-mill, ordinary kind of days. They represent a period on the earth that will be marked by extraordinary, never-before-seen events. What Joel describes in these verses are supernatural, one-of-a-kind occurrences that represent the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for His chosen people, the Jews, and for the rest of mankind and the created universe.

In the preceding verses, Joel has described how God poured out His judgment on the people of Judah in the form on locusts. And God has warned that He is going to pour out even worse judgment in the form of an invading army. Now, God tells them that a day is coming when He will pour out something quite different: His Spirit.

“I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…” – Joel 2:28 ESV

In place of His righteous and just judgment, God will pour out His Spirit. The prophet Ezekiel records a very similar message from God, providing greater detail as to what this divine outpouring will look like.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

The prophet Zechariah provides further proof that this outpouring will be reserved for the people of Israel. And part of its purpose will be to open their eyes to the true nature of Jesus as their Messiah. They rejected Him the first time He came to earth, but when He arrives the second time, their response will be quite different.

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.” – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

This future period of time which Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah describe, represent the great day of the Lord when Jesus returns to earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. This will take place at the end of the seven years of Tribulation. And while His return will signal the final destruction of all those on earth who have refused to honor God as the one true God and have rejected Jesus Christ as their only source of salvation, God will extend mercy to a remnant of His people. And this group will be made up of what will likely be millions of Jews who will come to faith during the dark days of the Tribulation. God will redeem 144,000 Jews who will become His evangelists during the Tribulation, and they will lead countless others to faith in Christ, including Gentiles (Revelation 7:1-8). We know from the book of Revelation that there will be a large number of these Tribulation saints martyred by Antichrist. John is given a vision of them standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:8-10 ESV

And John is told who these individuals are.

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. – Revelation 7:14 ESV

But in this message given by Joel, the emphasis is on the Jews. God has a special plan in place for His chosen people. Joel envisions God’s grace being poured out on His undeserving children, and it will fall on men and women, the young and old, and even slaves. And it will be accompanied by prophecy, dreams, and visions. This is meant to distinguish this as a time of unprecedented spiritual awakening marked by a pervasive presence of miraculous signs and wonders. Rather than one man speaking on behalf of God, countless young children will be declaring His truth. Even the old will communicate on behalf of God, declaring messages He has given them in the form of dreams. Young men, not recognized for their wisdom, will be given visions by God intended to communicate His word to the entire community. All of this will be the result of God’s powerful presence among His people. As the prophet Ezekiel recorded, God has promised that one day He will reveal Himself to them in unprecedented fashion.

“And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 39:29 ESV

In these coming days, God will reveal Himself in unprecedented ways. Not the least of which will be in the form of His resurrected and returned Son. The emphasis of these verses is not on the miraculous things the people will be able to do, but on the presence of God that makes it all possible. The prophet Jeremiah recorded yet another promise of God concerning this coming day.’

“I will give them hearts that recognize me as the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me wholeheartedly.” – Jeremiah 24:7 NLT

And the apostle John heard a similar message concerning the day when God and His Son will take up permanent residence among His people.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” – Revelation 21:3 NLT

But before all of this happens, God will bring final judgment on the earth.

“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” – Joel 2:30-31 ESV

But during those days of final judgment, God will still be showing grace and mercy on fallen mankind, offering the gift of salvation to any who will receive it.

And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. – Joel 2:32 ESV

These verses are full of reminders of God’s power, faithfulness, patience, covenant faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace. In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to disobey His commands and dishonor His name, He would keep His covenant promises to them. And even during the dark days of the Tribulation, when mankind will stubbornly refuse to turn to God in repentance, even in the face of His unrelenting judgment, He will save some.

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

 

Called, Loved, Kept

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – Jude 1:1-4 ESV

This very short book bears the name of its author, Jude. In the Greek language in which this letter was originally written, the name is actually, Judas. Over the centuries, most English translations changed to name to Jude in order to eliminate any risk of confusing the author with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The traditional view on the author’s identity is that he was Judas, the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus. The gospel of Matthew introduces us to these two characters. When Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth, His neighbors had remarked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55 ESV).

Judas would have been his Greek name. But in Hebrew, he would have been called Judah, which means “praise.” Jude was a Jewish Christian, but, like his brother James, would have been considered a Hellenized of Greek-speaking Jew from the region of Galilee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, his family had a difficult time reconciling His claims to be the Son of God. John records in his gospel account that “not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV). We know that Jude and James both came to faith in Christ at some point because they are listed as being in the crowd that had gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:14 ESV

The author even introduces himself as the brother of James, who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. These men would have been highly influential in the early days of the spread of Christianity. Their relationship with Jesus would have given them strong credibility among the people. And the greeting of this letter clearly reveals that Jude was writing to “those who are called” – a reference to believers in Jesus Christ. This was a common designation when referring to Christians, in part because of the words of Jesus Himself.

