From Retribution to Restoration

27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the house of Israel and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: In this also your fathers blasphemed me, by dealing treacherously with me. 28 For when I had brought them into the land that I swore to give them, then wherever they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering; there they sent up their pleasing aromas, and there they poured out their drink offerings. 29 (I said to them, ‘What is the high place to which you go?’ So its name is called Bamah to this day.)

30 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Will you defile yourselves after the manner of your fathers and go whoring after their detestable things? 31 When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.

32 “What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, ‘Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.’

33 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. 37 I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

39 “As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: Go serve every one of you his idols, now and hereafter, if you will not listen to me; but my holy name you shall no more profane with your gifts and your idols.

40 “For on my holy mountain, the mountain height of Israel, declares the Lord God, there all the house of Israel, all of them, shall serve me in the land. There I will accept them, and there I will require your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your sacred offerings. 41 As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations. 42 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the country that I swore to give to your fathers. 43 And there you shall remember your ways and all your deeds with which you have defiled yourselves, and you shall loathe yourselves for all the evils that you have committed. 44 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” – Ezekiel 20:27-44 NLT

God goes on to reveal that, even after the second generation of Israelites successfully conquered the land of Canaan and established it as their homeland, their apostasy continued. He helped them to defeat their enemies and provided them with cities and homes to live in that they didn’t have to build. He blessed them with vineyards and fields they neither tilled nor planted. And yet, despite God’s gracious provision of their promised inheritance, they continued to blaspheme and betray Him.

“…for when I brought them into the land I had promised them, they offered sacrifices on every high hill and under every green tree they saw! They roused my fury as they offered up sacrifices to their gods. They brought their perfumes and incense and poured out their liquid offerings to them.” – Ezekiel 20:18 NLT

The delegation of Jewish dignitaries who had come to Ezekiel’s home had been hoping that the prophet would provide them with a positive message from Yahweh. They were of the mistaken opinion that God’s intentions to punish Judah was undeserved and, therefore, unjust. In their minds, God was punishing the wrong people. They truly believed that God was acting unfairly by visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children, and they were hoping Ezekiel would intercede on their behalf and get God to change His mind. But God was adamant in declaring their culpability and guilt.

“Do you intend to keep prostituting yourselves by worshiping vile images? For when you offer gifts to them and give your little children to be burned as sacrifices, you continue to pollute yourselves with idols to this day. Should I allow you to ask for a message from me, O people of Israel? As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will tell you nothing.” – Ezekiel 20:30-31 NLT

They were far from innocent. In fact, their sins were actually worse than those of their forefathers. Their idolatrous behavior had degraded to the point that they were actually offering up their own children as blood sacrifices to their false gods. The prophet, Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, had declared God’s disdain for this pagan and perverse practice.

“The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the Lord. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it. They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing! – Jeremiah 7:30-31 NLT

Just like the northern kingdom of Israel, the southern kingdom of Judah was guilty of embracing the false gods of the nations who surrounded them. And, according to God, this was a premeditated and calculated plan on their part. They willingly and wholeheartedly embrace the gods of their enemies in the hopes that they could provide them with an added measure of protection and provision.

“You say, ‘We want to be like the nations all around us, who serve idols of wood and stone.’ But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I will rule over you with an iron fist in great anger and with awesome power.” – Ezekiel 20:32-33 NLT

But God was not going to allow them to continue their pattern of spiritual adultery. He was no longer willing to tolerate their wandering eyes and unfaithful hearts. So, He had Ezekiel tell them the devastating news of a coming judgment that would include the exiles living in the land of Babylon.

“I will judge you there just as I did your ancestors in the wilderness after bringing them out of Egypt, says the Sovereign Lord. I will examine you carefully and hold you to the terms of the covenant. I will purge you of all those who rebel and revolt against me. I will bring them out of the countries where they are in exile, but they will never enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 20:36-38 NLT

Even those living in captivity in Babylon would have to face the music because they were no less guilty of apostasy. In an attempt to acclimate to their new surroundings, many of them had chosen to embrace the gods of Babylon. Believing that Yahweh had abandoned them, the exiles decided to try their luck with the gods of their captors, and there was no shortage of options. The Babylonians worshiped a veritable pantheon of deities that included Ishtar, Nabu, Apshu, Shamash, Ea, Tiamat, Nergal, Marduk, and Adad. To the exiled Jews, it appeared as if these pagan gods had provided Babylon with unprecedented success over their enemies, so it only made sense to test their effectiveness. But like their counterparts in Judah, they were going to discover the painful lesson that their false gods were powerless to deliver them from the coming judgment of Yahweh.

“Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshiping idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 NLT

God reveals His plan for the future restoration of the nation of Israel. He predicts a day when their idolatry will come to an end, but it will only take place after their judgment and with the advent of a new covenant.

“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 31:31-32 NLT

And later in the book of Ezekiel, God describes what He will do to make this new covenant possible.

“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 36:25-27 NLT

God makes it painfully clear that there will be retribution for their idolatry, but He also promised a time of restoration and renewal.

“For on my holy mountain, the great mountain of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord, the people of Israel will someday worship me, and I will accept them. There I will require that you bring me all your offerings and choice gifts and sacrifices.” – Ezekiel 20:40 NLT

The fulfillment of this prophecy has not yet been fully realized. While Israel has been restored as a nation, it does not enjoy unbroken fellowship with Yahweh. There is no temple in Jerusalem, so there is no means for offering sacrifices to God. There is no king sitting on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness over God’s redeemed and restored people. But the day is coming when all those things will come about. And when they do, God says, “You will look back on all the ways you defiled yourselves and will hate yourselves because of the evil you have done. You will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honored my name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken” (Ezekiel 20:43-44 NLT).

