Wisdom For When You Need It

10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.” – Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ESV

The specificity with which God regulated the lives of the Israelites can be astounding and, in some cases, quite confusing and confounding. The degree to which God provided them with detailed rules and regulations governing virtually every area of daily life serves as evidence of His intimate concern for them as His people. God cared about every aspect of their existence, even providing them with guidelines to govern what He considered their more aberrant behavior.

Not everything the Israelites did was approved of by God. They were His chosen people, but they found themselves living in a less-than-ideal environment, surrounded by hostile pagan nations and the constant temptation to assimilate the ways of their enemies. Moral compromise was an ever-present threat to their status as God’s people. And their obligation to keep God’s command to conquer and repopulate the land of Canaan was going to present them with a host of new and potentially dangerous situations that would test their allegiance to God.

Israel’s efforts to subdue the land of Canaan was going to require many battles and result in the deaths of many enemy soldiers. These men would leave behind countless widows and unmarried daughters who would be hardpressed to find eligible husbands among their own people.  So, God provided a provision by which the Israelites could choose wives from among these women.

Now, it is important to remember that God had previously forbidden the Israelites from taking wives from among the nations of Canaan, and He had been very specific.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. When the Lord your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 NLT

So, it seems unlikely that God was now changing His mind and giving the Israelites permission to take wives from among the Canaanites. The more likely explanation is that God is referring to those non-Canaanite nations that occupied the outer edges of the land of promise. In those cases, God made a concession, allowing the men of Israel to choose a bride from among the widows and unmarried virgins. But God also provided rules for governing such behavior.

One thing to keep in mind is that God always had to consider the natural proclivity of His people to follow their basest instincts. He knew full well that the men of Israel, fueled by the lust of war, could easily find themselves driven by lust and tempted to rape the women of the nations they conquered. This behavior would have been unacceptable and deadly to the nation. So, God made accommodations to protect His people from themselves. An Israelite man could choose a bride from among one of these captured women, but only if he was not already married. And he had to follow God’s prescribed plan for assimilating the woman into his life and the community of Israel. There was to be a period of mourning for the woman, as well as a time of purification. Only then could the man properly and legally marry her.

God even provided rules for annulling one of these marriages. He knew that many of these men would marry for all the wrong reasons. Driven by the lust of the moment, some of the Israelites would soon discover that they had little in common with their new wives and their marriages would end in acrimony and strife. So, God provided rules for the dissolution of these failed marriages. God was not advocating for divorce, but simply preventing the Israelites from bringing shame to His name through the inappropriate treatment of these women. They could not be sold as slaves or treated as property. God required that these women be given their freedom.

These verses raise all kinds of issues for us. We tend to view them through what we consider to be our more-enlightened mindset and judge them harshly. It appears that God is promulgating behaviors among His people that contradict His previously communicated laws and stand in stark contrast to His revealed character. But God was dealing with an extremely volatile, constantly changing environment involving sin-prone people who were facing real-life scenarios that presented never-before-seen dangers.

This was a nation in flux. Everything was new and evolving. Each sunrise would bring with it another opportunity to see God work or a temptation to cause Israel to fall. The people of God had no idea what was coming, but God did, and He was constantly making provision for the inevitable and unavoidable details of life that would come their way.

God could have left all these matters unresolved and allowed the Israelites to figure it out as they went along. But that would have produced unacceptable consequences. Left to their own devices, the people of Israel would have listened to their own sin-prone hearts and done what was right in their own eyes. As the prophet, Jeremiah, so aptly put it, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

Even David, the great king of Israel, would later lament the sorry nature of mankind.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

God cares enough about His people to protect them from themselves. Equipped with His omniscience, God was able to look ahead and prepare for the inevitable scenarios that were looming on the horizon. While the Israelites were going to find themselves constantly facing the unknown and dealing with the unexpected, nothing was going to take God by surprise. He already had plans in place, rules of engagement prepared, and codes of conduct outlined for each and every scenario His people would face.

God was leaving nothing to chance. And He was not going to allow the people of Israel to make things up as they went along. He was always one step ahead of them, preparing the path in front of them and providing an acceptable response for them. His goal was always their holiness. And while their circumstances were constantly changing and evolving, their God remained their constant and consistent ally in all the battles they faced.

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

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Bless, As You Have Been Blessed

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do. – Deuteronomy 15:12-18 ESV

The people of God were supposed to stand out from all the rest of the nations living in and around the land of Canaan. Their unique status as God’s chosen people placed upon them an obligation to live according to His will for them and that will was all-inclusive, covering every aspect of their lives. God made no allowance for compartmentalization. In other words, He left no area of daily life untouched or outside the pervue of His divine decrees. Everything about them was to reflect their unparalleled relationship with Him. From God’s perspective they were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ESV) and “a people holy to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 14:21 ESV).

