Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

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

You Are My People

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
    I will answer the heavens,
    and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and they shall answer Jezreel,
23     and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
    and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
    and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:14-23 ESV

The holy and righteous God of Israel was going to punish His rebellious people for their sins against Him. Yet, as an expression of His grace and mercy, He would also redeem and restore them. He would keep His covenant commitment to them and fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham and to David. They would once again become a great and mighty nation, ruled over by a good and righteous king, a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). But these things would not happen as a result of Israel’s decision to repent and return to God. He would be the pursuer.

“I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.” – Hosea 2:14 NLT

Like a husband with a promiscuous wife, God would have to purposefully pursue His wayward people, seeking them out even as they suffered the consequences of their own sin. The prophet Ezekiel describes God’s relentless pursuit of His rebellious people and explains why He refuses to simply abandon them to their well-deserved punishment.

“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

Any hope the people of Israel had of experiencing redemption and restoration rested in the hands of God. He would have to be the one to pursue them and whoo them back to Himself. Even when they found themselves living in exile as a result of their sins, they would refuse to seek and serve Him. But He would never give up on them. Reminiscent of the days when the people of Israel lived as slaves in the land of Egypt, they would once again find themselves miraculously and graciously delivered by God. Their days of trouble would come to an end and they would once again enjoy the fruits of a restored relationship with Him.

God promises to “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15 ESV). That is a reference to a less-than-flattering scene from Israel’s past. Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. They had just enjoyed a rousing victory over the city of Jericho. But when they attempted to defeat the much smaller city of Ai, they failed miserably. The reason for their unexpected failure was the sin of one man: Achan. He had violated God’s commands by taking plunder from Jericho and hiding it in his tent. When Achan had been exposed as the guilty party, Joshua confronted him.

And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” – Joshua 7:24-25 NLT

In Hebrew, the word Achor means “trouble” or “disaster.” Achan’s sin had brought disaster upon the whole nation of Israel. On this site, Achan would suffer the consequences for his sin, along with his entire family.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

Now, God promises to lead His people back from their exile and, this time, when they pass through the “Valley of Trouble,” it will become a gateway to hope. They will enter the land of promise once again, where they will enjoy the goodness and graciousness of their loving God. But this future day will be like none other. It will feature a restored creation where the animal kingdom and humanity experience an Eden-like existence, with all animosity and fear having been removed. It will be a time of unprecedented peace between the nations of the world. But most importantly, it will be a day when Israel will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God. He promises to restore them and return them to their former place of prominence as His chosen possession.

“I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.
I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord.” – Hosea 2:19-20 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah also recorded a remarkable promise of God, outlining His future plan to restore the people of Israel to their homeland.

“I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.” – Jeremiah 32:37-41 NLT

While God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land after their exile in Babylon, the majority of these promises remain unfulfilled. These passages all speak of a yet-future day when God will miraculously restore His chosen people to the land and reestablish their covenant relationship with Him.

“At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites
    and raise them for myself.
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’” – Hosea 2:23 NLT

Centuries have passed since Hosea recorded these words, and their fulfillment remains to be seen. Even when Jesus appeared on the scene, declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, His words and His works were rejected by His own people. They refused to recognize Him as their rightful King and Savior. But there is a day when Jesus will return to the earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will rule and reign for a thousand years. And in that Kingdom, He will rule over a restored remnant of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. At that time, every promise of God will be fully fulfilled and the words recorded in Hosea will come to pass.

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 Evil and Not for Good

1 I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:

“Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake,
    and shatter them on the heads of all the people;
and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword;
    not one of them shall flee away;
    not one of them shall escape.

“If they dig into Sheol,
    from there shall my hand take them;
if they climb up to heaven,
    from there I will bring them down.
If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
    from there I will search them out and take them;
and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
    there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And if they go into captivity before their enemies,
    there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them
    for evil and not for good.”

The Lord God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who dwell in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
    and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens
    and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.

“For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’Amos 9:1-10 ESV

In this final vision, Amos sees God standing next to an altar. But this scene does not take place at the temple in Jerusalem. Ever since the kingdom of Solomon had been divided in two by God, the ten northern tribes had abstained from worshiping Yahweh at the temple that Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem. Instead, they worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam I had set up in Dan and Bethel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:26-31 NLT

And long after Jeroboam’s death, the kingdom of Israel continued to worship the golden calves he had set up in Dan and Bethel. So, the altar in Amos’ vision is most likely in one of those locations. He sees God standing next to the sacred shrine dedicated to the golden calf of Jeroboam – the false god that had been meant to replace Him.

Amos sees Yahweh, the one true God, standing in judgment over the altar of the false god that the people of Israel had chosen to worship instead of Him. In essence, God is standing next to one of the golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had created. And in the very presence of this false god, Yahweh calls for the destruction of his house.

Strike the tops of the Temple columns,
    so that the foundation will shake.
Bring down the roof
    on the heads of the people below.
I will kill with the sword those who survive.
    No one will escape!” – Amos 9:1 NLT

Amos is being given a glimpse of the coming judgment of God upon the house of Jacob (Israel). With the destruction of the temple dedicated to Israel’s false god, Yahweh is displaying His unparalleled power and declaring His well-deserved judgment upon them for their rejection of Him. While a literal destruction of this pagan temple would only result in a few deaths, God assures Amos that “no one will escape” His wrath. They can run but they won’t be able to escape the judgment of God Almighty. And God uses language that is reminiscent of the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 139.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me. – Psalm 139:7-10 NLT

It doesn’t matter where they go, God will find them and mete out His judgment upon them. Rather than guidance and strength, they will find only the righteous indignation and full fury of the God they have chosen to abandon. And one of the fascinating things about this passage is its rather veiled but obvious reference to Jonah. God states, “Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them” (Amos 9:3 NLT).

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, another prophet that God had appointed to the northern tribe of Israel. But at one point, God had given Jonah a commission to take His message of pending judgment to the Assyrians living in the capital city of Nineveh. Fearing that the pagan people of Nineveh would hear God’s message and repent, Jonah refused to obey God’s command. Instead, he booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, hoping to escape the presence of the Lord. But through a series of divinely ordained events, God pursued His rebellious and disobedient prophet. God sent a storm that placed Jonah and his fellow passengers in great danger.

Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:15-17 NLT

When Jonah was cast into the sea, he sank beneath the waves. He began to drown. And he later described for God what that experience had been like.

You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. – Jonah 2:3 NLT

But God sent the sea serpent to bite him (Amos 9:3). But in Jonah’s case, the “serpent” was actually a symbol of God’s salvation. Even Jonah recognized that the “great fish” had been an agent of God’s mercy.

I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death! – Jonah 2:6 NLT

After three days and nights inside the great fish, Jonah was unceremoniously vomited out on dry land. He was rescued and redeemed from death by the sovereign hand of God. After his miraculous and God-ordained deliverance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered God’s message of judgment, and the people repented. God’s will was done.

Jonah had rebelled against God and had suffered the consequences. He had thought He could escape the wrath of God and was proven wrong. And the people of Israel were going to learn the same painful lesson. Just as God had appointed the wind to create the storm that resulted in Jonah’s drowning, He would appoint enemies to destroy the people of Israel. The same God who “draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land” (Amos 9:6 NLT), was going to use His sovereign power to rain down judgment upon the disobedient people of Israel.

But, like Jonah, they would find that their God was merciful and longsuffering. Jonah did not drown, and the people of Israel would not be completely destroyed.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel…” – Amos 9:8 NLT

Jonah lived to tell the story of his own rebellion. And a remnant of the people of Israel would live to tell about God’s undeserved mercy and grace toward them. In the midst of His declaration of judgment, God promises to redeem a remnant of His people.

“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.” – Amos 9:9 NLT

There were still those in Israel who remained true to Yahweh, and He would preserve and protect them. Why? Because He was not yet done. The rebellion of His people would be punished, but His sovereign plan for the world would still be accomplished. God had set apart the people of Israel so that they might be a light to the nations, but they had failed to accomplish God’s will. Yet, He had a plan in place that would bring about the fulfillment of His original mandate that Israel be a light to the nations. And it would come about through His Son, the true Israel.

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus would accomplish what Israel had failed to do. He would be a descendant of Abraham and the son of King David who would fully accomplish God’s will. But for that to happen, God would spare a remnant of His people so that His Son could one day enter the world, born of the virgin, Mary, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. And, as Amos was about to see, while God was prepared to judge Israel, He was far from done with them, because He had a plan in place.

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

Man Overboard

Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Jonah 1:8-16 ESV

Proverbs 16:33 states: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” In other words, the sovereign God of the universe is the final determiner of all matters. And a similar thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Jonah had come up with a plan to “to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 ESV). But God was determining his every step – from the boat he sailed on to the crew he sailed with. And God was the one who “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV). And when the frightened sailors cast lots to discover the identity of the one with whom the gods were angry, Yahweh determined the outcome. Lot was divinely exposed as the cause of the storm. The violent wind and waves were directed at this unidentified stranger who had been sleeping soundly in the hold of the ship. He was the guilty party.

And these weary sailors stop their frantic efforts to save the ship just long enough to pepper Jonah with questions. First, they diplomatically avoid any direct accusations against Jonah. Instead, they simply ask him to explain what had happened to bring down the wrath of the gods.

“Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us.” – Jonah 1:8 ESV

Had someone placed a curse on Jonah? Had he done something to offend his god? This led them to ask what he did for a living. Perhaps he was a priest or some kind of royal dignitary. Could his occupation have something to do with their current dilemma?

These questions seem to come in rapid-fire succession, with the fear-filled sailors shouting them out over the noise of the storm. One demands to know where Jonah comes from. They know his destination is Tarshish, but they have no idea about his place of origin. Another sailor hones in on the identity of Jonah’s home country. Where does he hail from? Maybe this will shed some light on their desperate situation. Finally, one of the sailors asks Jonah to reveal his nationality?

It seems obvious that these men were looking for an answer to their pressing problem. Their ship was beginning to succumb to the relentless crashing of the waves and the damaging impact of the wind. They had bailed water, discarded cargo, and rowed until their muscles ached, but nothing was working. So, when the lot fell to Jonah, revealing him to be the one responsible for their predicament, they redirected all their attention to him. But his response to their questions provided little in the way of an explanation as to what was happening and no hope as to a solution.

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” – Jonah 1:9 ESV

Evidently, this was not the full extent of Jonah’s answer. At some point, he confessed that he was attempting to run from God.

the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. – Jonah 1:10 ESV

Even these pagan sailors recognized that this was a very bad idea, and they express their consternation to Jonah. “What is this that you have done!” (Jonah 1:10 ESV). Their shock and confusion seem to be based on Jonah’s admission that he worships “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They are dumbfounded that Jonah was attempting to escape by sea from the very God who created the sea. What was he thinking? To their simple way of thinking, Jonah’s God had dominion over the sea and the land because He had created them. So, how did Jonah think he could ever get away from his God? His venture had been doomed from the beginning and now he had dragged them into it.

While this dialogue between Jonah and the sailors was taking place, the storm continued to rage. In fact, it actually increased in intensity.

the sea grew more and more tempestuous. – Jonah 1:11 ESV

By this time, the sailors are desperate to find a solution to their growing problem. So, they turn to Jonah for an answer. They had no knowledge of Jonah’s God or what kind of sacrifices He might require to assuage His anger. This led them to ask Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” (Jonah 1:11 ESV).

At this point in the narrative, it’s important that we pause and reconsider the original audience to whom this story was directed. The author had a Hebrew readership in mind when he penned this epic tale. His retelling of Jonah’s story was intended to strike a nerve with the people of God. In a way, this entire book is a historical record of one man’s life that serves as a powerful allegory for the nation of Israel. As the Jews read this riveting account of Jonah’s life, they couldn’t help but see the striking similarities to their own national story.

The children of God had a long and infamous track record of running from God. And like Jonah, they were proud of their Hebrew heritage and would have gladly claimed to “fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, they had constantly turned their backs on Him. They were guilty of apostasy and disobedience. God had called them to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:3), but they had failed to live up to that calling. Through their countless acts of disobedience, they had actually damaged the name and the reputation of God among the Gentiles.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And as they read this account of Jonah’s life, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing their own reflection. Jonah was on a boat in the middle of a raging storm, surrounded by pagans who were desperately seeking to know what they needed to do to be saved. These helpless Gentiles were asking the sole Hebrew on their sinking ship for advice. Like the Philippian jailer in the book of Acts, each of these hapless sailors was asking Jonah, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30 ESV). And God had positioned the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations, shining the brightness of His grace and mercy in the darkness of a sin-stained world.