God will do for them what they were unwilling and incapable of doing for themselves. He will restore and reestablish them as His chosen people and revitalize their affection for Him. Centuries will pass and their apostasy will continue. But God will be faithful to keep His covenant promises and restore His people to their rightful place as His sons and daughters.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

A Method to His Seeming Madness

11 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Say now to the rebellious house, Do you not know what these things mean? Tell them, behold, the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, and took her king and her princes and brought them to him to Babylon. 13 And he took one of the royal offspring and made a covenant with him, putting him under oath (the chief men of the land he had taken away), 14 that the kingdom might be humble and not lift itself up, and keep his covenant that it might stand. 15 But he rebelled against him by sending his ambassadors to Egypt, that they might give him horses and a large army. Will he thrive? Can one escape who does such things? Can he break the covenant and yet escape?

16 “As I live, declares the Lord God, surely in the place where the king dwells who made him king, whose oath he despised, and whose covenant with him he broke, in Babylon he shall die. 17 Pharaoh with his mighty army and great company will not help him in war, when mounds are cast up and siege walls built to cut off many lives. 18 He despised the oath in breaking the covenant, and behold, he gave his hand and did all these things; he shall not escape. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely it is my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke. I will return it upon his head. 20 I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare, and I will bring him to Babylon and enter into judgment with him there for the treachery he has committed against me. 21 And all the pick of his troops shall fall by the sword, and the survivors shall be scattered to every wind, and you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

22 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”  Ezekiel 17:11-24 ESV

I’m not particularly fond of riddles. I don’t like puzzles either, and guessing games drive me crazy. I prefer answers over questions and clarity over confusion. So, when God speaks in riddles and parables, I find myself getting a bit uncomfortable and, when this chapter started off with a riddle, I was less than excited. But fortunately, this is one of those cases where God doesn’t leave us guessing as to the meaning. He graciously provides an explanation so there’s absolutely no confusion as to what He is trying to say.

Yet God insinuates that the people of Judah should have been able to pick up on the meaning of the riddle. Why? Because they were living it out in real-time. As they listened to the words of the prophet, they were standing somewhere along the banks of the Kebar River deep in the heart of Babylon. They had actually experienced something very similar to what the prophet was describing.

In the first part of his message, God describes a giant eagle swooping down and plucking off the top of a cedar tree, which he carries to a distant city. The eagle also took a seedling and planted it by a river where it grew into a vine with deep roots and strong branches. Then this healthy, growing vine, turned its attention to another eagle. Despite its prosperous and fruitful condition, it looked to the second eagle as a source of sustenance. It had plenty of good soil and water right where it was, but was dissatisfied. So, God indicated this vine would be uprooted, its fruit cut off, and left it to wither and die in the very soil where it had experienced fruitfulness.

But Ezekiel’s audience must have missed the message. They were struggling with the meaning behind this bizarre-sounding story of the eagle and the vine. So, God carefully explains the point He is trying to make.

“The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem, took away her king and princes, and brought them to Babylon.” – Ezekiel 17:11 NLT

At this point, the light should have gone on. They would have immediately made the connection that their very presence in Babylon was the immediate result of that fateful historical event. They could recall the moment when the Babylonian forces invaded the city of Jerusalem and took their king captive.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and captured it, and he bound Jehoiakim in bronze chains and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:6 NLT

The memory of the temple being ransacked by foreign soldiers was still fresh in their minds.

Nebuchadnezzar also took some of the treasures from the Temple of the Lord, and he placed them in his palace in Babylon. – 2 Chronicles 36:7 NLT

The Babylonians had allowed the people of Judah to keep their monarchy in place, but the kings served as pawns of King Nebuchadnezzar, paying him large annual fees as a form of tribute and a sign of Judah’s subservience to Babylon. Eventually, Jehoiakim was replaced by his son, Jehoiachin, but his reign lasted only three months before he too was deported to Babylon.

Many treasures from the Temple of the Lord were also taken to Babylon at that time. And Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, as the next king in Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:10 NLT

The first eagle represents Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He “swooped” down with his troops, invaded Jerusalem, and took Jehoiachin, king of Judah as his prisoner back to Babylon. He then set up another puppet king named Zedekiah (the seedling) on the throne of Jerusalem.

This is where the story begins to take on a whole different meaning. Zedekiah was still on the throne when God delivered this riddle to the people of Judah living in Babylon. From their perspective, Zedekiah was firmly entrenched as the sovereign king over their homeland. He had actually made a covenant agreement with Nebuchadnezzar – an oath of loyalty. As long as he kept that oath, the nation prospered. But what the people didn’t know was that their king was wicked and rebellious. He never intended to keep his agreement with Nebuchadnezzar.

But Zedekiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and he refused to humble himself when the prophet Jeremiah spoke to him directly from the Lord. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, even though he had taken an oath of loyalty in God’s name. Zedekiah was a hard and stubborn man, refusing to turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. – 2 Chronicles 36:12-13 NLT

God was revealing the next phase of His judgment upon His unfaithful people. The day was fast approaching when Zedekiah would decide to rebel against the Babylonians by turning to Egypt for assistance.

What is interesting to note is that the prophet, Jeremiah, who was ministering to the people still living in Jerusalem, had been led by God to send a letter to the exiles living in Babylon. In it, he provided them with a word of encouragement regarding their less-than-appealing conditions.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:4-7 NLT

And Jeremiah had also provided Zedekiah and the people living in Judah with a word of warning concerning their response to the Babylonian occupation of their land.

“So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it. Do not listen to your false prophets, fortune-tellers, interpreters of dreams, mediums, and sorcerers who say, ‘The king of Babylon will not conquer you.’ They are all liars, and their lies will lead to your being driven out of your land. I will drive you out and send you far away to die. But the people of any nation that submits to the king of Babylon will be allowed to stay in their own country to farm the land as usual. I, the Lord, have spoken!’”– Jeremiah 27:8-11 NLT

But Zedekiah would end up violating his contract with Nebuchadnezzar. As a result, Jerusalem would be invaded again, the city would be leveled, and the temple destroyed. Zedekiah would be forced to witness the execution of all his sons, then have his eyes gouged out and be taken captive to Babylon. God made it painfully clear that “the king of Israel disregarded his treaty and broke it after swearing to obey; therefore, he will not escape” (Ezekiel 17:18 NLT). The entire Babylonian occupation had been God’s will and He expected His people to submit to it. They would not escape His divine judgment.

