Faith Over Facts

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. Numbers 13:1-24 ESV

After a brief seven-day delay in which Miriam was punished for attempting to lead a coup against her own brother, God led the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They were now on the edge of the land of Canaan. This had been their destination all along. It was the place that God had promised to give them as their inheritance and now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and begin their conquest of the land.

But before they could enter into the land that God had promised to give them, He instructed Moses to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and send them on a clandestine mission to spy out the enemy’s strength and to verify the agricultural quality of the land itself.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

According to Moses’ account of this event, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, the sending of the spies had actually been the peoples’ idea.

“But you all came to me and said, ‘First, let’s send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.’

“This seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes. They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it. They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‘The land the Lord our God has given us is indeed a good land.’”  – Deuteronomy 1:22-25 NLT

They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God went along with the plan. But it appears that God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine whether there was any hope of defeating the nations that already occupied the land. But God agreed to send in spies so that they might give witness to the truth concerning the abundance and fruitfulness of the land. In other words, as far as God was concerned, this was a fact-finding mission. This was not a specially formed committee to determine or decide whether or not to go into the land. That was not an option. The conquest of the land was not up for debate.

So,the spies went and they saw. And when they returned they reported the facts just as they had witnessed them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so large that they had to be carried on a pole between two men.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 16:23 NLT

But the 12 men who went in to spy out the land returned with two different opinions about the land. The majority affirmed its fruitfulness, but also said it was filled with giants and an abundance of well-armed foes living in fortified cities. Their conclusion? “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 MSG).

Everything they said was true. The land was filled with giants. There was an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But in reporting what they had seen, these men left out one important fact: God was on their side, and He had promised to give them this land.

He had never told them it was going to be easy. From day one, He had warned them that the land would be filled with other inhabitants (Exodus 3:8, 17). He had told them that they would have to remove those inhabitants from the land. But He was going to give the victory.

“For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them.” –Exodus 23:23 NLT

God had never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure them of their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that, of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They didn’t deny the fact that there were giants in the land and fortified cities occupied by well-armed people. But their conclusion was very different: “Let’s go at once to take the land, we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 NLT).

We can do this! In spite of the odds, we can accomplish what God has told us to do. Faith can trump the facts. We can trust God because He promised us this land! It is as good as ours!

Every day we are faced with all kinds of facts that seem to contradict the faithfulness of God. Unpaid bills, financial uncertainty, illness, relational problems, job pressures, etc. We look around us and wonder if this is what God really promised us. And we lose heart. We let the facts determine our faith, instead of the other way around. We give in and give up. We fail to step out in faith in the face of the overwhelming facts and watch Him work.

God did not tell us the Christian life would be easy. He just promised to be with us. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He provided us with His Word. And He assured us of victory. We will have trials. We will face enemies. We will run into “giants” in the land. But God will go ahead of us. He will provide for us and protect us. We will still have to do battle, but He assures us of victory in the end. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must say, “We can do this, because God is with us!”

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

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

A Lot to Learn

10 Do not slander a servant to his master,
    lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.

11 There are those who curse their fathers
    and do not bless their mothers.
12 There are those who are clean in their own eyes
    but are not washed of their filth.
13 There are those—how lofty are their eyes,
    how high their eyelids lift!
14 There are those whose teeth are swords,
    whose fangs are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth,
    the needy from among mankind.

15 The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
16 Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.”

17 The eye that mocks a father
    and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
    and eaten by the vultures.

18 Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin.

20 This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”

21 Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
22 a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

24 Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
27 the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings’ palaces.

29 Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
30 the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
31 the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him.

32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
    or if you have been devising evil,
    put your hand on your mouth.
33 For pressing milk produces curds,
    pressing the nose produces blood,
    and pressing anger produces strife. – Proverbs 30:10-33 ESV

In this next section, Agur shifts the focus of his proverbs from his relationship with God to the need for wisdom when it comes to human interactions. Agur knew that a strong bond with God was essential to having healthy relationships with all those around him. He stresses the need for integrity and honesty. There is no place for slander or false accusations among the godly. Even if someone spread malicious rumors concerning a slave, their lies would only come back and expose them.

And worse yet is the sin of hypocrisy or disingenuous. He gives the example of someone who outwardly curses his father and displays ingratitude toward his mother, all the while considering himself pure in his own eyes. This individual ignores his own inner impurity and, filled with a false sense of pride, looks down on others in disdain. These kinds of people “have teeth like swords and fangs like knives. They devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among humanity” (Proverbs 30:14 NLT). In other words, they have no regard for the less fortunate. Viewing themselves as superior, they see nothing wrong with despising and even taking advantage of the poor and needy. Because they have no understanding of God and His ways, they develop a false view of their own self-importance and treat all others with disdain.

Agur describes their appetite for self-gratification as insatiable, comparing them to a blood-sucking leech.

The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give. – Proverbs 30:15 ESV

The inference behind this verse is that greed is contagious. In a sense, it is hereditary and is passed down from one generation to another. The leech has two daughters who share the same name: Give. Their desire has become their identity. And Agur goes on to describe the sad reality of a life marked by avarice and gluttony. He uses four familiar illustrations to accentuate the futility of a life marked by dissatisfaction and greed.

There are three things that are never satisfied—
    no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
the grave,
    the barren womb,
    the thirsty desert,
    the blazing fire. – Proverbs 30:15-16 NLT

Sheol or the grave is never satisfied. Its gates never close and there is always room for more. A barren womb never experiences the one thing it most desires: A child. So, it remains unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. A parched and barren desert will never receive enough rain to transform it into a garden. And a blazing fire will continue to consume wood as long as someone feeds its flames.

With these two verses, Agur introduces an interesting literary device. Five different times, he introduces one of his proverbs with some variation of the phrase:, “There are three things . . . even four.” It seems that Agur is stressing that these lists are not to be considered complete or exhaustive. He could add an endless number of entries to each one. It is almost as if he is inviting the reader to come up with their own illustrations so that they might better understand the message he is attempting to convey.

Agur seems to be stressing that there is a created order to God’s world. There is a way in which things can and should work so that we experience peace and not chaos, calm instead of confusion. And when God’s way is either ignored or rejected, the result can be catastrophic and earth-shattering. It may seem simple and innocent enough, but when we fail to do life according to God’s terms, it never turns out well. When we depart from God’s natural order or path of wisdom, it creates a hole in the fabric of the universe.

in this Proverb, Agur uses this series of “three-four” sayings to act as warnings against life lived outside of God’s prescribed plan. At first glance, they appear somewhat humorous, but upon closer examination, it becomes evident that these sayings are intended to be sobering warnings.

In verses 21-23 we find a list of four seemingly innocent and innocuous individuals who find themselves in improved situations.