But look at Jonah’s answer to the sailors’ desperate plea for direction. When they ask, “What shall we do?,” he simply responds, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12 ESV). Jonah’s solution to their plight is the sacrifice of his own life. But before we assume that Jonah is driven by some sense of compassion for his pagan shipmates, we have to recall that Jonah had made a conscious decision to reject God’s call to go to Nineveh. And as we will see later in the story, Jonah’s offer to be thrown overboard was little more than a death wish. He would rather die than obey God. And, once again, the Jews who read this story would have been reminded of their own obstinate refusal to repent and return to God. Over the centuries, they had proven that they would rather face the wrath and judgment of God than live in keeping with His commands.

Amazingly, the sailors show more compassion than Jonah. Rather than listen to his advice and throw him into the sea, they make one last attempt to reach landfall. But the storm only grows worse and they are forced to call out to Jonah’s God.

“O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” – Jonah 1:14 ESV

These men become instruments in the hand of God, meting out His judgment on the disobedient prophet. They reluctantly hurl Jonah over the railing of the ship and, immediately, “the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15 ESV). The action of these unbelieving Gentiles accomplished the will of God and satisfied the wrath of God. And they believed.

Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. – Jonah 1:16 ESV

As Jonah sank beneath the waves, these unregenerate Gentiles sank to their knees in adoration of “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They worshiped Yahweh, the God of Jonah, by offering Him sacrifices and making vows. Jonah had remained unrepentant to the bitter end. He would rather drown than return to Joppa and obey the command of God. And as the Jewish audience reached this point in the story, they should have learned a powerful lesson. God was going to bring the light of His glory and grace to the Gentiles one way or the other. God wasn’t dependent on Jonah to accomplish His will for the nations. And God’s plan of redemption for the world would not be stymied by Israel’s refusal to live in obedience to His commands. His will would be done. And like Jonah, they would discover that their own day of judgment. But their seeming demise would not be the end. Their “death” would only serve to bring life as God would graciously preserve His people so that He might send His Son as the seed of Abraham and the light to the world.

And God foretells the coming of His chosen servant through the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT

God was not done with Israel and, as we shall see, He was not done with Jonah.

 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

More Than A Fish Tale

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah 1:1-3 ESV

The rather diminutive book of Jonah contains one of the most familiar and well-loved stories in the Bible. This seemingly far-fetched but delightful tale about a disobedient prophet who gets swallowed by a whale has been recited by generations of parents to their children as a cautionary warning of what happens to those who fail to obey God. Over the centuries, countless children’s books have been printed that depict the adventures of Jonah and his aquatic companion with colorful cartoons and kid-friendly language.

But could there be more to the story than a moralistic Sunday School lesson about obedience and faithfulness? Do the four chapters of this Old Testament book contain a deeper and more significant message than most of us realize? I think the answer is yes. And over the next weeks we, like Jonah, will go to great depths to see what God may be trying to tell us through the pages of this timeless book.

To truly understand the book of Jonah, we have to remember that its author was not just telling a story, he was communicating a message from God. Like every other book included in the Canon of Scripture, Jonah was “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). And Paul goes on to tell us that each and every book in the Bible has a far more important purpose than simply conveying a story. They exist so  “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the end, the 66 books of the Bible are not just a collection of ancient stories, poems, historical records, or biographical accounts. They are the Spirit-inspired revelation of God to man. Together, they contain the story of God’s relationship with humanity. It is, in reality, a single book with one solitary author: God Almighty. And like all good books, it has a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). And between its opening chapters and its closing epilogue, it contains a wide range of divinely-inspired stories that are designed to provide its readers with a greater grasp of and appreciation for God. And the book of Jonah is no exception.

Yet, over the centuries, scholars and biblical commentators have debated the authenticity and veracity of the story of Jonah. Some have labeled it as nothing more than an allegorical tale containing hidden intended to convey important spiritual truths. Others have deemed the book of Jonah as parabolic in nature. In other words, it is nothing more than an extended parable designed to teach a heavenly message through a fictional story – much like Jesus did.

What makes the story of Jonah so hard to accept as a historical or biographical record is the very thing that makes it so compelling: The part about Jonah being swallowed by a whale or large fish. This one aspect of the story challenges its credibility and forces many to deem it a fictional account that was never intended to be considered factual. But the book of Jonah is not unique in its depiction of inexplicable and seemingly unbelievable stories of supernatural phenomena. In fact, in many ways, the book of Jonah mirrors the biblical records of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The lives of these two men, as described in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings, are filled with seemingly impossible and incomprehensible stories that defy explanation and stretch the bounds of credulity. Elijah called down fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” ( 1 Kings 18:38 ESV). On another occasion, Elijah met the needs of a starving widow by providing her with a  jar of flour that never went empty and a jug of oil that never ran dry (1 Kings 17). And when it came time for Elijah’s prophetic career to come to an end, God removed him from the earth in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2).

From the creation account found in Genesis to the record of Jesus’ resurrection contained in the gospels, the Bible is filled with stories that defy the imagination and explanation. But, after all, it is the story of God. And according to Jesus, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

In studying the book of Jonah, we must keep in mind that its author had a Jewish audience in mind when he wrote it. There are aspects to the story that would have immediately resonated with them as the chosen people of God. They would have recognized the bigger story contained in the description of Jonah’s epic and ill-fated journey from the land of Canaan to the depths of the sea in the belly of the whale. Written at a time when the Assyrian empire was reaching its zenith of power, they would have understood Jonah’s reticence to heed God’s call to go to Nineveh. The Assyrians were immoral and brutal. They were feared for their excessive acts of cruelty and their insatiable hunger for conquest.