But God was not finished with His explanation. At the very end, He provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the gloom and doom. He reveals yet another “eagle” that will take another branch from the top of the cedar tree and plant it on Israel’s highest mountain.

“It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches.” – Ezekiel 17:33 NLT

God is predicting the future renewal and restoration of His chosen people. But the branch to which He refers is not just another human king who will help to reestablish the fortunes of Israel. This branch will be someone of great importance and renown. He will be a king like no other.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

This branch is Jesus, the Messiah. God is predicting the day when He will send His Son back to earth to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will reign for 1,000 years. Israel will be restored to greatness. The throne of David, long-vacant because of the nation’s rebellion, will once again be occupied by a descendant of the great king. And God assures that all the other nations of the earth will recognize the greatness and glory of God when this happens.

“And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!” – Ezekiel 17:24 NLT

Babylon, Egypt, the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and all the other nations of the earth are no match for the plan of God. Babylon was a tool in the hands of God to accomplish His divine will, and He had a greater plan in place. He was out to accomplish His will in His way and according to His divine timetable. When God completes His plan all people will know that He has been in control all along, cutting down the tall trees and making the short tree grow, withering the green tree, and giving new life to the dead one.

God is sovereign and in complete control. In fact, that point is how He began the  chapter.

“Son of man, give this riddle, and tell this story to the people of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 17:2 NLT

He knows what He is doing and there is a method to His seeming madness. We may understand or even like His ways, but we can rest assured that He always does what is just and right. His plan is perfect and His timing is impeccable.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

A Vision of Things to Come

15 And he took up his discourse and said,

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
16 the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    and knows the knowledge of the Most High,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
18 Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
19 And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!”

20 Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said,

“Amalek was the first among the nations,
    but its end is utter destruction.”

21 And he looked on the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said,

“Enduring is your dwelling place,
    and your nest is set in the rock.
22 Nevertheless, Kain shall be burned
    when Asshur takes you away captive.”

23 And he took up his discourse and said,

“Alas, who shall live when God does this?
24     But ships shall come from Kittim
and shall afflict Asshur and Eber;
    and he too shall come to utter destruction.”

25 Then Balaam rose and went back to his place. And Balak also went his way. Numbers 24:15-25 ESV

Balaam, the seer, had seen and heard all he needed to determine the will of Jehovah. No more altars were necessary and there was no need to spill the blood of another animal. God had made Himself perfectly clear and had left nothing up to doubt or debate. While King Balak was still holding out hope that a curse of the Israelites was forthcoming, In a sense, Balaam was saying, “I can see clearly now!”

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open…” – Numbers 24:15-16 NLT

There was no further need to consult with the Lord. This newly enlightened soothsayer was transformed into a spokesman of God and given a series of disturbing prophecies to deliver to King Balak. First, true to his reputation as a seer, Balaam spoke of seeing an individual whose arrival was sometime in the foreseeable future.

“I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

And Balaam informs King Balak that the origins of this coming one would be of a supernatural nature and accompanied by kingly authority.

“…a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” – Numbers 24:17 ESV

From the very people group that Balak had hoped to curse would come a future king.

“That stars could be used metaphorically for kings is suggested by Isaiah 14:12, where the king of Babylon is called ‘Day Star’, and Revelation 22:16, which calls Jesus ‘the offspring of David, the bright morning star.’ That a king is meant here is confirmed by the second line of the couplet: a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, a sceptre being part of the royal insignia (Ps. 45:6; Amos 1:5,8; Gen. 49:10).” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

And that king will “crush the forehead of Moab” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the king of Moab, the title held by Balak. This bit of bad news only confirmed Balak’s earlier suspicions and further fueled his desire to see the Israelites cursed. They were a direct threat to his rule and reign.

But the news only gets worse. Balaam goes on to mention the sons of Sheth as well as the kingdoms of Edom and Seir. This coming king would break down and dispossess them all.

“Edom will be taken over,
    and Seir, its enemy, will be conquered,
    while Israel marches on in triumph.” – Numbers 24:18 NLT

No one would be able to stand against God’s appointed leader and His chosen people. That included the Amalekites and the Kenites. This future king would be powerful and successful in leading the Israelites against all the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. And this prophecy was right in line with the blessing that Jacob had given to his son Judah centuries earlier.

“The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.” – Genesis 49:10 NLT

Whether he realized it or not, Balaam was being used by God to confirm that very prophecy. The promise of a future king who would come from the tribe of Judah was still yet to be fulfilled. There is sense in which much of this prophecy was fulfilled under the reign of King David, a member of the tribe of Judah. David would prove to be a warrior-king whose military victories helped put Israel on the map politically speaking. He would expand the boundaries of Israel through military conquest and create one of the most powerful nations on the face of the earth at that time. And he would bequeath that nation to his son, Solomon, who would continue to build and expand the kingdom of Israel. But the day would come when Solomon’s kingdom would be divided in half, never again to enjoy its former glory. So, the final phase of Balaam’s prophecy remains unfulfilled.

“Alas, who can survive
    unless God has willed it?
Ships will come from the coasts of Cyprus;
    they will oppress Assyria and afflict Eber,
but they, too, will be utterly destroyed.” – Numbers 24:23-24 NLT

This appears to be a reference to future kingdoms that will come to power in the region and attempt to overthrow God’s people. But even these powers-to-be will meet a similar fate as the Moabites, Kenites, and Edomites. They will be utterly destroyed by God’s people with the help of the “star” who holds the “scepter” in his hand. And the book of Revelation predicts this coming time when a descendant of Jacob from the tribe of Judah will bring victory over all of Israel’s enemies once and for all.

To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end,

To them I will give authority over all the nations.
They will rule the nations with an iron rod
    and smash them like clay pots.

They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star! – Revelation 2:26-28 NLT

And in Revelation 22, the apostle John provides insight into the identity of “the morning star.”

