Your God Is Coming!

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Go on up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
    lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young. – Isaiah 40:1-11 ESV

Isaiah has just delivered a shocking message to the king of Judah.

“Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

And while Hezekiah seems to have taken it all it in stride, this devastating news was not going to sit well with the people of Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s pride, as evidenced by his ill-advised and boastful display of the wealth of his kingdom to the Babylonians, God was going to hand Judah over to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would fall, the temple would be destroyed, and the people would be taken as captives to Babylon.

So, if you’re in Isaiah’s sandals, what do you say to the people of Judah at a time like this? How do you continue to speak into their lives after God has delivered such a bombshell of a pronouncement? You listen to God. You wait for Him to reveal the rest of the story. God has declared His judgment, in no uncertain terms. But it will be followed by His deliverance. And, as chapter 40 opens up, we are taken on a fast-forward journey into the future, long after the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Judah are living in exile in Babylon. And the days of their punishment are coming to an end.

In the following chapters, God reveals that the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians will take place, but so will their future deliverance. And the message He gives to Isaiah while speaking of a day nearly a century and a half into the future, is meant to provide immediate encouragement to the people of Judah living in Isaiah’s day. God opens with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people.” In the midst of all their sorrow and despair, God speaks words intended to bring hope and assurance.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:2 NLT

It is as if Isaiah has been teleported into the future where is allowed to see events that have not yet taken place. But because these distant scenes are revealed by God Himself, they are reality, not fantasy. This is not wishful thinking on the part of Isaiah, but the revealed will of God. He is providing a revelation of things to come.

God is coming. His arrival is imminent, and the people are told to make preparations.

“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God! – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

Their desolate surroundings and distant location would prove to be no barrier for God. Their dire circumstances would be no problem for the Almighty. Every imaginable and seemingly impregnable obstacle would be removed, making way for God’s arrival.

“Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.” – Isaiah 40:5 NLT

And how are the people to know that these things will happen? The Lord has spoken. He has declared it. “The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 ESV). This message declaring God’s trustworthiness and reliability are reiterated just a few verses later.

“…the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8 ESV

And in between these two statements declaring that God’s word is everlasting and always reliable, we find a description of man’s transience and impermanence. Humanity is no more permanent than withering grass or a fading flower. And, like the rest of nature, man is subject to the will of God. He gives life, and He takes it away. He breathes into man the breath of life, and with the very same breath, He takes it away. But His word is permanent and unshakable. It cannot be altered or deterred in any way. Which transforms the following words from a hopeful possibility to a God-ordained certainty.

“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.” – Isaiah 40:9-10 NLT

God is coming. It may not be today, but it will happen. Delay should not produce disappointment or doubt. The longer we have to wait, the greater our longing for His coming should grow. Our hope is based on His word, not the nature of our surroundings. God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He is the Great Shepherd, who cares for His sheep.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:11 NLT

This glimpse into Judah’s future was intended to remind Isaiah and the people of Judah of God’s trustworthiness and sovereignty over their lives. As Isaiah penned these words, the shock of God’s pronouncement of Judah’s fall to Babylon still rang in his ears. The people were shell-shocked by the thought that their great city, while spared defeat by the Assyrians, would one day fall to yet another pagan power. But God wanted them to know that He could be trusted. He was good for His word. And He was a good and gracious Shepherd who would care for His flock.

If we fast-forward again, to the end of the book of Revelation, we see yet another glimpse into God’s future plans for mankind. This time, we hear the words of Jesus Himself, as He reassures His people of His own return.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13 NLT

The world will suffer greatly during the seven years of the Tribulation. But at the end of this dark period of human history, God will send His Son to the earth a second time. And, this time, He will come as a conquering King who defeats all those who stand in opposition to His rule and reign. He will establish His Kingdom on earth, and restore the people of Israel to a right relationship with God. But how do we know that these future events will take place? Because Jesus declared, “These words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 22:6 ESV). And He leaves us with these comforting words of promise:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