But the Jews who heard the account of Jonah would have recognized that this was far more than a story about an individual man and his stubborn refusal to heed the call of God. They would have clearly understood that Jonah was intended to be a not-so-subtle representation of them. He was a Hebrew who had been called by God to deliver a message to the most powerful and sin-plagued city on the planet. But he would refuse God’s commission, choosing instead to run from God’s presence and accept the consequences for his disobedience. He would rather die than run the risk of watching the despised Assyrians repent and be spared by a merciful God.

When the author’s Jewish audience heard God order Jonah to “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh” ( Jonah 1:2 NLT), they would have been reminded of God’s call to Abram, the great patriarch of the Jewish people.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 ESV

Abram, a resident of Ur, located in the region of the Chaldees, had been ordered by God to pack up his family and belongings and head to the land of Canaan. And God had promised this Gentile unbeliever that He would make of him a great nation.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Don’t miss that last statement. God had promised Abram that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations of the earth. And God would later explain to Abram’s descendants how that was going to take place.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
   to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
– Isaiah 42:5-7 ESV

And God would later reiterate that promise through the prophet Isaiah.

“I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

Now, centuries later, God is issuing a call to Jonah, a descendant of Abram, and demanding that he leave the land of Canaan and head to “Nineveh, that great city” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). He is being commanded to leave the land of promise and head to a people who epitomize godlessness and unrighteousness. The city of Nineveh is evil incarnate and yet God is calling Jonah to carry the light into the darkness so the blind may see and those imprisoned by sin might be set free.

And when Jonah refused God’s call, the Jewish audience would have recoiled at his stubborn act of disobedience. But as the story of Jonah’s flight from God unfolds, they would have recognized that his rebellious response was intended to condemn their own failure to be a light to the nations. Jonah will later describe himself as “a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, here he was refusing to obey the very one He claimed to fear. He was running from God. And this story of his flight from God rather than be the light of God, is the story of Israel. Jonah becomes the stand-in for the people of God. And this story will reveal how God’s rebellious people failed to play their appointed role as His light-bearers to the world. But this very same story will point to God’s unwavering love for the world and His grand redemptive plan to save the lost from every tribe, nation, and tongue. In a sense, Jonah foreshadows the coming of another Hebrew who will heed the call of God and take the message to the Gentile nations, opening the eyes that are blind, bringing out the prisoners from the dungeon, and releasing from the prison those who sit in darkness. Jesus will become the faithful Jonah and the true Israel who would fulfill God’s call to be a light to the nations.

Centuries later, Jesus would read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, not far from the place where Jonah was born.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:17-18 NLT

And when He was finished, Jesus would close the scroll and boldly proclaim, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT).

So, there is far more going on in the book of Jonah than a tall tale regarding a runaway prophet and a large fish. And it is so much more than a moral lesson about obedience. The book of Jonah is ultimately about the love of God for a lost and dying world and His unstoppable redemptive plan that no stubborn prophet or rebellious people will keep from being fulfilled. This entire book is about the faithfulness of God, not the unfaithfulness of Jonah. And it is about His unstoppable plan to shine the light of His grace and mercy into the darkness of sin that pervades His creation.

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

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

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

The Light On the Horizon

22 And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor. 23 Now when all the captains and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite. 24 And Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck down Gedaliah and put him to death along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. – 2 Kings 25:22-30 ESV

The scene in Jerusalem was one of utter destruction and devastation. The once-formidable walls of the city had been reduced to rubble. The massive doors that stood at the gates into Jerusalem had been torn from their hinges and burned. The homes of both the rich and the poor had been destroyed, leaving the city virtually uninhabitable. Even the king’s royal palace had been ransacked and turned into a smoldering ruin. And the Babylonians had not spared the house of God either. It had become a place of refuge for many trying to flee from the bloodthirsty Babylonians, but they found no help or hope within the walls of the temple they had long neglected.

The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. – 2 Chronicles 36:17 NLT

The grand house that Solomon had constructed, the long-standing symbol of God’s presence and power among His people, was desecrated and then destroyed.

The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God… – 2 Chronicles 36:18 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise to the people of Judah. On the very day that Solomon had consecrated the newly opened temple, God had warned him:

“I have answered your prayer and your request for help that you made to me. I have consecrated this temple you built by making it my permanent home; I will be constantly present there. You must serve me with integrity and sincerity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons ever turn away from me, fail to obey the regulations and rules I instructed you to keep, and decide to serve and worship other gods, then I will remove Israel from the land I have given them, I will abandon this temple I have consecrated with my presence, and Israel will be mocked and ridiculed among all the nations. This temple will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by it will be shocked and will hiss out their scorn, saying, ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple?’ Others will then answer, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God, who led their ancestors out of Egypt. They embraced other gods whom they worshiped and served. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster down on them.’” – 2 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

More than three-and-a-half centuries had passed since God had issued that warning to King Solomon. And during that time, the majority of the kings of Judah had chosen to abandon Yahweh for the false gods of the nations around them. They had led the nation into idolatry and apostasy and now, as the people of Judah made their way in chains to Babylon, they could look over their shoulders and see the fiery fulfillment of God’s words to Solomon.

As Nebuchadnezzar and his forces departed Judah, they left a destroyed city and decimated populace behind.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

And he appointed a man named Gedaliah as governor over the greatly diminished and demoralized citizenry of Jerusalem. There would no longer be a king to rule over Judah. Gedaliah was a Jew, but not a descendant of Solomon. He had no royal blood and would wield no kingly authority. He served at the behest of Nebuchadnezzar and was under the watchful eye of the ever-present Babylonian garrison. His was a thankless job that was more managerial than magisterial. And in time, he would come to be seen as nothing more than a puppet of the occupying Babylonian forces.

The commanders of Judah’s army who had fled from the city of Jerusalem when the walls were breached, returned when they heard that Gedaliah had been appointed governor. But they didn’t like the pro-Babylonian rhetoric that Gedaliah was spouting.

Gedaliah vowed to them that the Babylonian officials meant them no harm. “Don’t be afraid of them. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well for you,” he promised. – 2 Kings 25:24 NLT

This compromising stance would ultimately cost Gedaliah his life. One of the former military commanders, a man named Ishmael, orchestrated the assassination of Gedaliah. It’s not exactly clear what Ishmael had hoped to accomplish by the murder of the Babylonian-appointed governor. But it seems obvious that this was an act of rebellion against the occupying forces. Along with Gedaliah and his Jewish officials, Ishmael murdered members of the Babylonian garrison, and this resulted in a swift reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael’s attempt to drive the Babylonians out of Judah backfired on him. Instead, “all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them” (2 Kings 25:26 NLT).