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16 NLT

Jesus is the one of whom Balaam prophesied. He is the one who will bring destruction to the enemies of Israel. And the apostle John was given a vision of this end-times event, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

There is no way that Balaam understood the full import of his words. He had no way of seeing into the future and identifying this conquering king to come. But once he had delivered his Spirit-inspired message to King Balak, he went on his way. And Balak was left to consider the words of Jehovah and the impact they might have on his life and kingdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Fire of Cleansing

36 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy. 38 As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the Lord, and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel.” 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, 40 to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company—as the Lord said to him through Moses.

41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.” 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.  Numbers 16:36-50 ESV

God cleaned house. He purged the wickedness from the midst of the camp of Israel by swallowing the households of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then He consumed the 250 co-conspirators with fire as they attempted to offer unacceptable sacrifices to Him. And when the smoke had lifted, all that was left were their bronze censers lying among the ashes with their charred bones.

This macabre scene was the result of a test that Moses had arranged to determine who among the Israelites was truly holy to the Lord.

“Korah, you and all your followers must prepare your incense burners. Light fires in them tomorrow, and burn incense before the Lord. Then we will see whom the Lord chooses as his holy one.” – Numbers 16:6-7 NLT

And God had declared the outcome of the test in no uncertain terms. The guilty and unholy had been punished. Yet, their destruction produced a rather strange result. The incense burners these rebels had been carrying at the time of their destruction had been purified in the process. The Lord ordered Moses to have them gathered and hammered into a covering for the altar.

“Tell Eleazar son of Aaron the priest to pull all the incense burners from the fire, for they are holy. Also tell him to scatter the burning coals. Take the incense burners of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, and hammer the metal into a thin sheet to overlay the altar. Since these burners were used in the Lord’s presence, they have become holy. Let them serve as a warning to the people of Israel.” – Numbers 16:37-38 NLT

Those men had presented their censers and burning incense to the Lord, but He had consumed them with flames because they were guilty of rebellion against Him. But because their incense burners had been presented to God, they had become holy or set apart for His use.

“As we think about the notion of the ‘holy,’ we recognize that things are made holy in Scripture, not because people are holy, but because the things are presented to the Lord, who is holy. Since these wicked men presented their censers to the Lord, the censers are holy, despite the men’s own wickedness.” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

This entire story provides a powerful reminder of the ever-present danger of doubt in the life of the follower of God. Doubt has a way of turning into disobedience, and disobedience against God is nothing more than rebellion against His Word and His will. In chapter eight of Numbers, this pattern was lived out in the lives of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On. These men were descendants of Levi and, as such, they were responsible for the care and upkeep of the tabernacle of God. God had set them apart as His servants and their jobs were essential to the spiritual well-being of the people of Israel. But they were dissatisfied with things as God had planned them. They wanted more responsibility. They wanted a greater role. They doubted God’s order of things and demanded a restructuring of responsibilities and duties. They pointed their fingers at Aaron and Moses, exclaiming, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Numbers 16:3 ESV). Like Miriam in chapter 12, these men expressed their doubt in God’s preordained order of things and it led to their open disobedience and rebellion.

As a holy, righteous King, God was unwilling to tolerate the open rebellion of these men. While the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram was more pronounced and obvious, the reality was that the entire congregation was guilty of turning against God. But Moses and Aaron had interceded and begged God to spare the congregation and punish the ring leaders. God would not tolerate rebellion among His people. He knew it to be like cancer that, if left unchecked, would spread among the people. So He eradicated it in a powerful way. But, according to Moses’ request, He spared the people.

And yet, amazingly, we read, “on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the Lord’” (Numbers 16:41 ESV). Once again, they expressed doubt that what had happened had been God’s will, and they openly rebelled against God’s representatives. So, as before, God warned Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the people because He was about to destroy them. But Moses interceded yet again, telling Aaron to take his censer and “carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun” (Numbers 16:36 ESV).

God was bringing judgment on the people, and Moses’ quick thinking and Aarons’ immediate response spared the lives of many. In spite of their efforts, 14,700 people died that day – at the hand of God. Yet, there would have been even more, had they not interceded. The rebellion of the people had been a sin against God, and only the atoning work of Aaron, the high priest, had been able to satisfy the righteous judgment of God against them. Doubt is inevitable and, if left unchecked, it will always result in disobedience and rebellion against God. Mankind is prone to unfaithfulness, even those who call themselves followers of God. Disobedience is in our nature. The risk of rebellion is a constant reality for each of us.

In the gospel of Luke, there is another story of the people of God rebelling against the will of God. He had sent His Son as the Savior of the world. But Jesus didn’t come in the form they had anticipated. He failed to meet their expectations. Rather than a conquering king on a white horse leading a powerful army, He had shown up as a carpenter from the small hamlet of Nazareth and accompanied by a rag-tag group of disciples. Instead of revering Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah, the religious leaders responded with revulsion. They longed to rid themselves of His presence. They had Him arrested and dragged before Pilate, the governor, for trial and, ultimately, execution. Even Pilate found Jesus to be innocent of any wrongdoing. He tried repeatedly to release Him, but the people demanded His crucifixion, and they got their wish.

Their doubt led to disobedience, which resulted in rebellion and led to the death of the One whom God had sent. They doubted God’s Word and rejected His will. Writing more than 750 years before the events of the crucifixion, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “But 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 53:5 NLT).

God sent His Son to deal with our rebellion. But rather than snuff us out, He provided a means by which we could be healed and made whole. He paid the debt we owed, He suffered the death that was meant for us. He took on the penalty for our rebellion against God.

And it’s interesting to note that Aaron had been able to atone for the sins of the people by taking fire from the altar of God and using it to ignite incense in a censer. The same fire that had consumed the 250 leaders who had rejected God’s will was used to atone for and spare the rebellious Israelites. An incense burner in the hand of God’s anointed was the means by which God redeemed the unholy and undeserving. The all-consuming fire of God actually averted the deaths of tens of thousands of Israelites who had been deserving of God’s judgment. The plague was averted and the people were spared.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

God’s Mysterious and Magnificent Plan

1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:1-13 ESV

Chapter three is a continuation of Paul’s thoughts regarding how Christ created “in himself one new man in place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15 ESV). Through His sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus provided a means by which both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God and to one another.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22 NLT

It was “for this reason” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV), that Paul was writing his letter to them while under house arrest in Rome. His faithful efforts to fulfill the commission given to him by Christ, to take the gospel to the Gentile world, had resulted in his imprisonment. Paul informs his Gentile readers that his call by Jesus to take imprisonment in Rome was the direct result of his ministry to It was Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles that had resulted in his imprisonment in Rome.