“For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me…” – John 6:44 NLT

Jesus clearly taught that salvation was a work of God. Without His direct involvement, no man would come to faith in Christ. Jesus went on to say, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me” (John 6:65 NLT). And Jesus claimed that He came to earth in order to do the will of His Father, and He clearly articulated what that will involved: “…this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me” (John 6:37 NLT).

Years later, Jesus prayed in the garden, just hours before His death. And He talked to His heavenly Father about those He had called and given to Jesus to His followers.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.” – John 17:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul also spoke of this calling by God.

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. – Romans 8:29-30 NLT

Paul told the Corinthians believers: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9 ESV), and he reminded the believers in Rome that God’s “call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:29 NLT).

But not only were those to whom Jude wrote called by God, they were “beloved” by God. They were literally wrapped in or surrounded by the love of God. And they were preserved in that love by Jesus Christ. Again, back to the garden on the night Jesus was betrayed, He prayed to the Father, “During my time here, I protected them by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost…” (John 17:12 NLT). And Jesus continues to guard and protect His own, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit. Not a single one whom called has called will ever have to fear the loss of God’s love, because he is kept in that love because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And Paul comforted the believers in Rome with these words:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Now that Jude has established his identity and reminded his audience of who they were in Christ, he lets them know what he desires for them.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. – Jude 1:2 ESV

These three things are non-negotiables for the believer in Christ. We cannot survive, let along thrive, without them. Because of our sin natures, we will continue to wrestle with the desire to disobey God. We will need His mercy all along the way. Our growth in Christlikeness will require His undeserved kindness and good will. We will fail, but His love never will.

And life in this fallen world will leave us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. We will struggle with a sense of confusion as we attempt to live our lives in the midst of all the chaos that surrounds us. But Jude assures his readers that God can and will give them His peace – a miraculous calm in the midst of the storms of life.

And none of us can fully enjoy the Christian life without a growing understanding of just how much God loves us. That increasing awareness of being loved by God will translate into a selfless, sacrificial love for others. We will love because we have been loved. And it seems that Jude’s desire for these three indispensible, God-produced virtues, was based on his knowledge of the particular circumstances his audience  faced.

There was a growing problem taking place within their local congregations and Jude wastes no time in addressing it.

…some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. – Jude 1:4 NLT

Jude had intended to write a much more comforting and encouraging letter dealing with their common unity in the faith. But he had become aware of a dangerous heresy invading their congregations and he felt compelled to deal with it. In the rest of his letter, Jude will call his fellow believers “to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people” (Jude 1:3 NLT). There was a false teaching being spread within their local faith communities that threatened the very foundation of the gospel message. It was raising questions regarding the grace of God and the manner in which Christians were to live out their faith in everyday life. And, as far as Jude was concerned, it was not to be tolerated.

And Jude isn’t in an accommodating or compromising mood. He isn’t out to have a discussion on the particular views of these people. In fact, he boldly declares that these so-called Christians “have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4 NLT). Not exactly politically-correct language. But Jude knew the danger of this kind of teaching. It sounded appealing, but it would have a deadly impact on the gospel message and the spiritual health of the church. So, Jude will level a stinging indictment against its proponents and charge the believers to whom he is writing to stand firm and remove this cancer from their midst.

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 Call to Holiness

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

2 To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2 ESV

As we begin our study of Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi, it’s essential that we establish the historical context behind this document. Obviously, the opening line, which serves as the salutation to the letter, establishes Paul as its author. But we also find the name of Timothy, his young protégé and spiritual son in the faith. Timothy was alongside Paul as he penned this letter while under house arrest in Rome.

Paul had ended up in Rome by virtue of a series of complicated and, obviously, God-ordained events that had begun with a plot on his life. Paul had returned to Jerusalem in order to meet with James and the other leaders of the Jerusalem church. He made a report regarding his work among the Gentiles, and this news was met with great joy. But, while James and his associates were excited about what was obviously a sign of God’s hand upon Paul and his missionary efforts, they reported that the believing Jews in Jerusalem were less-than-enthusiastic about Paul’s work because of some disturbing rumors they had heard. It seems that Paul had been accused of teaching Jews that, once they came to Christ, they no longer had to keep the law of Moses. James presented Paul with the basic gist of the rumor.