And our response should be:

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

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

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

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

 

 

Welfare, A Future, and Hope.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem. The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

“Because you have said, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ thus says the Lord concerning the king who sits on the throne of David, and concerning all the people who dwell in this city, your kinsmen who did not go out with you into exile: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, behold, I am sending on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like vile figs that are so rotten they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with sword, famine, and pestilence, and will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, a terror, a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them, because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the Lord, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the Lord.’ Hear the word of the Lord, all you exiles whom I sent away from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah, who are prophesying a lie to you in my name: Behold, I will deliver them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall strike them down before your eyes. Because of them this curse shall be used by all the exiles from Judah in Babylon: “The Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire,” because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them. I am the one who knows, and I am witness, declares the Lord.’” Jeremiah 29:1-23 ESV

Jeremiah was in Jerusalem, where he remained with a contingent of the people who had been left behind by King Nebuchadnezzar when he defeated the city in 597 B.C. and took more than 10,000 of its inhabitants captive to Babylon, including the king, Jeconiah (2 Kings 24:10-17). Jeconiah, also known as Jehoachin, had surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians had laid siege to the city. After being deposed and deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoachin was replaced as king by his uncle, Mattaniah, who became a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar and had his name changed to Zedekiah. He would prove to be the last king to sit on the throne of David in Judah. At least for a very long time.

Those who had been deported to Babylon have been out of sight and out of mind up until this point in the book of Jeremiah. All the focus has been on those who remained behind. Jeremiah has continued his assignment as God’s messenger, delivering His call to repentance to the people who found themselves still living in the land of Judah, but surrounded by Babylonian troops. God had warned them to submit to the Babylonians as if they were submitting to Him. If they did, they would survive. If they didn’t, they would face death by sword or famine. Now, God turns His attention to the captives. He has not forgotten them. And in His omniscience, He knows exactly what they have been up to during their brief time in exile. So, God has Jeremiah write a letter containing a message for those who found themselves suffering God’s judgment as captives in Babylon.

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:5-7 NLT

When you think about it, this is a somewhat perplexing message. The people who received it would have probably been a bit confused by it. Essentially, God was telling them to make the best of a what appeared to be a bad situation. I am sure they looked at their circumstances in Babylon and saw nothing good about it at all. They were living like refugees in a strange land. They were relegated to living in a restricted area near the Kabar canal. They weren’t even considered second-class citizens by the Babylonians. They were little more than slaves, with no rights or privileges. And here was God telling them to build homes, plant gardens, marry, have babies, and do everything they could do to help make their new home prosperous and successful. Essentially, God was telling them to settle down for the long-haul. There wasn’t going to be any quick reprieve or divine deliverance. In fact, God lets them know that exactly how long they will remain in the land of Babylon.

“You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” – Jeremiah 29:10 NLT

Seventy years. Seven decades. Long enough for a whole new generation to be born and raised in captivity. Based on the average life span in those days, most of those who were taken captive would probably end up dying in Babylon. It would be their sons and daughters who would end up returning after the 70 years was up. That’s why God commanded them to have children and to give their sons and daughters in marriage. Life was to go on, because God had plans for them. Very specific plans.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Again, this message had to have come across as a bit odd. How in the world could 70 years of captivity be good? But God had a long-term perspective. He was focused on the future. He knew the outcome and saw the Babylonian captivity as nothing more than a blip on the radar screen of eternity. If you recall, God had told Abraham that His descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, but then He would rescue them and return them to the land He had promised to give Abraham. And it all happened just as God had said.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

Once again, God was providing insight into future events and encouraging His people that He had their future covered. What appeared to be an unmitigated disaster was actually part of God’s sovereign plan for their lives. God tells them that when the 70 years us up, He will act.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14 NLT

What is interesting about God’s promise is that while it seems to be tied to the actions of the people of Judah who are living as exiles in Babylon. He says, “If you will look for me wholeheartedly…”. But according to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people never really did look for God. They never really called out to God. In fact, the book of Ezra opens up with the words:

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the Lord’s message spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord stirred the mind of King Cyrus of Persia. – Ezra 1:1 NLT

God moved the heart of a pagan king to issue a decree authorizing the return of the people of Judah to their land and to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Not only that, He was going to make sure they had enough funds to pay for their trip and to cover the costs of construction.

