A Case of Worst-Case Scenario

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.

11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” – Numbers 14:5-12 ESV

We all suffer from it on occasion – worst-case-scenario syndrome. The symptoms are easily recognizable: fear, doubt, a growing sense of panic, and visions of all kinds of disasters happening – one bad thing leading to another. Usually, it starts with a fairly pedestrian situation, one that is negative, but not catastrophic. But before we know it, we’ve conjured up images of mishap and mayhem. Our minds begin to play tricks on us, causing us to imagine all kinds of negative outcomes as we conjecture what is going to happen next. We start playing out a variety of circumstances in our heads, wondering what will happen if…

That’s exactly what the Israelites suffered from in this story – as they stood on the edge of the promised land, weighing out the two disparate reports given by the 12 spies. When these men had returned from their investigatory trek through Canaan, they had delivered a report that was equal parts good news and bad news. The land was wildly abundant and fertile, and they had even brought back samples as proof. But while Canaan was bountiful and rich, it was also filled with “giants” who would surely pose a formidable threat to the Israelites. This land that God had promised to Israel as an inheritance was already occupied and its current residents would be far from pushovers. They were powerful, plentiful, well-armed, and well-protected in their fortified cities.  And that part of the report was all the people of Israel heard.

Ten of the spies were convinced that any attempt to conquer the land of Canaan would end in disaster, so they launched a campaign of misinformation, blowing the negative elements of their report out of proportion and drawing conclusions that were NOT based on fact. Instead of trusting God, they decided to trust their very fertile imaginations. They stirred up the people with outlandish claims and false accusations against God Himself.

“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:3 NLT

In a matter of minutes, these people had turned a bit of bad news into a forecast of complete disaster. And they had actually accused God of attempted murder. These men had whipped themselves into a frenzy of fright and faithlessness and infected the entire community. Suddenly, the God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt through a series of miraculous plagues, and who had cared for them all throughout their journey to the promised land, was too weak to take care of them anymore. Their troubles were greater than their God. And the symptoms of worst-case-scenario syndrome began to appear throughout the camp.

Yet, Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua begged the people to trust God and not rebel against Him.

“The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:7-9 NLT

But the people continued to respond with fear and anger, even threatening to stone Moses, his brother, and the two spies. Consumed by their lurid visions of wanton destruction, they refused to listen to what Moses and the others had to say. So, God intervened.

Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. – Numbers 14:10 NLT

God showed up in all His glory, and He was far from pleased. He informed Moses that He was determined to wipe out the entire nation and start all over again. Despite all He had done for them, they had dared to treat Him with contempt. They had hurled accusations against Him, declaring Him to be uncaring and unsympathetic to their plight. They had displayed a staggering degree of ingratitude for all His past mercies and miracles.

“How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!” – Numbers 14:11-12 NLT

God had run out of patience with these ungrateful and disobedient people. So, He vowed to destroy them and start all over again with Moses. He would simply make for Himself a new nation. And He would have been perfectly just and right in doing so. After all, He had been the one who had chosen them in the first place. They had done nothing to earn His favor or to deserve His affections. God had set them apart as His people, not because they were a great and powerful nation, but because He was a covenant-keeping God. According to Moses, their unique relationship with God was totally undeserved and fully God’s doing.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His prized possession out of all peoples on the face of the earth.

The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than the other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 BSB

God had miraculously delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. He had led them across the wilderness and brought them safely to the shores of the Jordan River. He had kept their sandals from wearing out. He had supplied them with water, manna, and quail to eat. He had guided and protected them along the way. But now that it was time for them to do their part of entering and conquering the land, they had reneged on their end of the agreement. Moses had made their God-ordained instructions perfectly clear.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to possess, and He drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you to defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.  – Deuteronomy 7:1-2 BSB

But they had decided to reject God’s command and go with their guts. They had determined that they knew better than God and believed a return to Egypt was preferable to a certain defeat in Canaan.

When we face difficult times, it is easy to succumb to worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s almost natural. We begin to doubt and fear. We blow things out of proportion. Our vision gets blurry. Our memory gets sketchy. We tend to forget things – like God’s history of goodness in our lives. We become weak and prone to fear, instead of faith. Worry replaces worship. Even little things get blown out of proportion. And the usual result is rebellion.

We refuse to believe, trust and obey God, and so we fail to experience His power in our lives. We miss out on the blessings. Like the Israelites, we stand on the edge of the promises of God but never get to enjoy them. But there is a cure for worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s called trust. Trust is putting our belief into action. It is stepping out and relying on God’s goodness. It is resting on His power even in the presence of problems. God doesn’t promise us a life free from problems. But He does promise to see us through them. He promises us strength. He promises us joy and contentment. He promises us His presence. He will see us through.

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

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

The Last Word On the Matter

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 ESV

As Solomon begins to wrap up his book, he provides his credentials as proof of the veracity of his words. Referring to himself in the third person, he restates his well-known reputation for wisdom, a gift given to him by God. But he claims to have put a great deal of effort and energy into enhancing that wisdom with further insight and knowledge through the use of diligent study and research. Solomon had spent a lifetime collecting the wise sayings of the sages, compiling many of them in the book of Proverbs. But he had not been content to simply collect and edit these sayings, producing them in written form for others to read.

He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them.Ecclesiastes 12:9 NLT

Solomon “sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly” (Ecclesiastes 12:9 NLT). He had tested these truths, taking the time and energy to determine their reliability and truthfulness. Like a metallurgist testing the quality of gold to assess its true value, Solomon had proven the accuracy and soundness of each proverb before passing them on to the people. His goal had been to find teachings that would prove beneficial to life.

Solomon compares proverbs or wise sayings to a goad, a sharp stick that was used to prod animals along. Like a goad, a proverb is a simple tool that can make a powerful impact. Like a sharp stick to the rump of a wayward cow, a proverb can course-correct a person who is straying from the truth and redirect their steps.

He also compares proverbs to firmly fixed nails that provide much-needed stability to life. Proverbs are meant to keep things the way God intended them to be. They hold things in place, providing a sense of security and stability to life. Someone who lacks these time-proven truths or maxims is left to learn the lessons of life the hard way – through painful trial and error. And one of the reasons Solomon seems to have written this particular book was to pass on to those under his care the many life lessons he had learned.

As stated before, Solomon wrote this book near the end of his life, and he had a great deal of wisdom, gleaned from personal experience, that he sought to impart. In one of his proverbs, Solomon expressed this same desire to pass on his acquired wisdom to others.