“…they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:21 ESV

James was concerned that once these Jews heard that Paul was in town, they would stir up trouble for him. So, he recommended that Paul go through a period of purification, signaling to his critics that he was still a faithful Jew. Paul had agreed to the recommendation and, as the seven days of purification were coming to a close, he had made his way to the temple to complete the process. But Paul ended up being accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple reserved solely for Jews. A mob descended upon Paul and they had every intention of putting him to death. But Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers and put under arrest. A small faction of the Jews swore an oath among themselves that the would fast from food or drink until they had put Paul to death.

When the plot was exposed, Paul was shipped to Caesarea where he appeared before the Roman governor, Felix. Paul would remain in Caesarea for two years, under house arrest. Eventually Felix was replaced by Festus, who decided to send Paul back to Jerusalem for trial. But Paul, knowing that he would not receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, appealed to his right as a Roman citizen to appear before Caesar in Rome. He was granted his request and was shipped to Rome, where he remained for two years under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar.

It was from Rome that Paul wrote this letter. But why is any of this background information relevant? It is because the entire letter to the Philippian believers is filled with words of encouragement. Here was a man who had spent years facing trumped-up charges that had left him imprisoned for a crime he had not committed. He was still facing a plot on his life and the prospect of appearing before Caesar with no guarantee that his trial would end in either his acquital or release.  In fact, he would tell his brothers and sisters in Philippi:

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” – Philippians 1:21 NLT

Long before Paul ever arrived in Rome, he made a similar statement to the believers living there.

“If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” – Romans 14:8 NLT

So, here was Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi and attempting to encourage them in their faith. And the words that Paul writes to these people carry far more significance and weight where you consider the circumstances under which he wrote them. Consider this well-known declaration by Paul found later on in his letter.

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” – Philipiians 4:11-12 NLT

And he follows this expression of contentment in the face of adversity with the confident assertion: “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT). This was a man who knew what he was talking about. He was not offering pious-sounding platitudes, but well-tested counself based on his own personal experience.

Paul had a strong attachment to the believers in Philippi because he had played a major role in their coming to faith. Early on, in the book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s arrival in Philippi, a Roman colony. Paul had the privilege of leading to Christ a woman named Lydia, along with her entire household. Her home had become the meeting place for the fledgling congregation. It was in Philippi that Paul and Silas were imprisoned for casting a demon out of a young slave girl whose masters profited from their use of her as a fortune teller. Once freed from her demon, she was of no use to these men and they turned their anger against Paul and Silas. After having been severely beaten, Paul and his companions were imprisoned. But Paul was not someone who let obstacles stand in his way, even the bars of a prison cell. It was while they were in prison that Paul and Silas led to Christ the jailer in charge of their care.

Once released from jail, Paul and Silas eventually made their way to Thessalonica, but it seems that Paul made at least one return trip to Philippi some time before the penning of his letter to them. His letter was in direct response to a gift he had received from them that had been delivered by a man named Epaphroditus. Paul would use this young man to deliver his letter, allowing him to return home and put to rest any concern they had over his well-being. It seems that Ephaphroditus had become deathly sick during his time in Rome, but had recovered.

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,  for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” – Philippians 2:25-26 ESV

Paul was happy to send him home and included a word of commendation, praising Ephaphroditus for risking his life in order to minister to Paul’s needs.

But back to Paul’s salutation or greeting. He describes himself and Timothy as servants. The Greek word he used is doulos, and it refers to a bondservant or slave. It literally meant, “one who is subservient to, and entirely at the disposal of, his master; a slave.”

So, Paul doesn’t set himself as some kind of superior leader who deserves respect and honor, but describes himself as a lowly slave. This is the same designation Paul used when writing to the church in Rome.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. – Romans 1:1 ESV

Little did he know that, when he wrote these words, they would be prophetic. He would later become like a slave, living under the auhtority of the Roman government and completely subservient to their will. But he would see be serving Christ even while subject to the power and control of Rome.