There are three things that make the earth tremble—
    no, four it cannot endure:
a slave who becomes a king,
    an overbearing fool who prospers,
    a bitter woman who finally gets a husband,
    a servant girl who supplants her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 NLT

You have a slave who winds up a king, a fool who has an endless supply of food, an unloved woman who lands herself a husband, and a servant girl who ends up taking the place of her master’s wife. Each of these individuals experiences an unexpected and elevated change in their social status that is unaccompanied by a change in their character.

Agur seems to intend them to represent events that are not in keeping with God’s natural order of things. A slave is not meant to become king. If he does, he will tend to take advantage of his newfound power and authority and lord it over those under his control. A fool who refuses to work and is inherently lazy, but who finds himself with an endless supply of food, will gorge himself on it and never learn that blessing is the result of diligence. A bitter, unloved, and unhappy woman who suddenly finds herself a husband will not automatically become satisfied and content. She will continue to struggle with the same issues, driving her husband insane and, ultimately, away. A servant girl who becomes the focus of her master’s affections, even taking the place of his wife, will fail to honor the one for whom she works.

Each of these people is pictured as getting what they long for: power, prosperity, affection, and position, yet they remain dissatisfied and discontent. They have attained their new status unfairly or even unnaturally. Their circumstances have changed apart from God’s natural order of things. It is like a poor couple winning the lottery and suddenly finding themselves rich beyond their wildest imaginations. The likelihood of their situation turning out well is less than ideal. It is likely that their newfound wealth will result in unwanted, but NOT unexpected consequences.

It’s interesting that these examples of unhealthy life changes are stuck between Agur’s statements regarding the blood-sucking leech who is never satisfied and a series of four other creatures that reflect diligence, hard work, and a reliance upon God’s creative order for all things. Get-rich-quick-schemes are warned against all throughout the Proverbs. Laziness is villainized. The expectation of reward without work is discouraged. Achieving the apparent blessings of God without living according to the expectations of God can be dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs. We must do things God’s way, with no shortcuts and no compromises. It has to be His way if you want to experience His blessing.

Even a look at nature reveals that God has created an order to His creation. Within the animal kingdom, there is a clear display of the divine mandate for hard work, organization, diligence, and cooperation. The humble and seemingly insignificant ant provides a compelling illustration of how God has blessed the smallest of His creation with life-sustaining attributes.

There is no place for pride and arrogance within the heart of a man. While men and women may represent the apex of God’s creative order, they are still nothing more than the byproduct of God’s grace. He has made them what they are. He has given them life and blessed them with the capacity to know and obey Him. Unlike insects or animals, humanity has been made in the likeness of God. We have been given the right and privilege of knowing Him. We can commune with the Almighty and enjoy the benefits of His fathomless wisdom. Yet, far too often, we view ourselves with an inordinate and unjustified sense of self-worth, failing to recognize that, without God, we are nothing. Apart from Him, our lives lack meaning and a sense of purpose. And without His wisdom, we become no better off than the rest of the animal kingdom.

So, Agur gives us a parting word of advice.

If you have been a fool by being proud or plotting evil,
    cover your mouth in shame. – Proverbs 30:32 NLT

May we listen to the words of Agur and respond like Job with humility and repentance.

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
    It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
    I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:2-6 NLT

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

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

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

Fatherly Advice

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
    observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies,
    for they are deceptive food.
Do not toil to acquire wealth;
    be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
    for suddenly it sprouts wings,
    flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
    for he will despise the good sense of your words.
10 Do not move an ancient landmark
    or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
    he will plead their cause against you.
12 Apply your heart to instruction
    and your ear to words of knowledge.
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike him with the rod,
    you will save his soul from Sheol.
15 My son, if your heart is wise,
    my heart too will be glad.
16 My inmost being will exult
    when your lips speak what is right.
– Proverbs 23:1-16 ESV

Solomon’s collection of 36 wise sayings appears to have been intended primarily for the benefit of his sons. As the heirs of his vast estate and formidable fortune, these young men would enjoy great privilege and power, but Solomon knew that it would come with great responsibility. Their ability to manage their assets and their actions would require wisdom. So, Solomon compiled this list of three dozen simple, yet profoundly beneficial maxims that he had gathered from the world’s sages.

Solomon knew that his sons would be exposed to a culture where the allure of wealth, power, and influence would be constant. As sons of the king, they would be a part of high society, rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the land. But Solomon knew that hobnobbing with the privileged class came with certain risks, and he wanted his sons to be aware of them.

First of all, they would need to maintain an air of self-control and humility. Entry into the upper echelons of society can be a heady experience. The accouterments of privilege and rank can be tantalizing. The fine food and expensive delicacies that wealth makes possible can be highly enjoyable but they can also prove to be a dangerous trap. An overabundance of food can easily expose a propensity for overeating and a lack of self-control. That is why Solomon warns his sons:

While dining with a ruler,
    pay attention to what is put before you.
If you are a big eater,
    put a knife to your throat;
don’t desire all the delicacies,
    for he might be trying to trick you. Proverbs 23:1-3 NLT

Solomon understood that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Anything done to excess can be extremely dangerous. That is why self-restraint is so vital. An inability to control one’s physical appetites can lead to the sin of gluttony. And just a few verses later in this same Proverb, Solomon records yet another warning against excess.

Do not carouse with drunkards
    or feast with gluttons,
for they are on their way to poverty,
    and too much sleep clothes them in rags. – Proverbs 23:20-21 NLT

In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recorded another dire warning against gluttony and the lack of self-control among those of privilege and power.

What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
    the land whose leaders feast in the morning.
Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
    and whose leaders feast at the proper time
    to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 NLT

An inordinate obsession with food and alcohol can be dangerous, but how much more so is the insatiable desire for wealth. Solomon knew that, for the well-to-do, enough was never enough. There would always be the temptation to acquire more. So, he warned his sons to moderate their appetite for accumulating ever-increasing wealth.

Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
    Be wise enough to know when to quit.
In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
    for it will sprout wings
    and fly away like an eagle. – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT

And Solomon was well-acquainted with the problem of avarice. He even wrote about his own struggle with dissatisfaction and his constant attempt to increase his portfolio of material possessions.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

And his assessment of his never-ending quest for more was far from optimistic.

Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT

Chasing after wealth can be exhausting. It’s like running on a treadmill; no matter how hard or fast you run, you never really get anywhere. More wealth doesn’t bring increased happiness. Riches can never deliver satisfaction or contentment. And yet, Solomon understood the temptation to make much out of acquiring more – of just about anything. So, he warned his sons that the failure to control one’s desires for power, prominence, and pleasure could be a dangerous and deadly trap.

And, along with curbing their appetites, they were going to need to manage their relationships well. They would need to develop discernment and become adept at judging the character of others. The world is full of people who will feign politeness and hospitality but all the while their intentions will be less-than-sincere.

