The Battle Lines Are Drawn.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. –  Matthew 21:14-17 ESV

tissot-he-heals-the-lame-in-the-temple-740x545After having cleansed His Father’s house, Jesus proceeded to return it to its rightful status as a place of healing and hope. When Solomon had prayed the prayer of dedication over the original temple, he had asked of God, “listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 ESV). Solomon deeply desired that the magnificent building he had constructed would be a place where God’s presence dwelt and where those who approached God in humility could find forgiveness and restoration. Which is why he had prayed, “whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)” (1 Kings 8:37-39 ESV).

With His cleansing of the temple, Jesus had made the temple a place of prayer once again. As He walked through its courtyards, the crowds came to Him, the blind and the lame somehow made their way to Him. And Matthew simply states, “He healed them.” And these would be the last healings Jesus would perform in His earthly ministry. Here in His Father’s house, he was extending mercy and grace to those who come to Him with their physical afflictions. And, as Solomon had prayed, Jesus, who knows the hearts of all the children of mankind, saw past their physical infirmities and longed to restore their more serious spiritual condition. Which is why, within days, He would offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

But the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees speaks volumes. Matthew states that when these men saw “saw the wonderful things that he did,” they became indignant. The Greek word translated as “wonderful” refers to something miraculous or marvelous, and worthy of admiration. But instead, these men were filled with indignation or displeasure. The were appalled, not awed. Rather than rendering worship to God for what they were seeing, they reacted with anger. They were offended by the shouts of the children who were declaring, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And they asked Jesus if He was hearing what the children were saying.

And Jesus calmly responded to them, quoting from one of the psalms, of which they would have been familiar.

You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you. – Psalm 8:2 NLT

Earlier, when Jesus had first entered Jerusalem, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). And the Pharisees had demanded the Jesus rebuke them. But Jesus had told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV). The reality of Jesus’ identity was going to be revealed one way or the other. And now, the children were crying out and declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. These innocent, humble children saw what the well-educated, religious leaders could not see.

These men were not stupid. They could see that much of what was taking place around them was further proof of Jesus’ Messiahship. But they refused to admit it or accept it. The shouts of the children were a verbal confirmation, echoing the sentiments of the crowds surrounding Jesus. But the scribes and Pharisees remained stubbornly opposed to Jesus, and blind to the evidence taking place all around them. And yet, they could sense the tide was turning. They were losing control. The influence of Jesus was increasing with each passing day. And as it did, their anger grew and their desperation to do something about this threat to their power and influence escalated dramatically.

There is a spiritual battle taking place behind this somewhat idyllic scene. We picture Jesus healing the lame and the blind. In our mind’s ear, we hear the praises of the children. But behind this peaceful and harmonious scene lie the wreckage and confusion left by Jesus as a result of his angry assault on the moneychangers and vendors He had found in the court of the Gentiles. Among the overturned tables and amidst the bleating sheep and bellowing oxen, there were vendors trying to restore order to their once lucrative booths. And there, lurking in the dark corners, were the religious leaders of Israel, shaking their heads in indignation and disgust. Jesus had once again disrupted the status quo. He had invaded their turf and rocked their religious world. And behind these men stood the prince of this world, Satan himself. He saw Jesus as a threat to his rule and reign, and was willing to do anything to eliminate Him.

Jesus, in a last display of His divine powers, healed the blind and the lame. Satan, in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the plans of God, would use his influence over the spiritually blind and those sickened by sin, to turn them against the Messiah. The forces of wickedness were gathering against the Son of God. The battle for the souls of mankind was about to take place. And here, in the temple courtyard, we see the primary participants in this epic struggle gathering for what will be a spiritual showdown in the city of Jerusalem.

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

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

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

Access to God.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!– Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

As Jesus begins to bring His message to a close, we must keep in mind that He is still addressing those who are blessed or approved by God. Many of these individuals, including His disciples, are in His audience, but have not yet embraced Him as their Savior. But they will. In a way, Jesus is speaking prophetically, talking in a future sense of those who will come to faith in Him as their Messiah. But it is still early on in His ministry and most are not yet aware of who He really is. They view Him as a rabbi or teacher and a worker of miracles, but have not yet understood His claim to be the Son of God and their Messiah. But the day will come when many will believe and express as Peter did. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). It is to these individuals Jesus is speaking when He says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 NLT). Jesus is describing an intimate relationship with God the Father that provides His children with constant access into His presence. With three simple words: ask, seek, and knock, Jesus is letting them know that all who are approved by God will enjoy a special relationship with Him that will be far greater than any earthly relationship they have ever known.

There are those who try to give these verses an evangelistic interpretation, turning them into an invitation to salvation. But if kept in their context, it is clear that these verses are not inviting anyone into a saving relationship with Jesus. Instead, they are encouraging those who have already been approved by God, because of their faith in Christ, to take advantage of their newfound relationship with Him. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:9 NLT). We can ask of God and receive from Him. We can seek Him, and find Him. We can knock, and He will open the door to us. Gone are the days of trying to win access into God’s presence through keeping the law. There is no longer any need to try to win God’s approval and get His attention through human effort or achievement. Jesus was letting His audience know that the day was coming when the blessed or approved by God would have unparalleled intimacy with God. And I think His use of these three words: ask, seek, and knock; are directly tied to His words regarding fasting, prayer and alms-giving. If you think about it, fasting involved giving up something earthly in order to focus one’s attention on God. It was an attempt to seek intimacy and fellowship with God by denying oneself the pleasures of this life. Prayer was a means by which men could come to God and petition Him for their needs. And alms-giving was mercy-based generosity extended to those who came to you with their needs. Jesus is telling us that we can knock at God’s door and receive mercy from Him. He opens His door and invites us into His presence.