And Paul addresses his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi.” They are saints or hagios, a Hebrew word that carries a depth of meaning. It is often used to refer to holiness. But it can also mean “to be set apart.” According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, hagios was used “of things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim to reverence.” Like the temple itself and the items found within it, believers have been set apart by God for His use. They belong to Him. Which is what led Paul to tell the believers in Rome:

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. – Romans 6:13 ESV

Paul had a deep desire to see his brothers and sisters in Christ live up to their calling as children of God. And he will plead with them to live lives that are set apart, reflecting their unique status as saints of God.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel… – Philippians 1:27 ESV

Here was a man well-acquainted with what it means to suffer for his faith. He had first-hand experience with what it looks like to live as hagios in a world that stood in direct opposition to all he believed in and stood for. At the core of his message to the Philippian church will be Paul’s call to spiritual maturity in the face of adversity. They were a relatively healthy congregation, but they were surrounded by darkness and faced with the constant temptation to compromise their faith. And he will use his own walk with Christ as an example of what holiness looks like in real life.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

And Paul knew well, that this determination to press on and strive for the goal of Christ-likeness would require the grace and peace of God. But as Paul also knew, he could do all things through Christ who provided all the strength he needed.

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

Clay In Need of a Potter

Isaiah 64:8-12

Isaiah, fully aware of the corporate sins of the people of Judah, and his shared guilt as one of their number appealed to God to intervene. He knew that there was nothing they could do about their circumstances. They were facing God’s just and righteous judgment. He also knew that the likelihood of the people changing their rebellious behavior on their own accord and through their own strength was negligible. It wasn’t going to happen. And he had a long history of evidence to use in support of his premise.

So, Isaiah called out to God. He begged God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1 ESV). He knew the only hope they had was the supernatural intervention of God on their behalf. Unless He showed up like He did in Egypt when He released them from their captivity, the people of Judah would continue to live as slaves to sin and face their own exile in the land of Babylon.

And to paint an even bleaker picture, Isaiah describes Judah as being filled with sinners. In a rather blunt assessment, Isaiah states, “we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved?” (Isaiah 64:5 NLT). Even if they were to dress up in their best efforts, wearing them before God like garments of righteousness, they would appear as filthy rags to God. In other words, Isaiah knew that the people of Judah were not going to earn their way into God’s good graces by self-produced righteousness. 

So, Isaiah addresses God as their Heavenly Father. He appeals to God’s divine parental instincts, and he utilizes a metaphor intended to illustrate God’s sovereignty and man’s dependency. Isaiah compares God to a potter and the people of Judah to a lifeless lump of clay. The relationship between the two, while symbiotic, is anything but co-equal. This real-world illustration is meant to juxtapose power with passivity and willfulness with submissiveness. And Isaiah wasn’t the one who came up with this compelling analogy. God had used the potter/clay comparison to drive home a point to the prophet Jeremiah.

The Lord said to Jeremiah: “Go down at once to the potter’s house. I will speak to you further there.” So I went down to the potter’s house and found him working at his wheel. Now and then there would be something wrong with the pot he was molding from the clay with his hands. So he would rework the clay into another kind of pot as he saw fit. – Jeremiah 18:1-4 NLT

Jeremiah was given a visual lesson on God’s sovereignty over His chosen people. Like a potter who fashions a lump of clay, God has the prerogative to do with His people as He sees fit. If He sees a flaw, He has every right to remake them according to His divine will. He doesn’t have to ask them for permission. It would be utterly ludicrous for a potter to seek advice from the clay. In fact, earlier in his book, Isaiah points out the absurdity of that image to the people of Judah.

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

And the apostle Paul picked up on the very same thought in his letter to the believers in Rome.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? – Romans 9:20-21 NLT

We have no business casting doubt on God’s goodness or questioning His motives or intentions. But, like Isaiah, we can appeal to His sovereign will and humbly submit ourselves to His intervention in our lives. After all, as Isaiah puts it, we are all the work of His hands. He made us and He has every right to do with us as He sees fit. And we can rest in the fact that God does nothing in regards to us that is void of His love. As the author of Hebrews makes clear, “the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT).

Isaiah acknowledges that God has every right to be angry with His rebellious people. They had repeatedly turned their backs on Him, practicing every imaginable form of idolatry. They had been unfaithful, and God was wholly justified in His anger towards them. Which is why Isaiah pleads with God, “Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever” (Isaiah 64:9 NLT). And He asks God to look down on their situation and recognize the sorry state of their condition. But all that Isaiah describes had not yet happened. He is painting a picture of Judah’s future as pre-ordained by God and prophesied by his very own lips. He describes their holy cities already as lying in ruins. Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple was a burned-out shell of its former glory. All that had once been beautiful was an eyesore.

The fate of Judah was dark. And the hope of Judah was dim unless God intervened. So, Isaiah intercedes on behalf of his people, begging God, the potter, to take matters into His own hands.