In this passage, we see Moses dealing with a topic that causes some unease and uncertainty for our modern and more enlightened sensibilities. He addresses the issue of slavery. But it’s important that we grasp the cultural context and understand the true nature of the kind of slavery being discussed. It’s easy for us to read this text and use our contemporary understandings of slavery to define what Moses is talking about. We conjure up images of slave ships and innocent people being ripped from their homes and forced into servitude and bondage against their wills. And while that form of slavery was widespread during the time in which the book of Deuteronomy was written, Moses is dealing with something different altogether.

As was seen in the previous verses, God had made provision for the needy among the Israelites. He had given the nation a series of commands designed to provide ongiong care for those who were suffering from any form of physical or financial need. And Moses had told them, “there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV).

One of the primary means by which a destitute individual could seek relief was by willingly offering themselves as a servant to one of their fellow Hebrews. It was a matter of economics and a question of survival. The individual in need took the initiative, offering their services in exchange for food and shelter. That’s how Moses describes it:

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant…” – Deuteronomy 15:12 NLT

This was not a case of forced slavery, but voluntary servitude. This system provided an opportunity for the financially prosperous to help their less-fortunate brothers and sisters. But, like all well-intentioned welfare programs, this one could easily be abused. So, God set up conditions and parameters to guide the Israelites in their practice of this essential community assistance program. Moses informed the people that this servant/master relationship was to be governed by the sabbatical year. After six years of continual service, the one who had sold themselves into slavery was to be released.

“If a fellow Hebrew sells himself or herself to be your servant and serves you for six years, in the seventh year you must set that servant free.” – Deuteronomy 15:12 NLT

The covenant or agreement made between the two parties was absolved by the sabbatical year. For six years they had enjoyed a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the destitute individual was able to live in relative comfort while their benefactor enjoyed the benefit of relatively low-cost labor. And this business-like arrangement helped to curtail the number of needy families within the Israelite community.

Even when the time of release came, the master was to bless his servant with a gift. They were not to simply cancel the contract and send their former servant out on their own. To do so would have forced the servant back into their original condition of poverty. So, to prevent that from happening, God required the master to “bless” their departing servant with a gift.

“When you release a male servant, do not send him away empty-handed. Give him a generous farewell gift from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Share with him some of the bounty with which the Lord your God has blessed you.” – Deuteronomy 15:13-14 NLT

They were to bless their former servant as they had been blessed by God: graciously and generously. And Moses reminded them that they were still on the upside in this exchange because they had enjoyed six years of drastically reduced labor costs while the servant had been in their employ.

“You must not consider it a hardship when you release your servants. Remember that for six years they have given you services worth double the wages of hired workers…” – Deuteronomy 15:18 NLT

And God provided another vital condition to this master/servant relationship. If the sabbatical year arrived, the servant could voluntarily choose to remain with his master. After six years, they could determine that the arrangement they had was preferable to starting out on their own and, as a result, they could offer to extend the original agreement.

“But suppose your servant says, ‘I will not leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and he has done well with you. In that case, take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door. After that, he will be your servant for life. And do the same for your female servants.” – Deuteronomy 15:16-17 NLT

Again, it is essential that we understand that voluntary nature of this transaction. No one is being forced into slavery. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement based on love and the well-being of both parties.

Ultimately, God was concerned about the integrity of His name. He had set apart the entire nation of Israel – including every man, woman, and child. His call was not based on economic status, gender, age, or social standing. The entire nation belonged to Him and thåe manner in which they treated one another was going to reflect on Him – either positively or negatively. So, He provided a range of regulations and rules to govern their corporate behavior. Nothing was left out. There was no secular-sacred split. God refused to turn a blind eye to any area of their lives. He expected and demanded complete dedication from His people. Their actions and attitudes mattered. And each and every Israelite was to be considered as a vital part of the family of God.

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Day of Distress, Rebuke, and Disgrace

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV

The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.

“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV

These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.

Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT

It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.

What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.

And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT

Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.

Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).

And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.

“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT

And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:

“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.

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

 

Lousy Leadership.

Multiply yourselves like the locust;
    multiply like the grasshopper!
You increased your merchants
    more than the stars of the heavens.
    The locust spreads its wings and flies away.

Your princes are like grasshoppers,
    your scribes like clouds of locusts
settling on the fences
    in a day of cold—
when the sun rises, they fly away;
    no one knows where they are.