It had all begun with a trip to Jerusalem, where Paul informed James and the other apostles of his work among the Gentiles.

…he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” – Acts 21:19-21 NLT

Jewish converts to Christianity had been spreading vicious rumors about Paul, accusing him of belittling the Mosaic Law and banning the practice of circumcision. They presented Paul as a threat to Judaism and later accused him of violating the Mosaic Law by bringing a Gentile into the temple.

They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. – Acts 21:30-31 ESV

The Jews drew up plans to assassinate Paul, but he was removed to the city of Caesarea, where he remained imprisoned for two years. Eventually he was summoned to appear before Festus, the Roman-appointed governor. Festus reviewed the charges against Paul and gave him the option of returning to Jerusalem to stand trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. But Paul, who was a Roman citizen, requested a hearing before the emperor.

But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” – Acts 25:9-12 ESV

And Paul was eventually transported to Rome, where he was placed under house arrest while awaiting a trial before the emperor. It was from Rome that he wrote his letter to the Ephesians, and he informs them that he was a prisoner “on behalf of you Gentiles” (Ephesians 3:1 ESV). Had he not faithfully fulfilled his commission and taken the gospel to the Gentiles, he would never have ended up in chains. The whole affair in Jerusalem would have never taken place.

But his entire mission had been to proclaim the mystery that had been revealed to him by Christ. It had been Jesus Himself who had ordered Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles. This inclusion of non-Jews into the family of God had been hidden from the prophets. They had never realized that it had always been God’s intention to include people of every tribe, nation, and tongue in the household of faith. This “mystery of Christ” … “was not made known to the sons of men in other generations” (Ephesians 3:4, 5 ESV). Even Jesus’ disciples had been blind to the fact that Jesus was destined to be the Messiah of all nations, not just the Jewish people. And Paul clearly articulates the nature of this mystery.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:6 ESV

And Paul declares that it had been his duty, as a minister of God, “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). He had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). And he had fulfilled that role faithfully. Even while under house arrest in Rome, he continued to carry out the mandate given to him by Christ.

For Paul, the church was the divine manifestation of God’s glory and grace. It was like a beautiful tapestry, woven from a variety of multicolored threads, all according to a pattern established by God Himself.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 3:10 ESV

“The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique.” – Cornelius R. Stam, Acts Dispensationally Considered

The church is not a man-made institution. It was not the result of human ingenuity or insight. It was the mysterious plan that God had put in place before the foundation of the world and was revealed in the atoning death of His Son on the cross. Jesus had come to save the world, not just the Jewish people. He had been born a Jew, a son of Abraham so that He might fulfill the promise made to Abraham. It would be through the seed of Abraham that God would bless all the nations of the earth. And the Gentile believers in Ephesus were proof that God had kept that promise.

And Paul reminds his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ that, together, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12 ESV). The world was no longer divided between Jews and Gentiles. Because of the finished work of Christ, the believers in Ephesus were no longer “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV).

The mystery was no longer hidden. The manifold, multi-variegated wisdom of God was on full display in the church, the body of Christ. And in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the vision he was given of this multi-ethnic, cross-cultural assembly standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

This was how Paul viewed the church, even in his day. And he was honored to be suffering on its behalf. So, he begged the Ephesian believers to view his imprisonment as a blessing, not a curse. They had no reason to be ashamed and he had no cause for regret. It was all part of the mysterious and magnificent plan of God.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

But Now…

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV

Paul was addressing a congregation that was likely comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity but, because of its location in Ephesus, there was likely a much higher percentage of non-Jews in the fellowship. And at this point in his letter, Paul focuses his attention on those whom he calls “Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11 ESV). He is not using the term “flesh” (sarx) to refer to their sinful natures but as a designation of the physical characteristics that differentiate them from Jews. Not only did Jews and Gentiles have distinctively different physical characteristics, but Gentile men were uncircumcised. Paul even points out that Jews, who bore the sign of circumcision that had been ordained for them by God, derogatorily referred to all Gentiles as “the uncircumcision.”

Among the Jews, the rite of circumcision had been faithfully practiced ever since the day God had prescribed it to their forefather Abraham.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For the Jews of Paul’s day, circumcision had become a point of pride because it “marked” them as God’s chosen people. They viewed circumcision as a badge of honor that separated them from the rest of the nations of the world. It was a physical “sign” of their unique status as those who had been set apart by God as His prized possession.

Prior to the coming of Jesus, the focus of God’s favor seemed to have remained upon the Jewish people. They were still considered the apple of His eye and the designated recipients of His covenant blessings. But for generations, they had lived in open rebellion to His will and in violation of His law. Even Jesus said of His fellow Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT). Yet, despite their disobedience, God remained committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. – Genesis 17:7 ESV

But with the coming of Jesus, God began to do a new thing. Jesus was born a Jew and began His public ministry by proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom to His own people. But as the apostle John records, the reception Jesus received from His fellow Jews was less than enthusiastic.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

From the moment Jesus was born, He had been ordained by His Heavenly Father to be the “offspring” of Abraham who would fulfill God’s promise to bless the nations. Jesus had been sent to the Jews, but His message of repentance and reconciliation had always been intended for all mankind. At one point, He revealed to His Jewish disciples that His coming death would be for the benefit of all men, not just those of the circumcision.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 NLT

And Paul wanted the Gentiles in his audience to grasp the significance of their former status as uncircumcised outsiders. They had not been part of God’s chosen family. Paul reminds them that they had been “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Their pre-salvation condition had been dire and hopeless. As Gentiles, they were separated from Christ, the Messiah of Israel. They were not beneficiaries of the covenant promises. They were considered unclean and unholy outsiders who were unworthy of the blessings that God had promised to the seed of Abraham. 