My children, listen when your father corrects you.
    Pay attention and learn good judgment,
 for I am giving you good guidance.
    Don’t turn away from my instructions.
For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child. – Proverbs 4:1-3 NLT

My child, listen to me and do as I say,
    and you will have a long, good life.
I will teach you wisdom’s ways
    and lead you in straight paths. – Proverbs 4:10-11 NLT

And Solomon firmly believed that the proverbs he had collected had been given to him by God, making them divine instructions, not simply the words of men. That’s why he refers to them as having come from one Shepherd. While their human authors were many in number, the truths these proverbs contained came from God alone. He is the author of all truth, and that’s why Solomon warned, “My son, beware of anything beyond these” (Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV).

There are countless books available and an individual could spend a lifetime searching and studying the written wisdom of men. But according to Solomon, it would prove to be a waste of time. And he knew that from experience because he had done it. He had come to recognize that it was all vanity, like chasing after the wind. And the apostle Paul would have fully agreed with Solomon. In fact, he described the wisdom of men in less-than-flattering terms: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:19 NLT). 

Earlier in that same letter, Paul asked and answered his own question regarding man’s so-called wisdom. “So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). It’s no contest. God’s wisdom trumps human wisdom every time.

As Solomon prepares to wrap up his book and his life, he can’t help but come back to the one truth that held all his thoughts together. It is the one point of clarity in a long life filled with perplexities and incongruities. He refers to it as “the end of the matter.” It’s his summary or synopsis of life.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. – Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV

Now, what’s missing in Solomon’s summary is an understanding and awareness of God’s future plans for his life. Like many in his day, Solomon had no clear theology concerning the afterlife. It was all a mystery to him. As far as he could tell, what existed beyond the grave was nothing more than a black hole.

“Life after death was as enigmatic to him as the unequal distribution of justice. His emphasis was on this life (‘under the sun’) and its opportunities for service and enjoyment; he thought life after death offered no such opportunities.” – Donald R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament

So, while Solomon’s admonition to fear God and keep His commandments sounds like solid, biblical counsel to us, we have to keep in mind that he is placing all his emphasis on the here-and-now. He knows that God is sovereign over all. He realizes that God controls all things and is the distributor of all good gifts. He can give and He can take away. From Solomon’s limited, earth-bound perspective, it made sense to keep God happy by fearing and obeying Him. That way, you could hope to enjoy in this life some of the blessings that only He can bestow. And when Solomon speaks of God’s judgment, he seems to have in mind a judgment that takes place in this life. His rewards or punishments are based on thoughts and behaviors committed in this life.

Solomon remains fixated on present, not future rewards. He was expecting all of God’s blessings to show up in this life, not the one to come. Because as far as Solomon could tell, there was no guarantee of life after death.

But as believers in Jesus Christ, we have been given additional insight into God’s redemptive plan. We have the entirety of God’s Word to guide and instruct us. We know that there is an afterlife because Jesus promised it. Paul wrote about it. The New Testament goes out of its way to describe it. Yes, there is a judgment, but its rewards are not temporal in nature. They are eternal.

In his first letter, the apostle John told his readers: “I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 NLT). Jesus promised: “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT).

There is much we can learn from Solomon. But we have to take all that he wrote and combine it with what we have come to know since the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Solomon lived on the other side of the cross but we have been provided with the end of the story, something Solomon did not have. So, when he said, this is “the end of the matter; all has been heard,” Solomon was only partially right. There was more to come. As a matter of fact, the Savior of the world was to come. And it was His arrival on earth in human form, His sinless life, His sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection that removed all the vanity, meaningless, futility and frustration from life. This world, while a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed, is not all there is. There is far more to come.

“Qoheleth’s intent in his writing is to pass judgment on man’s misguided endeavors at mastering life by pointing out its limits and mysteries. He would prefer that man replace such false and illusory hopes with a confidence based on the joy of creation as God’s gift.” – Robert K. Johnston, Confessions of a Workaholic: A Reappraisal of Qoheleth

But even more important than enjoying God’s gift of creation, is placing our faith and hope in God’s offer of new creation, new hope, new life, new joy, and the promise of a never-ending, frustration-free, sinless future with God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

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 New Chapter Begins

1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen. Genesis 25:1-18 ESV

The 25th chapter marks the midway point in the book of Genesis. And while the chapter designations came long after the book was written, the details recorded in this section of Moses’ chronicle serve as a turning point in the narrative. For the last 14 chapters, Abraham has served as the story’s central character. Since the moment God called him out of Haran and disclosed the terms of the covenant, Abraham has been the protagonist and the promised progenitor of God’s grand plan. It would be through Abraham that God would fulfill His covenant promise to establish a great nation. And yet, here at the midway point of the Genesis account, Abraham is old and quite wealthy, but he has only one son. It would be a gross understatement to say that Abraham’s quiver was full. And even that one son is 37-year-old, newly married, and currently childless. Where is this great nation that God had promised?

But 24 chapters remain, and God is far from done. It is as if God is turning a page in the storyline and beginning something new. Isaac has found and married his bride – with the help of God. Sarah has died and, as these verses reveal, Abraham is not long for this world. He has reached the ripe old age of 175 and yet, Moses describes him in terms that belie his elderly status. He may not be a spring chicken, but he is far from a doddering old man. When Sarah had died, Abraham had been 137 years old. And while he mourned the loss of his wife, he eventually married a woman named Keturah. Up to this point in the story, Abraham had fathered only two children, Ishmael and Isaac. But his marriage to Keturah would result in the births of six additional children.

This insight into Abraham’s procreative capabilities seems intended to underscore the unique nature of Isaac’s birth. Abraham had always been capable of fathering children. He had no trouble in impregnating his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. And even as he neared the latter days of his life, he proved to be fully capable of producing descendants. But the text makes it clear that children were not to be heirs of the promise. After providing the identities of Abraham’s latest offspring, Moses states:

All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. – Genesis 25:5 ESV

These children were not destined to be part of the “great nation” that God had promised to produce from Abraham and Sarah. God had even told Abraham that Ishmael, the son born to him by Hagar, was not to be an heir of the covenant.

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:20-21 ESV

It is important to remember that Sarah always resented the presence of Ishmael. Even though his very existence had been the result of her bright idea to have Hagar bear a son for Abraham, Sarah despised this son of a slave woman (Galatians 4:22-23). And the day had come, after the birth of Isaac, that she demanded that Ishmael be disinherited.

“Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” – Genesis 21:10 ESV

While Abraham found his wife’s anger to be unjust and disturbing, God encouraged him to give in to her demands.

“Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:12-13 ESV

And, just like always, God kept His word. Moses records that Abraham sent away each of the sons born to his concubine, Keturah. He provided them with gifts, but they would not share in the inheritance of Isaac. They suffered the same fate as that of Ishmael. They were cast out but they were far from forgotten by God. Notice how Moses records the children born to Ishmael. Why would he bother to add that seemingly unimportant detail?

These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. – Genesis 25:12-15 ESV

These names mean nothing to us. And yet, their very mention is designed to prove the integrity of God’s word. Remember what God had said to Sarah: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 ESV).

Now, look closely at the list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names recorded in verses 12-15 of Genesis 25. There were twelves sons born to Ishmael. In spite of Sarah’s ill-treatment of this young man, God had chosen to keep His word and bless him. He would make of Ishmael a great nation. The whole point seems to be that Abraham had always been fully capable of procreating and producing a long line of descendants. Ishmael had been prolific and produced 12 sons. In the same way, the six sons born to Keturah would go on to produce many offspring. But only the descendants of Isaac would become the nation through whom the other nations of the earth would be blessed. Only the line of Isaac would produce a chosen people, set apart by God, and destined to become the conduit through which He would pour out His divine blessing on humanity.

God fulfilled His promise and made Ishmael the father of “12 princes.” It is interesting to note the correlation between these 12 “tribes” and the 12 tribes that would eventually come through the line of Isaac. Moses indicates that Ishmael’s descendants “settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 25:18 ESV). The Ishmaelites eventually settled in the region of Arabia, southeast of Canaan, and would have a less-than-ideal relationship with their distant relatives, the Israelites. But God had kept His word. He had faithfully fulfilled His promise.

And with the fate of Ishmael’s descendants established, Moses records that, at the age of 175, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8 ESV). The life of Abraham came to an end. But the fulfillment of God’s promises had only just begun. The story is far from over. And verse 19 will begin a new chapter in God’s grand redemptive plan as Moses records the births of Esau and Jacob. But this story will contain many familiar features and themes. Yet another woman will find herself cursed by barrenness. There will be seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between siblings. Glaring examples of jealousy, anger, deceit, and disobedience will fill the storyline. But through it all, God will be operating behind the scenes, orchestrating His sovereign plan to fulfill the covenant he made with Abraham. Yahweh is fully committed to His promise to bless the nations. 

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

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

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

A Divine Love Story

52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord. 53 And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. 54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” 55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“Our sister, may you become
    thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
    the gate of those who hate him!”

61 Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.

62 Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. 63 And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. 64 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel 65 and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.  Genesis 24:52-67 ESV

Having received a warm welcome from Laban and a positive response from Rebekah’s father concerning her betrothal to Isaac, Abraham’s servant worshiped Yahweh once again. He was deeply grateful for the way God had interceded on his behalf and orchestrated this picture-perfect outcome. Everything had turned out better than he could have ever imagined. And having thanked Yahweh for His divine assistance, the servant dispensed the treasures he had carried all the way from Hebron. First, he lavished the bride to be with additional gifts of jewelry and clothing. Then he handed out the gifts that Abraham had included for Rebekah’s family members.

What followed next was a celebration. With the agreement reached and sealed by the giving of gifts, the servant and his men enjoyed a feast put on by the father of the bride. But the next morning, having completed his assignment, Abraham’s servant was ready to begin the long journey home. He couldn’t wait to tell Abraham all that had happened and see the look on Isaac’s face when he saw his future wife for the very first time.

But when Bethuel and Milcah heard that the servant was making plans to leave right away, they tried to buy time, and that is understandable. Their daughter was about to walk out the door and there was a good chance they might never see her again. So, they tried to delay her departure for ten days. But the servant resisted their impassioned pleas.

“Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.” – Genesis 24:56 NLT

One can almost sense the servant’s fear that something might go horribly wrong. He seemed bent on accelerating their departure so no one would have time for to change their mind. And Rebekah’s parents, overcome with sadness at the thought of losing their daughter, decided to leave the decision up to her.  And she simply replied, “Yes, I will go” (Genesis 24:58 NLT).

Rebekah was loaded onto one of the camels and, accompanied by her childhood nurse, she began the long journey to Canaan and to her uncertain future as the wife of a man she had never laid eyes on.  Moses does not reveal Rebekah’s age but this departure from her family and her homeland had to have been difficult. She was willingly entering into a marriage covenant with a complete stranger who lived in a foreign land. She was leaving everything she had ever known behind her and venturing into uncharted territory. And perhaps sensing her reticence and fear, her family pronounced a blessing upon her.

“Our sister, may you become
    thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
    the gate of those who hate him!” – Genesis 24:60 ESV

Little did they know that their blessing coincided with the promise that God had expressed to Abraham more than 37 years earlier.

“As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

“Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. – Genesis 17:19 ESV

Young Rebekah was the chosen instrument through whom God would fulfill His promise. She had been preordained by God to become the wife of Isaac and the future mother of Jacob. And all the events surrounding her encounter with the servant of Abraham reveal the sovereign hand of God. This was literally a marriage made in heaven.

The caravan slowly made its way back to Canaan, and it appears that Abraham’s servant had set his final destination as the Negeb, where Isaac was living, It’s interesting to note that he didn’t make his way to his master’s home, but instead, chose to deliver Rebekah directly to Isaac. Moses indicates that Isaac looked up and saw a caravan headed his way. As he made his way to intercept the travelers, Rebekah him from a distance and inquired who this stranger might be. The servant announced, “It is my master” (Genesis 24:65 ESV). 

Rebekah, realizing that she was about to meet her future husband, took her veil and covered her face. Meanwhile, the servant eagerly informed Isaac of all that had taken place in Haran. He was beside himself with excitement as he shared the miraculous nature of the journey and how God had provided just the right woman for Isaac.

Having heard the details surrounding Rebekah’s divine selection, Isaac, “brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother” (Genesis 24:67 NLT). Still mourning the loss of his mother, Isaac was comforted by the knowledge that God had provided him with a wife and a means for fulfilling the covenant promises made to Abraham. Rebekah would take the place of Sarah and become the mother of a great nation. Through she and Isaac the nations of the world would be blessed.