Don’t eat with people who are stingy;
    don’t desire their delicacies.
They are always thinking about how much it costs.
    “Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
You will throw up what little you’ve eaten,
    and your compliments will be wasted. – Proverbs 23:6-8 NLT

Solomon describes the highly unpleasant experience of dining with someone whose overtures of kindness are nothing more than poorly veiled hypocrisy. They put on an impressive display of hospitality but the whole while they are counting the cost to their bottom line. Their false show of hospitableness is nothing but a ruse and enough to make one sick. The whole affair will end up being a waste of time and energy.

Next, Solomon warns his sons against associating with fools. Not only should they avoid the company of fools, but they should also refrain from trying to correct their behavior.

Don’t waste your breath on fools,
    for they will despise the wisest advice. – Proverbs 23:9 NLT

In a sense, Solomon is saying, “Save your breath!” A fool has no desire to hear what you have to say and no intention of putting your advice into practice. So, don’t waste your time.

With the next wise saying, Solomon revisits a topic he has already covered: The illegal and unethical movement of property boundary markers.

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers;
    don’t take the land of defenseless orphans.
For their Redeemer is strong;
    he himself will bring their charges against you. – Proverbs 23:10-11 NLT

It is almost as if Solomon is giving his sons an example of someone who is acting like a fool. He is telling them, “Don’t be this guy.” He wants them to understand that there are certain laws that God has established that are not up for negotiation or debate. To act like a fool is to ignore the word of God and to behave as if His laws don’t apply to you. But Solomon warns that God will hold all men accountable for their actions.

Solomon doesn’t want his sons to be fools, gluttons, greedy, or ungodly. That’s why he pleads with them to listen to the words of wisdom he is sharing. He wants them to take these truths to heart and apply them to their lives.

Commit yourself to instruction;
    listen carefully to words of knowledge. – Proverbs 23:12 NLT

They were to never stop learning and growing. And they were to take what they had learned from their father and pass it on to their own children. But knowledge alone would not be enough. There would come a time for discipline because children can be stubborn and disobedient.

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And, as Solomon stated in Proverbs 3, the model for this kind of loving instruction comes from God the Father.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

And as a loving father, Solomon conveyed his desire that his sons would continue to grow in wisdom and integrity.

My child, if your heart is wise,
    my own heart will rejoice!
Everything in me will celebrate
    when you speak what is right. – Proverbs 23:15-16 NLT

He longed for each of them to become godly men whose lives displayed wisdom and discernment. His great wealth and power were nothing when compared with the hope of seeing his sons exhibit a love for and obedience to God. His greatest desire was that his sons would choose the right path – the one that leads to joy, fulfillment, and purpose.

Choose a good reputation over great riches;
    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1 NLT

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

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

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

Better By Far

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.
20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
    and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
21 The wise of heart is called discerning,
    and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
    but the instruction of fools is folly.
23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
    and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
25 There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.
26 A worker’s appetite works for him;
    his mouth urges him on.
27 A worthless man plots evil,
    and his speech[d] is like a scorching fire.
28 A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.
29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
    and leads him in a way that is not good.
30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
    he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord..
– Proverbs 16:16-33 ESV

According to Solomon, the way of wisdom is simply better. While it can’t offer the guarantee of a trouble-free life, it can provide a far better outcome than the alternative. Just consider how many times Solomon pronounces the life of godliness as better than any other available option.

Better to have little, with godliness,
    than to be rich and dishonest.
Proverbs 16:8 NLT

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
    and good judgment than silver! – Proverbs 16:16 NLT

Better to live humbly with the poor
    than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:19 NLT

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 19:32 NLT

There are simply some things that are better than others. But who gets to choose? According to Solomon, God determines the value of one thing over another. He establishes the relative worth of one action as opposed to another. As is so often the case in the book of Proverbs, in this chapter, Solomon uses comparison to get his point across.

He contrasts poverty with wealth and deems it better to have little than much. But he inserts a qualifier because, by themselves, these two conditions are amoral. They are neither wrong nor right, just or unjust. The qualifier has to do with the spiritual condition of the individual in each case. It is better to have little AND be godly than to be rich AND dishonest. The presence of godliness in the life of the impoverished person automatically improves the condition of his life. Logic would suggest that an abundance of wealth can help to improve life, but Solomon states that wealth gained by dishonest means adds little to the life of its possessor. It brings no satisfaction. It can assuage the appetite, but not the soul.

Solomon goes on to say that it is actually better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver (Proverbs 16:16). As has been made perfectly clear throughout the book of Proverbs, wisdom and good judgment are only available from God and require determination and dedication to acquire. We must search for them like we would hidden treasure. They must be a priority and a passion in our lives. Their value is far beyond that of riches of any kind. To put it simply: They’re just better.

And as if to further drive home his original point, Solomon tells us it is “better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19 NLT). Now while the qualifier is less clear, his comparison of these two types of lifestyles goes beyond mere poverty and wealth. It has much more to do with the condition of the heart. One is humble while the other is proud. Our friendships should be based more on the condition of the heart than the quality of our lifestyle.  We should be more concerned about the spiritual state of the ones with whom we associate than their financial health.

Far too often, the prominent and financially well-off have earned their wealth through less-than-righteous means. They may have taken advantage of the less fortunate to line their own pockets. They could have cut corners or broken laws to obtain their ill-gotten gains. Solomon even describes their wealth as plunder, as if has been stolen. And he describes their attitude about it all as prideful and arrogant. Somehow, they have conned the system and improved their financial position at the expense of others, and they’re proud of their accomplishments. And Solomon suggests that a life of destitution lived among the righteous poor would be far better in the end.

Solomon provides two final comparisons wrapped up in one verse.

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 16:32 NLT

Once again, the emphasis is on character, specifically patience and self-control. While God is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly He who establishes the basis of these comparative clauses. God values patience over power, and self-control over what appears to be success.

Man tends to judge by externals, while God looks at the heart. He examines the motives. We see that clearly in verse 2:

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives.

God values godliness, justice, wisdom, good judgment, humility, patience, and self-control because each of these things is given by Him. They are not man-made or self-manufactured. They are evidence of a life lived in dependence upon God. And therefore, they are better. The world puts little to no value on any of them. Instead, the world determines the value of anything based solely on results. It bases value on externals and determines worth based on effectiveness. But God judges by different criteria and, at the end of the day, He alone determines which is better and best.

Those who choose to leave God out of their lives will only supplant Him with a god or gods of their own choosing. If they refuse to worship and fear Him, they will only end up bowing down to something or someone else. In many cases, they become prideful, thinking of themselves as the masters of their own fate and the captains of their own souls. But Solomon provides a sobering warning to these self-adulating, narcissistic fools:

Pride goes before destruction,
    and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

The godless are really just God-less. They lack a healthy reverence for God Almighty and so they end up replacing Him with gods of their own making. In their pride and arrogance, they have chosen to pursue a path that leads away from God and far from the wisdom only He can provide. And while that path may lead to wealth, popularity, and power, it ultimately ends in death.

There is a path before each person that seems right,
    but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

And as they make their way, they leave a wake of destruction in their path.

Scoundrels create trouble;
    their words are a destructive blaze.

