Faith Down to His Bones

22 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. The early portion of his time there had been marked by periods of blessing followed by times of adversity. He experienced both feast and famine, success and failure, but God was always with him. Eventually, he became the second most powerful figure in Egypt, a remarkable turn of events that was not lost on Joseph. Years later, when he was reunited with the men who had sold him into slavery, he confidently told them, “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 recognized that the sovereign hand of God had been directing his life and accomplishing a far greater and grander purpose than his brothers could have ever imagined when their jealousy drove them to betray him all those years ago. Joseph’s 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 his great-grandfather, Abraham.

You have to go all the way back to Genesis 15 to see how all of this fits into God’s grand plan for Joseph’s life and the descendants of Israel. Abraham had just finished giving God a lecture about His promise to produce a great nation from an old man married to a barren wife. As far as Abraham could see, God’s plan had some serious flaws, so he confidently proffered a workaround.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue 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 wasn’t interested in Abraham’s Plan B approach. He knew all about Abraham’s age and Sarah’s barrenness; neither of which would prove to be a problem for God. Not only would God give Abraham more descendants than there are stars in the sky, but He would provide a land for them to live in, and He confirmed it by a covenant in blood. Then God followed this blood-covenant ceremony with an announcement that must have left Abraham a bit confused and apprehensive.

“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 back in the land of Egypt. Seventy of Abraham’s descendants have migrated to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the land of Canaan.  Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has sought refuge for his small clan in a land that was not theirs because a famine had made the land of Canaan virtually uninhabitable. Because Joseph, the long-lost son of Jacob, had risen to prominence in the Egyptian court, he was able to allocate land to his brothers and their families and provide them with jobs caring for Pharaoh’s vast flocks and herds.

Jacob’s relocation to Egypt had proven to be a boon for his family. They enjoyed their new homeland and were provided with everything they needed by their powerful and influential kinsman. It seems that everyone forgot about Canaan, except Joseph. As the years passed, Joseph came to the realization that he would never see his homeland again. As he grew older, he came to grips with the fact that he would die in the land of Egypt. But he had never given up on the promise that God had made to his great-grandfather, Abraham.

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 of Canaan. He was confident that God would 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 were living in Egypt as the guests of Pharaoh. Their relative, Joseph, was the second-most powerful person in the land. They had land, jobs, houses in which to live, and no reason to complain about their circumstances. But Joseph understood that things would not always remain that way. He remembered what God had said to Abraham; that they would be afflicted for 400 years. But he also recalled that God had promised to return them to the land.

Joseph had been in Egypt a long time and he knew that it would be the place of his death. But he had not given up on God’s promise. He believed that his people 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 embalmed body and take his bones back to the land of Canaan when the time came for them to leave.

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

During their 400-year stay in Egypt, their number had increased greatly. What had begun as a small clan of 70 people had turned into a nation that numbered in the millions. And their meteoric growth would 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 accomplish His will for them and return them to the land of Canaan. But the only person who seems to have believed that any of this would happen was Joseph. Despite all that had happened to him, he never gave up hope that God would fulfill all that He had predicted and promised to do. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

Joseph had longed for the day when his people would return to their land, and he had a confident assurance that it would happen. He harbored a strong and unshakable conviction in the inevitability of God’s promise being fulfilled. So much so that he gave instructions to have his bones returned to the land when it happened. And Abraham’s bones did make it back to Canaan. After suffering all the plagues and the deaths of their firstborns, the Egyptians finally released the Israelites. And the book of Genesis records that auspicious occasion.

“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 placed his hope in God and God came through. He believed the promises of God and God did not disappoint. Throughout his long life, Joseph maintained a future-focused faith that refused to give up on God even when the circumstances of life seemed to contradict what God had promised. His faith in God was based on an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things that remained unseen and as yet unfulfilled. But he knew that God was not done. His plan was not yet complete. Joseph was willing to give God time and the trust he deserved.

Even when he considered his brothers’ unjust treatment of him, he knew that it had all been part of God’s grand master plan.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” – Genesis 45:7 ESV

Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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 50:19-20 ESV

Joseph had played his part in God’s plan. Now, he was ready to trust God to accomplish the rest. And he was so confident that God would return his family to the land of Canaan that he made his brothers swear to take his bones with them when they left.