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

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

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

A Sign of Things to Come

20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, 21 “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22 and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23 On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

In these closing verses of Haggai’s prophecy, he records a somewhat enigmatic statement made by God concerning Zerubbabel. Up to this point, all that has been revealed about Zerubabbal is his role as the governor of Judah (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2, 21). But Haggai has repeatedly described Zerubbabel as “the son of Shealtiel” (Haggai 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2). While it was not uncommon to describe someone’s patriarchal lineage in this manner, Haggai’s repeated mention of Zerubbabel’s “father” is particularly interesting and will take on greater significance as we examine these closing verses.

Zerubbabel’s designation as the son of Shealtiel establishes him as a grandson of King Jehoiachin of Judah. Jehoiachin was a direct descendant of King David and one of the last kings to sit on the Davidic throne ruling over the southern kingdom of Judah. Jehoiachin shared David’s bloodline, but not his great-great grandfather’s love for Yahweh. The book of 2 Chronicles describes his short reign and ignoble end.

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In the spring of the year King Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him to Babylon, with the precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 36:9-10 ESV

According to the book of 1 Chronicles, Jehoiachin had a number of sons. Two of them play important roles in Haggai’s narrative. One was Shealtiel and the other was Pedaiah. A close look at the following passage reveals an important clue to Zerubbabel’s identity and provides insights into the final four verses of Haggai’s prophecy.

The sons of Jehoiachin, who was taken prisoner by the Babylonians, were Shealtiel, Malkiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nedabiah.

The sons of Pedaiah were Zerubbabel and Shimei. – 1 Chronicles 3:17-19 NLT

Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah, the brother of Shealtiel. This would have made Zerubbabel the nephew of Shealtiel. But it would appear that there is something else going on here. In ancient days, it was important that the family name be preserved because the inheritance was passed down from father to son. In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the Mosaic Law describes what is often referred to as levirate marriage.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 25:5-6 ESV

The word levirate comes from the Latin word levir, which means “a husband’s brother.” A levirate marriage, therefore, is literally a “marriage with a brother-in-law.” According to the 1 Chronicles 3 passage, it would appear that Pedaiah, the son of Jehoiachin, died not long after his wife gave birth to Zerubbabel. Then his brother, Shealtiel adopted Zerubbabel as his own son, in order to help preserve his brother’s lineage. Or, it could be that Pedaiah died before Zerubbabel was born, and according to the law of levirate marriage, Shealtiel married his brother’s widow and she bore Zerubbabel. Either way, Zerubbabel would have been a direct descendant of King David and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne.

What makes the idea of levirate marriage a likely explanation to Zerubbabel’s heritage is the way God refers to him in these closing verses of Haggai’s book. On the very same day that God vowed to bless the people of Judah, He had Haggai deliver a very specific and highly personal message to Zerubbabel. God tells the governor of a coming day when He will “shake the heavens and the earth” and “overthrow kingdoms” (Haggai 2:21-22 ESV). On that future day, God would “destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

It is important to note that God gave this message directly to Zerubbabel and not to Joshua the high priest or the people. For some reason, God has set apart the governor and made him the sole recipient of this message of future divine judgment. What is significant is God’s repeated mention of kings and kingdoms. He promises Zerubbabel that a day is coming when He will overthrow and destroy all the kingdoms of the nations. This message is being given to a man who rules as governor over the disheveled and demoralized nation of Judah. They have no king. They can muster no army. And they are surrounded by enemies who constantly harass and threaten them. But God predicts a day when the tables will turn. And, amazingly, God informs Zerubbabel that he will have a role to play in that future reversal of fortunes takes place.

“On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:23 ESV

This message must have struck Zerubbabel like a ton of bricks. It was unexpected and must have come across as highly unlikely. A simple glance around him would have revealed to Zerubbabel a scene of disarray and disappointment. The city of Jerusalem remained in a state of disrepair. The construction of God’s house was incomplete and the nation was still suffering from the impact of the recent drought. And yet, here was God declaring to Zerubbabel that he was his chosen servant. He describes Zerubbabel as His “signet ring” – the symbol of a king’s authority and power. Affixed to the ring was an emblem that represented the king’s house. That emblem was impressed into wax in order to seal official documents and to designate them as authentic.

God was telling Zerubbabel that he would play the role of a signet ring or the official representation of kingly authority. What makes this so significant is the curse that God had placed on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “I will abandon you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. Even if you were the signet ring on my right hand, I would pull you off. I will hand you over to those who seek to kill you, those you so desperately fear—to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the mighty Babylonian army. I will expel you and your mother from this land, and you will die in a foreign country, not in your native land. You will never again return to the land you yearn for.” – Jeremiah 22:24-27 NLT

Jehoiachin had proven to be an unfaithful king and a lousy bearer of God’s image. He was like a signet ring that no longer bore the image of its owner. Useless as a symbol of God’s authority, power, and honor, Jehoiachin had been set aside by God. But an unlikely descendant of this discarded king would be used by God to bring about the destruction of the kingdoms of the earth.

In this passage, Zerubbabel is presented as a type of Christ. He is a descendant of David and a rightful heir to the throne. And through him would come the Messiah, the one true servant of God who would fulfill all the promises and prophecies concerning Israel and the nations. The gospel of Matthew records the lineage of Jesus, and in it, we find the name of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel.

After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:12-16 NLT

Zerubbabel appears in the family tree of Jesus, the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And what makes this so remarkable is that God had placed a curse on Zerubbabel’s grandfather, Jehoiachin.

“This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’” – Jeremiah 22:30 NLT

But remember, according to 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel was actually the son of Pedaiah. Yet, according to God’s sovereign will, He had arranged for Zerubbabel to be raised by his uncle, Shealtiel. Rather than Zerubbabel being the result of levirate marriage, it seems more likely that he was born to Pedaiah. But when his father died, Zerubbabel become the ward of his uncle, Shealtiel, and was raised like his son. This would have effectively bypassed the curse placed on Shealtiel by God.

Through Zerubbabel, God would raise up another unlikely heir who would sit on the throne of David and fulfill all the promises found in verses 21-22 of Haggai 2. Like a signet ring in the hand of God Almighty, Zerubbabel would become a seal of divine authority and power, guaranteeing the authenticity of God’s promises for the future.

Zerubbabel would die long before Jesus was born. Yet, his name is memorialized in the lineage of Jesus. He lives on as a symbol of God’s power and authority, like a signet ring that bears the image of its owner and authenticates His sovereign will over all things. God was not done with Judah. He had restored them to the land but He had far greater plans in place for them as a nation. Through the tribe of Judah was come the Lion of Judah. Zerubbabel was another in the long line of unlikely and undeserving individuals whom God used to accomplish His grand redemptive plan of salvation. And one day, God will fulfill His promise “to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders” (Haggai 2:22 ESV).