After all this, Lord, must you still refuse to help us?
    Will you continue to be silent and punish us? – Isaiah 64:12 NLT

It is as if Isaiah had read Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:

…even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy. – Romans 9:22-23 NLT

Isaiah was counting on God’s patience and mercy. He was putting his hope in God’s character as a loving Father, and believing that He would once again make the riches of His glory shine bright on the people of Judah. No, they didn’t deserve it, but isn’t that the essence of mercy? It is God’s unmerited and undeserved favor, poured out by a loving God who does for His own what they could never have done for themselves.

Not only were they unwilling to change, but they were also incapable. Judah was were little more than a lump of clay in need of the hands of the potter. And Isaiah longed to see God refashion His people into vessels for honorable use (2 Timothy 2:20). He knew that their transformation would only happen through God’s power and, that way, God alone would get the glory. As Paul told the believers in Corinth:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 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

God Will

15 The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:15-21 ESV

The people of Judah were between a rock and a hard place. They were guilty of sinning against a holy God and were suffering the consequences. And their sinful state left them incapable of doing anything about their condition. They were like blind men groping around in darkness, with no sense of where they were or what to do. Even the prophet’s calls to repent were met by deaf ears and a stubborn determination to continue living their lives just as they had for centuries. In fact, they had fooled themselves into believing that they were righteous because they still made a vain attempt to keep maintain the religious rites and rituals of their faith. But their hearts were not in it.  They were simply going through the motions.

And while they demanded justice and deliverance from God, their lives were marked by injustice and the misuse of their rights that resulted in their abuse of the weak and helpless among them. It was so bad, that Isaiah pictures God looking down from heaven and was far from happy with what He saw.

The Lord looked and was displeased
    to find there was no justice.
He was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed. – Isaiah 59:15-16 NLT

The spiritual state of affairs in Judah had reached an all-time low. And while there were those in the country, like Isaiah, who remained faithful to God, the reality was that the vast majority of the people were living in open rebellion to Him.

This indictment against the spiritual condition of Judah is echoed in the words of God recorded by the prophet Ezekiel. It is yet another case revealing the the divine disappointment of God with the state affairs among His chosen people.

“I looked for someone who might rebuild the wall of righteousness that guards the land. I searched for someone to stand in the gap in the wall so I wouldn’t have to destroy the land, but I found no one. – Ezekiel 22:30 NLT

God could find no one to stand in the gap. He could find no one practicing justice and intervening on behalf of the oppressed. And it wasn’t as if God had not made His requirements known to them. The prophet Micah had declared the expectations of God quite plainly and succinctly.

O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on behalf of God, had said virtually the same thing.

This is what the LORD says: Be fair-minded and just. Do what is right! Help those who have been robbed; rescue them from their oppressors. Quit your evil deeds! Do not mistreat foreigners, orphans, and widows. Stop murdering the innocent! – Jeremiah 22:3 NLT

And Hosea had recorded the words of God expressing His expectations of His people.

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:6 NLT

But sadly, there was no one in Judah willing to do what God wanted. They were all busy living according to their own agendas and  pursuing their own selfish passions and desires. Justice was nowhere to be found. Love of self had replaced love for others.

But God was not willing to allow things to remain as they were. While there was no one to step in the gap and rebuild the walls of righteousness, He was not content to leave things in that sorry state. And Isaiah describes God’s determination to do what no man was willing to do.

…then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. – Isaiah 59:16 ESV

God was not going to accept the status quo. He was not about to leave His chosen people in a state of helplessness and hopelessness. What is important to see here is that God was about to intervene on behalf of the weak. The people of Judah, while guilty of their sin, were helpless to do anything about it. They were incapable of living in keeping with the laws of God. They were unable to obey the commands of God. And they were helplessly succumbing to the attacks of the enemy. So, God determined to enact His form of divine justice and intercede for them. And Isaiah describes God as a warrior preparing for battle.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. – Isaiah 59:17 ESV

The result will be justice in the form of God repaying each and every oppressor of Judah for their mistreatment of God’s people.

He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 59:18 NLT

God will leave no sin unpunished. Every inequity will be dealt with and the justice of God will once again be established in the land. If God could not find a man to rebuild the walls of righteousness, He would do it Himself. If He could not find a single individual to dispense justice, He would take care of it.

And when all is said and done, the world will fear the name of the Lord and give Him glory. It will be painfully obvious that God has done something great and totally beyond the capabilities of mere men. This passage is obviously prophetic in nature, speaking of an event sometime in Judah’s future. And it was fulfilled in part with the coming of Jesus. God sent His Son into the world in order to redeem the world from its slavery to sin and the condemnation of death that came as a result of their rebellion against God. But the Jews rejected their Messiah, eventually demanding that He be crucified. But God is not done with His chosen people. There is a day coming when He will fulfill all that Isaiah has recorded in this chapter.