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 Growing Conflict

17 So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. 19 But when Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and found there a well of spring water, 20 the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, “The water is ours.” So he called the name of the well Esek, because they contended with him. 21 Then they dug another well, and they quarreled over that also, so he called its name Sitnah. 22 And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”

23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. 

26 When Abimelech went to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his adviser and Phicol the commander of his army, 27 Isaac said to them, “Why have you come to me, seeing that you hate me and have sent me away from you?” 28 They said, “We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, 29 that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” 30 So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank. 31 In the morning they rose early and exchanged oaths. And Isaac sent them on their way, and they departed from him in peace. 32 That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.” 33 He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.

34 When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Genesis 26:17-35 ESV

The blessings of God were clearly evident in Isaac’s life. He had become a wealthy man while living among the people of Philistia. But they soon grew jealous and suspicious of this stranger’s expanding presence in their land, so they demanded that he leave. But Isaac didn’t go far. He ended up settling in the Valley of Gerar, where he began the process of digging wells for his growing flocks and herds. Unfortunately for Isaac, the wells his father had dug many years earlier had been decommissioned by the Philistines. In an effort to rid themselves of Abraham and his future descendants, they had filled in all the wells he had dug. This forced Isaac to dig new wells, a laborious and time-consuming task.

But each time Isaac’s servants dug a productive well, they found themselves in a contentious standoff with the local citizens, who claimed it as their own. It seems that everywhere Isaac turned, he was faced with opposition. The Philistines were going out of their way to make his stay in their land as uncomfortable as possible. And because the entire land of Canaan was experiencing a famine, Isaac was having a difficult time caring for all the flocks, herds, and servants with which God had blessed him. He even ended up giving two of the wells the highly descriptive names of “Contention” and “Enmity.” Things were not going well.

They say the third time is the charm, and that proved true for Isaac. A third well dug by his servants proved to be uncontested, prompting Isaac to give it the name, Rehoboth,  which means, “to make room.” It seems that Isaac was expressing his gratitude to God for having made room for them among the Philistines. Despite all the opposition they had faced, God had provided them with a much-needed source of fresh water. And Isaac vocalized his gratefulness for God’s blessing.

For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” – Genesis 26:22 ESV

The water provided by the well was another sign of God’s blessings upon Isaac. Not only would he be able to sustain the life of his flocks, but he would have water necessary to plant and harvest crops – in the middle of a famine.

But after an undisclosed length of time, Isaac moved his growing clan to Beersheba. This small town was located at the southernmost tip of Canaan, on the very edge of Negev Desert. It was in Beersheba that Abraham had made an covenant with King Abimelech. It was there, decades earlier, that the servants of Abimelech had unlawfully seized a well dug by Abraham. In exchange for seven ewe lambs, Abimelech acknowledged the well as belonging to Abraham and his descendants. The name Beersheba means “well of seven” or “well of the oath.” It was while living in Beersheba that Isaac received a vision and message from the Lord.

“I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV

God reiterated His covenant commitment to Isaac, ensuring him that the promises made to Abraham would be fulfilled through him. Abraham was dead but God’s promises were very much alive and well. He would do what He had promised to do. Like his father before him, Isaac built an altar to Yahweh and “called there on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God” (Genesis 21:33 ESV).

Having demonstrated his devotion and gratitude to God, Isaac commissioned the digging of yet another well, probably an indication of his vast wealth and the growing size of his flocks and herds. One well would not suffice. And when Abimelech received word that Isaac had settled in Beersheba just as Abraham had done, he determined to pay the young man a visit. This entire scene is reminiscent of a similar trip made years earlier by Abimelech and Phicol, his army commander.

At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” And Abraham said, “I will swear.”Genesis 21:22-24 ESV

History has a way of repeating itself and chapter 26 of Genesis is proof. Here we have the king of Gerar and his army commander making another unscheduled visit to Beersheba in order to strike another agreement with the son of Abraham.