The Lord God of heaven has … has instructed me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone from his people among you (may his God be with him!) may go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may build the temple of the Lord God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:2-4 NLT

This was a God-thing. There is no indication that the people called out to God. There are no signs of repentance on their part. In fact, it is more likely that the new generation of Israelites living in Babylon had become quite acclimated to their new surroundings, even adopting the gods of Babylon as their own. But God kept His word. He fulfilled what He had promised to do. After 70 years was up, the people were able to return to the land of Judah.

But before that could happen, God was going to deal with those who remained behind. He had warned them that they must submit to the yoke of Babylon. If they did, they would prosper. If they didn’t, they would suffer the consequences. And under King Zedekiah’s lousy leadership, the people of Judah who remained behind would refuse to bow before Nebuchadnezzar, essentially refusing to submit to God’s will for them. So, in 588 B.C., after 11 years of siege, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple of God. Zedekiah was captured and forced to watch the execution of his sons before having his eyes gouged out. The walls of Jerusalem were destroyed. The homes within the walls were burned. Everything of value was taken as plunder. And the people scattered to the four winds, leaving the once great city of David deserted. And it would remain so until the remnant returned to restore and repopulate the city and rebuild the temple of God.

God was going to start over. A new generation would occupy the land. But God’s plans for their welfare were far from over. It would not be until His Son came to earth as the Messiah that the full extend of His promise was fulfilled. And it will not be until Jesus returns at His Second Coming that God’s final plans for the people of Israel are fully complete. His plans are focused on the future. His will is not yet complete. The outcome of His plans for Israel has yet to happen, but it will. Because He has promised.

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

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

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

I Will…

Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. – 2 Samuel 7:12-17 ESV

There is some debate as to the chronological order of chapter seven. The natural assumption is that chapter seven follows chapter six in chronological order. But there are some problems with that assumption. First of all, the chapter starts out with the words, “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies” (2 Samuel 7:1 ESV). God had given David rest from all his surrounding enemies. In other words, there was a period of national peace. But then, chapter eight opens up with the words, “After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them” (2 Samuel 7:1 ESV). There are those who believe that the term “rest” simply means that David was experiencing a lull in the fighting. But others believe that chapter eight covers a time in David’s reign when he had completed the task originally given to Joshua, and had subdued all the enemies of Israel in the land of Canaan. This would mean that chapter seven is not in chronological order, but is placed where it is because of its mention of David’s desire to build a house for God. In chapter six, David had placed the Ark of the Covenant in a tent he had pitched for it. So it would seem that throughout his entire reign, the ark had remained in that same spot, until David came up with the idea to build a temple to house it.

Chapter seven appears where it does, not because it fits in chronologically, but because it lays an important framework for the rest of 2 Samuel. It helps explain the future reign of Solomon and provides a foundation for understanding why God remains committed to the kingdom of Israel, in spite of the fact that the majority of their kings failed to remain faithful to God. The covenant outlined in this chapter, known as the Davidic Covenant, was actually a type of treaty, commonly referred to as a grant treaty. In this type of treaty, the sovereign makes a commitment to his servant, and it was typically unconditional. God, the King, is making a promise or covenant with His servant, David, and it is not based on David’s actions or him holding up his end of the bargain. It is a unilateral covenant, not a bi-lateral covenant. God is promising to do something for David that has no basis on David’s obedience or faithfulness. If you look at the words God speaks to David, ten different time He says, “I will…”