This scene is intended to convey a strong sense of irony. The disobedient people of God were returning to the very place from which He had free them centuries earlier. While some of their friends and family members had been deported to Babylon as slaves, this remnant of God’s chosen people would seek refuge in the land where their forefathers had been captives for more than 400 years.

Once again, all of this had been predicted by God. Centuries earlier, as the people of Israel stood on the shore of the River Jordan, preparing to enter the land of promise, God had given them a word of warning through Moses. He had told them that if they would faithfully obey Him, they would experience His blessings. But if they chose to disobey God, Moses warned them that they would experience “long-lasting afflictions and severe, enduring illnesses. He will infect you with all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will persistently afflict you. Moreover, the Lord will bring upon you every kind of sickness and plague not mentioned in this scroll of commandments, until you have perished” (Deuteronomy 28:59-61 NLT).

And Moses had been very specific when outlining the devastating nature of the curses they would encounter should they failed to “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 NLT).

The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. Among those nations you will have no rest, nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” – Deuteronomy 28:64-68 NLT

Some 850 years after God had redeemed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, a remnant of their still rebellious descendants would return. But it’s interesting to note that these poor disheveled exiles will find no hope in Egypt. They won’t even be able to sell themselves as slaves. They will become paupers and aliens living outside the land of promise and under the curse of the God they had chosen to reject.

But despite all the dire imagery portrayed in this closing chapter of the book of 2 Kings, there is a silver lining on the dark cloud of Judah’s history. The author ends his book with a new king ascending to the throne of Babylon. These closing verses seem to be a mirror image of the scene found in the book of Genesis that preceded Israel’s 400-year enslavement in Egypt. Exodus 1:8 records, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This new Pharaoh came to power and, having no first-hand knowledge of Joseph and the people of Israel, decided that they were a threat to his administration. So, he launched a campaign to afflict and enslave them. This would lead to four centuries worth of unprecedented misery and maltreatment.

But when Evil-merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar as the ruler over the Babylonian empire, he made a decision to release King Jehoiachin of Judah from his enslavement. He released him from prison and “spoke kindly to Jehoiachin and gave him a higher place than all the other exiled kings in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:28 NLT). For the remainder of his life in Babylonian, Jehoiachin lived like a king. He was given royal robes to wear and allowed to dine at Evil-merodach’s table.

But why is this important? Because it foreshadows something highly significant. Back in the book that bears his name, the prophet Jeremiah pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin, who was also known as Coniah.

“Why is this man Jehoiachin like a discarded, broken jar?
    Why are he and his children to be exiled to a foreign land?
O earth, earth, earth!
    Listen to this message from the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’”– Jeremiah 22:28-30 NLT

And yet, if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find the following words in his genealogy of Jesus.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:11-16 NLT

Here, in the genealogy of Jesus, we find the name of the Jehoiachin. The very man who was told that none of his children would succeed him as king is listed as a progenitor of the King of kings. Of Jehoiachin’s seven sons, not one of them would ascend to the throne of David. But Jesus would. God would graciously reverse the curse, producing a royal heir who would reign in righteousness and deliver His people from their enslavement to sin and death.

Notice one more name in the lineage of Jesus: Zerubbabel. This descendant of Jehoiachin would later become the governor of Judea when the exiles returned from their captivity in Babylon. And the prophet Haggai would pronounce a blessing on Zerubbabel that foreshadowed a great reversal of fortunes for the people of God.

“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:21-23 NLT

The book of 2 Kings ends on a positive note because God’s will concerning the people of Israel was far from done. The story of the redemption of His chosen people and the restoration of the world He created was not yet over. The Messiah, the Savior of the world, would one day come. And His arrival would usher in a new day and a new hope for the people of God and the nations of the world.

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 Resurrection and a Transformation

9 Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. Mark 16:9-20 ESV

Over the centuries, there has been much debate among biblical scholars regarding the true ending of Mark’s gospel. Two of the oldest Greek manuscripts (4th-Century) of this book end with verse 8. But the majority of the extant manuscripts include an alternative ending, which is found in verses 9-20. While there are some of the early church fathers who fail to mention this alternative ending in their commentaries on Mark’s gospel, there are others who do. Since the vast majority of the ancient manuscripts do contain the longer ending and many of the early church father’s believed in its veracity, these verses are usually included in most modern translations. They are usually accompanied by a disclaimer or statement that qualifies their inclusion, but it would seem that the events included in this longer ending are of great value when studying the final hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Verse 8 ends with a statement regarding the fear of the women who had encountered the angels at the empty tomb. They had been given strict instructions to deliver the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples, but the entire experience had left them in a state of shock. Mark reports that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 ESV).

But the angels had clearly told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. The reason they had found the tomb empty was that Jesus was no longer in need of a grave. He was alive. And the angels had assured the women, “he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (Mark 16:7 ESV).

One of the first persons privileged to see Jesus in His resurrected state was Mary Magdalene. Mark states that “he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons” (Mark 16:9 ESV). John provides us with the details surrounding this unexpected reunion. Mary Magdaline had been one of the women who had gone to the tomb early Sunday morning. But she had been the first to arrive on the scene and discover the tomb to be empty and the body of Jesus to be gone. Rather than waiting on her two companions, she ran to tell Peter and John the devastating news. The three of them returned to the tomb, and when Peter and John had seen the truth for themselves, they returned home, leaving Mary Magdalene weeping outside the entrance. Mary finally mustered up the courage to look inside the tomb and was shocked to see two angels. When one of them inquired about the cause of her tears, Mary responded, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” (John 20:13 NLT). And when she turned around, she saw someone standing there. Unaware that it was Jesus, she asked the stranger, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him” (John 20:15 NLT).

But when Jesus spoke Mary’s name, she suddenly recognized Him. Evidently, Mary was so overcome with joy that she clung to Jesus in the hopes of preventing Him from ever leaving her again. Yet Jesus commanded her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17 NLT).