Your shepherds are asleep,
    O king of Assyria;
    your nobles slumber.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
    with none to gather them.
There is no easing your hurt;
    your wound is grievous.
All who hear the news about you
    clap their hands over you.
For upon whom has not come
    your unceasing evil?Nahum 3:15b-19 ESV

 

Nineveh was a wealthy city full of prosperous people who had benefited from the global expansion of the Assyrian empire. Along with tremendous amounts of plunder, the city of Nineveh had become a powerful trading hub, with merchants coming and going all the time, bringing in commodities from all around the known world. It was a great time to be alive if you lived in Nineveh. You had a powerful king with an army that was second to none. You lived in a city that was well-fortified and the envy of all your enemies. Every imaginable produce was available for purchase or trade within its walls. The signs of affluence were everywhere. You were surrounded by elaborate temples, sumptuous palaces, and fine homes. Wealthy and influential individuals walked the streets. Dignitaries from all around the world flocked to Nineveh to strike alliances and bring tribute to the king. As a result of all the Assyrian conquests, there were so many slaves, virtually anybody could have one. It was a great time to be alive.

But not for long. Nahum sarcastically tells the Assyrians to keep on multiplying. It is as if he is saying, “Keep it up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Enjoy your moment in the sun, because it is about to get very dark, very quickly.” Nahum has no problem if their army keeps on expanding and their population continues to increase, because it won’t do them any good. Their many military victories had brought financial success. Business was booming, with the number of merchants plying their trade growing daily. They were like locusts. Too many to count. Their army was massive in size. In fact, Nahum refers to them in verse 17. The word translated as “princes” is actually the Hebrew word for “captains” and it most likely refers to the military leaders who oversaw the vast Assyrian army. The term translated as “scribes” literally means “crowned ones” and probably refers to the large number of princes and royal officials who helped oversee the administration of the massive bureaucracy of the Assyrian government. He compares these two groups to locusts and grasshoppers. They were everywhere and their numbers were too many to count. But Nahum warns that the day is coming when they will all disappear and no one will know where they all went. The merchants, princes and captains will be no more. Like locusts that cover the land, they will suddenly vanish. Here today, gone tomorrow.

And Nahum has a special word for the leaders of Nineveh. He compares them to shepherds who are responsible for the care of the sheep, but accuses them of being asleep on the job. They are negligent. The king and his officials are so busy building an empire, that they have forgotten to care about the common man. Global expansion had taken precedence over everything else. These men believed that surrounding their people with military might and financial success was all that was needed. They had the fortifications and the army to defend them. No one would dare attack the impregnable city of Nineveh. They had grown cocky and overconfident, drunk on their own success. They wouldn’t see the disaster until it was upon them.

But the word translated as “slumber” has another meaning. It was used as a figurative expression of someone dying. It is as if Nahum is warning that the day is fast approaching when all the princes, captains, royal officials, and the king himself, will all be dead. And the result will be that the sheep, those under their care, will end up scattered. No longer safe within the walls of Nineveh, they will flee to the mountains and try to escape capture at the hands of the Medes and Babylonians.

And there is nothing that can be done to stop what is going to happen. Nahum warns them, “There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). This is going to be terminal. There is no escaping what God is bringing upon them. So, they could keep on growing and expanding, trading and doing business around the world, but none of it would prevent the inevitable. God’s judgment was coming and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who puts kings on their thrones. He is the one who established kingdoms. And in every case, He expects those in authority to rule justly and care for those under their authority. Paul reminds us, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1 NLT). And he says that, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good” (Romans 13:4 NLT). It is important to remember that, when Paul wrote this, he was addressing Christians who were living under the heavy-handed rule of the Roman government. But God has established the role of all government to provide rule and order and to protect and provide for those under its care. And He will hold all governments responsible for the role He has given them. He will hold to account each and every king, dictator, despot, president, government official, senator or member of congress. God even held the leaders of Israel accountable for their leadership over those under their care. Take a look at what He had to say to the shepherds of Israel:

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people–the shepherds of my sheep–for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the LORD. – Jeremiah 32:1 NLT

God takes leadership seriously. He allows men and women to enjoy roles of responsibility, but He expects them to wield their power and influence for the good of their people. Even pagan kings and communist dictators are expected by God to provide their people with protection and the provision of their needs. But in so many instances, we have seen governments spend more money on their military than they do on meeting the needs of their people. They build vast military complexes while their people suffer from a lack of the basic necessities of life. God will not allow that to go on forever. He will hold all leaders accountable, regardless of their political ideology or spiritual philosophy.

And lousy leaders are never missed. Their untimely exit from the stage of life is applauded, not mourned. Everyone loves to see the bad guys get their just desserts. As Nahum so aptly puts it: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you” (Nahum 3:19 ESV). Eventually, everyone says good riddance to bad leadership.

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

Off To A Great Start.

David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.

And David went from there to Mizpeh of Moab. And he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me.” And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold. Then the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.” So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth. – 1 Samuel 22:1-5 ESV

David left Gath in a hurry, the drool still clinging to his beard and the laughter of the Philistines still ringing in his ears. He had managed to escape with his life, but had been forced to leave his dignity behind. He had put himself in a very dangerous predicament, and had been forced to feign insanity when his plan fell apart. But as a result of this painful predicament, David was learning to trust in God and not himself. It would prove to be a lifelong lesson, but with each passing circumstance, David would learn to lean less on himself and more on God. This would not be the last time David found himself in a tight spot. In fact, he would later write in one on his psalms:

But I am a worm and not a man.
    I am scorned and despised by all!
Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 NLT

David would know what it was like to be despised and dejected. He would experience many moments of doubt and despair. But through it all, he would discover the reality of God’s presence and power, and what it means to trust Him.