I will make for you a great name…”  – vs 9

I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them…” – vs 10

I will give you rest from all your enemies…” – vs 11

the Lord will make you a house…” – vs 11

I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom – vs 12

I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…” – vs 13

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son…” – vs 14

When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men…” – vs 14

my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul…” – vs 15

This covenant is based on God, not David. It is a picture of the faithfulness and love of God, not worthiness and obedience of David. And God was not making this covenant with David because he had somehow deserved or earned it. Even David‘s desire to build a house for God was rejected by God. He hadn’t asked David to build him a temple. He didn’t need one. In fact, God promises to make David a house. “Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house” (2 Samuel 7:11 ESV). But He was not talking about a brick-and-mortar house. God was promising to give David an everlasting legacy that would last long after his own death. David’s son, Solomon, would follow him as king, and his reign would be marked by unprecedented peace and prosperity. Solomon would be the one to build a magnificent temple for God. But Solomon’s great reign would not end well. He would prove disobedient to God, having married hundreds of foreign wives and worshiping their false gods. As a result, God would split the kingdom in half. And while descendants of David would continue to rule over Judah from his throne in Jerusalem, another line of kings would reign over the northern kingdom of Israel. And then the time would come when both kingdoms would end up in captivity, the result of the stubborn disobedience and unfaithfulness to God. And from that point forward, no kings would rule over Israel or Judah. To this day, there is no king over Israel.

But that is what makes this covenant so significant. What did God mean when He told David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever”? There is no throne in Jerusalem and, even if there was, there is no king to sit on that throne. But there is. There is the King of kings and Lord of lords, who will one day return and reclaim the throne of David.

Hundreds of years later, the angel would tell the virgin Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” (Luke 1:31-33 NLT). The prophet, Isaiah, foretold of the coming of this King when he wrote, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity” (Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT).  Daniel also told of a kingdom to come: “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever” (Daniel 2:44 NLT).

The apostle John, in the vision given to him while exiled on the island of Patmos, saw this coming King in all His glory.

“and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads…the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the one sitting on the throne (the one who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.’” – Revelation 4:2-4, 10-11 ESV

Chapter seven is a watershed point in the story of the life of David. What God is letting David know is that his kingdom will be far greater and far more impactful than anything he could ever imagine. God’s plans for David go far beyond his reign or that of his son. And while the descendants of David will prove unfaithful and unreliable, God will remain committed to His covenant and faithful to fulfill what He has promised. The apostle John concludes his great book of Revelation with the stirring image of Christ’s reign on the throne of David:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” – Revelation 21:2-4 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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

Naomi the Negative. Ruth the Resilient.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” – Ruth 1:19-2:7 ESV

These verses are filled with contrasts. The most obvious one is the difference between the two women: Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. They both arrive in Bethlehem, but with radically different outlooks. Naomi had left during a famine, but arrived back during the barley harvest. Conditions back home had obviously improved. But she is so busy dwelling on all that had happened to her in Moab, that she fails to notice or appreciate the improved conditions in Bethlehem. In fact, she is so despondent over the loss of her husband and two sons, that she informs everyone her name will no longer be Naomi, but Mara. Naomi means, “my pleasantness” and Mara means, “bitterness.” She is so upset with her lot in life that she goes so far as to change her name to reflect her outlook. She is bitter and hold God responsible, claiming,  “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (Ruth 1:27 NLT). In her mind, it was God who had opposed her and the El Shaddai, God Almighty, who had caused her to suffer. Her reference to God using the Hebrew name, Shaddai, reveals her belief in God’s all-powerful, sovereign nature. She rightly understands God’s omnipotence, but fails to grasp His lovingkindness. She views God as an all-powerful and somewhat angry deity who wields His power unfairly and unjustly. She sees no purpose in her losses and can find no silver lining to the dark cloud of her despair. She believes her fate is in the hands of God, but she finds no comfort there.