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
    gossip separates the best of friends.

Violent people mislead their companions,
    leading them down a harmful path.

With narrowed eyes, people plot evil;
   with a smirk, they plan their mischief. – Proverbs 16:30 NLT

They have determined to take their own path and to live their lives according to their own terms. Having left God out of the picture, they end up taking the credit for their own success. But little do they know that their fate is far from self-determined. Their autonomy is a sham. Their aspirations for self-rule and sovereignty are a pipe dream. Because, at the end of the day, it is still God who determines their fate.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

Life is not about chance. Our future is not based on fate, karma, or some form of kismet. Human beings tend to think that life is a game of chance where we roll the dice and take whatever comes our way. Some of us are fortunate enough to roll a lucky seven while others end up with snake eyes or craps. But Solomon reminds us, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33 NLT).

The wise recognize the hand of God in all of life. They understand that He alone is sovereign. They know that He determines the affairs of men and He dictates the rules by which we conduct our lives on this planet. And Solomon points out that those who seek to live according to God’s terms will be blessed.

Those who listen to instruction will prosper;
    those who trust the Lord will be joyful. – Proverbs 16:22 NLT

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

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

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

A Healthy Hatred For Sin

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers. – Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV

There are many in our world who refuse to believe in God. There are others who believe in God, but their version of Him is of their own making. They have chosen attributes and qualities they find comforting and non-convicting. They worship a God who is nothing but love, all the time. They tend to reject the God as portrayed in the Old Testament because He appears to act in ways that are antithetical to their concept of Him. He is too angry, vengeful, and barbaric for their tastes. They prefer the more loving and compassionate God of the New Testament who is gracious, kind, and forgiving.

But when we reject the God of the Old Testament, we diminish the very One we say we believe in. God is loving, but He is righteous and just as well. He is holy and, because of that character, He is required to deal with all unrighteousness and wickedness. He must judge sin justly and completely. And the God of the Bible hates sin – all sin.

As uncomfortable as it may make us feel, our God does express hatred. Multiple times in the book of Proverbs we are reminded of His divine hatred. But we must never confuse God’s hatred with our own. His is perfect, holy, sinless, and completely justified in condemning and abhorring our sin. He understands the danger of sin and the damage it can produce in our lives.

So, in the middle of this proverb, Solomon provides his sons with a less-than-lengthy list of the things that God hates. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list but simply an abbreviated inventory of the kinds of activities God finds repellent and deserving of His anger.

There are six things the Lord hates—
    no, seven things he detests… – Proverbs 6:16 NLT

It is as if Solomon is recalling the six things that God hates and then suddenly remembers one more. This kind of numerical list is not uncommon in the book of Proverbs. In fact, Proverbs 30 contains several of them.

The leech has two daughters:
    Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
    four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
    the land never satisfied with water,
    and the fire that never says, “Enough.” – Proverbs 30:15-16 ESV

Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin. – Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 ESV

Four things on earth are small,
    but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong,
    yet they provide their food in the summer;
the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
    yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
the locusts have no king,
    yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands,
    yet it is in kings’ palaces. – Proverbs 30:24-28 ESV

Three things are stately in their tread;
    four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
    and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
    and a king whose army is with him. – Proverbs 30:29-31 ESV

Again, these lists are not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive. But the six-no-seven format is intended to convey the idea that there are more things belonging to the list than can be included. In other words, Solomon is telling his sons that there are just a few of the things that God finds unacceptable and worthy of His divine wrath.

Solomon states that God hates these things because they are an abomination to Him. The Hebrew word Solomon used is tôʿēḇâ, and it describes something that is morally disgusting to God. He finds these things shameful, unacceptable, and abhorrent. They are detestable to Him. And Solomon is quite specific in his language. He declares that they are an abomination to God’s “soul” or nep̄eš. In the Hebrew way of thinking, the soul was the seat of emotions and passions or the inner being. Solomon is saying that these seven vices cut to the very heart of God. They are an affront to His being or essence because they stand in direct opposition to His divine character.

Take a close look at the list:

  1. haughty eyes
  2. a lying tongue
  3. hands that shed innocent blood
  4. a heart that devises wicked plans
  5. feet that make haste to run to evil
  6. a false witness who breathes out lies
  7. one who sows discord among brothers

Not exactly a jaw-dropping, eye-popping list of sins. We expect to see a murderer’s row of life-sentence-worthy crimes. But instead, we read a rather bland list of pedestrian-sounding sins that just about everyone on earth has been guilty of at one time or another. The only one of the seven that seems worthy of inclusion is number 3. It describes those who take life without cause.

But all the rest appear to be rather innocuous. But Solomon states to God hates them all equally and vehemently. Only one seems to be what we would classify as worthy of hate, because it involves the taking of an innocent person’s life. But Solomon is showing that, in God’s eyes, all of these things are equally hated because they are all detestable to Him. He hates the pride in our lives as much as He does the taking of innocent life. They are both in violation of His law, and He hates them because He is holy and righteous.

His anger is His reaction to the breaking of His perfect law. As a just judge, He must deal with them rightly and righteously. Solomon is fully aware that his God hates sin and he wants his sons to know it as well. So, he warns them that these kinds of things are abhorrent and offensive to God. They are not to be tolerated, played with, excused, or minimized.

When we see the pride in our lives, we must remind ourselves that God hates it. When we lie, we must remember that God loathes it. When we find ourselves thinking about doing anything that God deems wrong, we must never forget that God hates it. The sad reality is that many of us do these things without thinking at all. They are second nature to us. But God will not wink at it or ignore it like we do. His holy character will not allow it. He hates them because He knows that they are destructive and each of them is really an assault on His sovereignty over our lives. He wants us to learn to hate what He hates and love what He loves. He wants us to know Him well enough that we share His heart. He wants us to get to the point in our relationship with Him that what He abhors, we too abhor.

What makes Solomon’s list so interesting is that it contains so many sins that we each commit on a regular basis: Pride, lying, slander, evil thoughts, a love of sin, and the spreading of discord. We all stand guilty as charged. So, Solomon is not describing the life of the serial murderer or hardened criminal. He is letting his sons know that these kinds of attitudes and actions stand in opposition to the will of God for their lives. From the smallest sin to the greatest, God hates them all because they each violate His will and bring sorrow to His heart. They are not what He intended for His children. So, we are to develop a hatred for them that matches that of God. We are to learn to hate what he hates. And notice that this list is self-focused, not other-oriented. Solomon is not suggesting that his sons hate all those who do these things. No, he is pleading with his sons to hate the sin so that they will not embrace it in their own lives.

Recognizing that God has high standards and a zero tolerance for these things is key to wanting to work hand-in-hand with the Holy Spirit to see them removed from our lives. Our cry becomes the cry of David, “Create in my a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NLT).