“We see plainly that the Lord has been with you. So we said, let there be a sworn pact between us, between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the Lord.” – Genesis 26:28-29 ESV

Abimelech renewed his covenant with Abraham, but this time, with his son. He saw the handwriting on the wall and seemed to understand that Abraham’s God was going to continue to pour out His blessing upon Abraham’s offspring. The names may have changed, but the outcome seemed as certain as ever. Even this pagan potentate understood that Abraham’s offspring were the heirs of God’s gracious provision and protection. So, he made a peace treaty with Isaac and celebrated their agreement with a feast.

Then Isaac was informed that yet another well had been dug in Beersheba, which he promptly named, Shibah, which means “oath.” There is more to this name than a recognition of an oath sworn between two men. This entire pericope is meant to stress the covenant-keeping nature of God Almighty. He had made an oath to Abraham and He was going to stand by it, even though Abraham was long gone. Isaac would be the next in line to receive the blessings of God. And soon, his son, Jacob would follow in his footsteps.

But Moses ends this section with a brief update on Esau’s marital status. Esau was technically the firstborn son, but he had sold his birthright to Jacob for the price of a bowl of stew. And in these closing verses of chapter 26, Moses reveals that Esau ended up taking two foreign wives from among the Hittites. These were the descendants of Heth, who had been one of the sons of Canaan., who was the grandson of Noah. Ham, the son of Noah had dishonored him so, as a result, Noah had placed a curse upon Ham’s descendants (Genesis 9:25).

Esau, who had treated his birthright with contempt, ended up marrying two different women from among the descendants of Heth. And Moses flatly states, “and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35 ESV). Noah had declared that the offspring of Canaan would end up being the servants of their own relatives. And it seems that this curse came to fruition in the life of Esau. By marrying women from among the sons of Heth, Esau sealed their fate and assured an ongoing conflict between the sons of Jacob and Esau.

But Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah. – Genesis 26:35 NLT

How? They ended up bearing Esau children who would become the enemies of Jacob’s descendants. And the stage is set for a growing conflict between Jacob and Esau. But God is at work, behind the scenes, orchestrating everything according to His sovereign 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. All rights reserved.

The Mysterious Ways of God

5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” Genesis 16:5-10 ESV

The story of Sarai’s decision to give her maidservant, Hagar, to Abram as a surrogate birth mother for their future inheritance, brings an old hymn comes to mind. The events surrounding her clever solution to her own barrenness problem seem to be headed in a decidedly troubled direction. And yet, as this timeless song so aptly states, God was in full control of the entire situation.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm

Deep in unsearchable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will

William Cowper, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way” – 1774

Every detail recorded in this story seems to be taking place outside of God’s preordained will. Nowhere in the narrative does Sarai receive orders from God instructing her to implement His “Plan B.” And yet, as William Cowper so elegantly put it, God was treasuring up His bright designs and working His sovereign will.

From Sarai’s perspective, things had gone terribly wrong. Her bright idea had produced some decidedly dark outcomes. What should have been a joyous occasion, had turned into a toxic scene filled with jealousy, envy, and deep resentment. Sarai had given Hagar to Abram so that she might bear the offspring he was so desperately seeking. But when her wish came true and Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s child, she began to have a case of buyer’s remorse. Sarai’s lowly maidservant suddenly found herself in the envious position of serving as the future mother of Abram’s long-awaited son. She considered herself to be the “chosen” vessel through whom God would fulfill His promise to produce from Abram a great nation.  And she flaunted her newfound celebrity status in Sarai’s despondent face.

Sarai suddenly found herself in a dramatically diminished role. She was still Abram’s wife, but she was damaged goods – unable to conceive and, therefore, of little value. But rather than blame herself for this unpleasant predicament, she lashed out at Abram.

“This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!” – Genesis 16:5 NLT

She admits that the idea had been hers, but she demanded that Abram take responsibility for the unfortunate outcome. After all, he was the one who got Hagar pregnant. But Sarai seems to be suffering from a severe case of selective memory. It was she who gave Abram both the idea and the permission to impregnate Hagar.

“Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” – Genesis 16:2 NLT

Her plan had worked to perfection. Abram had faithfully (and, most likely, with great eagerness) followed her instructions and accomplished his assignment. He had successfully gotten Hagar pregnant but, in doing so, he had inadvertently made Sarai mad.

Sarai portrayed herself as the innocent victim, even suggesting that God would not hold her culpable or blameworthy for this disastrous situation. Fueling her unbridled anger and resentment was the arrogant attitude exhibited by Hagar. Moses identifies this newly elevated servant an Egyptian. It is most likely that Hagar had become a part of Abram’s family when, 10 years earlier, he had taken his family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land of Canaan. Upon his departure from Egypt, Abram had been rewarded by Pharaoh with great wealth.

Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. – Genesis 12:16 NLT

Hagar had probably been among the many male and female servants who accompanied Abram back to the land of Canaan. And, at some point, she had been elevated to her position as Sarai’s personal maidservant, which eventually led to her selection as the surrogate birth mother for her mistress.

It is fascinating to consider the intricate and interconnected plot lines that permeate the story of Abram’s life. Early on, even before God called Abram and commanded him to move to Canaan, Abram’s father had already decided to uproot his family from Ur and relocate them to the very same spot. It was while they were temporarily residing in Haran, that God shared His plan and promise to Abram.

Later on, Abram made a decision to escape a famine in Canaan by seeking food and shelter in Egypt. Little did he know at the time that the famine had been God’s doing. Once in Egypt, Abram feared the Egyptians would kill him in order to gain access to his attractive wife. So, he concocted a misguided plan to save his own skin declaring Sarai to be his sister. This resulted in Pharaoh confiscating Sarai as his own personal property and placing her in his harem. But paid a handsome bride price to Sarai’s “brother.” Abram ended up a much wealthier man despite his deceit and deception. And God graciously rescued Sarai from her captivity, returning her to Abram, and sending the two of them back to Canaan.

God had been working behind the scenes “in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.” All along, God had been working His sovereign will – despite Abram’s selfish and self-centered actions. And the same thing was true for Sarai’s misguided attempt to do God a favor by implementing her own plan to fulfill His long-delayed promise.

Both Sarai and Abram were oblivious to what God was going. She was mad and blamed Abram. Abram simply shrugged his shoulders and told her to do what she thought best.

“Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” – Genesis 16:6 NLT

He wasn’t about to come between his disgruntled wife and her pregnant maidservant. In fact, he wanted no part of what he considered to be a no-win situation. Abram displays a disappointing lack of leadership and integrity throughout this ordeal. He had been willing to “go into” Hagar, but now he refused to stand up for her. He was abandoning his responsibilities as a husband and a father. He placed Hagar at the mercy of his disgruntled and vengeful wife.  And Moses makes it clear that Sarai wasted no time inacting her revenge.

Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away. – Genesis 16:6 NLT

But as before, God’s sovereign, all-knowing will reveals itself again. Hagar fled into the desert to escape the wrath of her mistress but, while there, she encounters the mercy of gracious God. Moses indicates that “The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur” (Genesis 16:7 NLT). This does not mean the angel had been sent on a search-and-rescue mission from God, hoping to find this missing pregnant woman. God knew Hagar’s exact whereabouts, and that is right where the angel found her.

The angel asked Hagar two questions that were designed to elicit the rationale behind her flight. The angel already knew the answers but he wanted Hagar to consider the absurdity of her decision to seek refuge in the wilderness. She was an abandoned and unprotected pregnant woman attempting to fend for herself in the most inhospitable of places. She was hopeless and helpless. Or so she thought. In her mind, she had gone from the prized position as the mother of Abram’s offspring to a social pariah preparing to give birth to a bastard child in the middle of nowhere. Yet, God had news for Hagar.

When Hagar acknowledged that she was running from the wrath of Sarai, the angel gave her the surprising and somewhat disconcerting instructions to return. And then he added a shocking addendum to his command.