But Ruth, the Moabitess, seems to have a different perspective. Of the two women, it would seem that she had even more justification to be negative about her new circumstances. She too had lost her husband. She had also left behind her family and friends and moved to a new country with nothing more than her widowed mother-in-law as a companion. She found herself an outsider, a non-Jew living in the land of Israel. And on top of that, she was a woman and a widow, two things that would not be in her favor in the male-dominated society of the ancient Middle East. And yet, Ruth proves to be a beacon of light in the midst of Naomi’s darkened outlook.

With no means of providing for themselves, Naomi and Ruth are left with no other option than to search for grain in the fields after barley harvesters were done. This was called gleaning and it was a God-ordained policy meant to assist the needy. God had commanded the Israelites:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Ruth determined to do whatever was necessary to provide for she and her mother-in-law. She asked Naomi for permission to do something about their dire circumstances, saying, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so” (Ruth 2:2 NLT). With Naomi’s permission, she headed into the fields. And this is where the story gets interesting. The author gives us a not-so-subtle clue that there is more going on here than good luck. “Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3 NLT). Chapter two began with a brief parenthetical introduction to Boaz, telling us that “Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1 NLT). When Ruth went into the fields, she knew nothing of Boaz or his fields. She simply went to glean. Her objective was to find food, not a husband. Her only motivation was survival. But again, the author lets us know that there is something providential going on here. He writes, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4 ESV). It just so happened that Ruth decided to glean in the field belonging to Boaz. It just so happened that Boaz showed up at the very same time Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a coincidence. What incredible timing.

It would be so easy to read the book of Ruth as a fanciful love story, a kind of screenplay  for a Hebrew Hallmark movie, where the down-and-out country girl meets the well-to-do city boy and their lives end happily ever after. But there is so much more going on here than a cheesy boy-meets-girl scenario with a sappy everything-turns-out-okay ending. This is about the sovereign will of God regarding His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth, this widowed, helpless non-Jewish woman is going to become a major player in the divine plan of redemption. In his genealogical record of the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Spoiler alert: Ruth and Boaz do end up together. They get married and have a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. And from King David’s lineage would come Jesus Christ. God would end up making a covenant with David, saying, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). That promise would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose rule and reign on the throne of David will take place in the millennial kingdom.

Ruth went into the field to find grain. But God sent her into the field to find her purpose in life. She would become a major player in God’s divine plan for the redemption of the world and the eventual birth of the One who will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ruth, like Mary, was going to be a vessel in the hands of God to bring about His divine will and accomplish His sovereign plan of salvation. The message given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, sums up the real story behind the story of Ruth. God had far more in mind than providing grain or even a husband for Ruth. He was out to provide salvation to a lost and dying the world.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

 

Make Godliness Your Goal.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

What promises? Paul has just quoted from several Old Testament passages containing the following promises from God:

I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. – Leviticus 26:12 ESV

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. – Ezekiel 37:27 ESV

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. – 2 Samuel 7:14 ESV

Now, he declares, with those promises in mind, what should our reaction be? How should we respond? Paul is reminding his readers that they, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, have been set apart by God. He has chosen them to be His people and has graciously agreed to be there God. He has consecrated them, set the apart from the rest of the nations, to be His own possession. As children of God, they were to live separately and distinctively. That does not mean that Christians are to live their lives in isolation or in some kind of segregated society, separated from the rest of the world. This is not a call to monastic isolationism. But it is a call to sanctification or holiness. Paul expected the believers to he was writing to live in such a way that their behavior differentiated them from the rest of the world. As Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was betrayed, they were to be in the world, but not of it.