And Mark records that Mary “went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept” (Mark 16:10 ESV). Peter and John had returned from the empty tomb, but had not regaled their companions with news of Jesus’ resurrection. They had simply shared that the tomb was empty and the body of Jesus was gone. And this news had left the 11 disciples in a state of deep despair. Even the reports by Mary and the other women had left the disciples unconvinced. When they told these men all that they had seen and heard, their “words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11 NLT).

The common denominator in all these scenes is doubt. None of the followers of Jesus were expecting to find Him resurrected. In their minds, Jesus was dead and buried, and any hopes they had of taking part in His earthly Kingdom had died along with Him. This defeatist attitude can be seen in the encounter Jesus had with two of His disheartened followers who were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Mark simply states that Jesus “appeared in a different form to two of them while they were on their way to the country” (Mark 16:12 NLT). Jesus evidently disguised His appearance so that these two disciples were unable to recognize Him. Luke reports that they were walking along the road “talking to each other about all the things that had happened” (Luke 24:14 NLT). 

Suspecting Jesus to be just another pilgrim making His way home after the Passover celebration, the two disciples struck up a conversation with Him. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, one of them responded somewhat sarcastically: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18 NLT). Had this man been living under a rock? How could He be ignorant of all that had happened over the last 24 hours? But Jesus continued to play dumb, asking, “What things?”

And these two disheartened disciples began to regale this uninformed stranger with all the details concerning Jesus’ death.

“The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied, “a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people; and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Not only this, but it is now the third day since these things happened. Furthermore, some women of our group amazed us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back and said they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” – Luke 24:19-24 NLT

Notice those three revealing words: “we had hoped.” These two individuals were leaving Jerusalem and headed back to Emmaus, filled with doubt and despair. Even the testimonies of the women regarding the news of the angels had failed to convince these two unbelieving disciples. And Jesus immediately confronted them for their refusal to believe.

“You foolish people—how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” – Luke 24:25-26 NLT

And John reports that Jesus gave these two disciples an Old Testament survey class, revealing how the entirety of the Scriptures had all pointed to Him. He was the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets had spoken about.

After having shared a meal with Jesus, these two returned to Jerusalem and told the 11 disciples all that had happened. But Mark indicates that “they did not believe them” (Mark 16:13 ESV). But they were about to have their disbelief shattered by the irrefutable presence of the resurrected Lord. Luke indicates that even while the two disciples were sharing their news, Jesus suddenly appeared in the room.

While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 NLT

Yet instead of peace, their hearts were filled with fear, believing Jesus to be some kind of apparition. But Mark reveals that Jesus “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 ESV). Angels had declared His resurrection and these men had failed to believe their word. Then others had testified that they had seen Jesus alive, but these men had remained stubbornly doubtful. Now, as He stood before them, all they could come up with for an explanation was that He was a ghost.

But Jesus let these doubting disciples know that they were going to have a job to do. The time for disbelief and despair was over. He was alive and would soon be returning to His Father’s side, and the ministry of the Gospel would be their responsibility.

“Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.” – Mark 16:15-16 NLT

Jesus was leaving, but the work was far from done. They were to continue to preach the Good News. And their word would be backed by a divine power to perform supernatural signs and wonders. The followers of Jesus would be equipped with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). They would have divine enabling that would empower and protect them. It would also validate their message by proving that they had been sent by God.

Luke records that Jesus would later take His followers back to Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus from the dead. There He would give them His final commission and then ascend back into heaven, returning to His Father’s side. And these formerly doubtful and discouraged disciples would go on to change the world.

Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now during the blessing he departed and was taken up into heaven. So they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple courts blessing God. – Luke 24:50-53 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

He Has Risen

1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 ESV

Jesus was entombed by Joseph and Nicodemus sometime on Friday evening before the official commencement of the Sabbath that began at sundown. And it would not be until early the following Sunday morning that three women returned to the tomb. According to the gospel writers, at least two of these women had watched from a distance as the body of Jesus had been buried, hoping to return once the Sabbath had passed. So, after sunrise on Sunday, morning, they made their way to the tomb. And Mark makes clear the motive behind their early morning expedition.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. – Mark 16:1 ESV

Mark mentions that three women went to the tomb that morning. And the fact that they were carrying spices to anoint the body of Jesus reveals that they were fully expecting to find a corpse, not a risen Christ. They even discussed how they were going to gain access to the tomb because of the massive stone that blocked its entrance. But there were totally unaware of another obstacle that could put a damper on their plans. Matthew records that the Jewish religious leaders made an appeal to Pilate, requesting permission to post armed guards at the gravesite to prevent the disciples from stealing the body and claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. – Matthew 27:62-66 ESV

But when the women arrived at the scene, the guards were long gone, and the entrance to the tomb was completely open. Matthew provides further details about what had happened just prior to the women’s’ arrival.

…there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. – Matthew 28:2-4 ESV

Once the guards came to their senses, they must have fled from the scene. Matthew records that they ran straight to the Sanhedrin with news of what had happened.

…some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” – Matthew 28:11-13 ESV

So, by the time the women got to the gravesite, they found the tomb unguarded and unsealed. According to John, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive on the scene, and  “she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”  (John 20:2-3 NLT). But the other women were shocked to find an angel guarding the entrance to the tomb. Sensing their fear and apprehension, the angel spoke to them.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. – Matthew 28:5-6 NLT

Fearfully, the women entered the tomb and encountered a second angel who provided them further insight and instructions.

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” – Mark 16:6-7 ESV

And Luke reveals that this very same angel gently chastised the women for their lack of belief. He reminded them that Jesus had clearly predicted that all these things would happen.

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” – Luke 24:5-7 NLT

Their mournful trip to the tomb and the burial spices they carried in their arms provided ample evidence that they had not believed what Jesus had said. They had come expecting to find a dead body. But instead, they were greeted by two angels and the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. And it all proved too much for these frightened women to handle. Mark records that “they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8 NLT).

But Matthew reveals that it wasn’t long before the reality of what had happened set in. Their fear was turned to joy.

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. – Matthew 28:8 NLT

And they were in for one more unexpected surprise. As they eagerly made their way to tell the disciples the good news, Jesus Himself appeared to them.