After having escaped from Gath by the skin of his teeth, David headed to an area called Adullam, the former site of an ancient Canaanite city. Adullam was not far from the valley of Elah, where David had slain Goliath. The area is pockmarked with caves, many of which are large enough to hold up to 400 men. It was in one of these caves that David sought refuge. But he would not be alone for long. Somehow, his father and brothers received word that David was there, and they made their way to him, along with their entire households. David’s cave was filling up fast and would soon be standing room only, because the text tells us that “all who were down on their luck came around—losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts” (1 Samuel 22:2 MSG). David suddenly found himself surrounded by people with money problems, malcontents and an assortment of misfits. These were all individuals who shared one thing in common: A general dislike for King Saul. In one way or another, this man’s reign had impacted them negatively and they were willing to risk all in order to throw in their lot with David, a man with a bounty on his head.

Just hours earlier, David had been surrounded by hostile Philistines. Now, he was surrounded by disgruntled and desperate Hebrews, who were looking to him for leadership and direction. The text tells us that there were 400 men who allied themselves with David and viewed him as their commander. David was no longer alone, but now he found himself responsible for the well-being and protection of hundreds of men and their families. How would he feed them all? How was he going to be able to protect them from the professional soldiers Saul would send to hunt him down? Whether he like it or not, David suddenly found himself a leader. Yes, it was a motley crew of misfits, and they would put David’s leadership abilities to the test, but this was the crucible in which God had chosen to purify and perfect the man whom He had chosen to be the next king of Israel.

One of the first decisions David made was to send his father and mother to stay in the land of Moab. He arranged with the King of Moab to provide his parents with a safe haven, “until I know what God is going to do for me” (1 Samuel 22:3 NLT). David’s great-grandmother, Ruth, had been a Moabitess, so there was a familial connection that helps explain David’s decision. His parents would remain in Moab until he had a better idea as to what God had in store for him. David was slowly learning to seek God’s will. He had learned a painful lesson at Gath. Taking matters into his own hands and trying to determine his fate apart from God was a dangerous game to play. He had no clue what the future held, but he was anxious to know what God was going to do. And he wouldn’t have to wait long. One day, a prophet appeared at the Cave of Adullam and gave David a word from God. He was to leave immediately and return to the land of Judah. This would not be the last time during David’s wilderness wanderings that God would speak to him through a prophet. God had not left David alone, and He would not leave him directionless.

We have to remember that David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. It is still not clear whether David was aware of this fact. Up until this point in the narrative, there is no indication that David had ever been told by Samuel what his anointing had meant. David has shown no signs that he knew he was the king-in-waiting. He had been content to be a commander in Saul’s army. He had shown no aspirations of being king or any expectations that God was going to remove Saul and put him in his place on the throne. And yet, we know that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel. So when we read this story we can’t help but wonder why God chose to do things the way He did. Why was he allowing Saul to persecute and pursue David? Why was David being forced to run for his life and live like a fugitive? Why was God willing to let Saul, a man He had rejected as king, remain king? None of it seems to make sense. It all appears illogical and unnecessary. But God’s ways are not our ways. His plans rarely make sense to us. His methods, more often than not, come across as little more than madness to us. But the life of David is meant to reveal to us the sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing will of God. David was receiving God’s will one day at a time. We get to see the whole picture. We are given access to the entire story. We know how it ends. And we can see that God was with David every step of the way.

David was going to experience many dark days. He would know what it means to despair and feel the loneliness that comes with leadership. There would be moments when all seemed lost. There would be days when he felt abandoned by God. He would later write:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame. – Psalm 22:1-5 NLT

But through it all, David would discover the holiness and faithfulness of God. And this lesson, while painful, would be crucial in his transformation from shepherd of sheep to shepherd of the people of God.

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

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

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

Comfort and Affliction.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:1-7 ESV

Obviously, as the title of this letter indicates, this is a second letter that Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. Some time between the writing of the first letter and the receipt of this second one, Paul had been able to visit Corinth. But evidently, things had not gone well. His visit had ended up being a painful one for both Paul and the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:1). There were still those in Corinth who opposed Paul and questioned his apostleship and, therefore, his authority. Later on in this second letter, Paul deals directly with those who stood against him. “This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:1-2 ESV).

It would appear that Paul wrote a third letter, now lost, that he sent to the Corinthians some time before writing 2 Corinthians. He refers to this lost letter several times.

I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. – 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 ESV

For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 ESV

So Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to encourage the congregation there and to continue his efforts to refute the accusations of an influential minority who were questioning his authority and undermining the work there.