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. – John 17:14-17 NLT

The promise of citizenship in God’s Kingdom was to create in them a passion to live as who God had called them to be. They were His possession and their lives were to reflect that unique privilege and totally undeserved position. They were to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit. Like a stained and soiled garment, they required removal of the impurities that accompanied their sinful flesh. Their old habits and sinful predilections had to be systematically and regularly done away with. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the essential nature of this ongoing cleansing of the believer’s life.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NLT

The privilege of sonship carries with it responsibilities. As children of God, we are to behave in such a way that our lives honor our heavenly Father. Ongoing sin is not to be a defining characteristic of the child of God. Paul was not insinuating that Christians cannot and will not sin. He would have wholeheartedly agreed with the apostle John when he wrote:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

The presence of and potential for sin is not eliminated when we come to faith in Christ, but sin’s power over us is. We are set free from its control over us. Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, we have a capability to choose righteousness over unrighteousness. We can refuse to give in to the temptations that once captivated and controlled us. 

Paul’s point in all of this is that our salvation in Christ has a second step: Our sanctification. Coming to faith in Christ is to be accompanied by our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And it is as we cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit that we experience what Paul refers to as “bringing holiness to completion.” The goal of our salvation is our ultimate glorification by God. There is a day coming when He will complete the process of renewal and reformation of our lives by giving us a new body. Sin will be completely eliminated and our transformation into the likeness of Christ will be complete. John describes that day in the following way:

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

In the meantime, while we wait for that day, we are to strive toward holiness. In order to accomplish that objective, we are required to put off our old sinful nature and put on our new nature. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to expose the sin in our lives so we can confess it and enjoy forgiveness for it. We are to flee sin and pursue righteousness.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

…so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.1 Timothy 6:11 NLT

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 ESV

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

If you have been called by God to be His child, live like it. If you know the joy of having your debt to God paid for and your sins forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross, your lifestyle should reflect your gratitude and your recognition that you are a new creation with a new capacity to pursue holiness, not sinfulness. The behavior of children reflects back on their parents. Our behavior as sons and daughters of God reflects back on our heavenly Father. Our attitudes and actions should honor Him. Our behavior should bring glory to Him. It was Jesus who said, “let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16 NLT). And it was Peter who echoed that sentiment when he wrote: “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Pursue holiness. Strive after righteousness. Make godliness your goal. For the glory of God and the good of others.

Faith Down To His Bones.

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:22 ESV

Ever since Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, he had spent the majority of his life living in the land of Egypt. He had spent the early portion of his time there going through periods of blessing followed by times of adversity. He would experience both feast and famine, success and failure, but God was always with him. Eventually he would become the second most powerful figure in Egypt, a remarkable turn of events that was not lost on Joseph. He told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). Joseph saw the sovereign hand of God directing his life and accomplishing a far greater and grander purpose than his brothers could have ever imagined when they sold him into slavery all those years ago. Joseph’s incredible and meteoric ascension to the upper echelons of Egyptian power was the work of God. It had all been part of God’s divine plan for fulfilling His promise to Abraham

You have to go all the way back to Genesis 15 to see how all of this fits into God’s grand scheme. Abraham had just finished explaining to God that His promise to make of Abraham a great nation had some serious flaws. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continuea childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (Genesis 15:2-3 ESV). But God attempted to calm Abraham’s fears by taking him outside and telling him, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV). God reaffirmed His promise to give Abraham the land and He confirmed it by a covenant in blood. Then God told Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:13-14 ESV).

Now fast-forward to a scene taking place in the land of Egypt. The descendants of Abraham, through his grandson, Jacob, are living in the land of Egypt. They had sought refuge there when a devastating famine had made the land of Canaan virtually uninhabitable. Because of Joseph’s influence with the Pharaoh, he was able to have land allocated to his brothers and their families and provide them with jobs caring for the herds that belonged to Pharaoh. But eventually, Joseph grew old and realized that he was going to die in the land of Egypt.

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. – Genesis 50:22-26 ESV

Notice what Joseph said. He told his brothers that they were going to return to the land. He was confident that God was going to accomplish exactly what He had promised to do. They would live in the land of Egypt for 400 years, but then God would redeem them from slavery and return them to their land, “with great possessions.” At this point in the story, the people of Israel are not enslaved. They are living in Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Their relative, Joseph, is the second-most powerful person in the land. They have land, jobs, house in which to live and no reason to complain about their circumstances. But Joseph knew that things would not always be that way. He knew that God had said they would be afflicted for 400 years. And He believed that they would one day return to the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was so confident that he made his brothers swear that they would dig up his bones and take them back to the land with them when they left.