Yet, with two simple words, Paul reminds them of the marvelous transformation that had taken place in their lives.

But now…

Something incredible had taken place. They were no longer separated, alienated, estranged, hopeless, and godless. The great chasm that had once existed between them and God had been removed. They had “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). Even though uncircumcised, they had been welcomed into the presence of God because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had become the Redeemer and Savior of all men. Not only had Jesus made it possible for sinful humanity to be restored to a right relationship with God, but He had arranged a way for Jews and Gentiles to live as brothers and sisters within the family of God.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. – Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT

For Paul, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus had eliminated the former burden of trying to keep the law as a means of attaining a right standing with God. He had come to understand that the law had never been intended by God to produce righteousness in men. In fact, in his letter to the Romans, Paul asserted that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). 

Paul knew that, like circumcision, the law had become a point of pride among his fellow Jews. They viewed themselves as more righteous because they had been given the Mosaic Law as a guide to living. But what good was the law if it was not obeyed? What good was the rite of circumcision if it didn’t result in a set-apart life? That’s why Paul asserted that ethnicity, physical markers, and outward observance of religious rules were not the signs of righteousness. It was a changed heart.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:25-29 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another.

Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. – Ephesians 2:16 NLT

Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God created “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 NLT). There was no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. There were only those who were saved and those who were lost. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience could rejoice in the fact that they had been brought near to God through faith in Christ. And the Jews in his audience could rest in the fact that they no longer had to try and earn their right standing with God. It had been accomplished for them by Christ. And Paul sums it all up with the good news that “all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:17 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Sun of Righteousness Will Rise

1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:1-6 ESV

God has just informed the small remnant of the faithful whose names are written in the scroll of remembrance that they will be spared from future judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Now He provides greater details concerning that coming day of judgment from which they will be so graciously spared. He describes it as a burning oven in which “the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all” (Malachi 4:1 ESV). But the remnant of the righteous will be spared.

Jesus also provided His disciples with a graphic depiction of this coming day of judgment and left no doubt as to the final fate of the unrighteous.

“…these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46 ESV

And that is exactly what God communicates to the faithful few living in Malachi’s day.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture. On the day when I act, you will tread upon the wicked as if they were dust under your feet,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Malachi 4:2-3 NLT

Centuries later, the apostle John would provide further insight into this great day of judgment, placing it on its proper place along the divine redemptive timeline so that we can better understand the future nature of its fulfillment.

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 NLT

According to John, this coming day of judgment will take place after the second coming of Christ and at the end of His 1,000-year reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords. After His return to earth, Jesus will set up His kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will sit on the throne of David. This Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom will be marked by peace and perfect righteousness as the Son of God reigns over the entire earth. One of the unique features of Christ’s earthly kingdom is that it will be inhabited by believers and unbelievers just as the world is today. But it will be devoid of any influence from Satan because he will have been defeated and imprisoned.

He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. – Revelation 20:2-3 NLT

With the great deceiver safely locked away, he will be unable to tempt the ungodly or attack the righteous. His influence on the world will be eliminated. During this remarkable period of time, the people on earth will be allowed to live under the leadership of a perfectly righteous ruler whose kingdom will be marked by justice and equity. For the first time in human history, mankind will experience what it is like to live under the righteous rule of God Himself. But at the end of Christ’s earthly reign, Satan will be released from his confinement and allowed to peddle his evil influence once again, and the outcome will be both predictable and unfortunate.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. – Revelation 20:7-9 NLT

Those millions of unbelieving people who will be given the opportunity to live under the righteous reign of Christ will turn their backs on Him once again, choosing instead to align themselves with the enemy. This will include all the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles living on the earth at the time. And in the vision he was given of this apocalyptic event, John describes seeing fire coming down from heaven and consuming all those who join Satan in his last futile attempt to dethrone and replace God. And, as a result of his failed rebellion, Satan will meet his final fate.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:10 NLT

And at at that point, the final judgment will take place. Every human being who has ever lived will appear before the throne of God and give an account for all that they have done. But absent from this judgment will be all those who make up the church, the body of Christ. They will have been raptured long before the seven years of Tribulation and the 1,000-year reign of Christ. But everyone else, including all unbelievers, the Old Testament saints, those who come to faith during the Tribulation, and anyone who places their faith in Christ during His millennial reign, will stand before God to be judged.

In his vision, John “saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books” (Revelation 20:12 NLT). That will be the time when the righteous remnant living in Malachi’s day will find themselves standing before Yahweh. But God assures them that they have nothing to fear because “you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2 ESV). They will be spared the fate of their wicked neighbors, which will be eternal separation from God. In fact, God declared assures them that “you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet” (Malachi 4:3 ESV). 

The tables will be turned. In Malachi’s day, the righteous were being trampled down by the wicked. The faithful found themselves few in number and overwhelmed by the pervasive presence of unrighteous rulers, priests, and fellow citizens who mocked and minimized their faith in God. But God will one day restore justice to the earth and reverse the fortunes of His faithful followers. But in the meantime, God pleads with His people to remain faithful.

“Remember to obey the Law of Moses, my servant—all the decrees and regulations that I gave him on Mount Sinai for all Israel. – Malachi 4:4 NLT

They were not to give up or give in. Instead, they were to place their faith in the faithfulness of God. He will one day avenge and reward them. Their faithfulness will be worth it all.

Malachi, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, closes his book with a promise regarding the coming of Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who never faced death, but was removed from the earth by God (2 Kings 2). God states that it was necessary for His prophet to return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5 ESV). In other words, long before the final day of judgment takes place, there would be a reappearance of Elijah. But Luke records in his gospel that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. An angel appeared to Zechariah the priest, informing him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear him a son. And this son would play a vital role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind.