But before Paul deals with the issues going on in Corinth, he spends some time reminding the Corinthians of just who he is and what he has had to endure as an apostle of Jesus Christ. His journey has not been an easy one. His ministry to them and to the other churches he helped found has not been without its problems. But Paul is not complaining. He is simply stating the facts and letting them know that he is grateful for having had the opportunity to serve them and for being able to receive comfort from God Himself. In verses 3-7, Paul will use a variation of the word “comfort” ten times. He will refer to “affliction” or “suffering” seven times. And each and every time he is applying these words to himself and the other men who minister alongside him. These opening verses are an autobiographical look into the life and ministry of Paul as he faithfully ministered the gospel, in keeping with the commission he had received from the risen Christ.

Paul refers to God as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV). First of all, God is compassionate and merciful. But He is also comforting. The Greek word Paul uses is paraklesis and it means consolation, encouragement or refreshment. Notice its similarity to the Greek word used for the Holy Spirit: paraklētos. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16 ESV). He refers to the coming Holy Spirit as an advocate, comforter, and intercessor. The Holy Spirit, as the third member of the Trinity, has the same nature as God the Father and Christ the Son. And Paul has experienced this comforting presence in his life as he faced the trials and afflictions that accompanied his gospel ministry.

Paul had learned to expect opposition and affliction. It came with the territory. But he had also learned to rejoice in it because it brought with it the comfort of God.

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5 ESV

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known… – Colossians 1:24-25 ESV

Paul saw his sufferings as reflective of his relationship with Christ and a tangible expression of the bond he shared with his Savior. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5 ESV). Paul’s sufferings were not the result of sin, but because of his obedience to the will of Christ. He was suffering as Christ did, for doing the will of the Father. The affliction he endured was due to obedience to Christ, not disobedience. And therefore, he could rely on the comfort and mercy of the Father. This included the rejection of his apostleship by those in Corinth. As long as he was doing the will of God, Paul knew he would face opposition and experience difficulties. But he also knew he would receive the comfort and encouragement of God, which he willingly passed on to others. “ If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:6 ESV). Paul suffered. So would they. He was comforted by God. And he passed that encouragement on to the Corinthians.

Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:34 NLT). And just after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Jesus told Ananias to go and anoint him, saying, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT). Suffering is an inevitable and unavoidable part of the Christian life. But so is the comfort of God. And that should bring us courage. As Paul told the believers in Rome, who were facing persecution and affliction:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 NLT

We serve the God of all comfort.

 

A Loving Father.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. – Hosea 11:1-4 ESV

Sometimes, because God is transcendent and invisible to our eyes, we can see Him as distant and difficult to comprehend. After all, He is the creator of the universe. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is sinless and perfect in all His ways. So we find it hard to relate to Him. While we speak of His love and rely upon His grace and mercy, it’s not always easy to feel those things in daily life. After all, we can’t experience a hug from God. We have never been able to talk a walk with Him and have Him put His arm on our shoulder to encourage us. There is a sense in which His transcendence makes Him unapproachable and somewhat aloof to us. But God would have us see Him as our Father. In fact, He uses the imagery of fatherhood throughout the Scriptures. And Jesus Himself encouraged His disciples to approach God in prayer with the word, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).

Here in chapter 11, God addresses the people of Israel as a father would speak to his child. He reminds them of their past and jars their collective memory in order to get them to recall what their relationship with Him used to be like. He had been like a father to them. They had been like a helpless child, trapped in the bonds of slavery in Egypt. They were oppressed. They were crying out in pain and suffering. And God had heard them. When He had called Moses, God had told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8 NLT). And that is exactly what He had done. He had rescued them, set them free and led them to the land of Canaan, just as He had promised to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

God had shown the people of Israel unconditional love. He had rescued them, not because they deserved it, but because of His love for them. And yet, their response to His love had been to refuse it. The failed to recognize and appreciate the incredible miracle that the God of the universe had chosen to shower His love on them. He had adopted them as His own and yet, they had treated His love with contempt. The prophet Isaiah recorded these indicting words from God against the southern kingdom of Judah.

Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! This is what the Lord says: “The children I raised and cared for have rebelled against me. Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” Oh, what a sinful nation they are—loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil people, corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. – Isaiah 1:2-4 NLT

They were corrupt children who had rejected the love of God. And God uses the imagery of a father teaching his child to walk to illustrate just how painful their rejection of Him was. He had held their hand and lovingly, patiently guided their every step. He had walked alongside them, steadying their way and ensuring their safety. And then had inevitably fallen, He had lovingly healed them. Just like any earthly father would have done. It was Jesus who said of His heavenly Father, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11 ESV). God is a faithful, loving Father. And yet, Israel, His adopted children, had forsaken Him for false gods. He had “led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4 ESV), but they had chosen to reject His love and come out from under His protection. Those cords of kindness and bands of love, portrayed through His holy law, had been intended to provide them with loving protection. Like a father’s rules for his children, God’s law was meant to provide appropriate boundaries and protective guidelines for their lives. But they had repeatedly broken God’s laws. They had seen them as oppressive and overly restrictive. But now they were going to understand what the yoke of oppression was really like. The generation to whom Hosea spoke had long ago forgotten the trials and tribulations their ancestors had gone through in Egypt. Slavery was not something to which they could relate. They had been born free and had enjoyed the privilege of growing up in a powerful, successful nation where problems were few and the blessings of God had been many. But the love of the Father had not been enough to hold their attention or keep them faithful.