God is good and loving. He is gracious and kind. We can ask of Him and He will answer. We can seek Him and find Him. We can knock and find access into His presence. All because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. And Jesus reminds His listeners that God the Father seis far more generous and loving than any earthly father. Even a human father, in his sinfulness, would never give something harmful in response to his child’s request. It would be ludicrous to think of any dad giving his child a stone rather than bread, or a snake instead of fish. And our heavenly Father is far more loving, gracious and good than any earthly father. We can ask, seek and knock, knowing that He will answer us, reveal Himself to us and give us access into His presence.

For the average Jew, God was seen as a distant deity. He was not thought to be easily accessible or approachable. The entire sacrificial system pointed to a God who demanded cleansing from impurity before access could be granted. Sin was a constant barrier to God for the Jews. And they were required to go through the priests in order to have their sins forgiven and their relationship with God restored. But Jesus is introducing something radical and new. With His coming death on the cross, the veil in the temple will be torn in half, symbolizing the destruction and elimination of the former barrier between God and man. With the shedding of His own blood, Jesus will eliminate the need for the blood of bulls and goats. He will act as both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest, offering His own life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. And those who place their faith in His sacrifice will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God.

These verses tie directly back to the opening lines of Jesus’ sermon. Those who are approved by God, though they be poor in spirit, they will be citizens of God’s kingdom. Though they will experience days of mourning in this life, they will receive comfort from God. And their willing meekness or submission to the will of God for their lives will garner them the earth as their inheritance. When they hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, they will be completely satisfied. When they choose to show mercy to others, they will continue to receive mercy from God. And their purity of heart will allow them to see God in their lives. When they seek to be at peace with men and introduce them to how to have peace with God, they will be recognized as the sons of God. And finally, any persecution they face in this life because of their faith will be well worth it, because they have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom.

Ask, seek, and knock. Three words of invitation to all those who have been approved by God. And they should produce in us a joy that is unparalleled and unsurpassed. Like the psalmist we should say:

Come, let us sing to the Lord!
    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
    Let us sing psalms of praise to him.
For the Lord is a great God,
    a great King above all gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
    and the mightiest mountains.
The sea belongs to him, for he made it.
    His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down.
    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
    for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care. – Psalm 95:1-7 NLT

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus is not offering up a list of tasks or duties to be performed in order to be made right with God. He is describing the lifestyle of those who dwell in the Kingdom of God. And only those who will eventually place their faith in Him as their Savior and Messiah will find approval and acceptance by God the Father. It will be those individuals who find themselves free to ask, seek and knock. And they will find their God quick to respond, answering their requests, making Himself known, and inviting them into His presence. But sadly, many of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ fail to embrace the incredible privilege Jesus is describing. We seem to doubt that God will answer when we ask. And as James so bluntly reminds us, “you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” (James 4:2 NLT). And far too many of us fail to seek God. But as the prophet Jeremiah recorded, God has promised to make Himself available to all who seek Him wholeheartedly. “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NLT). And how many of us regularly knock on the door seeking entrance into God’s presence? Is He the one we turn to in time of need? Is His door the one we knock on when we need comfort or companionship? In the book of Revelation, Jesus extends a promise to those who bear His name: “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20 NLT). God and His Son long to live in intimate communion with the citizens of the Kingdom. They desire that their people would turn to them for all their needs, to seek from them all that they have to offer, and to desire to be in their presence. Jesus is describing life in the Kingdom. He is telling His audience that the day is coming when He will make access to God freely available and the good gifts of God readily accessible.

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

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

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

A Model Prayer.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer simply to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every prayer we pray. It provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He is responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinityand our own humanity. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We should never fail to remember that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later boldy claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God:

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. An individual’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to Him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Despite what we may believe, prayer is not primarily an opportunity to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and when we get to provide Him with a lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are unable to make requests of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

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

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

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

A Primer on Prayer.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-8 ESV

The Jews were a praying people. Prayer was an important part of their religious practice. They had prayers, like the Shema, that were to be recited both morning and evening. Services were held throughout the day at the synagogue where the people of Israel could gather for prayer. So, the topic of prayer was not uncommon among those who heard Jesus speak that day. Jesus was not promoting the need for prayer. He was trying to expose the false motivation behind their prayers. Once again, He warns them against hypocrisy – a form of play-acting, where outward appearances were meant to be deceiving. The Greek word is hypokritēs and was used to describe an actor in a play. An actor’s job was to pretend to be someone else, and a good actor was successful when the audience became convinced that he was who he was pretending to be.

The problem Jesus is attempting to address is the presence of hypocrisy in matters of faith. Posing and pretending were not to be part of the life of a child of God. Prayer was important to God. Communication between Almighty God and man was important to Him. Prayer was a means by which men could express their needs to God, but also declare the glories of God. They could ask things of Him, but were also expected to offer praises to Him for all He had done for them already. And yet, prayer had become just another means of promoting personal piety. Praying in public, where others could see and hear you, was not only a way to get noticed, but admired for your obvious spirituality. Public praying was a way to put your righteousness on display, for all to see. But Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them” (Matthew 6:5 NLT). The purpose of prayer was not to get noticed by men, but heard by God. Prayer was not meant to be a public display of your piety or personal righteousness. Remember what Jesus said? “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Like alms-giving, prayer had become nothing more than a means to an end, and the end was the praise of men. When Jesus warns them not to practice “your righteousness” before other people, He is not complimenting them on what they are doing. He is not telling them that their giving of alms and public prayers were righteous acts. He is describing what they were doing as self-righteousness. It was their own, self-produced brand of righteousness. And just so we’re clear, Jesus is not saying that alms-giving or public prayer are wrong. He is simply using these two things as examples of good and godly acts that had become misunderstood and misused by men and women who were desperately wanting others to see them as something they were not. They wanted to be viewed as righteous and holy by their peers, so all they did, they did to get noticed.

But Jesus is out to tell them that they are focused on the wrong audience. They are trying to convince the wrong people of their righteousness. It should have been God they were worried about, not men. He should have been the focus of their prayers. And rather than spending their time trying to convince others that they were something they were not, they would have been better off letting God know exactly who they were. It was Os Guinness who wrote, “I live before the audience of One – before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.”