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

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

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

 

A Godly Inheritance

1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

10 Hear, my son, and accept my words,
    that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
    and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
    they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble. – Proverbs 4:1-19 ESV

One of the things that makes wisdom so unique and invaluable is that it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is like a priceless heirloom that is willed from grandmother to granddaughter, or a valuable piece of property that becomes a permanent part of the family’s inheritance. While wisdom itself isn’t communicable or transferable, a love for wisdom can be. And a parent that models a lifestyle based on the wisdom of God creates a strong incentive for their children to do the same. Wise parents tend to raise wise children.

Solomon inherited his high regard for wisdom from his own father, King David. Solomon had grown up in the royal household and while his father had been renowned for his exploits as a warrior, David had also been a poet, musician, and a man well acquainted with wisdom. He had learned a great deal from God over his long and prosperous reign. And some of his thoughts concerning wisdom were recorded in his psalms.

The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path. – Psalm 37:30-31 NLT

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:6 ESV

There is little doubt that David passed along his love for wisdom to all his children, but he was particularly diligent about preparing Solomon, the designated successor to his throne. He knew from firsthand experience just how difficult the job of ruling and reigning as God’s shepherd could be. He was leaving Solomon a thriving kingdom and a well-stocked treasury. The majority of Israel’s enemies had been conquered and there would be little need for Solomon to worry about going to war. He could simply lead the nation into further prosperity and help encourage them to honor and reverence God.

But David knew that Solomon would need wisdom in order to lead well, and wisdom was accessible only from God Almighty. So, when David was nearing death, he called in his son and issued a series of wise warnings.

Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And David made sure that Solomon understood that wisdom was the byproduct of an intimate relationship with God.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.  So take this seriously. – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT

Yahweh and wisdom are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And, eventually, Solomon passed on this insight to his own son.

For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
    Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
    Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
    Love her, and she will guard you. – Proverbs 4:3-6 NLT

Notice how Solomon’s description of wisdom mirrors David’s words concerning God. They are almost interchangeable. Solomon knew that his own wisdom had been a gift from God. When he had ascended the throne, God had visited Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7 ESV). Amazingly, God was offering to grant whatever Solomon wished for. He could have asked God for anything. But Solomon’s response reveals that David had done a good job of inculcating a love for wisdom into his life.

“You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” – 2 Chronicles 1:8-10 ESV

And God willingly and graciously granted Solomon’s request.

“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,  wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” – 2 Chronicles 1:11-12 ESV

In a sense, Proverbs 4 contains Solomon’s last will and testament to his own son. He is passing on what had been down to him by his own father. For Solomon, a love for wisdom was the greatest gift he could leave his son.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
    And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
    Embrace her, and she will honor you. – Proverbs 4:7-8 NLT

He was leaving him a well-established kingdom, great wealth, and a good name. He would lack for nothing – except wisdom. Because that was the one thing Solomon couldn’t put in a vault for posterity or place in his son’s hand like a scepter or crown. All Solomon could do was pass on his love and appreciation for the wisdom God had given him. And he reminded his son that he had done his best to share all that he had come to know about wisdom.

I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness. – Proverbs 4:11 ESV

Now it was going to be up to his son to use his inheritance – wisely.

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life. – Proverbs 4:13 ESV

But Solomon knew that his son would face all kinds of temptations. His excessive wealth could make him self-sufficient and prideful, and lead him to no longer depend upon God. If he was not careful, his power could become an intoxicating brew that numbed his senses and blurred his spiritual vision. Rather than viewing his sovereignty as a gift from God, he could use it to abuse those under his care. That’s why Solomon strongly encourages his son to avoid taking the wrong path.

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on. – Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV

Life is a matter of daily decisions. Each of us faces a never-ending succession of choices that must be made. We can choose the right path of the wrong one. We can pursue God and, therefore, the way of wisdom, or we can walk the path of the unrighteous and find ourselves going deeper and deeper into the dark woods of despair and wickedness.

For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day.
    They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
They eat the food of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence! – Proverbs 4:16-17 NLT

Solomon greatly desired for his son to choose the right path – the way of righteousness, so he attempted to scare the “hell” out of him.

…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.
    They have no idea what they are stumbling over. – Proverbs 4:19 NLT

And he provided his son with a more attractive and preferable alternative.

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
    which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. – Proverbs 4:18 NLT

Like any good parent, Solomon knew he couldn’t make his son choose the right path. All he could do was remind him of all that he had tried to pass along and encourage him to stay the course. It is not unlike the words of encouragement that Paul passed on to Timothy, his young “son” in the faith.

But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 NLT

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

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

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

 

Let’s Get Practical

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. Colossians 3:18-4:1 ESV

Paul now takes those other-oriented, selfless, and love-motivated character traits and applies them to everyday life. And since he was writing to believers living in Colossae, he customized his words for their particular context. He wanted them to know what seeking and setting their minds on things that are above would look like on a daily basis. He wasn’t promoting some kind of ethereal and impractical brand of religious pietism and asceticism. No, he was recommending a highly practical brand of faith that revealed the transformative nature of the gospel in everyday life. They were to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV). As chosen ones of God, they were to put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 ESV). But none of these “add-ons” would be effective without love.

…put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony… – Colossians 3:14 ESV

And since God is love and He best expressed that love through the gift of His Son, Paul called the Colossians to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 ESV). But what does that look like? How were they supposed to make these powerful admonitions practical? Well, Paul makes it plain and simple for them. And he begins with the family unit, one of the most foundational and universal arenas of relationship in this life.

The family was God’s idea. It was He who originated and ordained the union of one man and one woman, creating an indissoluble bond between them as husband and wife. The creation account found in the opening chapters of Genesis records God’s creation of the first marriage.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
    because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:21-24 ESV

And Jesus Himself confirmed the validity of the Genesis account by stating, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV).

So, Paul begins at the beginning, with the family unit. He calls believing wives to submit to their believing husbands. But he adds an important, yet often overlooked, distinction: “as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord.”

For Paul, the use of the word “submission” was directly linked to his call that all believers conduct themselves with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. If ever there was ever a relationship where those characteristics were necessary, it was that of a husband and wife. So, he calls wives to lovingly, humbly, meekly, and patiently relate to their husbands in such a way that honors their role as the God-appointed head of the household. Paul provided additional insight into the headship role of the husband when writing to the church in Ephesus.

…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. – Ephesians 5:21-24 NLT

The biblical concept of submission has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. Paul is not suggesting that women are somehow second-class citizens. He is simply articulating the divinely-ordained concept of headship within the family unit. Just as Christ is the head of the church, the believing husband is given responsibility for the well-being of his family. And that responsibility comes with a heavy dose of accountability.

Paul made it painfully clear that one of the primary leadership responsibilities of a godly husband was to selflessly love his wife. And, once again, Paul provides further clarity in his letter to the church in Ephesus.