God will put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he will put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrap himself in zeal as a cloak. And He will bring justice to the land of Israel and to His people. He will restore His helpless and hopeless people to a right relationship with Him, doing for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:20 NLT

And the result of all this will be a radically new relationship between God and His chosen people. He will deliver them from their rebellion and restore them to prominence as His people. And He provides them with the following promise as a guarantee of His faithfulness and an encouragement to trust Him – even now.

“My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 59:21 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

Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
    we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
    and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

14 Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Isaiah 59:9-15 ESV

Where is God? If He loves me, why isn’t He doing something about my situation? If He’s so powerful, why won’t He fix my problem?

How many times have those kinds of questions been asked over the centuries? From believers and unbelievers alike.  And in this chapter, Isaiah has revealed that the people of Judah were asking these very kinds of questions because of their dire circumstances. They had concluded that either God was too weak to deliver them or simply hard of hearing. But Isaiah would not allow them to blame God for their dilemma. He laid the responsibility squarely on their shoulders.

…your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers. – Isaiah 59:2 NET

Now, Isaiah positions himself as one of their own, addressing them as a fellow Judahite who finds himself suffering alongside them. Even though he had been faithfully trying to turn them back to God. Picking up where he left off in verse 2, Isaiah adds, “For this reason deliverance is far from us and salvation does not reach us” (Isaiah 59:9 NET). Notice that Isaiah now includes himself in their predicament. Rather than addressing them as “you,” he uses the plural pronoun, “us.” Because of the sins of the many, even the faithful would suffer.

That’s why Isaiah drives home the unpopular message that it was their sins that separated them from God. And God’s seeming unavailability was a matter of disobedience, not distance. God had not gone anywhere, otherwise Isaiah would not have been doing what he was doing. Every word the prophet shared was from the lips of God. He wasn’t silent. They just weren’t listening. God wasn’t gone, but they had most definitely left Him.

And now, they were suffering the consequences of turning their backs on God. They longed for light, but found themselves surrounded by darkness. They kept waiting for the brightness of day, but seemed to be in a perpetual state of living in dusk turning to more darkness. There was no dawn on the horizon. Their cloud had no silver lining. And not that the light or darkness really mattered. Because they were like blind men groping along and oblivious as to whether it was midnight of the middle of the day. In a sense, they were so spiritually blind, they wouldn’t recognize the brightness of God’s glory if it appeared right in front of them.

The powerful growl like bears over their sorry state of affairs. They grumble and complains. The weak, like doves, mournfully call out, unable to do anything about their condition. They all “look for justice, but it never comes” and “for rescue, but it is far away” (Isaiah 59:11 NLT). Unfulfilled justice. Delayed deliverance. Neither does anyone any good. Justice that doesn’t ever get meted out isn’t justice at all. Rescue that never shows up is nothing more than disappointment, not deliverance. But again, the problem was not that God was lacking in justice and incapable of rescue. It was their sins. And, Isaiah makes that point quite clear, once again using the plural pronoun, “we” that allowed him to speak as one of their own. He was no longer addressing them as the prophet of God pointing his condemning finger of judgment. He was a brother who longed to see them wake up to the reality of their situation and recognize the gravity of their problem.

For our sins are piled up before God
    and testify against us. – Isaiah 59:12 NLT

They had a long track record of transgression against God. Their sins, like witnesses in a trial, testified against them, condemning them as guilty before God. And Isaiah will not allow them to play the innocent, wrongly accused victim.

we know what sinners we are.
We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.
    We have turned our backs on our God.
We know how unfair and oppressive we have been,
    carefully planning our deceitful lies. – Isaiah 59:12-13 NLT

It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “Let’s stop fooling ourselves. We all know we’re guilty, so let’s just own up to it and confess it.” Attempting to hide or deny their sin was getting them nowhere with God. He knew. He saw. And now He was sending them His judgment. But they could avoid His wrath if they would only admit their guilt.

But while they were longing for justice from God and demanding that He deliver them, they were busy practicing injustice and taking advantage of the weak and helpless among themselves. They were expecting God to do for them what they refused to do for one another. They wanted God to rescue them out of their troubles and trials, while they were busy dragging the innocent into court and treating their brothers and sisters like prey to be devoured rather than family to be cared for.