The book of Exodus picks up the story from there. “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:5-7 ESV). Their number had increased from the original 70 to something that was probably in the millions. And their fruitfulness was going to expose a spirit of ruthlessness in the heart of the new Pharaoh.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 1Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:8-14 ESV

God was setting up the perfect scenario to fulfill His plan. He was going to return them to the land. He was going to accomplish His will for them. And Joseph had believed all along that this was going to happen just as God had predicted and promised it would. As the author of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Joseph had hoped for the day when his people would return to their land, and he was assured that it would happen. He had a strong conviction in the inevitability of it taking place. So much so that he gave instructions to have his bones returned to the land when it happened. And they were. After all the plagues and the killing of the first-borns, when the Egyptians finally released the Israelites, we are told, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here” (Exodus 13:19 ESV).

Joseph had placed his hope in God, and God had come through. Joseph had believed the promises of God, and God had not disappointed. Joseph had a future-focused faith that refused to give up on God just because his current circumstances seemed to contradict what God had promised. Faith is an assurance in things hoped for and a conviction regarding things yet unseen. God is not done yet. His plan is not yet complete. Give Him time. Give Him the trust he deserves. He has never failed to come through.

Not Seeing Is Believing.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

The first four words of this section of Hebrews 11 are critical: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” It would be easy to put the emphasis on the latter half of the statement, making the obedience of Abraham the point. But the author is clearly out to build a case for his opening statement: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abraham’s obedience, while important, takes a back seat to his faith. It is a byproduct of his faith. As the author said in verse six, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

We have to go back to the Old Testament book of Genesis to see the complete story of Abraham’s call and his subsequent obedience to that call. He was living in Haran with his father and the rest of his family. They had moved there from Ur. And it was while he was living in Haran that God came to Abram (his original name), and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). What’s important to notice is that the text indicates that God had not told him exactly where he was going. Even the passage in Hebrews says that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” This is an important part of the story. All Abram knew was that God had called him and he was offering to give him some land and to make him a great nation. While some pretty impressive promises, let’s admit that they were a bit vague. Anyone would naturally want to know where and how. Where do you want me to go? How are you going to make me a great nation? But the point is that, “by faith Abraham obeyed.” He had no idea where he was going or how God was going to pull off what He had promised.

And Genesis tells us that Abram headed out, under the direction of God. Before long he found himself in the land of Canaan, a land occupied by none other than the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. Abram was a descendant of Shem, another son of Noah. So once he got to where God was sending him, Abram found the land already taken by some distant family members. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). And while the occupants of the land were living in houses, Abram and his family were forced to live in tents. They were little more than squatters and vagabonds, moving about from place to place, with no sense of stability or ownership. And this would last for generations, spanning the lives of Isaac and Jacob. He had received a promise of a land but never got to truly live in it or occupy it. The author tells us that “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). The Greek word the author uses is ekdechomai and it means “to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Greek Lexicon :: G1551 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Feb, 2016. <http://www.blueletterbible.org). Abram was waiting for, expecting, anticipating some that had not yet come. He was eagerly and hopefully waiting for God to make his residence a permanent one. His understanding of the promise was that it would include a city made up of bricks and mortar, with walls, ceilings and floors – not a nomadic existence spent living in tents.

But he had to wait. And he had to deal with not only the existence of Canaanites, but the impact of a debilitating drought. It was so bad, he was forced to flee to Egypt. Not exactly what he was probably expecting. But through a series of unexpected chain of events, Abram arrived back in Canaan a wealthy man with lots of livestock. In fact, his flocks were so large that he and his nephew Lot had to decide to part ways in order to keep from running into conflicts over pasturing rights. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land, he chose the very best, leaving Abram with the less attractive portion. But Abram was trusting God. He was placing his hope and convictions in the promises of God. So that, even after Abram gave Lot the choice of the best land, God reconfirmed His promise to him.