It is important that we recognize that Jesus is not condemning public prayer. But prayer is intended, first and foremost, to be a spiritual activity. It is meant to be a conversation between man and God. Prayer is intended for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. It is meant to give to God (glory, honor, adoration). But it also provided as a means by which men can get from God (forgiveness, healing, guidance). Jesus is rejecting the idea of righteousness being inextricably linked to public prayerfulness. Jesus is saying that, if you pray to impress men, you will fail to gain approval from God. Acts of righteousness done with nothing more than recognition in mind are not acts of righteousness at all, but right things done for the wrong reason. Jesus is exposing the kind of prayer that is self-focused, and meant to get you seen and heard. That is prayer meant to impress, not confess. It’s prayer meant to gain the praise of men, not offer praise to God. It’s prayer designed to boost our reputation before men, not boast in the reputation of God.

So, what are we to do? Not pray? No, Jesus says that we are to go into our room, shut the door and pray to God – in private – where no one else can see. And God, who sees all, will not only see you, He will hear you, and reward you. He will bless you, approve of you, and express His pleasure with you by answering your prayers. The apostle John tells us,

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling us that if we prayer in order to impress men and to get their praise, we will get what it is we desire: Their praise. But we won’t get what we prayed for from God. If getting noticed for our prayers is more important to us than getting our prayers answered by God, we will become well-known and revered for our prayer life, but God won’t become known for His answers to our prayers. Prayers prayed to get noticed by men, will always fail to get men to notice God. But our responsibility as God’s children is to bring glory to Him, not ourselves. We are here to point men and women to God, not to us. We are meant to lift Him up, not ourselves.

Jesus goes on to describe an aspect of prayer with which we all struggle. How do you get God to hear and answer you? So, even if you pray in private, where no one can hear you but God, how do you make sure He really does hear you? Once again, Jesus exposes a misconception. He tells them, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7 NLT). When you talk to God, don’t try to impress Him with the length of your prayer or your choice of words. Don’t drone on and on, somehow thinking that God will be more prone to hear you if your prayer comes across as intense. It is neither the intensity or longevity of our prayers that cause God to answer. It is the motivation of our heart. James tells us, “when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3 NLT). Wrong methods. Wrong motives. That’s the problem. Later on in this same message, Jesus will say:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” – Matthew 7:7-11 NLT

We are to ask, and we are to trust God for the answer. He isn’t going to give us something we don’t need or can’t use. But it’s important to remember that God is not going to give us everything we ask for, because too often our motives are wrong. Also, we don’t always know what it is we actually need. We may think we need healing, but God knows we need to learn faith. We may ask God for a financial solution to our problem, when He knows that the real issue is spiritual in nature. We have a greed problem. So, rather than give us money, He teaches us to live within our means, learning to trust Him for our needs.

Sometimes, we spend far too much time asking God for things. But Jesus reminds us, “your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:8 NLT). This doesn’t mean we don’t have to ask God for things, but that the purpose behind our prayer is not to share information with God, but to communicate our dependence upon God. We don’t pray to keep God up to speed with all that is going on in our life. He already knows. We pray in order to convey to Him our complete reliance upon Him for everything. Prayer is an act of submission to God. It is the adoration of God. It is a means by which we offer up our thankfulness for all that God has done and is doing in and around our life.

Prayer wasn’t meant to get you noticed by men. It also wasn’t intended to get you noticed by God. He already knows everything there is to know about you. Prayer is an expression of humility to God, showing Him that we are completely dependent upon Him for all things. But how easy it is to make prayer an expression of pride and self-promotion. So, Jesus warns us not to pray that way. But then He gives us an example of how we are to pray. But that’s for tomorrow.

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

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

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

Sovereign Lord!

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.  – Acts 4:23-31 ESV

After their stern warning from the Sanhedrin “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18 ESV), Peter and John returned to the rest of their friends and reported all that had happened. What happened next provides us with a significant insight into the spiritual transformation that had taken in the lives of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Rather than responding in fear at the possible ramifications of the Sanhedrin’s warnings. the disciples seem to take the news quite calmly. And instead of breaking into a heated discussion about how they should respond to the threats of the council, they prayed. And what they prayed is significant and illuminating.

First, Luke is very specific in recording that they addressed God as “Sovereign Lord.” The Greek word is despotēs and it means “master, lord or sovereign ruler.” This was a title reserved for those who held positions of ultimate and unwavering power and authority. And the disciples recognized that the God to whom they were praying was the supreme Master, the sovereign, all-powerful Lord of the universe. They did not address God as Father, although in the model prayer Jesus had given them, He had taught them to do so. No, at this moment in time, facing the demands of the Sanhedrin to cease and desist, and under threats of possible retaliation if they did not, the disciples turned their attention to the sovereign nature of God Almighty. They address Him as the Creator of “the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24 ESV). And then they quote from an Old Testament passage penned by King David.

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’ – Acts 4:25-26 ESV

Notice that they attribute this passage to David, but clearly state that it had been given to the former king through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 2 had been written by David, but what he had written had been inspired by the Spirit of God. And the disciples recognized that it had been a prophetic reference to Jesus, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had given the disciples new insight into the Scriptures, allowing them to see things they had never seen before. Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus had opened the eyes of a couple of disciples walking along the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Now, the Holy Spirit was doing the same thing for the rest of the disciples. They are able to see that what David had written hundreds of years earlier had special application to them. The “rulers were gathered together against the Lord and his Anointed”. The Sanhedrin were raging and plotting, but because God is sovereign, the disciples realized they had nothing to fear. The Gentiles or Romans had played a part in Jesus’ death. The “kings of the earth” is a clear reference to King Herod, who had authorized the death of Jesus. And the reference to rulers covers Pontius Pilate, the high priest and all the religious authorities who had subjected Jesus to humiliating trials and physical beatings before His death. But all that they had done had been in vain. It had proved futile and had failed to stop the sovereign will of God. 