“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” – Genesis 16:10 ESV

This was the angel of the Lord speaking on behalf of His Master. He was delivering to Hagar the very same God-guaranteed promise that Abram and Sarai had received. This transplanted and recently abandoned Egyptian slave girl had just received a promise from God that she would be the mother of a great nation. Abram and Sarai had condemned she and her yet-born son to a certain death, but God had chosen to reward her with progeny and a fruitful posterity.

God even assured Hagar that she could safely return to her mistresses’ side and fear no repercussions. He would go with her and protect her. At this point, Hagar has no idea what God has in store. The prospect of returning to the unfriendly and potentially hostile atmosphere of Abram’s household must have frightened her. Would she be welcomed with open arms or clenched fists? Upon his birth, would her son be accepted or rejected? She had no way of knowing how God would fulfill the promise He made, but as the following verses will make clear, she eventually took God at His word and obeyed.

Despite Sarai’s plotting and scheming and Abram’s spineless leadership, Hagar had a future, because God had a plan – a plan even included her.

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. All rights reserved.

The Just and the Justifier

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 ESV

God had just destroyed the majority of the human population because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 4:5 ESV). Yet, because “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 4:8 ESV), he and his family were spared. And after delivering Noah from the floodwaters of judgment, God had “blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1 ESV).

God was beginning again. He had preserved a remnant of His original creation in the form of a single human family and an assortment of living creatures, all of whom He had protected on the ark. Now, it was time to restart the process of repopulating the planet. So, God reiterated His kingdom mandate a second time.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 ESV

Noah, “a righteous man, blameless in his generation,” who “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV), was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the new father of the human race. This descendant of Adam was charged with the responsibility of procreating and repopulating the earth with more of his kind. And because Noah had proven himself faithful to God by doing everything he had been commanded to do, the future for humanity seemed bright. Surely this man would fare better than his ancestor. But as “righteous” and “blameless” as Noah may have been, he was far from perfect. As a descendant of Adam, Noah had inherited the same sinful disposition. He was faithful but still fallen.

In the Adamic genealogy recorded in chapter five, it opens with the words:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. – Genesis 5:1-2 ESV

“Adam”(אָדָםāḏām) had been the name God gave to all mankind, and all mankind had been created in God’s likeness. When He had formed the first man and woman, they bore His image. They were intended to reflect His glory and to spread His image all across the planet by creating more of their own kind. More image-bearers. But Adam and Eve were not content to be mirrors reflecting God’s glory. Instead, they succumbed to the temptation of Satan and the desires of their own hearts. Rather than obey God, they chose to rob Him of glory by declaring themselves to be gods, with the sovereignty to decide for themselves what was right and wrong.

Adam and Eve dishonored God by disobeying Him. They rebelled against His divine authority and attempted to preempt His sovereign power with their own. And the apostle would later describe the nature of their crime.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

And Paul goes on to sum up the sin of Adam and Eve in far-from-flattering terms.

they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… – Romans 1:25 ESV

This predisposition for self-worship was passed on to the next generation. Their son, Cain chose to play god and took the life of his brother, Abel. And the genealogy recorded in Genesis chapter five reveals that Adam and Eve attempted to fill the void left by their murdered son.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. – Genesis 5:3 ESV

But something has changed. It’s subtle but highly significant. More than a century after God had created Adam to bear His image, Adam fathered a son in his own likeness. Seth proved to be the spitting image of his father, Adam. He was born under the curse and, as a result, inherited his father’s sinful disposition. Adam’s “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18 ESV), including his own progeny.

All those who descended from Adam were guilty of exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man…” (Romans 5:23 ESV). And that list included Noah and his sons. They had been delivered by God but still remained damaged goods. And God was well aware that the future of mankind was far from bright. He knew exactly what was going to happen. This is why He declared His covenant commitment to Noah and his sons.

“Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” – Genesis 9:9-11 ESV

Inherent in this promise is God’s understanding of mankind’s condition. He knew that humanity would continue to rebel against Him. It was only a matter of time before the wickedness of man spread through the earth like an infectious disease. Noah and his sons would soon father children, made in their own likeness. And the pre-flood moral conditions would be replicated all over again. But God made a covenant commitment to not repeat the judgment of the flood.