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 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.

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

God of the Past, Present, and Future

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:6-9 ESV

God has provided much-needed words of encouragement to His people.

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:4 ESV

And He has reminded them that because He is a covenant-keeping God, they have no reason to fear. His presence among them is assured because He promised to never leave them or forsake them. God referred to the covenant He had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had received the Ten Commandments from God, the divine code of conduct that was to regulate their behavior and determine their ongoing relationship with Him. God had set them apart as His own special possession, but He required that they conduct themselves in a manner that was in keeping with their status as His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. He expected them to keep the covenant agreement He was making with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, but that relationship required that they remain faithful to the covenant and obedient to live by all of its commands.

On the day that God had communicated His covenant commands to Moses, He had revealed Himself to the people in a formidable and unforgettable manner.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

And this dramatic display of God’s glory had left the people in a state of fear.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 ESV

But Moses had assured them that God’s glorious display of His power and might was actually for their good.

“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” – Exodus 20:20 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people live sinless lives, in keeping with His commands. But in order to receive His covenant blessings, they would be required to keep His covenant commands. Now, centuries later, the people of Judah were hearing from God once again. They had returned to the land of promise after nearly 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a punishment meted out by God because of their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. He had graciously kept His promise to restore them to the land and now He was reiterating His commitment to be their God and dwell among them. And God uses imagery that was meant to remind His people of Mount Sinai.

Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. – Haggai 2:6 ESV

Their ancestors had been given a sight and sound show intended to reveal the majesty and power of God Almighty.

…there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off – Exodus 20:18 ESV

God was promising to reveal Himself with such power and might that it would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. This dynamic imagery concerning God’s power can be found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. King David put the cosmic significance of God’s power in poetic terms.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. – Psalm 68:7-8 ESV

Asaph echoed David’s words in his own psalm.

When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:6-18 ESV

In Haggai 2:6-9, God is describing a coming day when the people of Israel will once again experience a powerful display of God’s glory. He will reveal Himself in a supernatural, earth-shaking demonstration of never-before-seen power and might. The prophets had spoken of a great day to come when God would shake the heavens.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger. – Isaiah 13:13 ESV

All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. – Ezekiel 38:20 NLT

All of this imagery points to a future day when God will bring about a divine intervention of global and cosmic proportions. His Son will return to earth again and bring about the culmination of the divine plan for the redemption of all things. The author of Hebrews was quoting Haggai 2:6 when he wrote:

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26-27 ESV

God is going to do far more than simply shake the heavens and earth. He is going to destroy and remake them. The prophet Isaiah referred to this great day when he recorded the following promise from God:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness. – Isaiah 65:17-18 ESV

And centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of this coming day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 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 21:1-4 ESV

Haggai is recording a promise from God that spans the centuries and looks far into the future when God will bring about the final phase of His grand redemptive plan for mankind and all creation. Yes, He wanted the people to complete their task of rebuilding the temple. But He also wanted them to understand that their faithfulness to do so was to be based on His faithfulness to fulfill all that He had promised to do. God had far more in mind than they could have ever imagined or believed. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was but one chapter in the divine narrative God had in store for His chosen people. Their ongoing existence was guaranteed because God had great plans for them. It would be through His chosen people that the Chosen One would come. His Son would be born a descendant of Abraham and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The Son of God would be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In His first advent, Jesus offered His life as a ransom for many. But in His second coming, He will as King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule and reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And in that day, a new temple will exist that will far outshine the glory of the structure that Solomon had built. And God provides His guarantee of this future reality.

“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9 ESV

The people of Haggai’s day had a job to do. They had a role to play. It was their responsibility to rebuild the temple. That’s why God commanded them, “Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4 ESV). They were to be obedient and complete the task assigned to them by God, knowing that He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made concerning their present and the future.

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

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

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

Make the Most of the Time You Have

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:14-18 ESV

Peter has reminded his readers that they are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12 ESV) – a day when “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn” (2 Peter 2:12 ESV). But that future day of divine destruction will be followed by God’s recreation of all things. And concerning that promise, Peter states, “we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell” (2 Peter 3:13 ESV).

The apostle John was given a vision of that momentous day which he recorded for posterity in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 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.” – Revelation 21:1-3 ESV

It is to this day that Peter seems to be when he writes, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). As his readers suffer through the trials and difficulties of this life, Peter reminds them of the divine promises that lie ahead. He wanted them to focus their attention on all that God had in store for them. As they waited, they were live godly lives marked by purity, perseverance, and peace. Their faith in God’s future promises should influence their present behavior.

That is why Peter encouraged them to emulate the life of Christ through their own “lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 ESV) as they wait for the coming day of the Lord. Peter understood that the delay in Christ’s return was difficult to comprehend and had caused some to begin to doubt whether it was really going to happen. He also knew that living a godly life was not easy. And he knew how frustrating it could be to stand back and watch as the wicked sinned, and not only got away with it, but thoroughly enjoyed it. In every generation, Christ-followers must wrestle with the seeming inequities that exist between the children of God and the wicked. The psalmist put it in words to which we all can relate.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble?
The wicked arrogantly hunt down the poor.
    Let them be caught in the evil they plan for others.
For they brag about their evil desires;
    they praise the greedy and curse the Lord.

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:1-6 NLT

But despite the apparent disparities they might encounter in this life, Peter wanted his readers to stay committed and to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV). As Peter has already stated, God’s seeming delay in sending back His Son was purposeful. He had a reason and His timing was perfect. Peter reminds them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15 ESV). In other words, rather than embrace the lies of the false teachers and mistakenly conclude that there would be no future judgment, the believers were to view God’s delay from a different perspective. The longer God waited, the more time there was for people to come to faith in Christ. Not only that, it provided believers with additional time to grow in the grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior. It provided ample time for the divine process of sanctification to take place. It had not been God’s plan to remove every believer as soon as they placed their faith in Christ. Jesus left His own disciples behind and had commissioned them to carry on His ministry of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. They were to remain behind, acting as His ambassadors and emissaries. And the believers to whom Peter wrote had inherited this same divine mandate. Like Peter and the other disciples, their salvation was to be followed by their ongoing sanctification or growth into Christ-likeness. And for that to happen, Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit, which is why Peter could say that God had granted them “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). They had all the power they needed to live godly lives in the present as they waited for the future.