The disciples had seen the risen Lord. They had talked and ate with Him. They had received their commission from Him. They they heard Him promise to one day return for them. And finally, they had watched Him ascend into the sky in order to return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. So, they knew that all the Gentiles and the Jews had done had been for naught. Which meant that they had no reason to fear what the threats of the Sanhedrin.

The disciples were able to look back on all the events that had happened in Jerusalem surrounding the death of Jesus and recognize that it had all been the pre-planned work of God. They confess, “everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will” (Acts 4:28 NLT). It had been predestined and predetermined by God. All that the disciples had seen as an unmitigated disaster and as a heartbreaking end to their hopes of Jesus being the Messiah, had actually been the will of God. It had been part of His divine plan.

With all this in mind, it’s important to notice how their thoughts of God’s sovereignty influence what they ask of God. Notice that they don’t ask God to place a hedge of protection around them. They don’t request that He remove the threat that hovers over them. They don’t demand that He strike down the Sanhedrin. No, they pray for boldness. They realize He is in complete control of the circumstances, so they simply ask that He give them the strength to continue to do what He has called them to do.

29 “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” – Acts 4:29-30 NLT

They fully recognized that their strength came from God. They realized that any power they had to heal or perform signs and wonders came from God. They were simply instruments in the Redeemer’s all-powerful hands. So, they asked Him for boldness or parrēsia, a Greek word that means “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance” (Outline of Biblical Usage). They weren’t asking for relief from their problems, but for the resources they needed to continue doing His will. Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem, willingly facing not only the threat of death, but its inevitable reality. Now, they were asking for the same bold determination to keep on keeping on, regardless of what the Gentiles, kings and rulers may say.

And Luke records, “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31 ESV). It is important that we note that what happened here was not another baptism of the Holy Spirit. They had received the Spirit in full at Pentecost. This “filling” is a reference to the Spirit’s control over them. This has less to do with the specific moment in time than with the ongoing control of the Spirit over them. Luke says, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They walked out of the room under the control of the Spirit, able to speak boldly and confidently, in direct answer to their prayer request. What they were able to do was the direct result of the Spirit of God. It was His control over them that allowed them to speak the words of God with boldness. Their efforts were not the result of human strength. They were sovereignly, spiritually equipped by God for the task He had given them.

 

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

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

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

All Is Lost.

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried away captive some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the Lord, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the Lord, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the basins and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service; also the small bowls and the fire pans and the basins and the pots and the lampstands and the dishes for incense and the bowls for drink offerings. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of the Lord, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around. – Jeremiah 52:12-23 ESV

It can be quite easy to read the description of the fall of Jerusalem in a flippant and somewhat disconnected manner. The prophet, Jeremiah, is quite stingy in his use of words, painting a quite matter-of-fact image of the city’s fall. But if we look at other passages in the Scriptures, we get a much fuller and more terrifyingly chilling depiction of all that went on during the nearly 20-month-long siege of Jerusalem and its eventual fall. The book of Lamentations records a particularly disturbing aspect of the siege.


Those killed by the sword are better off

    than those who die of hunger.
Starving, they waste away
    for lack of food from the fields.

Tenderhearted women
    have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
    to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:9-10 NLT

The residents of the city had been forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. These were not easy days. Starvation was an everyday reality. Parents had to stand back and watch their young children die. And when the walls were finally breached, the death and destruction was like nothing the people of Judah had ever witnessed before. In their weakened state, there was nothing they could do to defend themselves against the Babylonian troops who had were more than ready to seek their revenge on the stubbornly rebellious people inside the walls. The book of Lamentations provides another grisly look at just how bad things were when the walls fell.

Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem
    and the young girls in all the towns of Judah.
Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs,
    and our elders are treated with contempt.
Young men are led away to work at millstones,
    and boys stagger under heavy loads of wood. – Lamentations 5:10-13 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people as captives, leaving nothing but the poorest of the poor to occupy the destroyed city. He stripped the city bare, taking all that was of value, including the treasures of the palace and the temple, as well as the most gifted of all the people. We are provided with a detailed description of the items taken from the temple. The Babylonians left nothing of value untouched. Every ounce of gold, silver or bronze was stripped away and taken as plunder. The sacred vessels, set apart by God for use in the sacrificial system, were hauled off as booty. Not only that, we read in the next section of this chapter that “Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, took with him as prisoners Seraiah the high priest, Zephaniah the priest of the second rank, and the three chief gatekeepers” (Jeremiah 52:24 NLT).

The detailed description of the items taken by the Babylonians is similar to what we read in the book of 1 Kings, that describes Solomon’s painstaking and extremely costly construction of the temple many years earlier.

So Solomon finished building the Temple. The entire inside, from floor to ceiling, was paneled with wood. He paneled the walls and ceilings with cedar, and he used planks of cypress for the floors. He partitioned off an inner sanctuary—the Most Holy Place—at the far end of the Temple. It was 30 feet deep and was paneled with cedar from floor to ceiling. The main room of the Temple, outside the Most Holy Place, was 60 feet long. Cedar paneling completely covered the stone walls throughout the Temple, and the paneling was decorated with carvings of gourds and open flowers.

He prepared the inner sanctuary at the far end of the Temple, where the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant would be placed. This inner sanctuary was 30 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet high. He overlaid the inside with solid gold. He also overlaid the altar made of cedar. Then Solomon overlaid the rest of the Temple’s interior with solid gold, and he made gold chains to protect the entrance to the Most Holy Place. So he finished overlaying the entire Temple with gold, including the altar that belonged to the Most Holy Place.