God is not suggesting that mankind will never again deserve His judgment. He is simply giving His commitment that He will never again punish mankind’s inevitable wickedness through a cataclysmic, worldwide flood. And what sets this covenant apart is that it is universal in scope and unconditional in nature. It applies to all humanity, and not just Noah and his sons. And it comes with no conditions or requirements on man’s part.

This covenant is based on the faithfulness of God. He knew all along that Noah and his descendants would fail to live up to their calling as His vice-regents. He had given them authority to rule over His creation as His stewards. But like Adam, they would prove to be less-than-faithful in their oversight of God’s kingdom. Inevitably, the descendants of Noah would repeat the sins of their ancestors. It was only a matter of time before God looked down and saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And while humanity would deserve God’s righteous judgment, He would refrain from destroying them.

And as a symbol of His covenant commitment, God provided Noah with a sign. He established the rainbow as a reminder of His glory and goodness. When the storm clouds of God’s judgment appeared in the sky, the rainbow would form, providing a powerful sign of God’s covenant commitment. Man would continue to sin, but God would refrain from meting out the full measure of His righteous indignation against them. Why? Because He had a plan in place that would one day resolve the problem of mankind’s obsession with sin and the divine requirement to deliver justice. Once again, the apostle Paul provides insight into this divine strategy for mitigating the problem of sin and the need for judgment.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

According to His covenant with Noah, God would hold back and not pour out His judgment on sinful humanity. It would be well-deserved but God was willing to delay it until He could send His Son as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In sending Jesus, God would prove Himself “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26 ESV). Through the sacrifice of His Son’s innocent life, God would satisfy His righteous judgment against sin and provide a way for sinful men to be made right with Him.

He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The sins of mankind would continue, and God’s obligation to judge sin would remain. But He was willing to delay that judgment until such a time that He could pour it out on His Son. Adam’s sin left humanity under the curse of God’s wrath. But God had a plan in place that would fully satisfy His need for justice and His desire to justify.

For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:16-17 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. All rights reserved.

Edifice Complex

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the people of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, he began to build the house of the Lord. The house that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and thirty cubits high. The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and ten cubits deep in front of the house. And he made for the house windows with recessed frames. He also built a structure against the wall of the house, running around the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary. And he made side chambers all around. The lowest story was five cubits broad, the middle one was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad. For around the outside of the house he made offsets on the wall in order that the supporting beams should not be inserted into the walls of the house.

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.

The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house, and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third. So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar. 10 He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar.

11 Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, 12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:1-13 ESV

David had begun the preparations for the construction of the temple long before he died. It had been his idea to build a “house” for God, but he had been denied David the honor of overseeing its actual construction. That task fell to his son and successor, Solomon. And even though David had given Solomon the plans and provided a vast amount of the building supplies necessary to start the project, it would be four years into Solomon’s reign before construction began. The sheer size and scope of the project required careful planning and the time to amass and transport all the materials David’s ambitious plans required.

Massive stones had to be quarried and moved to the building site. Lumber from Lebanon had to be cut and transported by ships from Tyre to the coastline of Israel, then carried inland to the city of Jerusalem. The site itself, located on the summit of Mount Zion, had to be leveled and prepared for the actual construction to begin. So, four years after taking the throne, after all the preparations were complete, Solomon officially launched the construction phase of the project, and the author points out that it was 480 years after the people of Israel had been released by God from their captivity in Egypt. This link back to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is significant because it provides a vivid contrast between the nation’s past and present circumstances. This temple was being built to honor the God of Israel, the same God who, nearly half a millennium earlier, had rescued their ancestors from their dire conditions in a foreign land and had given them the land of Canaan as their inheritance – all in keeping with the promise He had made to Abraham.

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham. He had provided the people of Israel with the land of Canaan as their inheritance, and now Solomon, the son of David, was honoring his father’s wishes by building a temple worthy of such a great and gracious God.