When Peter told his readers to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation,” he was echoing the words of Paul. He even admitted so. In his letter to the Romans, Paul warned his audience, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). Paul was writing to Gentile believers. He wanted them to understand just how patient and gracious God was being with them as He provided with time to continue the process of salvation. Part of what God was accomplishing, through the work of the Holy Spirit, was exposing those areas of sin in their lives that need to be confessed. He was constantly saving them from themselves and redeeming them from the vestiges of the sin-filled lives they had once lived. He was in the process of transforming them into the likeness of His Son.

And the messages of Peter and Paul apply to us today. God has already justified us, declaring us positionally righteous in His sight. But now He is sanctifying us, making us practically righteous, by removing our old nature and replacing it with a new one. Paul puts it this way: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So Peter reminded his readers to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Peter 3:14 ESV). He wanted them to know that, contrary to popular opinion and the teaching of “the ignorant and unstable,” Christ was coming again. The false teachers twisted the Scriptures to make them say what they wanted to hear. But Peter warned that God was faithful and His Word was reliable. So they were to live their lives without spot or blemish, unlike the false teachers who he describes as being “blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (2 Peter 2:13 ESV). Peter didn’t want to see believers carried away by the tempting promises and slick sounding words of the false teachers. He wanted to prevent them from being “carried away with the error of lawless people” (2 Peter 3:17 ESV). And the antidote for spiritual error was spiritual growth. That is why he told them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

When we first come to know Christ, our understanding of Him is minimal at best. We accept Him as our Savior, but there is little else that we know about Him. We do not fully understand the magnitude of what He has done. We have a minimal understanding of and appreciation for grace. Our knowledge and awareness of all that He accomplished for us on the cross are limited. That’s why Paul told the Colossian believers:

…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:9-10 ESV

We are to grow up in our salvation. We are to increase in our understanding of who Christ is and what He has done. We are to constantly expand our understanding of God’s will for us as we read His Word and listen to the inner promptings of His Holy Spirit within us. Spiritual growth is non-optional for believers. We find admonitions to grow all throughout the New Testament.

I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. – 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 ESV

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrew 5:12 NLT

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. – Hebrews 6:1 NLT

Dear brothers and sisters, don’t be childish in your understanding of these things. Be innocent as babies when it comes to evil, but be mature in understanding matters of this kind. – 1 Corinthians 14:20 NLT

We must stay the course. We must run the race to win. We must complete the task set before us. We must finish strong. As Peter stated earlier in this same letter, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). We can live godly lives in the midst of ungodliness. We can live righteous lives while surrounded by unrighteousness. We can live Christ-like lives among those who deny Him. But it requires growth. It requires constant dependence upon the One who saved us and a trust that He is continually sanctifying us.

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

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

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

You Can Doubt God, But Never Discount Him

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 2 Peter 3:1-7 ESV

Peter feared that the “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1 ESV) of the false teachers would take their toll on those who were spiritually immature. He even declared that these men “entice unsteady souls” (2 Peter 2:14 ESV) and lead them down a path of destruction. Driven by greed and the need for power and influence, these false teachers will say anything that might entrap the weak-willed and spiritually vulnerable.

With an appeal to twisted sexual desires, they lure back into sin those who have barely escaped from a lifestyle of deception. – 2 Peter 2:18 NLT

Peter seems to indicate that the ones most susceptible to these attacks will be the newly saved. They lack the spiritual maturity and strength to withstand the assaults on their faith that will come in the form of deceptively alluring lies. And, as a result, they will find themselves being lured back into their old ways of life, marked by slavery to sin rather than freedom in Christ.

when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before. – 2 Peter 2:20 NLT

Peter used two old and probably well-known proverbs to describe such people.

“The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” – 2 Peter 2:22 ESV

These two visual metaphors were meant to be vivid reminders of the unacceptable nature of spiritual apostasy. Peter wanted his readers to be appalled at the thought of falling away from the faith. He compared it to a dog eating its own vomit – a thoroughly disgusting image that was meant to illustrate just how unacceptable it was for a believer to become enslaved by sin again.

The author of Hebrews describes how difficult it can be for a fallen believer to return once again to faith. It is not impossible, but it is highly improbable.

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. – Hebrews 6:4-6 NLT

Peter and James are not suggesting that believers who are enticed to return to their old sinful ways have lost their salvation. But they are clearly stating that it is possible for an immature Christ-follower to be lured back into their pre-conversion state of slavery to sin. The potential for “backsliding” was an ever-present reality for every follower of Christ, and this is why the apostles so strongly promoted the need for ongoing sanctification.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:5-10 NLT

Failure to put off the old and put on the new would eventually result in spiritual regression, not spiritual transformation. It would be like a cleanly washed sow returning to the mud and the mire. Unaccustomed to the value of cleanliness, a pig will return to its old familiar and comfortable habits. It’s only natural. And the same thing is true of a believer who fails to supplement his faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. The Christian life is not intended to be static or stagnant. Growth is expected and intended as a sign of spiritual health and well-being. The presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of a believer is intended to result in heart transformation that produces behavior modification. But the believer who fails to make progress will eventually regress. The constant presence of their old sin nature will lead them to return to the “vomit” of their former life. And though cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they will find themselves covered in the muck and mire of sin once again.

All of this is why Peter makes such a big deal out of the false teachers. He knows they will find a ready and willing audience, and he also knows that some within the congregations to whom he was writing would follow the way of the dog and the pig. So, as he opens up the next section of his letter, he reminds his readers that this is the second time he has had to write them. In his former letter, he spent a great deal of time teaching them about the difference between their current suffering and their future inheritance. He knew that they were undergoing difficult trials because of their faith in Christ. But he also knew that they could live with great expectation because they had “a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter1:4 NLT).

Peter had wanted them to know that, despite all that was happening to them in this life, they could rejoice because God had something incredible in store for them in the next life.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

And Peter had told them that the prophets of written about this coming salvation, even though they couldn’t fully comprehend its meaning or significance.

They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. – 1 Peter 1:11 NLT

But their inability to understand the scope of God’s promises did nothing to invalidate the reliability of God’s word. Those men had written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, declaring the truth concerning God’s redemptive plan – a plan that included the glorious inheritance to which Peter had referred in his first letter. That’s why Peter wrote in his second letter: “I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2 NLT). He was taking them back to those promises penned by the prophets and then declared by him and his fellow apostles. Peter and his companions had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and that there was far more to His kingship than a temporal reign in the city of David. Jesus had come to do something far more spectacular than return Israel to power and prominence. He had come to redeem fallen mankind and to one day restore all creation to its former glory. 