“…he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

John would later deny that he was Elijah (John 1:21-23). It seems that his role as Elijah was dependent upon whether the people of Israel would listen to his words and accept Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. When John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV), he expected the Jews to believe his words and accept Jesus as their Messiah. But they refused to do so. And later, Jesus would later report that John had simply been repeating the same message as the prophets and law had declared.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

If they would have listened to his message and accepted Jesus as their Messiah, John would have been the Elijah they had anticipated. And they would have enjoyed the blessings associated with Elijah’s message. But sadly, during Jesus’ day, the hearts of the fathers were not turned to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Instead, they demanded the crucifixion of the one who had come to save them. But God is not done with Israel. His redemptive plan still includes a rescue of a remnant of His chosen people. And it’s interesting to note that the book of Malachi closes out the Old Testament but the New Testament opens with the gospel of Matthew, which begins with the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1 ESV). Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and His coming to earth began the next phase of God’s grand redemptive plan for Israel and 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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Cleansed As By Fire

1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. – Malachi 3:1-5 ESV

The Israelites had dared to question the justice of God. They had willingly violated His commands and had suffered no consequences. So, in their minds, He was either impotent or indifferent to their behavior. But they were in for a rude awakening. Just because God had not yet punished them for their sins did not mean He was powerless to do so. He was the very same God who had sent them into exile 70 years earlier for having committed many of the very same sins against Him. He was gracious and merciful, but He was also righteous and just and determined to hold His people to their covenant commitments. God could not and would not leave their sins unpunished.

These verses deal with the present spiritual condition of the people of Israel by pointing to a future judgment to come. Through His messenger, Malachi, God warns of another messenger who will appear on the scene in the future, declaring the coming of the Lord.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The God they seem to believe was distant and disinterested was going to show up in their city and make an appearance in the temple.

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. – Malachi 3:1 NLT

The Lord was going to make His presence known in the very place where they were offering blemished and unworthy offerings to Him. Malachi warns the people that the day was coming when Yahweh would make a personal appearance in His holy temple. And it’s important to note that the people of Israel had expressed their sorrow and confusion over His seeming absence and silence when they had offered their sacrifices to Him.

You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. – Malachi 2:13 ESV

God would not always remain silent or hidden. He would one day respond to their sins and reveal Himself in all His might and power. But God states that His appearance will be preceded by “my messenger” (malʾakhi). While this is a variation of the prophet’s name, it does not refer to Malachi. Verse 5 of chapter 4 reveals this messenger’s identity.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. – Malachi 4:5 ESV

Malachi is recording a prophetic pronouncement from God that has a now-not-yet aspect to it. The reference to this future messenger and his designation as Elijah are all cleared up by a series of statements made by Jesus concerning John the Baptist.

“This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’” – Matthew 11:10 ESV

And Jesus went on to explain that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” of whom the prophets spoke.

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. – Matthew 11:13-14 ESV

In a later exchange with His disciples, Jesus further clarified John the Baptist’s role as the “messenger” of God who would prepare the way for His coming.

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. – Matthew 17:10-13 ESV

And even before John the Baptist’s birth, an angel of the Lord had appeared to Zechariah the priest, declaring that his barren wife would bear him a son.

“And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:16-17 ESV

The people of Israel longed for a divine “messenger” who would appear on the scene and reestablish the glory days of Israel. They were familiar with all the prophetic passages that spoke of a coming one who would be a son of David and set up His kingdom on earth. They dreamed of the day when this mighty warrior-king would make his appearance and put Israel back on the geopolitical map. They had no king and were living in the shadows of their more powerful pagan neighbors. So, they would have understood Malachi’s mention of  “the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight” as a reference to this long-hoped-for Messiah or savior.

And while God assures them that the Messiah is coming, He warns that His appearance will not be quite as joyful for them as they had hoped.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.” – Malachi 3:2-3 NLT

Their idea of the messenger of the covenant was a deliverer who would fulfill all of the blessings that God had promised as part of His covenant commitment. But they failed to remember that the covenant was bi-lateral in nature. God’s blessings were contingent upon their obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 ESV

But as Malachi has already pointed out, they had not kept their part of the agreement. Like their ancestors, they had continued to disregard God’s laws and dishonor His holiness by bowing down to false gods. So, when this messenger of the covenant appears, He will come to purify and cleanse the people. He will be like a refining fire that purges all the dross from the gold so that what remains is pure and undefiled. This agent of God will perform a miraculous cleansing of God’s people so that they are able to come before Him in sinless purity.

“Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:4 NLT

God will do for them what they were incapable of doing for themselves. He will purify and cleanse their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this coming day of the Lord and the miraculous life-altering ministry of the Messiah.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 ESV

In order for cleansing to take place, judgment will have to be leveled against all those who stand before God as impure and defiled by their sins. That is why God warns that, in the future, when the Messiah comes, He will “draw near to you for judgment” (Malachi 3:5 ESV). This cannot be speaking of Jesus’ first coming because Jesus clearly stated, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47 ESV). But at His second coming, Jesus will come as judge. In His righteousness, He will expose all sin and deal a blow to Satan and his demons.

In the present, Malachi is warning the Israelites that their sins are offensive to a holy God. And in the future, those sins will be exposed and dealt with. In order for cleansing to take place, all their sins will need to be revealed, confessed, and burned away. God wanted His people to understand that their current sins will one day face a future judgment. Their unrighteousness was a problem that needed to be addressed. They couldn’t ignore it or continue to justify it. Because God’s judgment of sin is inevitable and inescapable.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Future Blessings

Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.

“Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob,
    listen to Israel your father.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father’s bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
    O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
    and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
    and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
    and scatter them in Israel.

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
    your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s cub;
    from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
    and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
    and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
    and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth whiter than milk.– Genesis 49:1-12 ESV

Nearing death, Jacob called his 12 sons to him. It was time for him to share his patriarchal blessing on the young men who would carry on the legacy of his name and play vital roles in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jacob understood that his time on earth was over and it was time to pass the baton the next generation of Israelites. It would be through them that God would create a great nation that would eventually return to and fill the land of Canaan.