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 ESV

According to God, the land was as good as his – all of it. Every square acre of it, including all of the land occupied by the Canaanites and by Lot. It was Abram’s land. Even though he had yet to take possession of a single foot of it. Abram’s faith was in God and His word. The fact that he did not have a permanent home or the deed to a piece of property in his possession did not diminish his belief that God was going to follow through on His promise. His faith was the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abram and all the others listed in chapter 11, “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Their’s was a future-focused faith. It was based on a promise. And the promise was assured because the promise-maker was trustworthy. Abram knew that the promise of God was far greater and encompassed far more than just his individual blessing. God’s promise was regarding future generations and had far-reaching future applications. Abram would never live to see the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. He would be long gone by the time his descendants moved to Egypt. He would never live to see them multiply and grow to such a degree that the Pharaoh would become fearful of them. He would not experience the joy of watching God set his descendants free from captivity and led to the promised land. He would not enjoy the thrill of seeing them conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. He would not see the rise of the kingdom of David or the splendor of the kingdom of Solomon. And he would never live to see the coming of the Messiah, the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

But Abram believed. He had faith. He obeyed. He worshiped. He waited. And he left the future in God’s hands. He had future faith because he believed in an eternal God who never fails to keep His word or fulfill His commitments. Paul would have us live by faith as Abram did. He reminds us, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:23-25 ESV).

God, the Promise Keeper.

Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, “You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.” Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father. – 1 Kings 8:25-26 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon was wise, powerful and wealthy. He had just built a magnificent building designed to be the dwelling place of God. He was a success by any stretch of the imagination. As king of Israel, he enjoyed an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. But he knew that his success had little or nothing to do with himself. It was the work of God. He knew that he was completely dependent upon God for everything, including his position, power, and possessions. It had not escaped Solomon’s attention that his kingship was the result of a promise made to his father, David, by God. God had told David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men” (2 Samuel 7:12-14 ESV). And God was not done. He went on to promise David, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). God had made a promise and Solomon had seen God fulfill it. His kingdom was established. He had built a house for God. And he was going to learn that, as God’s king, when he sinned against God, he was going to be disciplined severely.

But Solomon also knew that he had a role to play in all of this. He was obligated by God to live obediently and submissively to His divine will. He was to pay close attention to the manner in which he lived his life. The longevity and success of his kingship would be based on faithfulness and obedience. God had kept His promise to David, but it was going to be up to Solomon to stay committed to God. The sad reality is that Solomon failed to do just that. His kingship started off well, but ended poorly. He ended up having a “slight” problem with women. We read in 1 Kings that, “King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:1-3 ESV). Solomon’s love affair with women would be his undoing. They turned his heart away from God. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4 ESV). Solomon became an idol worshiper and proved to be unfaithful to his covenant-keeping God. As a result, God would split the kingdom of Israel in half. And the future of the divided kingdom would be one marked by continued apostasy and unfaithfulness. The number of wicked, unfaithful kings would far surpass the number of faithful, obedient kings. In punishing Solomon, God had kept His promise. He always does.

And He would also keep His promise to establish David’s kingdom forever. We know historically that there was an end to David’s reign. We know that Solomon’s reign ended with a divided kingdom. We also know that there came a time when no king sat on the throne of David in Jerusalem. In fact, Israel has no king at this moment. But God keeps His promises. His Son, Jesus, is the rightful King or Israel. He is the King of the Jews and the King of kings and Lord of lords. And there is a day coming when Jesus Christ will rule over the entire world as king, sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV). Concerning Jesus, the angel Gabriel told Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33 ESV). God will keep His promise. God will give Jesus the throne of His father David. He will one day reign in righteousness over all the world, just as God has promised. He is the promise-keeping God. We can trust Him. We can rest faithfully in Him.