And yet, there were false teachers who were questioning the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed by the prophets and contradicting the teachings the apostles had received from Christ Himself. Peter continued to warn that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires” (2 Peter 3:3 NLT). And he provided a specific example of how they will question the writings of the prophets and the words of the apostles. They will say:

“What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.” – 2 Peter 3:4 NLT

Notice the subtlety of their line of questioning. The apostles had been teaching that the writings of the Old Testament prophets had clearly proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. But these false teachers were arguing that everything remained just as it was when those men had penned their words. Nothing had changed. Jesus had not returned and, by inference, they were suggesting that He never would. The false teachers were propagating a form of deism. They believed that God existed but that He did not involve Himself in the daily affairs of man. In their estimation, Jesus had been nothing more than a godly man whose good life could be emulated. But He had not been God in human flesh who sacrificed His life for sinful mankind.

In essence, the false teachers were accusing the apostles of lying and twisting the words of the prophets. They were suggesting that Peter and his companions had fabricated the whole God-in-human-flesh idea and had made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection. These arrogant men were denying the teachings of the apostles but, more than that, they were calling into question the veracity of God’s Word. Peter boldly declares:

They deliberately forget that God made the heavens long ago by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. – 2 Peter 3:5-6 NLT

Whether they believed it or not, God had intervened in the affairs of the world before, and He would do so again. While the false teachers would go on questioning divine intervention and future judgment, it did nothing to alter the reality of either one – a point that Peter made perfectly clear.

by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. – 2 Peter 3:7 NLT

Just because they had not yet witnessed the second coming of Jesus did not mean it was a figment of the apostles’ imaginations. It was easy for them to point out that Jesus had not yet returned. But Peter attempted to keep their focus on the promises of God. If God said it, He could be trusted to do it. It didn’t matter whether these men believed God or not. God was not hindered by their lack of faith. He was in no way hampered by their doubts about His sovereignty and providential power. God had judged the world before and He would do so again. And, according to Peter, the false teachers were “being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed” (2 Peter 3:7 NLT).

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

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

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

I Will Restore

11 “In that day I will raise up
    the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
    and raise up its ruins
    and rebuild it as in the days of old,
12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
    and all the nations who are called by my name,”
    declares the Lord who does this.

13 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
    and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant them on their land,
    and they shall never again be uprooted
    out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. Amos 9:11-15 ESV

From its opening chapter, the book of Amos has focused all of its attention on God’s pending judgment. Amos began his book with a revelation that the coming wrath of God would be global in nature, impacting such nations as Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. But chapters 2-8 make it painfully clear that God has reserved His severest judgment for His own chosen people. And since Amos was a prophet to the ten northern tribes, the majority of his book has been a divine diatribe against the sins of Israel. Judah has been mentioned and will not escape punishment for its own transgressions, but the purpose of Amos’ mission has been to record God’s indictment against the northern kingdom of Israel.

Time and time again, God had sent His prophets with a message for His rebellious people. They were warned to repent and return to Him or face the consequences of their sin. But they had repeatedly refused His gracious and merciful offers of forgiveness by continuing to seek and serve their false gods. And even when God brought upon them famines, droughts, diseases, and disastrous military defeats, they remained stubbornly committed to their lifestyle of apostasy and idolatry. Each divine judgment ended with God declaring, “…yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

They had repeatedly and persistently broken their covenant commitment to God, and now they were going to have to pay the price for their disobedience. They had no excuse. God had given them ample warning of what would happen if they chose to disobey His commands. All the way back in the days of Moses, long before the people crossed the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had told them what would happen if they broke their covenant commitment.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.

“The Lord himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning me.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-20 NLT

And now, centuries later, the ten northern tribes of Israel were facing the final stage of God’s judgment: Their destruction and deportation.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you. – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

And, as Amos begins to wrap up his book, he reinforces the unavoidable reality of God’s judgment.

For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’” – Amos 9:9-10 ESV

Even to the bitter end, the prideful and arrogant people of Israel will deny the possibility of their own demise. They will persist in believing that their status as God’s chosen people will somehow provide them with immunity from judgment. Despite their centuries of rebellion and spiritual adultery, they will cling to their belief that they are the apple of God’s eye and, therefore, untouchable. But they will soon discover that their assumption was sorely mistaken.

And yet, after all the doom and gloom of the last nine chapters, Amos wraps up his book on a surprisingly upbeat note. As a prophet, Amos has been addressing the present conditions in Israel by predicting the future ramifications for their actions. He is projecting out into the future and revealing exactly what God is going to do. But his record of what God has in store for Israel does not come with a timeline. There is no calendar providing specific dates on which these events will occur. The people of Israel were left to wonder when and how these predictions would take place. How would their fall come about? When would it happen and what nation would be the source of their demise? God doesn’t say. But He does reveal that “In that day…,” He will do something unexpected and totally undeserved. Somewhere in the distant future, God has a plan to restore and redeem His people.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory. – Amos 9:11 NLT

Yes, God was going to judge His people for their sins. But He would also restore them. The judgment would come first and it would take place when the Assyrians invaded Israel in 722 B.C. The forces of King Sennacherib would besiege the capital city of Samaria, eventually breaching its walls, and destroying everything within it. Those Israelites who were not killed were deported to Assyria as slaves. And the author of 2 Kings reveals the reason behind this devastating end to the ten northern tribes.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

But in the closing verses of his book, Amos records the words of God as He predicts another day – “that day” when He will restore the fallen house of David. And that day remains, as yet, unfulfilled. God is letting His people know that His timeline extends far beyond the fall of Israel. The year 722 B.C. ushered in the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel. And, in 586 B.C., God used the Babylonians to destroy the city of Jerusalem and bring about the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah. But the destruction of those two cities and the demise of the two kingdoms did not mark the end of God’s interactions with His people. He had made a covenant with them and He was the covenant-keeping God. While they had proven to be unfaithful, He would keep every commitment He had ever made to them.

Back during the days of King David, God made a covenant commitment to him, promising to raise up a descendant who would rule on his throne forever.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-14 NLT

That promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son, Solomon. But he proved to be less than faithful to God, ending his long reign by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy. He built a temple for Yahweh but also constructed shrines and altars for the false gods of his many wives. And for his many indiscretions, God divided his kingdom in two, creating the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But Amos reveals that God intends to restore Israel. Despite the sins of Solomon and the long line of kings who followed him, God was going to keep His covenant commitment to David. The two kingdoms would end up destroyed and deported, but that did not mean God was done with them. The same God who would ordain their fall would be the one to redeem and restore them.