No, things were not good in Judah. And their circumstances were a direct result of their sinfulness. As the old maxim goes, they had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it.

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

For My Own Sake, I Do It

1 Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. For they call themselves after the holy city, and stay themselves on the God of Israel;     the Lord of hosts is his name.

“The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth, and I announced them; then suddenly I did them, and they came to pass. Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’

“You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. 10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?     My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:1-11 ESV

This opening verses of chapter 48 are not pretty. In them, God is going to pronounce a series of stinging indictments against the people of Judah. In the preceding chapters, God has clearly articulated His unique status as the one true God. Repeatedly He has announced, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9 ESV). The false gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship in place of Him were nothing more than lifeless statues made by human hands. They were powerless and unreliable substitutes for the God of creation. And yet, God’s people, chosen by Him, were guilty of abandoning Him for false gods. Sure, they would have said that they still believed in Him, but their actions proved otherwise. And as God stated earlier in the book of Isaiah:

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

God picks up that same theme in the opening verse of chapter 48, stating:

“Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came from the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right.” – Isaiah 48:1

Don’t miss the significance of what God is saying here. God is reminding them that they are descendants of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel. And His reference to the waters of Judah appears to be a figurative expression describing the nation’s birth through the tribe of Judah. Like the birth of a child being accompanied by water, the people of Judah were birthed by the divine will of God.  And these people, brought into being by the sovereign act of God and according to His mercy and divine favor, were quick to confess Him as their God, but “not in truth or right.” The NET Bible translates that phrase as, “not in an honest and just manner.” God is accusing them of blatant hypocrisy. They proudly proclaimed themselves to be children of God and residents of the capital city of Jerusalem. They even boasted of depending upon God. But the truth was quite different. Over the centuries, God had repeatedly told them about things that were going  to happen, and every one of these future events had taken place. And God explains that He told them in advance, so that when the prophecies took place as He decreed, they wouldn’t give credit to their false gods. Which He knew they would be prone to do.

Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’ – Isaiah 48:4-5 ESV

God had proven Himself reliable time and time again. He had provided them with ample evidence of His omniscience and omnipotence. He was all-knowing and all-powerful and yet, they continued to doubt His word and place their trust in worthless idols. So, now God tells them that He is going to reveal to them new things. This time they won’t be able to claim prior knowledge. He is about to do something never-before seen or spoken of.

“Now I will tell you new things, secrets you have not yet heard. They are brand new, not things from the past. So you cannot say, ‘We knew that all the time!’” – Isaiah 48:6-7 NLT

God exposes the people of Judah for what they were: Traitors, rebels, and over-confident, hard-headed children who refused to give God the glory and credit He deserved. They had a track-record of unfaithfulness and infidelity that stretched back to the very beginning. And yet, God informs them that He would preserve them. But God makes clear His reason for doing so. It would not be not because they deserved it, but because God was going to protect the integrity of His name. They were guilty of dragging His reputation through the mud. All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, God informed Moses and the people of Israel why He had chosen to rescue them from their captivity in Egypt.

“The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-11 NLT

God rescued them because He had promised to do so. His integrity depended upon it. God cannot and will not lie. What He says, He does. What He promises, He fulfills. But the people of Judah had broken their commitments to God. They had disobeyed His commands, decrees and regulations – for generations. And prophet Ezekiel records the words of God spoken in accusation against the people of Israel.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 ESV

And in Isaiah 48, God warns the people of Judah that He is going to refine them, purifying them like a metallurgist does silver – through intense heat. And He will do so for the sake of His own name.

“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11 ESV

When God eventually redeems the nation of Judah, there will be only one explanation: He did it. No false god will be able to take credit for it. And the salvation that God brings for His people will get the attention of the nations. They will see His sovereign power revealed in His miraculous redemption of His chosen people, and be amazed.

“And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

But there is far more to God’s message of redemption and restoration than the eventual return of the people of Judah to the land of Canaan. That would happen just as God had said. But Ezekiel goes on to state that God has something even more significant in store for His stubborn and stiff-necked people.

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 ESV

The day is coming when God will fulfill this promise. He will do for the people of Israel and Judah what they do not deserve and what they could never have accomplished on their own. It is the essence of redemption that the Redeemer purchase the release of those who had no chance of redeeming themselves. The apostle Peter reminds us, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19 ESV). The faithfulness of God as opposed to the faithlessness of the people of God. That’s what these 11 verses stress. The people of Judah did not deserve to be God’s chosen people, but they were. They didn’t deserve His favor and had not earned His redemption. But because God cares about the integrity of His own name, He will do for them all that He has promised to do.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it.”