While the author provides detailed descriptions of the temple’s size and dimensions, there is not enough information to know exactly what the temple looked like when completed. It was roughly twice the size of the Mosaic tabernacle and built of massive hand-carved limestone blocks and lumber made from cedar from the forests of Lebanon. And the completed structure was ornamented with gold. Solomon spared no expense in the construction of God’s house. It was to be a showplace, a one-of-a-kind structure meant to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even with tens of thousands of conscripted laborers working around the clock, it would take nearly eight years to complete the project.

Sometime during the course of construction, Solomon received a message from God. In the midst of his ongoing efforts to build a house for God, he was reminded that a beautiful building would not ensure the presence of God.

“Concerning this Temple you are building, if you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David. I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel.” – 1 Kings 6:12 NLT

God had made a commitment to David, promising to place one of his sons on the throne after him. And this son would fulfill David’s dream of building a temple for the Lord. But, more importantly, the Lord would place His protective hand over David’s son.

“…when you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for me. And I will secure his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favor from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.’” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 NLT

But even David knew that this promise from God came with certain conditions. He believed God would fulfill His part of the covenant, but he also knew that his son would need to remain faithful to God. Just prior to his death, David had even warned Solomon that faithfulness would be essential if he wanted to experience God’s fruitfulness.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. 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

Building God a house in which to dwell was not going to guarantee His presence, power, and provision. In fact, God didn’t require a dwelling place. And in the book of Acts, Luke records a powerful sermon given by Stephen to a crowd of Jews who would eventually stone him to death. In that sermon, Stephen reminded them that the temple was never meant to be a sign of God’s presence.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
    asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
  Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’” – Acts 7:46-50 NLT

And Luke also records the words of the apostle Paul, spoken to a crowd of Greeks in the middle of the city of Athens.

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” – Acts 17:24-25 NLT

God wasn’t standing around in heaven, waiting for Solomon to complete the temple, so He could take up occupancy. God did not need Solomon’s temple. God had made the stones and the trees used in the construction of the temple. He had created and breathed life into the men who labored to build it. And He had placed Solomon on the throne and given him the privilege of making it all happen.

But what God really wanted from Solomon was obedience. He desired a king who would live in faithful adherence to His laws and display a commitment to all His commands. Solomon’s own father understood that God was far more interested in the condition of a man’s heart than the accomplishments of his hands.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

As the temple neared completion, Solomon was given a powerful reminder that the key to his success would not be found in a building, but in his commitment to the will and the ways of God. The temple would be nothing more than a symbol of God’s presence. It would provide a daily reminder of His majesty and glory, but should never be seen as a guarantee of His pleasure with or approval of His people. As the grand edifice of the temple neared completion, it rose from the heights of Mount Zion and became the pride of the people of Israel. But, if they weren’t careful, they would end up being more impressed with the work of their hands and worshiping their creation, than obeying and revering the Creator God.

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

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

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

Believe the Works

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. John 10:32-42 ESV

Darkness and light, life and death, truth and lies. John’s gospel is a book of contrasts, and at the heart of it all is the disparity between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. He is the Good Shepherd who feeds and cares for the sheep, while they are the hireling, who have proven themselves to be nothing more than thieves and robbers who steal, kill, and destroy. And while these men were supposed to be the experts in the Mosaic Law and students of the Hebrew Scriptures, they were incapable of recognizing the very Messiah spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Yes, they were religious, but they had no relationship with God the Father. Jesus accused them of being the offspring of the devil because they bore a greater resemblance to Satan than they did to God. They were liars and murderers, and the proof is clearly seen in their latest reaction to Jesus’ teaching.

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. – John 10:31 ESV

This was not the first time their anger with Jesus had turned to thoughts of murder. Back in chapter eight, John records another encounter between Jesus and the religious leaders where His words had left them confused and frustrated. Angered by His cryptic claims to be greater than their revered patriarch, Abraham, they had shouted, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). And when Jesus had responded, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV), they had picked up stones to kill Him.

The very fact that these men were so ready to kill Jesus with their own hands is evidence of their intense hatred for Him. Had they done so, they would have been in violation of Roman law which prohibited the Jews from enacting any form of capital punishment. Driven by uncontrollable anger, they were willing to throw caution to the wind and suffer the consequences.