…as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.” – Matthew 28:9-10 NLT

The angel had reported that Jesus had risen from the dead. But up until this moment, the news was nothing more than a rumor. Other than the empty tomb, they had no evidence or proof. And John reveals that the women weren’t the only ones who would have a difficult time grasping the significance of what had taken place. He reports that Mary, upon finding the tomb empty, ran to tell the disciples what she had seen. And what she had to tell them was less-than-encouraging news.

“They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” – John 20:2 NLT

Peter and John made a mad dash to the tomb, with John arriving first. “He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings” (John 20:5-7 NLT). Eventually, John got up the courage to enter the tomb, “and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9 NLT).

The two disciples left the scene, leaving Mary Magdalene alone at the graveside. With tears in her eyes, she peered into the empty tomb, only to find it occupied by the two angels. When they inquired about her tears, Mary replied, “they have taken away my Lord,…and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13 NLT).

Even the presence of the angels did nothing to assuage Mary’s doubt and depression. Jesus was gone, and so were all her hopes. But as she turned to leave, she was confronted by another “stranger” who, noting her tears, gently asked, “Who are you looking for?”

And Mary, assuming this man might have had something to do with the missing body of Jesus, said to him, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him” (John 20:15 NLT). But much to her surprise, this man was not a gardener, but her resurrected Lord and Savior. Jesus had risen from the dead, and He revealed Himself to her. She was beside herself with joy and disbelief. This was all too good to be true. But it was also too good to keep to herself, so Jesus commanded her to take the news of His resurrection to the disciples, which she promptly did. And when she found them, she joyfully declared to them her exciting news: “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18 NLT).

Jesus was alive. And that unbelievable message would begin to spread among His followers, leaving some of them beside themselves with joy, while others wrestled with disbelief and doubt. The impossible had taken place. The one who had died and been buried had been restored to life. Their martyred Messiah had risen from the grave. Death had been defeated. And over the next few days, their risen Lord and Savior was going to repeatedly reveal Himself to them so that they might know and believe that He had conquered death and truly was who He had always claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

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

From Darkness to Light

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 ESV

At Noon on Friday, as Jesus hung on the cross, His life slowly ebbing away, the sky was suddenly darkened. Luke described it rather poetically: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). For three hours Jesus had suffered in broad daylight, in full sight of the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin, who mocked Him relentlessly. The crowd that had gathered to watch this macabre spectacle, cast their eyes and their ire on Jesus, taunting Him to save Himself by coming down from the cross. The soldiers looked up at Him with scorn as they gambled over His garments. Even the two criminals who were being crucified on either side of Him couldn’t resist the temptation to revile this so-called King of Israel. For three long hours, Jesus hung in broad daylight, facing the judgment of sinful men. Then. suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky grew dark. And for the next three hours, Jesus would face the righteous judgment of God.

Jesus had been charged with the crime of blasphemy by a religious council made up of mere men. He had been condemned to die by the earthly authority of another man, an official representative of the Roman government. And Jesus had been scourged, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross by men who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion, serving at the behest of the Emperor. But none of these men were responsible for what was taking place that day. This entire scene had been the pre-ordained plan of God. He had orchestrated the whole affair so that His sinless Son could bear the righteous judgment that must be poured out on mankind’s rebellion. With the darkening of the sun, the wrath of men was replaced by the wrath of God. What transpired at high Noon that Friday was the pouring out of God’s judgment against the sin and rebellion of mankind, just as the prophet Amos had predicted.

“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
    “I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.” – Amos 8:9 ESV

Isaiah had also prophesied about this dark day when “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT). Paul would later describe the nature of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice in terms that we could understand.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

At that very moment, the full weight of God’s divine retribution for the sin and rebellion of mankind was poured out on His Son. Jesus hung on the cross as the sacrificial Lamb, destined to bear the full brunt of God’s just and righteous anger for the centuries-worth of open disdain and disregard for His rightful rule and reign. Paul tells us that “God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). And one of the ways God revealed His anger against mankind’s rebellion was to abandon them to a life of futility and hopeless slavery to sin. “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired” (Romans 1:24 NLT). 

But ultimately, mankind would be forced to pay for their sin and rebellion, and the payment required would be death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But the payment God would demand would involve much more than just physical death. It would require eternal separation from Him. Mankind’s rejection of God would eventually result in their permanent and painful casting from His presence. But God had a plan to remedy this problem. He had arranged to send His Son to act as the ransom for the sins of many.  He would give His life as the sinless substitute for a humanity that had been justly condemned by its own stubborn refusal to honor God.

And when the sun darkened, it was a visible display of God’s glory departing the scene. As the Son took on the full sum of humanity’s sin, the Father was forced to look away. As Isaiah put it, “the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” The guilt and condemnation for every sin – past, present, and future – was placed upon Jesus. But not only did He bear the guilt, but He also experienced the full measure of God’s displeasure and divine judgment. And that is what led Jesus to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV). At that precise moment, Jesus experienced the unbearable reality of being separated from His Heavenly Father, for the first time in His eternal life.

Back during God’s deliverance of His people from their captivity in Egypt, He had brought a series of plagues against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The tenth plague was darkness. God had told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt” (Exodus 10:21 ESV). And that pervading darkness lasted for three long days. Interestingly enough, the plague of darkness was followed by the death of the firstborn. And in the same way, the three hours during which all of Israel was plunged into darkness would be followed by the death of the firstborn Son of God.

Even in His cry of despair and pain, Jesus quoted Scripture. He cited Psalm 22:1, demonstrating that His sacrificial act on the cross was in fulfillment of God’s Word. Jesus was not questioning the actions of His Heavenly Father. He was simply acknowledging that this moment had been pre-ordained and was a non-negotiable part of the redemptive plan of God. Jesus had to be forsaken so that mankind’s sins could be forgiven.

For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 NLT

Jesus knew that His suffering for sin was necessary. He also knew that His Father would be forced to turn His back on Him as long as He bore the sins of mankind. And the only thing that would satisfy the just demands of His Father would be the sacrifice of His own life as payment. The author of Hebrews reveals that the death of Jesus was the only solution to mankind’s sin problem.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God…” – Hebrews 10:4-7 NLT

Jesus had come to do God’s will. And that required Him to suffer the unbearable reality of separation from His own Father. And during that three-hour interval, when darkness covered the land of Israel, God provided yet another visible sign to demonstrate the efficacy of His Son’s sacrifice. Mark indicates that “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38 ESV). This massive curtain, that hung in the temple, and separated the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This rending of the curtain symbolized that the barrier that separated sinful men from a Holy God had been removed. With His death, Jesus was making access into God’s presence possible for all who would accept His sacrifice on their behalf.