He made two cherubim of wild olive wood, each 15 feet tall, and placed them in the inner sanctuary. The wingspan of each of the cherubim was 15 feet, each wing being 7 1⁄2 feet long. The two cherubim were identical in shape and size; each was 15 feet tall. He placed them side by side in the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Their outspread wings reached from wall to wall, while their inner wings touched at the center of the room. He overlaid the two cherubim with gold.

He decorated all the walls of the inner sanctuary and the main room with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid the floor in both rooms with gold. – 1 Kings 6:14-30 NLT

In a case of divine deconstruction, God reversed the process and turned the former glory of the temple into an empty shell. All that had been set apart to Him was now the property of the Babylonians. The vessels and tools, once integral to the sacrificial system, were now the property of pagans. And the not-so-subtle message to the people of Judah was that, in their determination to reject God, they had rejected all that was associated with Him, including access to His temple and the availability of atonement made possible through the sacrificial system. The temple was destroyed. The priests were now prisoners. And the people had no way of receiving forgiveness for their sins. The people were to learn that turning their backs on God would have dire consequences.

Once again, we must turn to the book of Lamentations to get a clearer understanding of how the fall of Jerusalem impacted the people of God. It is believed that Jeremiah was the author of the book of Lamentations and he is often referred to as “the weeping prophet” because of his close association with this book. In the closing verses of the book, we read the following prayer, described as coming from the mouths of the people of Judah.

But Lord, you remain the same forever!
    Your throne continues from generation to generation.
Why do you continue to forget us?
    Why have you abandoned us for so long?
Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!
    Give us back the joys we once had!
Or have you utterly rejected us?
    Are you angry with us still? – Lamentations 5:19-22 NLT

The devastation had created a renewed dependency on God in the hearts of the people. The destruction they had witnessed had led to a greater desire for God. Isn’t it interesting how that works? When things are going well, we can find ourselves forgetting all about God. We don’t see the need for Him. But as soon as something goes wrong; our health takes a turn for the worse, our finances falter, our marriage goes south, or our sunny skies turn dark and foreboding, we turn to God. We call out. We question His faithfulness. We demand that He restore our fortunes and make everything bright and cheery again. It’s interesting to note that the people accuse God of rejecting them, but they say nothing of their own rejection of God. They feel abandoned and alone. But they don’t seem to understand that their adandonment by God was due to their own abandonment of Him. But they were right in understanding that God is faithful. They were right in turning to Him. He is our hope in time of need. He is our rock when all else around us is shaky and unstable. He is our faithful Father and loving God. But we must be careful to learn an important lesson from the people of Judah. In their prayer, they state, “Give us back the joys we once had!” Notice what is behind that statement or demand. They want things to go back to the way they were. They want restoration of their former good fortunes. In other words, they want a return to the status quo. They want their old lives back, not God. God was simply a means to an end for them. And we can be guilty of treating God the same way. We go to Him, asking Him to return us to health, to restore our marriage, to fix our financial problems, to make all the hurts and heartaches of life to go away. But what God really wants is for us to desire Him. He wants us to long for Him above anything and everything else in life. The people of Judah didn’t need their old lives back, they needed 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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Great Intentions, But…

Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, came near and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Let our plea for mercy come before you, and pray to the Lord your God for us, for all this remnant—because we are left with but a few, as your eyes see us— that the Lord your God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your request, and whatever the Lord answers you I will tell you. I will keep nothing back from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to all the word with which the Lord your God sends you to us. Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” Jeremiah 42:1-6 ESV

There had been a lot decisions being made among the remnant of the people of Judah who had been left in the land after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor, refused to heed the warning of Johanan about an assassination plot on his life. And he did not seek the counsel of God or even of Jeremiah, God’s prophet. In fact, ever since Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah and left him in charge, Jeremiah is suspiciously nowhere to be seen. His name isn’t even mentioned in all of chapter 41. Yet, he had been placed under Gedaliah’s care.

Then there was the decision of Ishmael, a member of the family of King David, who decided to side with the King of Ammon and played a personal role in the assassination of Gedaliah. Once again, there is no indication that he sought the will of God in making this fateful decision. He and the King of Ammon had plans and they obviously felt no need to consult with God or seek His approval.

Then, there was Johanan’s decision to pursue Ishmael and take revenge for his murder of Gedaliah. Johanan was able to rescue the people who had been captured by Ishmael and free them, but Ishmael himself escaped. And there is every indication that Johanan had plans to seek asylum in Egypt in order to escape what he knew would be the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar for the death on Gedaliah.

Then Johanan son of Kareah and the other military leaders took all the people they had rescued in Gibeon—the soldiers, women, children, and court officials whom Ishmael had captured after he killed Gedaliah. They took them all to the village of Geruth-kimham near Bethlehem, where they prepared to leave for Egypt. They were afraid of what the Babylonians would do when they heard that Ishmael had killed Gedaliah, the governor appointed by the Babylonian king. – Jeremiah 41:16-18 NLT

But now, as chapter 42 opens, Johanan, the people and all the military leaders who had been able to escape during the fall of Jerusalem, approach Jeremiah and ask Him to pray on their behalf.

“Please pray to the Lord your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the Lord your God will show us what to do and where to go.” – Jeremiah 42:2-3 NLT

This request sounds extremely spiritual. They are asking the prophet of God to approach Yahweh on their behalf and seek to discover what His will might be for them. They know they are in a dangerous predicament. Even though it was Ishmael, in a plot with the king of Ammon, who murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonians are not going to launch a lengthy investigation to determine culpability and hand out punishment. They will see this as a rebellion against their authority and move to suppress it. The Babylonians were not known for their diplomacy or their patience with those who refused to submit to their rule. So, Johanan and his companions were legitimately concerned that the actions of Ishmael were going to bring down the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar on their heads. And they come to Jeremiah indicating that they want to know what God would have them do.  Jeremiah agrees to their request and promises to seek the will of God, assuring them that he will tell them everything that God tells him, holding nothing back. And they respond:

“May the Lord your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the Lord our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” – Jeremiah 42:5-6 NLT

You can almost sense what is about to happen, can’t you? If you know anything about the history of the people of Israel, this entire passage should create a sense of déjà vu – a feeling that you have seen this before. Think back to the days when Moses presented to the people of Israel the laws and commands of God in the wilderness. When he had told them what God expected of them, they had responded: “We will do everything the Lord has commanded” (Exodus 24:3 NLT).