When we fail to recognize God’s love, His fatherly care and protective presence in our lives, we find it easy to walk away from Him. Like the prodigal son who only saw his father as a source of financial blessing, we can overlook and take for granted our heavenly Father’s unceasing, undeserved love, care and protection. We can end up wanting what we can get from Him more than we want Him. We can treat Him as some kind of genie in a bottle, obligated to grant our wishes and fulfill our every self-centered desire. But God would have us realize just how much He loves us. The apostle John reminds us, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT). And God demonstrated just how much He loved us in a powerful and very costly manner. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The Father’s love for His children is real. It is boundless and tireless. It is patient and unceasing. And Paul would have us come to grips with the startling reality that nothing can separate us from God’s love. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself” (Romans 8:31-33 NLT).

Divine Protection.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. – 1 John 5:18 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

The possibility of committing sin is an ever-present reality for believers, as much as it is for the lost. John made it clear earlier in his letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). It is essential to remember that John was writing to believers in Jesus Christ, those who had placed their faith in Him as their Savior and sin-substitute. Jesus had died as the propitiation for their sins, completely satisfying a just and holy God by paying in full the penalty due to God for the sins of all the world – for all time. But while our sins are paid for and there is no longer any condemnation or death sentence hanging over our heads, we still have the capability to commit sin. Which is why John went on to say, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). In John’s understanding of the doctrine of salvation, there is no doubt that he believed in the complete effectiveness of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. He knew and believed that Jesus “appeared to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). With His death, Jesus made it possible for those who believed in Him to live their lives free from the control of sin. He set them free from slavery to sin. Jesus made a life of righteousness not only possible, but the expected norm for His followers.

John gives us the encouraging and comforting news that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18 ESV). Sinfulness is no longer the normal behavior for believers. Before Christ, our entire lives were marked by sin. It was our only nature. All that we did was done in rebellion to and in defiance of God – even our best efforts and most righteous behavior. Prior to placing our faith in Christ, we followed “the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT). We were driven by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We couldn’t stop sinning. But all that has changed. We have received new natures. We have been given the Spirit of God to indwell and empower us. God has provided us with a new capacity to live in keeping with our new identity and standing. We are righteous, because of the righteousness which was imputed to us by Christ. On the cross, He exchanged our sin for His righteousness. Jesus, the one “who was born of God protects him” – the one who has faith is Jesus (1 John 5:18). Not only does Jesus save us, He protects us – preventing the evil one from touching us. On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden praying to His Father. One of the things He prayed was, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). It was His desire then that we be protected from Satan, and it is still His desire today. While “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV), we are protected by God as we continue to live in the midst of it. Praying on our behalf, Jesus asked the Father, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 171:17 ESV). Why, because we are not of this world any more than He was. We don’t belong here. We are in enemy territory. We are surrounded. But we have divine protection. From sin and Satan. We know that, because we are born of God, we are no longer children of this world. We are no longer slaves to sin. “We know that we are from God” (1 John 5:19 ESV) and “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he was been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). God’s DNA has been implanted within us. We have been rewired from the inside out. As God’s children, we are loved by Him, and because He loves us, He protects us. He watches over us. He will not leave us or forsake us. And He has His best in store for us.

Genesis 7-8, Matthew 4

Sin and Salvation.

Genesis 7-8, Matthew 4

From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. – Matthew 4:11 NLT

Sin had become so rampant in the world and the wickedness of man, so prevalent, that God had to take drastic measures and destroy the world He had created. We read in chapter six of Genesis: “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 NLT). The single sin of Adam and Eve had ushered in a flood wave of sinful behavior that had escalated to such an extent that God was forced to act justly and righteously, wiping out those whom He had made in His own image.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But God showed favor. He offered an invitation to Noah and his family to enter into the ark. There they would find safety, provision and protection from judgment. We must be careful that we do not misinterpret this passage and assume that Noah was saved by God because of his righteousness. The invitation God offers to Noah would seem to indicate that he somehow deserved to be saved. “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation” (Genesis 7:1 ESV). But this is a statement based on comparison. Noah’s righteousness was not meritorious. In other words, his actions were not the cause of his salvation by God. It was just that Noah, when compared to those among whom he lived, was a relatively righteous individual. “It is not that Noah’s works of righteousness gains him salvation, for none is cited. Rather, his upright character is noted to condemn his generation, which merits death” (Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis).