As Jacob gathered his sons around him, he pronounced a prophetic word concerning each of their futures. This section of Genesis is written in a poetic style, but is no less historical or reliable. In it, the words of Jacob are intended to convey future realities that will be based on the sovereign will of God as it is played out through the personalities and character qualities of each son. His 12 sons, each bearing distinctively different temperaments, will be the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jacob, under divine inspiration, conveys to each of them the vital, yet divergent, roles they will play in the creation of the Israelite nation. No two sons is alike and the tribes that will emanate from them will end up reflecting their disparate characters.

Beginning with the oldest to the youngest, Jacob delivers a brief, yet powerful prophetic pronouncement concerning each son. And what they heard must have surprised and confused them. It is not clear whether they knew about the blessing he had given to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.

“By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying,
‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’” – Genesis 48:20 ESV

Jacob had already made the unexpected decision to adopt Joseph’s two sons, born to him by an Egyptian woman. Jacob had chosen to make his two grandsons heirs to his inheritance, placing them on equal standing with his own sons. He had declared a powerful and irrevocable blessing on both of them.

“…in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:16 ESV

And while Jacob had frustrated Joseph by purposefully awarding the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim, the younger of his two sons, Jacob had also assured that Joseph that Manasseh would not be forgotten.

“He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” – Genesis 48:19 ESV

But now Jacob turned his attention to his own sons, speaking over them a word of blessing and prophecy.

“Each son learned how his branch of the family would benefit from and be a channel of blessing relative to the patriarchal promises. The natural character of each son and the consequences of that character would have their outcome in the future of the Israelites. The choices and consequently the characters of the patriarchs affected their descendants for generations to come, as is usually true.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

It is unlikely that Jacob understood the full import of his own words. Much of what he had to say to his sons was future-oriented, stretching from the not-so-distant future all the way to the Millennial Age. Jacob did not possess the power of clairvoyance. He could not see into the future or discern with accuracy and confidence the outcome of his words, but he knew that what he was saying was divinely inspired.

Like any loving father, Jacob longed for each of his sons to be successful and to leave a lasting legacy that would positively impact the world in which they lived. So, beginning with Reuben, his firstborn, Jacob delivered a brief, but timeless prediction concerning each of their fates.

Reuben was in for a not-so-pleasant surprise. Because of his ill-fated decision to sleep with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22), he would forfeit his right to the blessing of the firstborn. It must have stung Reuben deeply to hear his father pronounce, “you will be first no longer.
For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch” (Genesis 49:4 NLT). Like his uncle, Esau, Reuben had allowed his physical passions to rule over him and rob him of his rightful place of prominence and power among his brothers. And his decision would have long-lasting effects, determining the fate of his future descendants.

Simeon and Levi were probably also a bit surprised when they heard their father’s pronouncement over them. These two sons had brought shame to the name of Jacob by murdering all the men of Shechem for the rape of their sister, Dinah (Genesis 34). They had chosen to take matters into their own hands and, as a result, had made the Israelites “stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites” (Genesis 34:30 NLT). Now, they were having to pay the consequences for their rash and costly action.

Yet, despite the rather negative nature of Jacob’s words concerning Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, he still declared that they would each enjoy fruitfulness and future blessings from God. Their natural role as leaders over the clan had been forfeited but not their right to enjoy status as heirs of the patriarchal blessing.

At this point, Jacob turns his attention to Judah, and it is to this son that he dedicates the greatest portion of his time and his most positive statements of praise and prophetic revelation. Among all his brothers, Judah was destined to play the most vital role of all. It must have been a rather awkward moment when Jacob declared of Judah in the hearing of all his brothers, “your brothers shall praise youyour father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV). For each of the sons, this would have brought back the memories of Joseph’s dreams. And while those dreams had already been fulfilled, now they were hearing that they would have to bow before yet another brother.

And while Jacob’s words would have short-term implications, he was really speaking of events that lie in the distant future. The tribe of Judah would become a leading faction among the nation of Israel, but it would not be until the coming of the Messiah that most of these prophecies would be fulfilled.

Jacob declared that “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10 ESV), and this would eventually be fulfilled through King David and his royal line. But it would ultimately be fulfilled with the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lord, the Messiah of Israel.

All of the imagery used by Jacob points to a future fulfillment that has yet to take place. Even during the days when Moses penned these words, the people of Israel had not yet entered the land of promised, the dynasty of David had not yet come, and the prediction of Judah’s preeminence had not yet taken place. But it would. All of those things would come to pass, just as Jacob predicted. Yet, even today, the scepter has passed from the hand of Judah. There is no king in Israel. No son of David sits on the throne in Jerusalem. But the day is coming when even those prophetic words will be fulfilled.

Jacob declared some rather cryptic words concerning the future of Judah that must have left each of the brothers scratching their heads in confusion.

“He ties his foal to a grapevine,
    the colt of his donkey to a choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.” – Genesis 49:11 NLT

None of this would have made sense to them. This imagery is nonsensical and counterintuitive. No one would tie his foal to a grapevine. To do so would end up damaging the valuable vine. And who in their right mind would wash garments in wine? The result would be far from productive or beneficial.

Yet, Jacob was predicting a future event that would result in the judgment of Israel. Though he did not know it at the time, Jacob was predicting the coming of the seed of Judah who would rule and reign over Israel. Jesus would be the Son of David who would be the foal who was tied to the vine of Israel. God would send His Son to be the relatively innocent looking and unimpressive Rabbi whose very existence would bring judgment upon the God-blessed, but rebellious vine of Israel.

And the day will come when this very same Son of David will return to earth and wash his garments in the blood (wine) of His enemies – all those who refuse to recognize Him as the Messiah and Savior sent from God, including the people of Israel. The book of Revelation describes the day when the King will return to earth a second time and “clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God” (Revelation 19:13 13 ESV).

And the apostle John goes on to declare that the Messiah “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:15-16 ESV).

Jacob was speaking of future events both near and distant. And God would see that each and every statement made by the dying patriarch would be fulfilled at just the right time and in perfect keeping with His divine will.

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.