…this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. – Ephesians 5:25-26 NLT

In order to lovingly, graciously submit to her husband, a wife would have to surrender her pride and natural desire for autonomy. In other words, she would have to “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9 ESV). Submission doesn’t come naturally or easily. It requires a sacrifice of the human will. In order for anyone to submit in a way that “is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT), they will have to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). And according to Peter, submission isn’t something that is reserved for wives alone.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God – 1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV

The life of a believer, regardless of their gender, is to be marked by an attitude of humble submission to others – for this is the will of God. And, according to Paul, one of the greatest displays of death-to-self was to be a husband’s selfless expression of love for his wife. He was to put his wife’s life ahead of his own. He was to be willing to die on her behalf.

At the core of Paul’s teaching on submission was the idea of humility versus pride. There was no place for self-aggrandizement in the life of a believer.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3-4 BSB

Even children had a part to play in God’s divine order for the home. They were to obey their parents in everything. Why? Because this was pleasing to the Lord. It was in keeping with His divine will. And a child’s obedience was a form of submission to the God-ordained authority of their parents. Again, this is not normal or natural. As the proverb states, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child…” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB).

And it’s interesting to note that disobedience to children was one of the characteristics Paul listed when describing the future state of the world in the last days.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. – 2 Timothy 3:1-4 NLT

But, according to Paul, an obedient child is the byproduct of a loving and godly father.

Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. – Colossians 3:21 NLT

That same proverb goes on to say, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” Yet, too much discipline, done in an unloving and heavy-handed manner can do more harm than good. It can cause a child to become discouraged. Discipline that is unloving and lacking in compassion can lead a child to become disinterested in trying to obey. It can actually result in rebellion rather than submission. So, Paul warns fathers to use their role as heads of their households with care.

Next, Paul moves from addressing the family unit to dealing with another relationship that was a ubiquitous part of the Colossian community: Slavery. While we find this topic uncomfortable and somewhat off-putting, it was a normal part of everyday life for the citizens of Colossae.

Scholars estimate about 10% (but possibly up to 20%) of the Roman empire’s population were enslaved. This would mean, for an estimated Roman empire population of 50 million (in the first century AD) between five and ten million were enslaved. This number would have been unequally distributed across the empire, with a higher concentration of enslaved people in urban areas and in Italy. – © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Slavery was an everyday part of daily life in Colossae. Yet Paul doesn’t attempt to address the moral implications of slavery. Instead, he tried to show the Colossian believers how their new identity in Christ should impact every area of life. The reality was that slaves were coming to faith in Christ and becoming a part of the local congregation of believers. It was highly likely that the church in Colossae had slaves attending worship services with their own masters. And this presented a particularly difficult problem for Paul and the leadership of the church. How were these people supposed to relate to one another? How was their mutual relationship with Christ to impact their interpersonal relationship with one another?

Paul addresses both parties. He tells slaves, “obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 NLT). And he tells masters, “be just and fair to your slaves. Remember that you also have a Master—in heaven” (Colossians 4:1 NLT).

Notice his emphasis on God. Both parties were to recognize that their earthly relationship with one another had been dramatically altered by their new identity in Christ. While nothing had changed regarding their earthly status, Paul wanted them to know that God viewed them in a whole new light.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT

There is an invaluable and universal lesson to be learned from Paul’s words to slaves. These were individuals who had no choice regarding their condition. Their position as slaves required that they submit, whether they wanted to or not. But Paul challenged them to take a different attitude.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24 NLT

And this applied to every believer in the local church in Colossae. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV). A slave was to live his life with an eternal perspective, knowing that his current circumstance was temporal. There was a reward awaiting him that made his present suffering pale in comparison. And that heavenly-minded, future-focused perspective was to motivate the life of every believer in Colossae, regardless of their gender, race, or social status.

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

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

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

 

A Preview of Coming Attractions

1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. Genesis 37:1-11 ESV

After providing a brief of Esau’s life and lineage, Moses shifts the focus back to Jacob. But rather than provide a similar genealogical treatment of Jacob’s life, Moses chose to narrow down his narrative to the life of one particular descendant of Jacob – his 11th son, Joseph. The story shifts from the clan of Esau living in the region of Edom to the family of Jacob living in Canaan, the land of promise. Jacob had returned to Hebron, where he was raising his 12 sons and one daughter. This was familiar territory to Jacob because it was at Hebron that his grandfather, Abraham, had settled after parting ways with Lot (Genesis 13:18). It was while he was living in Hebron that Abraham received a message from God.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:15-17 NLT

It was in Hebron that Abraham purchased land from the Hittites to serve as a burial place for his wife, Sarah. And years later, Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael would bury him alongside Sarah in the same cave on the very same land.

His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite. This was the field Abraham had purchased from the Hittites and where he had buried his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who settled near Beer-lahai-roi in the Negev. – Genesis 25:9-11 NLT

When Isaac died at the ripe old age of 180, his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him in Hebron as well.

So Jacob returned to his father, Isaac, in Mamre, which is near Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had both lived as foreigners. Isaac lived for 180 years. Then he breathed his last and died at a ripe old age, joining his ancestors in death. And his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him. – Genesis 35:27-29 NLT

The cave of Machpelah near Hebron had become the family burial plot, so it made sense for Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, to settle his family in the same vicinity. Geographically, Hebron was located dead center in what would eventually become the nation of Israel. It was from that vantage point that God gave Abraham a panoramic view of the surrounding territory that would one day become the inheritance of his descendants.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 NLT

And, years later, when Jacob was on his way from Hebron to Mesopotamia to escape the anger of his brother, God visited him in a dream and delivered virtually the same message He had given to Abraham.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

Jacob had returned to Hebron where he now ruled as the patriarch of the family. Yet Moses does not make Jacob the hero of his story. Instead, he turns the reader’s attention to Joseph, one of the youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons. But Joseph was somewhat unique in that he was the first son to be born to Rachel who, for years, had suffered from barrenness. And while Leah, her sister and the second wife of Jacob, had given him six sons, Rachel remained without a child. Until God had intervened.

Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. And she named him Joseph – Genesis 30:22-24 NLT

And Moses indicates that Joseph enjoyed a certain degree of parental approval that his siblings found objectionable.

Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. – Genesis 37:3 NLT

And to make matters worse, Jacob exhibited his favoritism for Joseph by giving him a fancy robe, which further incited his brothers against him. By the time Joseph was 17-years-old, he was the apple of his father’s eyes and the bane of his brothers’ existence. He was both loved and despised. And Joseph seemed to have enjoyed his favored status. He appears to have become his father’s eyes and ears, watching his older siblings and ratting them out if they did anything wrong.

Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing. – Genesis 37:2 NLT

Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence enemies. So, between the blatant favoritism and the tattle-telling, Joseph developed a less-than-favorable relationship with his 10 older brothers.

his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him. – Genesis 37:4 NLT

And it wouldn’t be long before their anger turned into action. They would soon learn that their brother was more than just an informant and a teacher’s pet. He was an arrogant, boastful dreamer. This runt of the litter was having literal dreams of greatness filled with delusions of grandeur, and it infuriated them. It would be one thing to write this all off as the behavior of an innocent child, but Joseph was 17-years-old. He should have known better. But there seems to be a degree of pride in this young man. What else would explain his eagerness to tell his older brothers about his dreams? He must have known that his brothers disliked him, and surely he knew that the content of his dreams was not going to be received well.

when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. – Genesis 37:5 NLT

And it’s easy to understand why. His dream had used symbolic imagery of bundles of wheat displaying anthropomorphic characteristics. But his brothers had not missed the point. Their younger brother was clearly attempting to portray himself as their better, and they were furious.

“So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them. – Genesis 37:8 NLT

Perhaps it was just a case of naiveté. Maybe Joseph didn’t really know what he was doing and was sharing his dream with his brothers in the hopes that they might help him decipher its meaning. But that seems unlikely. As will become clear as the story unfolds, Joseph was far from an empty-headed dreamer. He was a very smart and resourceful young man. He had to be aware of his brothers’ hatred for him. And, in seeing their response to his first dream, he would have known that their jealousy of him and hatred for him was at an all-time high. But that didn’t stop him from sharing the content of a second dream.

Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT

Just reading that sentence makes me cringe in disbelief. What would possess Joseph to share this dream with his brothers? I think he knew exactly what it meant and he was eager to share it with his “eleven” brothers. And, not only that, he wanted his father and mother to hear the content of his dream as well.

It’s important to note that these dreams were not like those his father had experienced. There were no sightings of angelic beings or words of instruction from God. It would have been obvious to Moses and his original audience that these dreams were divinely ordained. But there is no indication that Jacob or his sons received them this way. In fact, Jacob was very familiar with dreams as mediums through which God spoke, but he did not view Joseph’s dream in that light.

…his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:10 NLT

But we know the rest of the story. Joseph was being given a glimpse into the future fate of Israel. None of them understood the ramifications of Joseph’s dream, but God was clearly conveying His plan to elevate Joseph to a place of prominence and primacy. This favorite son of Jacob would soon find himself basking in the favor of Pharaoh. What none of the characters in the story understood was that they were about to take an unexpected detour. Their journey to possess the promised land was about to take them to a place they never could have imagined. And it was all part of God’s preordained and perfectly formulated plan.

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

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

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

God’s Will Always Wins Out

41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away— 45 until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”

46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. Genesis 27:41-28:5 ESV

Rebekah got exactly what she wished for, and much more than she could have ever imagined. She had helped her favorite son swindle the blessing from his older brother. Now Jacob had it all – the birthright and the blessing – making him the legal heir to his father’s inheritance and the next in line to rule over their clan. He was destined to be a wealthy and powerful man. On top of that, with his mother’s help, he had managed to become the sole beneficiary of the covenant that God had made with his grandfather, Abraham. But what Rebekah failed to consider was the reaction of Esau. It is as if she thought he would take all of this lying down. But she was in for an unpleasant surprise.

Esau was furious, and rightfully so. In a sense, he had been cursed, and he was partly to blame. Years earlier, he had willingly sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. He had allowed his immediate physical appetites to make an impulsive decision that would have long-term ramifications. Now, his future had taken another hit because his own brother and mother had stolen the blessing that had been rightfully his as the firstborn son. He had nothing to look forward to except the prospect of living in his brother’s shadow for the rest of his life.

What nobody in this story seems to recognize is the hand of God working behind the scenes to accomplish His divine will. They seemed to believe that they were operating as fully autonomous free agents without any responsibility to answer to God for their actions. At no point does anyone seek God’s input or approval for their decisions. Driven by their emotions and depending upon their own wisdom, each decision they make only seems to make matter worse. And yet, Moses would have his readers understand that this soap-opera-like story is actually an illustration of how God’s sovereignty and man’s autonomy interact in daily life. Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau are each making independent decisions, but the ultimate outcome is in the hands of Almighty God. According to Scripture, the will of God cannot be thwarted by the plans of men.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 ESV

A man’s steps are from the LORD, so how can anyone understand his own way? – Proverbs 20:24 BSB

Angered over his most recent loss, Esau made plans to murder his brother. Frightened over the news that Jacob’s life was in danger, Rebekah made plans to protect him. Distraught over the prospect of Jacob marrying a Hittite woman, Isaac made plans to send him to Haran. Everyone was making plans for the future, but no one realized that it was God who was establishing their steps. This was all according to His divine will.

But these people were not operating like mindless automatons, helplessly and unwilling fulfilling God’s relentless will. No, they were each doing exactly what they wanted to do. God was not forcing or coercing them against their wills. But He was sovereignly and providentially orchestrating the outcome of their decisions. What they meant for evil, God would use for good. Esau’s evil intentions to kill his brother would be used by God to send Jacob away from the smothering influence of his mother. Rebekah’s manipulative attempt to promote the prospects of her favorite son would actually result in his blessing by God.

Yet, while God was turning their evil into good, He would still hold them accountable for their actions. They would each suffer the consequences for the decisions they made without God’s input or blessing. In a sense, God was going to redeem their unrighteous behavior in order to produce a fully righteous outcome.

Rebekah seems to have been caught off guard by Esau’s over-the-top reaction to his loss. So, when she caught wind that he planned to kill Jacob, she was forced to come up with yet another plan to protect her favorite son. She immediately called Jacob and shared with him her latest and greatest idea.

“Look, your brother Esau is planning to get revenge by killing you. Now then, my son, do what I say. Run away immediately to my brother Laban in Haran. Live with him for a little while until your brother’s rage subsides. Stay there until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I’ll send someone to bring you back from there. Why should I lose both of you in one day?” – Genesis 27:42-45 NET

She realized her relationship with Esau was dead in the water. There was no way she was going to mitigate the damage she had done. So, the best thing she could do was keep Esau from murdering Jacob. It’s obvious that she took Esau’s threat seriously because she was willing to send Jacob away. And she was able to convince the somewhat oblivious Isaac to agree to her plan by portraying it as a quest to find Jacob a bride. Neither she nor Isaac had been thrilled by Esau’s decision to marry two Hittite women (Genesis 26:34). In fact, Moses states that these marriages “caused Isaac and Rebekah great anxiety” (Genesis 26:35 NET). 

So, Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob back to her hometown of Haran so that he might search for a bride from among her brother’s family. This plan pleased Isaac because that had been how his father had found Rebekah for him. So, Isaac agreed to send Jacob back to Haran so that he might find a wife. But neither Isaac nor Rebekah had any idea just how long this separation was going to last. She seemed to believe that, with Jacob out of the way, Esau’s anger would quickly subside. So, she assured Jacob that his exile in Haran would only be “for a little while” (Genesis 27:44 NET).

Once again, Esau is going to find himself as the odd-man-out. He would wake up one day to find that his plans for killing his brother had been thwarted by his conniving mother, and his father, Isaac, had been complicit in the whole affair.

In rather short order, Jacob found himself on his way to Mesopotamia with instructions to find a wife among his grandfather’s relatives.