No, it was God’s grace that saved Noah. It was God who came up with the idea for the ark. It was God who gathered the animals together in pairs. It was God who gave Noah and his family the skills to take on a construction project of this magnitude. And it was God who closed up the door of the ark once they were all inside. The story of the flood is not simply a story of God’s wrath and judgment against mankind. It is a glimpse into God’s unfailing grace, mercy, love and faithfulness. I personally believe that Noah was saved because it would be through his descendants that the Messiah would come. Luke’s gospel account gives us the genealogy of Jesus and includes Shem, one of the sons of Noah, in the list. The salvation provided by the ark would preserve mankind in order that the true Savior of the world might be born. In a way, Noah’s righteousness, like yours and mine, was based on his association with Jesus. His salvation was due to Jesus, not himself. His righteousness was imputed, not earned.

Chapter eight starts out with the words, “But God remembered Noah…’ What a wonderful statement of the mercy of God. He never forgot about Noah and his family. The ark wasn’t intended to be permanent, but was simply a temporary respite from judgment. God had a more permanent plan for Noah and his family. He would preserve them from destruction, then place them back on the earth, promising to never use a flood to destroy mankind again. “I will never again curse the ground because of the human race, even though everything they think or imagine is bent toward evil from childhood. I will never again destroy all living things” (Genesis 8:21 NLT). Nothing had really changed. Mankind was still evil, even though, at this point, it was just Noah and his family. The ark had preserved mankind, but there had been no transformation. Sin was still a problem. They would still need a Savior. And generations later, He would appear on the scene, preaching, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17 NLT). This descendant of Adam and Noah would come to bring true salvation from sin and deliverance from the curse of death. He would provide not only forgiveness from sin, but freedom as well. Jesus is the ultimate “ark” provided by God so that we might be saved from the destruction to come. All those who place their faith in Him will be saved. God will deliver them from death and provide them with eternal life. In the story of the ark, we have a glimpse into the redemptive heart of God. He longs to preserve and protect. He desires to restore and redeem. Through the ark, He did for Noah what Noah could not have done for himself. And through Christ, He has done for you and me what we could never have accomplished on our own.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is deserving of punishment and death. The verdict is clear: Man has a serious sin problem and God must deal with it. As God, He cannot simply overlook our sins and act as if they never happened. We are in open rebellion against God, and our very existence brings dishonor to His name as God. As His creation, made in His image, we are an affront to His character. So God, being righteous, holy and just, must deal with our rebellion justly, or He would case to be God. And there is nothing we can do to remedy the problem. No amount of good works or attempts at changed behavior will ever change our condition or soften our condemnation. If we are to be saved, it will have to be done by God. If we can’t satisfy His just demands, then He will have to somehow satisfy Himself. And that is what He did by sending His Son to earth as a man, a descendant of Adam. Jesus would live on this earth as a sinless human being, accomplishing what no other man had ever been able to do. He would live in perfect obedience to God – with no sins or sin nature to separate Him from God. And it was His sinless life that would make Him the perfect sacrifice, giving His life on the cross as payment for the sins of mankind. He would pay the penalty for our sin in order to satisfy the justice of God. And His death would provide deliverance from coming destruction. In Noah’s day, man was in need of saving. God had to destroy them because of their sin. And God would have to save them if anyone was going to survive the flood that was coming. The same is true today. Man is in need of saving, and if anyone is going to escape the destruction to come, it will be up to God. He alone can provide salvation, and He has done so through His Son, Jesus Christ.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I have been saved so that I might live a life that is holy and set apart to God. I belong to Him now. But I have to constantly remember that my righteousness is not of my own making. I did not deserve to be saved. I was a sinner just as much as the next guy, but God, in His mercy and grace, showed me favor. He offered me an invitation to step into the safety of His ark, Jesus Christ, and find protection from the flood to come. I am covered by His righteousness, not mine. I am preserved because of His holiness, not my own. And now I am called to live as one who has been saved by God. My response to His grace and mercy should take the form of willful obedience out of gratitude for all that He has done for me. I am to live like one who has been given a new lease on life.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. ButGod, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10 NLT).

Father, thank You for providing salvation for me. I am so grateful that You placed me in Christ so that I might enjoy protection from the wrath that I deserved. I did nothing deserving of Your grace, mercy and love, and yet You saved me. I have no reason to boast or brag. But I have every reason to rejoice, because I once was as good as dead because of my sins, but You have made me alive in Christ. Amen.

Ken Miller Grow Pastor
& Minister to Men kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 125 – John 17:1-26

What Would Jesus Pray For You?