But on this latest occasion, Jesus looked calmly at His antagonists, holding the stones in their hands, and calmly asked them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” (John 10:32 ESV). With this question, Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of their response to Him. All that He had done, from His many miracles to His messages concerning living water, the bread of heaven, and eternal life, gave clear evidence of His claim to be the Son of God.

Even the blind beggar who had been given the gift of sight from the hands of Jesus had been able to recognize that there was something special about this man.

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”  – John 9:31-33 NLT

But the religious leaders were more concerned about the words of Jesus than they were with His works. It wasn’t what He did that bothered them, it was what He said.

“It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” – John 10:33 ESV

It didn’t help that Jesus had done many of His “works” on the Sabbath. According to their very strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, He was a Sabbath-breaker and therefore, worthy of condemnation. But when Jesus excused His behavior by claiming to be the Son of God, that was more than they could stand. He was a blasphemer. And the evidence was clear. Jesus had been arrogant enough to describe Himself as “I am,” the very words God had used to describe Himself to Moses.

But rather than refuting their accusation, Jesus calmly responded by using their own Scriptures as validation for His claim. He was fully in HIs rights to call Himself the Son of God, and He used Psalm 82:6 as proof. Quoting that verse, Jesus reminded His enemies, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (John 10:35 ESV). These men would have been intimately aware of this passage and known that it read, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” In fact, they would have taken great pride in including themselves among the “sons of the Most High.”

What is fascinating about the verse which Jesus chose to quote is its surrounding context. Asaph, the author of Psalm 82, is addressing the judges of Israel, those men who were responsible for the spiritual care and physical well-being of the flock of God. But the psalmist reveals that these men were not doing their job.

“How long will you hand down unjust decisions
    by favoring the wicked?

“Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people.
But these oppressors know nothing;
    they are so ignorant!
They wander about in darkness,
    while the whole world is shaken to the core.” – Psalm 82:2-5 NLT

And what follows is the part Jesus quoted. But consider closely what He chose to leave out.

I said, “You are gods,
    sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
    and fall like any prince.” – Psalm 82:6-7 ESV

Once again, Jesus reveals the contrast between Himself and His antagonists. They are sons of God, but they are merely men. And like all men, they will die. But Jesus was a different kind of man. He was the God-man, fully human, and yet fully divine. He had every right to refer to Himself as the Son of God, just as they did. But what set Him apart was that He was “the one and only Son, who is Himself God” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus had repeatedly declared Himself to be God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16, 18 ESV). He was not just another Israelite who could claim to be the offspring of Abraham and, therefore, membership in God’s family. He “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1 ESV).

But Jesus knew they were incapable of recognizing His identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. They refused to accept His words, so He challenged them to consider His works.

“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” – John 10:37-38 ESV

Which brings us back to Psalm 82. The works Jesus did were in keeping with the will and the works of God the Father. Jesus was showing justice to the poor and the orphan. He was upholding the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. He was rescuing the poor and the helpless. In fact, when John the Baptist, confined to prison, had sent His disciples to ask Jesus if He was actually the Messiah, Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23 ESV).

On another occasion, Jesus had stood in the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

And then He had proclaimed to those in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus had come to do the works of His Father. And He challenged the religious leaders to consider carefully all that He had done. It was evidence enough to prove that He was the Son of God. If they would compare His works with the words expressed in their own Scriptures, they might come to believe and to “know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38 ESV).

But rather than believe Him, they sought to arrest Him. Their minds were made up. So, Jesus departed once again. John closes this first half of His gospel account by describing Jesus leaving Jerusalem and returning to where His ministry had begun, the wilderness of Judea. And yet, despite His remote location, the people continued to seek Him. And they recognized that all John the Baptist had said about Him had proven true. And the result was that many believed. Unlike the religious leaders, the people saw Jesus’ works and believed.

The second half of John’s gospel will chronicle the final phase of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It will begin with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead and culminate with His own death and resurrection in Jerusalem. His “hour” was quickly coming. The purpose of His incarnation was imminent. The Son of God was preparing to do the will of God, and His final work would be the definitive proof of His identity.

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

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