“I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.” – Amos 9:14 NLT

God describes a time of great renewal. It will be a time of abundance and blessing. He promises to bring back His chosen people “from distant lands” and to return them to the land He had given to them as their inheritance. This promise was partially fulfilled in 445 B.C. when the people of Judah returned from their exile in Babylon. But while they would rebuild the temple, repair the walls of Jerusalem, and repopulate the city, they would remain under foreign control for centuries. Even during the days of Jesus, the Jews would be little more than a puppet state, operating under the heavy hand of Rome. And in 70 A.D. the second temple would be destroyed by the Romans, leaving the people of Israel with no place to worship or offer sacrifices to their God.

But God is not done. His will regarding Israel is far from complete. And Amos ends his book by recording the promise of Yahweh regarding His people.

“I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:15 NLT

This promise remains yet unfulfilled. And the prophet Jeremiah echoes the words of Amos, confirming God’s plans to keep His covenant promises.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

And Jeremiah goes on to describe the unique nature of this future day.

“I will break the yoke from their necks
    and snap their chains.
Foreigners will no longer be their masters.
   For my people will serve the Lord their God
and their king descended from David—
    the king I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 NLT

This day remains unfulfilled, but it will happen just as God has said. The book of Revelation reveals the day when Christ will return to the earth and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem. For 1,000 years, He will reign from the throne of David in the restored capital city. He will conquer the enemies of God and bring righteousness and justice to the earth. And He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel. God is not done. His plan is not yet finished. And because He is the faithful, covenant-keeping God, He will restore His people just as 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

Confidence In God’s Commitment

18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
20 You will show faithfulness to Jacob
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old. – Micah 7:18-20 ESV

God’s response to Micah’s prayer had a profound impact on him. Hearing Yahweh state that He would once again show His chosen people “marvelous things” (Micah 7:15 ESV), and restore the nation to its former glory, caused Micah to express his gratitude in worship. He acknowledges that God is totally unique and without equal, asking rhetorically, “Who is a God like you?” For Micah, the answer is clear: No one is like God. The false gods, byproducts of man’s fertile and sinful imagination, were all vengeful, unforgiving deities who ruled over mere mortals in anger and judgment, and for their own vainglory. But not Yahweh. He “pardons the guilt of the remnant,  overlooking the sins of his special people” (Micah 7:18 NLT).

This thought blew Micah away because he was well aware of the guilt of his people. He had witnessed it firsthand and had personal experience with their stubborn refusal to admit and confess that guilt. The people of Judah deserved all that was coming to them. They had repeatedly rejected the pleas of men like Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, calling them to repent and return to the Lord. And yet, God had graciously expressed His intent to redeem and restore a remnant of them.

And Micah knows that this gracious response from God is totally undeserved and unmerited. Any future forgiveness and restoration the people of God experience will be due to His mercy and love.

You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. – Micah 7:18 NLT

Micah’s words reflect his familiarity with the writings of Moses, found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded his encounter with God on top of Mount Sinai. This was his second trip to the top of the mountain. His first had resulted in God giving him the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone. But when Moses had returned to the Israelite base camp with God’s law in hand, he had discovered the people of God celebrating and worshiping in front of a golden calf, constructed for them by Aaron, his own brother.

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. – Exodus 32:15-16 ESV

And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made and burned it with fire and ground it to powder and scattered it on the water and made the people of Israel drink it. – Exodus 32:19-20 ESV

God had just given Moses the law, His code of conduct for His chosen people. But when Moses had returned to camp, he found the people of God worshiping a false god, displaying the true condition of their hearts. When Moses had not returned in a timely fashion, they had feared the worst and decided to replace Moses with Aaron and the God of Moses with one of their own making.

And God punished all those who took part in the rebellion against Him by subjecting them to a devastating and deadly plague. The rest of the nation, those who had refused to take part in the idolatry and insubordination, He forgave. And when Moses had returned to the top of the mountain to receive the second set of tablets inscribed with God’s commands, He had received the following message from Yahweh.

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7 NLT

This message from God was in direct response to a request from Moses that he might see God’s glory. Moses had heard from God. He had seen manifestations of God’s glory in the form of the burning bush and the pillars of fire and cloud. But with this request, he was asking to see God face to face. And God had told him, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19 ESV). But God made it clear that His glory was too great for Moses to handle.

“…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:20 ESV

When Moses had returned to the top of Mount Sinai, God kept His promise and allowed Moses to get a fleeting glimpse of His glory. And it was then that He described Himself as the God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. God’s character is the true essence of His glory. And Micah seemed to understand the reality of that sentiment.

He was completely blown away by God’s mercy and love. This great God who had made the universe and all it contained, was going to graciously forgive the sins of His rebellious people. And the thought of it left Micah struggling to put into words just how amazing this grace of God really was.

Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean! – Micah 7:19 NLT

Micah knew his people deserved nothing but the wrath of God. He was not blindly optimistic, somehow hoping that they would one day get their proverbial act together and return to God on their own accord. No, he knew that their pattern of stubbornness and spiritual infidelity would continue. And yet, he also knew that God would forgive. He knew what Zechariah, his fellow prophet, knew. God was going to show compassion on His wayward and sin-prone people.

“I will strengthen the house of Judah,
    and I will save the house of Joseph.
I will bring them back because I have compassion on them,
    and they shall be as though I had not rejected them,
    for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them. – Zechariah 10:6 ESV

Micah was confident in the compassion of God because he believed in the trustworthiness of God. He was intimately familiar with the promises that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

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 17:7-8 ESV

“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 ESV

Over and over again, God had recommitted Himself to Abraham and his descendants, guaranteeing His intentions to keep His promises. In spite of all their sinful ways, God had never reneged on His covenant promises. While they had proven themselves to be unfaithful, He had remained completely faithful and unwavering in His commitment to do all that He had said He would do. And Micah had taken God at His word. Which led him to boldly and confidently exclaim:

You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. – Micah 7:20 NLT

For Micah, it wasn’t a matter of if, but only when. He knew that God was going to keep His word. He was completely confident that every single promise God had made would come to fulfillment – at just the right time and in just the right way. Because he knew this about his God:

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:19 NLT

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

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

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