Fast-forward to the days when Joshua was leading the people in their conquering of the land of Canaan, promised to them by God. He told the people:

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.” – Joshua 24:14 NLT

He warned them what God would do if they failed to remain faithful and obedient to God.

“You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you abandon the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.” – Joshua 24:19-20 NLT

But they still responded:

“No, we will serve the Lord!” – Joshua 24:21 NLT

“We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” – Joshua 24:24 NLT

There are other occasions recorded in Scripture where the people of God made unwavering promises to remain faithful to God and do what He told them to do. There are examples of individuals who pledged to do what God commanded, but who failed to keep their word. It is an ongoing, repetitive scenario found throughout the Old Testament. So, it is easy to read verses 1-6 of Jeremiah 42 and have some serious doubts whether Johanan and the people are really going to keep their promise to do whatever God tells them. There is a track record established that indicates that, unless God tells them what they want to hear, they are going to do what they want to do. Their collective will is going to overshadow the will of God.

What jumps out at me is the manner in which the people of God have always had a tendency to pray to Him wanting nothing more than for Him to rubber stamp their plans. And we must include ourselves as guilty regarding this same offense. How many times do we go to God, desiring Him to give us His blessing on decisions we have already made? We seek His approval of our plans. We want Him to validate and approve of our agenda, not reveal to us His own.

Back in chapter 37 of Jeremiah, there is the story of King Zedekiah seeking out Jeremiah and asking him to pray to God on behalf of the people.

“Please pray to the Lord our God for us.” – Jeremiah 37:3 NLT

But that request is prefaced by the statement:

But neither King Zedekiah nor his attendants nor the people who were left in the land listened to what the Lord said through Jeremiah. – Jeremiah 37:2 NLT

The king and the people had not yet listened to one thing the prophet had said to them, in spite of the fact that he had been speaking on behalf of God. So, why would his request to have Jeremiah pray to God on their behalf indicate that he was suddenly ready to do whatever it was that God said? Asking to know God’s will is pointless if you have no intention of following it. Desiring to know what God would have you do means nothing if you have already determined your next step. When we discover that God’s will for us is not what we expected or desired, our natural inclination is to follow our own desires and implement our own plans. And the people of Judah had a long record of doing just that. So, it is easy to assume that what is going to happen in the next verses is going to follow the established pattern. Jeremiah will seek the will of God. He will share it with Johanan and the others. They they will do what they have already determined to do.

Warren Wiersbe writes: “Sometimes God’s people take this false approach in discerning the will of God. Instead of honestly seeking God’s will, they go from counselor to counselor, asking for advice and hoping they’ll find somebody who will agree with their hidden agenda.”

Sad, but true. And we will see how the people of God react to hearing the will of God. What will they do? Will they listen to what God has to say? Will they do what He tells them to do, even if it seems to make no sense and contradicts their own plans? Seeking the will of God has no inherent value if you never intend to obey the will of God. Asking God to bless your plans and approve of your will is nothing more than asking God to do your bidding. It is treating God like a Genie in a bottle, granting you your three wishes and making your dreams come true. But that is not the God of the Bible.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Pray For Us!

Zedekiah the son of Josiah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made king in the land of Judah, reigned instead of Coniah the son of Jehoiakim. But neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land listened to the words of the Lord that he spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.

King Zedekiah sent Jehucal the son of Shelemiah, and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, to Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “Please pray for us to the Lord our God.” Now Jeremiah was still going in and out among the people, for he had not yet been put in prison. The army of Pharaoh had come out of Egypt. And when the Chaldeans who were besieging Jerusalem heard news about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet: “Thus says the Lord, God of Israel: Thus shall you say to the king of Judah who sent you to me to inquire of me, ‘Behold, Pharaoh’s army that came to help you is about to return to Egypt, to its own land. And the Chaldeans shall come back and fight against this city. They shall capture it and burn it with fire. Thus says the Lord, Do not deceive yourselves, saying, “The Chaldeans will surely go away from us,” for they will not go away. For even if you should defeat the whole army of Chaldeans who are fighting against you, and there remained of them only wounded men, every man in his tent, they would rise up and burn this city with fire.’” Jeremiah 37:1-10 ESV

Fast-forward about 18 years. Chapter 37 chronicles events that take place almost two decades after those recorded in chapter 36. Zedekiah is now the king of Judah and the Babylonians, referred to as the Chaldeans, are laying siege to Jerusalem. Jehoiachin (Coniah), the son of Jehoiakim, took the throne after his father, but only lasted three months before he surrendered to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and was taken captive. Then, Nebuchadnezzar replaced him with his uncle, Mattaniah, whose name was changed to Zedekiah.

The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war.  – 2 Kings 24:12-16 ESV

Jehoiachin’s surrender was costly. It not only meant his own captivity and deportation, but that of his mother, wives and all his chief officials. On top of that. the Babylonians plundered the palace and the temple; and took thousands of leading citizens of Jerusalem back to Babylon as slaves.

Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar, answering directly to the Babylonian king and commanded to pay an annual tribute tax. In the face of the ongoing presence of the Babylonians in Judah and the knowledge that God had predicted the fall and destruction of Jerusalem, Zedekiah sent two emissaries to plead with Jeremiah to pray to God on the nation’s behalf. But this time, Zedekiah would have been well aware of God’s predictions of the coming fall of the nation and the less-than-pleasant end that Zedekiah would face.

Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire. You shall not escape from his hand but shall surely be captured and delivered into his hand. You shall see the king of Babylon eye to eye and speak with him face to face. And you shall go to Babylon. – Jeremiah 34:2-3 ESV

Of course, this prophecy doesn’t sound so bad, but the actual way it all panned out paints a much more bleak and painful image.

Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, they waited for nightfall. Then they slipped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden and headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:4-7 NLT

But in spite of God’s warnings against Zedekiah, he refused to repent. Instead, he asked the prophet to pray for he and the nation. He wanted to God’s forgiveness without showing any signs of repentance. He wanted God to show grace and mercy, while he and the people were unwilling to show any signs of true heart change. Part of what seems to have motivated Zedekiah’s request for prayer was the presence of the Egyptians. It seems that he had made a deal with the Egyptians to help bail them out of trouble. In the book of 2 Kings, we read that: “Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 24:20 NLT). But while Zedekiah had high hopes that God might use the Egyptians to buy relief from the onslaught of the Babylonians, it was not to be. God gave him bad news:

“Pharaoh’s army is about to return to Egypt, though he came here to help you. Then the Babylonians will come back and capture this city and burn it to the ground.” – Jeremiah 37:7-8 NLT

Zedekiah’s trump card was about to turn and run. They would prove to be no help. And God was not going to rescue them from all that He had predicted would happen. God wasn’t interested in Zedekiah’s request for help, because Zedekiah had not plans to repent. Zedekiah and the people may have been high-fiving one another when the Babylonians vacated their camps outside the walls. They may have excitedly assumed that the worst was over. But they were wrong.

“Do not fool yourselves into thinking that the Babylonians are gone for good. They aren’t! Even if you were to destroy the entire Babylonian army, leaving only a handful of wounded survivors, they would still stagger from their tents and burn this city to the ground!” – Jeremiah 37:9-10 NLT

They couldn’t pray away the Babylonians. Begging God to change His mind wasn’t going to cut it as long they refused to change their ways. They were essentially asking God to repent, to change His mind about destroying them, when they were the ones in the wrong. I am reminded of the response God gave to King Solomon on the day that the temple of God was dedicated. He told the people of Israel:

“At times I might shut up the heavens so that no rain falls, or command grasshoppers to devour your crops, or send plagues among you. Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. For I have chosen this Temple and set it apart to be holy—a place where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 2 Chronicles 7:13-16 NLT

Notice what God wants: Humility that reflects an awareness of their guilt and their need for God’s forgiveness; and a turning to Him and away from their sin. THEN, God will hear, forgive and restore. Prayer without humility, a seeking of God and a rejection of sin is pointless and powerless. Those prayers will not be heard or answered. And what is amazing is that Zedekiah and the people of Judah, who had refused to listen to one thing that God had said to them through Jeremiah, had the audacity to expect God to hear their requests to spare them.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson≠≠

Refusal to Change.

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
    and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
    and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
    or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
    to ask about your welfare?
You have rejected me, declares the Lord;
    you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
    I am weary of relenting.
I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
    in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
    they did not turn from their ways.
I have made their widows more in number
    than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
    a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
    fall upon them suddenly.
She who bore seven has grown feeble;
    she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
    she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
    before their enemies,
declares the Lord.”  – Jeremiah 15:1-9 ESV

God was angry with the people of Judah and there was nothing Jeremiah could do to try and make Him change His mind. In fact, God said that even if two of the greatest intercessors in history were there, He would not listen to them. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, had learned what it was like to try and lead the people of Israel. He hadn’t made it far out of the land of Egypt when the people began to have second thoughts about this new god, Yahweh. Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. And while he was out of sight and out of mind, the people decided to make their own god. They took the gold they had received from the Egyptians when they had left Egypt and created a golden calf, an idol and began worshiping before it. God saw their actions and informed Moses about what they had done and His plan to annihilate them for their actions. But Moses appealed to God, asking Him to spare His people.

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. – Exodus 32:9-14 NLT

What about Samuel? He had interceded on behalf of the people of Israel when they had demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their King. And God was angry.

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:18-25 NLT

These two men, Samuel and Moses, had prayed on behalf of the people of God and had apparently changed His mind. Or had they? In both cases, the outcome of their prayers to God seems to be less about God changing His mind than about the people changing their ways. God’s anger and threat to punish the people for their sins brought about repentance. Out of fear of God’s judgment, they had pledged to change their ways. And God did judge the people. He did not let them get away with their sin. In the case of Moses, more than 3,000 of those who took part in the worship of the golden calf were put to death by the Levites. And, “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35 NLT). And while Samuel pleaded on behalf of the people, God still punished them by giving them exactly what they demanded: a king like all the other nations. He gave them Saul, and he would prove to be a terrible king, who conscripted their sons into his army and their daughters as his servants. He would tax them and take the best of their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants (1 Samuel 8:14). 

And while both Moses and Samuel appear to have had success in getting God to change His mind, the people still suffered for their sins. And God demanded that they change their ways. But in the case of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, God said that even if these great leaders of Israel had tried to change His mind, they would have failed, because the people of Judah had no intention of repenting. And God makes it clear just why He is going to bring His judgment upon the people of Israel. It was because of the sins of Manasseh. “Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 15:4 NLT). And the book of 1 Kings gives us insight into just what Manasseh had done.

Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:10-14 NLT

Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah, had proven to be the exact opposite of his good and godly father. He was not a chip off the old block. He was the epitome of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah, leading the way in sin and rebellion against God. And the people had willingly followed his lead. God makes it painfully clear why He is about to do what He has threatened to do.

I will destroy my own people,
    because they refuse to change their evil ways.” – Jeremiah 15:7 NLT

The people were unrepentant. They had no intention of changing their ways. And God, because He is all-knowing, was well aware of the true state of their hearts. So, no matter of intercession by Samuel, Moses or Jeremiah was going to get God to relent, because He knew the people were never going to repent. And their sins would be judged. Their fate was sealed. They were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:6 NLT

God takes sin seriously. And while He had given the people of Judah plenty of time to repent, they had spurned His warnings and ignored His pleas to return to Him. So, His judgment was going to be unavoidable.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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

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

How Long?