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

He poured out His own blood on the mercy seat located within the Most Holy Place. He atoned for the sins of mankind by offering His sinless life as the all-sufficient sacrifice, once for all. And as the darkness receded and the light was restored, Jesus breathed His last. His mission complete, He laid down His life and died. And one of the men who had assisted in His crucifixion and bartered over His garments looked on in wonder. And all he could say was, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV). The doubter became a believer. The one who had mocked Jesus became His follower. Into the darkness of his life, the Light of God shone bright and clear. This man experienced exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“…whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:21 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

Christ, the King of Israel

16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion.17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. 

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. Mark 15:16-32 ESV

Pilate reluctantly gave in to the pressure of the mob that had gathered outside his palace that morning. These people, who had been whipped into a frenzy by the members of the Sanhedrin, were demanding that Jesus be crucified. And they would settle for nothing less.

But Pilate knew that this entire situation was nothing more than a case of envy. He sensed that Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing and that the Jewish religious leaders were trying to eliminate Him because they were jealous of His popularity. But any attempt he made to bring an end to this charade was met with derision and further demands for Jesus’ crucifixion. So, finally, Pilate gave in to the growing pressure, but not before absolving himself of any responsibility for the death of this innocent man.

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” – Matthew 27:24 ESV

With the crowds cheering his decision, Pilate ordered Jesus to be scourged and then turned and walked away. As the people looked on, Jesus was stripped of His garment and subjected to the excruciatingly painful penalty of scourging. The victim’s hands were tied above His head to a pole, and then a Roman soldier would use a leather whip, called a flagrum or flagellum, and deliver a series of lashes across the victim’s exposed back. This whip was made of two or three leather strips knotted with pieces of bone and metal, and with each lash, it produced unbearable pain as it ripped open the flesh.

The violence Jesus endured should not be overlooked or dismissed. It was all part of God’s plan of redemption. The innocent Lamb of God was forced to endure the penalty for our sins. He had done nothing deserving of such treatment. But the prophet Isaiah described the pain Jesus would have to endure as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT

To the Roman guards, Jesus was just another Hebrew condemned to death. But they were intrigued by the nature of the charges brought against Him. This man had been accused of being the King of the Jews. And as they took in the sight of this disheveled and unimpressive Jew standing before them, they unleashed their shared hatred for the Hebrew people upon Him.

they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” – Mark 15:17-18 ESV

Driven by their loathing of the Jews, these hardened soldiers mercilessly ridiculed Jesus, striking Him in the head with a reed, spitting in His face, and kneeling before Him in mock adulation. These foul-mouthed and sin-enslaved soldiers treated the King of kings and Lord of lords with sneering cynicism. And when they had finally grown tired of their mockery, they removed the purple robe and had Jesus put back on His outer garment. Then they led Him to the place of crucifixion.

It was common practice for the Romans to force the condemned to carry the crossbeam or patibulum for their own cross to the place of crucifixion. But it seems that Jesus, because of loss of blood or weakness, was unable to do bear the weight of this burden. So, an innocent bystander was conscripted from the crowd and forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Mark indicates that the man was named Simon of Cyrene. He was just one of the many foreign pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. And yet, this unknown man was given the privilege of bearing the cross of the Son of God. In doing so, he unwittingly demonstrated the words of Jesus.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24 ESV

Once they arrived at the crucifixion site, a place called Golgotha, Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed to the cross. He was offered wine mixed with myrrh, a concoction designed to numb the senses and alleviate pain, allowing the victim to endure the suffering of crucifixion for an extended period of time. But Jesus rejected this narcotic elixir, ensuring that He would have full access to His cognitive abilities while undergoing this horrific experience.

And Mark notes that as Jesus was hanging on the cross, the soldiers gambled over his outer garment. This entire scene is a visual fulfillment of Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm written by King David.

I am a worm and not a man.
    I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
 “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 NLT

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing. – Psalm 21:16-18 NLT

Jesus was fulfilling every aspect of Old Testament prophecy, down to the smallest detail. And even the Roman soldiers unknowingly played a significant role in acting out the divine drama that God had pre-ordained.

And as Jesus hung on the cross and the soldiers cast dice for HIs garment, a sign placed above His head declared the nature of His crime. Placed there by order of Pilate, the wooden plaque read: “The King of the Jews.”

Jesus was being put to death for being exactly who He had claimed to be. He had committed no crime but instead was being sacrificed to pay for the sins of others. The King was dying on behalf of His own people. He was giving His life so that they might receive new life in Him. David went on to describe the sacrificial and substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death.

Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!
    Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
    Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.
    He has not turned his back on them,
    but has listened to their cries for help. – Psalm 22:23-24 NLT

But sadly, as Jesus hung dying on the cross, He did not hear shouts of praise or adoration. Instead, He heard the derisive cries of those who had come to witness His death.

“Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!” – Mark 15:29-30 NLT

Even the members of Sanhedrin took the opportunity to gloat over Jesus’ predicament, calling out, “He saved others…but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” (Mark 15:31-32 NLT).

Jesus could have come down from the cross. As the Son of God, He had the power to put a stop to the proceedings and call down a host of angels from heaven to wreak vengeance upon His accusers and executioners. But Jesus refused to do so because it would have been in violation of God’s will. It wasn’t that He couldn’t do it, but that He wouldn’t. He was out to deliver victory, not vengeance. He was determined to fulfill His Father’s will, not avoid it. He had come to give life, not take it.

And as Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father, He was mocked by the religious leaders, soldiers, bystanders, and even the two criminals being crucified on either side of Him. The very sinners for whom He was offering His life were ridiculing His efforts on their behalf. They mocked the Messiah. They sarcastically belittled the Savior. And yet He willingly remained on the cross, the Lamb for sinners slain. He was committed to carrying out His mission so that sinners might be restored to a right relationship with His Heavenly Father.

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