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

Nowhere to Run or Hide.

11 The oracle concerning Dumah.

One is calling to me from Seir,
    “Watchman, what time of the night?
    Watchman, what time of the night?”
12 The watchman says:
“Morning comes, and also the night.
    If you will inquire, inquire;
    come back again.”

13 The oracle concerning Arabia.

In the thickets in Arabia you will lodge,
    O caravans of Dedanites.
14 To the thirsty bring water;
    meet the fugitive with bread,
    O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
15 For they have fled from the swords,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow,
    and from the press of battle.

16 For thus the Lord said to me, “Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. 17 And the remainder of the archers of the mighty men of the sons of Kedar will be few, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.”  – Isaiah 21:11-17 ESV

Isaiah-21This oracle concerns a region the text refers to as Dumah. In Hebrew, that word means “silence” and is most likely a reference to the land of Edom, which is called Seir in the very same verse. The use of the word, Dumah, is appropriate because this oracle is short on information. Unlike the previous oracles, this one is lacking in details and, therefore, silent as to the exact fate of the Edomites. We know that Seir is a reference to the Edomites because it was located in the region that God gave to Esau.

I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess.” – Joshua 24:4 ESV

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Their land was located to the south of Judah, on the northern border of what is now Saudi Arabia. While the Edomites were close relatives to the Israelites, the two nations had a contentious relationship. When the Israelites were journeying from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they asked permission to pass through the land of Edom but were turned down.

Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him. – Numbers 20:17-21 ESV

During the reign of King David, the Edomites became subjects of Israel, with Israelite garrisons stationed within their land. But after Solomon’s death and the split of the kingdom, the Edomites revolted. They had been a constant source of irritation to the Israelites over the years, and yet God had told Israel, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7 ESV).

The oracle indicates someone from Dumah (Edom) asking the watchman on the wall, “How much longer until morning? When will the night be over?” (Isaiah 21:11 NLT). The image is that of a land filled with darkness. It indicates a time of distress and the people of Edom want to know when the dawn will break and the light will shine again. The answer the watchman gives them is somewhat cryptic. “Morning is coming, but night will soon return” (Isaiah 21:12 NLT). There would be relief, but it would only be for a momentary respite. 

The information provided by the watchman was incomplete and unsatisfactory. But he invited the inquirer to come back at a future date and ask again. Perhaps he would be able to shed more light at that time.

When Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, was pregnant with twins, God had told her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

To a certain degree, Esau and his descendants never stopped trying to regain what he believed to be was his rightful place as the firstborn. He had sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup and had always felt like he had been tricked into doing so by his brother. The animosity between these two nations never really faded. And it is interesting to note that, during the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews was a man named Herod the Great, who just happened to be an Edomite. He is the one who, upon hearing that Jesus had been born and was the legal heir to David’s throne, ordered the slaughter of all the male babies under two-years-old in Bethlehem, in an attempt to eliminate any threat to his reign.

The prophet, Ezekiel, would later provide a word from God outlining an account of Edom’s future fate.

“As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate, Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 35:15 ESV

As with the other nations mentioned in this series of oracles, Edom is exposed as a poor choice for an ally. God continues to let Judah know that there is no one they can rely on, except Him. While the Edomites were descendants of Isaac and, therefore, Abraham, they were not a reliable source of help in time of need. They were going to have their own problems.

Which brings God to the next nation on His divine list: Arabia. This region was south of Edom and comprised what is now Saudi Arabia. But, in spite of their geographic location, they would not be spared from the coming Assyrian invasion. The oracle describes them as fleeing from the swords and bows of the enemy, and seeking refuge in the thickets. Other Arabian tribes are encouraged to come to their aid with bread and water. But God predicts that, within a year, they will fall.

“Within a year, according to the years of a hired worker, all the glory of Kedar will come to an end. – Isaiah 21:16 ESV

And their demise will be His doing. The Assyrians will simply be puppets in His hands, performing His divine bidding.

The people of Judah could seek aid from Arabia or attempt to find refuge there as refugees. But God was letting them know that this would be an unwise and non-beneficial decision. When the judgment of God came, there would be no place to run or hide. There would be no nation strong enough to stay the hand of God. There would be no ally powerful enough to thwart the will of God. So, the best decision the people of Judah could make was to repent and to return to God, begging His forgiveness and appealing to His grace and mercy, “for the Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken” (Isaiah 21:17 ESV).

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

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

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