“You must not marry any of these Canaanite women. Instead, go at once to Paddan-aram, to the house of your grandfather Bethuel, and marry one of your uncle Laban’s daughters.” – Genesis 28:1-2 NLT

Isaac views this trip in a totally positive light, believing that his son will return with a bride who will help Jacob fulfill the conditions contained in the divine covenant. He even reiterates the terms of the covenant, putting them in the form of a blessing.

“May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations! May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings he promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham.” – Genesis 28:3-4 NLT

Rebekah must have smiled as she heard these words. It was all she had ever wanted for Jacob. But Esau must have fumed as he stood back and watched his younger brother ride away with his birthright, his blessing, and his father’s best wishes for a prosperous future.

Isaac, Rebekah, and Esau stood and watched as Jacob and his caravan rode off into the distance. And little did they know that 20 years would pass before they saw him again. There are those who believe that Rebekah never saw Jacob again. The timing of her death is not mentioned in Scripture, but neither is her reunion with Jacob. It seems that her plan to promote her younger son over his brother had worked, but it came at a great cost. The boy she loved so dearly would be taken from her and she would never live to meet his wife or see the birth of her grandchildren. Her days would be marked by pain and regret, as she was forced to consider the cost of her actions. It’s likely that her relationship with Esau was beyond repair. In her misguided effort to protect the one thing she loved more than anything else in the world, she had actually ended up losing it. But God was working behind the scenes and He had great plans for Jacob. The days ahead would be difficult. The next two decades would be filled with pain and sorrow. And Jacob, the deceiver, would find himself getting an unexpected and unpleasant dose of his own medicine – all for his own good and God’s glory.

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

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

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

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.

18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Genesis 27:14-25 ESV

This story is meant to be disturbing. Yet, how easy it is to read it while completely glossing over the  blatant displays of human depravity it contains. No one in the narrative comes out looking like a hero.   In fact, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob each stand as guilty and well-deserving of divine condemnation for their actions. And what should make this story so disconcerting and difficult to comprehend is the knowledge that none of their behavior was justified or necessary. Moses has made it clear that God had always planned for Esau to serve Jacob. Even while the two boys were still in Rebekah’s womb, God had informed her “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV).

The Almighty had a plan for these twin brothers. He had their futures completely orchestrated long before they took their first breaths. And while He provided Rebekah with no explanation as to how the older would end up serving the younger, it was not up for debate or worthy of doubt. God had a well-established track record of doing what He had promised to do.

And yet, these verses describe a scene in which the human actors seem to be operating according to worldly standards and in keeping with their own personal agendas. Isaac is using his capacity as the head of the household to satisfy his love of good food by requiring his son, Esau, to prepare him a meal in exchange for his blessing. In a sense, Isaac was requiring his son to earn the blessing that was rightfully his by birth.

Rebekah, in a blatant display of “helicopter parenting,” can’t help but interject herself into the scene in order to protect the interests of her favorite child. She was determined that Jacob should have it all and was willing to do anything to guarantee her preferred outcome. Blinded by jealousy and pride, Rebekah concocted an elaborate plan to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau. And her enthusiasm for the task must have been contagious because, after a brief display of reluctance, Jacob ending up jumping in with eager abandon.

According to his mother’s instructions, Jacob slaughtered the two goats, which she promptly prepared according to her husband’s favorite recipe. Rebekah had learned the truth to the old adage: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

But Rebekah knew that she would have to employ further subterfuge if her plan was to be a success. And this is where the depth of her cunning and conniving comes into full view.

…she took Esau’s favorite clothes, which were there in the house, and gave them to her younger son, Jacob. She covered his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skin of the young goats. Then she gave Jacob the delicious meal, including freshly baked bread. – Genesis 27:15-17 ESV

This woman was leaving nothing up to chance. Despite her husband’s old age and poor eyesight, she was going out of her way to ensure that her scheme went off without a hitch. And, sadly, she used her influence as a parent to convince her son to not only comply, but to carry out the dastardly plan. And he did so with enthusiastic abandon.

Disguised in his brother’s clothes and with his bare arms and neck covered in goat skin, Jacob approached his father. Carrying the food prepared by his mother, Jacob displayed his sold-out commitment to the plan and his full intention to deceive his own father. He was a willing participant in the deception and was essential to its success.

Jacob wasn’t just wearing a disguise, he was living a lie. He purposefully and deceitfully portrayed himself as his brother so that he might steal that which did not belong to him. From this point forward, Jacob found himself caught in a lie that would continue to escalate and intensify, plunging him deeper into a black hole of deception and condemnation. When asked by Isaac to identify himself, Jacob replied, “It’s Esau, your firstborn son. I’ve done as you told me. Here is the wild game. Now sit up and eat it so you can give me your blessing” (Genesis 27:19 ESV).

And when Isaac expressed surprise at how quickly Esau had returned from the hunt with a meal already prepared, Jacob was forced to think on his feet. But look closely at how he explains himself.

“Because the Lord your God granted me success. – Genesis 27:20 ESV

Not only was Jacob lying, but he was dragging God into his web of deceit. Essentially, Jacob was guilty of using God’s name in vain. The name of God was synonymous with His character. His name was representative of His holiness and greatness. Jacob was using God’s name in a flippant and disrespectful manner, and attempting to leverage its significance to Isaac in order to accomplish his unethical and immoral plan. Whether Jacob realized it or not, he was walking on thin ice. He was using the name of God to perpetrate fraud.

And the story of Jacob’s deception provides evidence to the old adage: “One lie leads to another.” Once Jacob went down this path, there was no turning back. His father expressed confusion when he heard what sounded like Jacob’s voice coming out of a body that appeared to belong to Esau. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. And with no hesitation, Jacob replied, “I am.”

Convinced by Jacob’s lies, Isaac quickly refocused the conversation to his more pressing need: His own appetite. He was ready to eat and would not give up the blessing until he had filled up his stomach.

So Jacob took the food to his father, and Isaac ate it. He also drank the wine that Jacob served him. – Genesis 27:25 NLT

Isaac feasted while Jacob watched and waited. Moses doesn’t disclose how long it took for Isaac to satisfy his hunger, but Jacob must have died a thousand deaths as he we watched the tent door, fully expecting his brother to return at any moment. And it seems likely that Rebekah was nearby, anxiously wondering why it was taking so long.

As stated earlier, the story is meant to be disturbing, but it’s also conveys a rather comical air. It’s difficult not to picture Jacob draped in goat hair, sweating profusely, and nervously watching as his half-blind father slowly consumes a meal.

The saddest character in the whole story is Esau, who was busily hunting for game so that he might prepare the meal that would earn him his long-awaited blessing. And all the while, his own mother and brother were conspiring behind his back to deprive him of what was rightfully his. And when Esau eventually returned, meal in hand, he would experience one of the greatest disappointments of his life – at the hands of his own family members.

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.

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