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted. 
Habakkuk 1:1-4 ESV

Habakkuk was a contemporary of Nahum and Zephaniah, two other prophets of God. Like his counterparts, Habakkuk was a pre-exilic prophet, who was sent by God to the deliver His message regarding their coming fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Like all the prophets of God, He was to call the people to return to God or face the consequences of God’s just and righteous wrath. The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., but their demise had done nothing to persuade the people of Judah to change their ways. In fact, God had some serious charges that He leveled against them:

“Have you seen what fickle Israel has done? Like a wife who commits adultery, Israel has worshiped other gods on every hill and under every green tree. I thought, ‘After she has done all this, she will return to me.’ But she did not return, and her faithless sister Judah saw this. She saw that I divorced faithless Israel because of her adultery. But that treacherous sister Judah had no fear, and now she, too, has left me and given herself to prostitution. Israel treated it all so lightly—she thought nothing of committing adultery by worshiping idols made of wood and stone. So now the land has been polluted. But despite all this, her faithless sister Judah has never sincerely returned to me. She has only pretended to be sorry. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 ESV

Israel had refused to return to the Lord and had been delivered into the hands of the Babylonians by God. Now, Judah and the royal city of Jerusalem was facing a similar fate if they did not repent of their sins and return to God. More than likely, Habakkuk ministered during the reign of King Jehoiakim. During that time, the people of Judah knew that they were facing the threat of attack by Babylon because they had made their presence known throughout the region. But rather than return to God and place their faith in Him, the people had decided to place their trust in other nations, seeking the help of Assyria and Egypt.

Habakkuk provides us with an unparalleled glimpse into the heart of a prophet of God. Like the other prophets, his ministry had met with little success. The people were stubbornly refusing to listen to his message. They remained obstinate and stuck in their sinful ways. And Habakkuk was frustrated and angry. So, he took his concerns to God in the form of a very blunt and heart-felt prayer.

What is especially revealing about this man’s prayer is its boldness. He pull no punches, even though He is addressing God Almighty. In essence, he accuses God of apathy and indifference. He asks God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2 ESV). This was not Habakkuk’s first prayer to God. He had expressed his need for help on more than one occasion, but he had not received what he was looking for. He felt like God was ignoring his pleas for help. From his perspective, God was deaf to his cries for help or didn’t fully understand how bad things really were. So, Habakkuk attempted to bring God up to speed. He lets God know that violence is everywhere. Judah has become a wicked place where sin is rampant and the people. The Hebrew word for “violence” that Habakkuk used is hamas and it refers to cruelty, injustice and oppression. Habakkuk will use this word six times in this book. What he saw taking place in Judah was a rampant disregard for the laws of God. The people saw no repercussions for their sins. They were practicing all kinds of injustice and immorality. They were oppressing the needy and the weak. From Habakkuk’s perspective, there was an overwhelming flood of injustice taking place in Judah, and as far as he could tell, God was doing nothing about it. He has reached the breaking point.

Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise. – Habakkuk 1:3 ESV

It’s all more than he can bear. He wants to see change. He longs to see God do something. God’s law is powerless to stop the people. They simply ignore it. Justice is nowhere to be found. The wicked get away with murder, both figuratively and literally. The wicked outnumber the righteous and any kind of justice that does occur is a twisted, ungodly version that leaves the righteous on the wrong side of the ledger.

Habakkuk’s prayer is not unique. His cry is not an isolated one and his questions for God are not unprecedented. Even King David had expressed similar complaints to God.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Psalm 13:1-2 ESV

Abraham and Sarah struggled with how long was going to wait until He fulfilled His promise to give them a son and an heir. Moses struggled with how long he was going to have to put up with the people of Israel as they bickered, whined and complained their way through the wilderness. The other prophets of God wrestled with the seeming futility of their roles, wondering when God would do something deliver His people. We all struggle with what appears to be God’s indifference and invisibility at times. We call out and He doesn’t seem to hear us. We share our hurts, needs and concerns, and it feels like He is ignoring us. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous appear to be in the minority and on the receiving end of all the injustice. And God sits idly by.

But one of the things that Habakkuk will learn is that God has a different perspective on things. He has a different viewpoint on what is going on, because He has a divine awareness of the outcome to which Habakkuk is oblivious. There is a method to God’s seeming madness. There is a purpose behind His apparent delay. He knows what He is doing. But Habakkuk was stuck on a horizontal plane, seeing things from his limited, earth-bound perspective. He could not see what God saw. He did not know what God knew. It reminds me of the prophet Elijah when he faced wicked King Ahaz and his queen, Jezebel. He had to go up against these two evil individuals and face off with their false prophets. And when he did, Elijah complained, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets” (1 Kings 18:22 NLT). God gave Elijah victory that day and he defeated the prophets of Baal, but then, out of fear of Jezebel’s revenge, he ran for his life. And when God confronted him, Elijah said to God, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too” (1 Kings 19:10 NLT). From Elijah’s perspective, he was all alone. He was the last righteous man left standing. But God let him know that he was wrong. He told Elijah to go and anoint his replacement: Elisha. Not only that, God told him, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18 NLT). He had not been alone. There had been others all along.

Habakkuk was frustrated. He was confused. And he was more than a little angry with God over His seeming indifference to all that was going on. But perception is not always reality, especially when it comes to God and His ways. Habakkuk was going to learn an invaluable lesson regarding God and His faithfulness. What appeared to be a delay from Habakkuk’s perspective was all part of God’s sovereign plan. God’s awareness of what was going on in Judah was comprehensive and complete. And His plans regarding them were flawless and right on time. Peter provides us with a timely reminder regarding the ways of God and our frustration over what appear to be His delays or indifference.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. – 2 Peter 3:8-9 NLT 

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

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

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