John 17:1-26

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory.” – John 17:9-10 NLT

Think about it. If Jesus were to pray for you, what would He say? What would He ask the Father for on your behalf? Just imagine what it would be like to have the Son of God lift you up in prayer. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, because His prayer for you is recorded in John 17. It’s often referred to as His High Priestly Prayer. What’s fascinating about this particular prayer is that it appears that Jesus prayed it right in front of the disciples. On so many other occasions, we see Jesus getting away by Himself for extended times alone with God in prayer. But in this case, right in the middle of a discussion with the disciples, He stops, looked up into heaven and prayed this prayer. They would have heard every word of it. And the vast majority of it contains requests from Jesus to the Father on their behalf. But Jesus made it clear that this prayer was not just for the disciples. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message” (John 17:20 NLT). That includes you and me.

Now, what does He pray? What kinds of requests does He make to God on our behalf? This ought to get our attention. What we discover here should give us a very solid understanding about what Jesus regarded as important for as lives as His followers as we live on this planet. He made it clear that He was leaving, but His followers were staying. He was leaving them behind, fully knowing that they no longer belonged to the world in which they were staying. As His followers they would be aliens living in a strange land. They would be outsiders and outcasts in this world because of their faith in Him. Jesus made it clear that His prayer was for His followers only. He was not praying for the world, but for believers, both present and future. “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory” (John 17:9-10 NLT). And while this prayer is packed with all kinds of significant truths regarding the Church, a few things jump out.

First, Jesus prays for our protection. He asks God to protect us by the power of His name (Verse 11). The name of God is synonymous with the very character of God. His name represented who He was. It reflected His glory, greatness, love, mercy, power, faithfulness, steadfastness, holiness, grace, righteousness, and justice. To ask the Father to protect us by His name was to guarantee the outcome. God is faithful and true. He cannot do anything that would contradict His character or bring shame to His name. But why does Jesus ask the Father to protect us? What is He asking the Father to protect us from? “…so that they will be united as we are” (John 17:11 NLT). This theme of unity and oneness runs throughout His prayer. He is asking God to protect us so that we might remain unified in the midst of a world that was going to try and destroy or unity. If you study the letters of the New Testament, one of the central themes had to do with division within the Body of Christ. The early Church was a composite organism made up of all kinds of people from all walks of life. There were Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor – all gathered together into this new thing called the Body of Christ. As a result, there were tensions, disagreements, disputes, and the constant possibility of the unity of the Body being destroyed. The Church was new. There was no common doctrine, no New Testament yet, little in the way of qualified leadership, and the constant pressure from the outside world. So Paul and the other authors of the epistles that would eventually make up the majority of our New Testament, wrote to instruct these new believers and to warn them about the danger of division.

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. – 1 Corinthians 1:10 NLT

Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! –Romans 16:17 NET

Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 NET

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 NLT

Jesus went on to pray that the unity of believers would reflect the unity that He and His Father shared. This miracle on unity among so many people of diversity would reveal that it was all the work of God. When we live as one, He gets glory. Jesus prayed, “May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:23 NLT). Our unity is proof of Christ’s deity and of God’s love for us.

But Jesus was not done. He went on to pray that God would keep us safe from the evil one (John 17:15). Satan hates us and wants to do everything in his power to destroy our unity. He loves to cause divisions within the Body of Christ. That’s why the early Church put such a high priority on removing all those who threatened unity and tried to stir up division. Disunity in the Body is one of the greatest turn-offs to the lost.

Jesus also asked that the Father would make us holy. The word He used has to do with sanctifying us or setting us apart. But He is specific in His request. He says, “Set them apartin the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 NLT). Remember, there was no New Testament at this time. The truth Jesus seems to be referring to is the reality about who He is and why He had come. He had revealed the truth of His identity to the disciples and they had believed that truth. So Jesus asks the Father to set them apart in that truth. Let that be their identifier and distinctive. Our holiness or otherness in this world must be based on the truth of Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Jesus asked God to protect you so you could live in unity. He asked God to keep you safe from Satan. He asked His Father to make you holy, to set you apart and make you distinctive based on the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done. Obviously, if Jesus asked these things of the Father on your behalf, they must have been important to Him. So how important are they to you? How much weight do you put on unity within the Body of Christ or with other believers? Do you strive for it and do everything in His power to avoid division? How about the enemy? Do you recognize his reality and understand his unbridled passion to destroy you? What about your holiness or set-apartness? How important is it to you? Is what makes your life distinctive and different your belief in who Jesus is and what He has done for you? These things were important enough for Jesus to pray on our behalf. So they should be important enough for us to make them a high priority in our own lives, and to pray them on behalf of one another.

Father, may these requests be what we pray daily for ourselves and for one another. We desperately need Spirit-empowered unity so that the world might sit up and take notice. We need protection from the enemy, because he is alive and active all around us, trying to destroy us an individuals and as a community. Finally, we need to live distinctive, set-apart lives that reflect our uniqueness based on our belief in who You are and what You have done for us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org