The Painful Price of Pride

1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. Numbers 12:1-16 ESV

Moses was the God-appointed leader of the nation Israel and Aaron, his brother, had been set apart by God to serve as the high priest. And even when God had agreed to provide His chosen leader with administrative assistance, God poured out His Spirit on 70 men who would serve directly under Moses. They were not to replace him or to assume they served on an equal standing with him. These men were supposed to assist Moses in his oversight of the nation, wisely administering justice and handling disputes among the people so that Moses would not become overwhelmed.

Yet, this chapter introduces a new form of leadership struggle that rose among the people and it started with those who were closest to Moses – his own family. It seems that his brother and sister took issue with a marriage arrangement he had agreed to with a Cushite woman. There is some debate as to the identity of this woman, but it would appear that she was of a foreigner of Ethiopian descent. It could be that Moses’ first wife, Zipporah, had died some time during the last year, and he then married this Ethiopian woman. But whatever the circumstances, Miriam and Aaron took issue with the marriage and used it as an excuse to question Moses’ qualifications to lead the nation.

They saw the marriage as evidence of Moses’ lack of discernment and questioned whether he was really hearing from God. In fact, they claimed to be on an equal standing with Moses when it came to divine insight.

“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” – Numbers 12:2 NLT

Miriam was older than Moses and had been the one who helped secure his safety when Pharaoh had ordered the murder all the male babies born among the Israelites living in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-16). Miriam had arranged with the daughter of Pharaoh to have the infant, Moses, nursed by one of the Hebrew women, who just happened to be her own mother (Exodus 2:7-9). Exodus 15:20 refers to Miriam as a prophetess of God, and Micah 6:4 lists her as one of the three individuals whom God appointed to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt to the land of Canaan.

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.” – Micah 6:4 ESV

But in Numbers 12, Miriam attempted to convince her brother, Aaron, to join her in staging a coup against Moses. It seems rather odd that she would target Aaron for participation in this little insurrection because he was already second-in-command and served as the high priest of the people. Even before Moses had successfully led the people of Israel out of Egypt, Aaron had served as his second-hand man. God had appointed him as Moses’ mouthpiece.

“What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do. Aaron will be your spokesman to the people. He will be your mouthpiece, and you will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.” – Exodus 4:14-16 NLT

But Miriam and Aaron had decided that they were just as qualified as their brother to serve as the de facto leaders of Israel. After all, they too had been born into the tribe of Levi and had every right to serve in a leadership capacity. And it didn’t help that Moses was a very humble individual who had no desire for the limelight. Of his own admission, he was far from charismatic or overly eloquent.

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” – Exodus 4:10 NLT

His lack of self-esteem made him an easy target for Miriam’s attacks. She believed that Moses had been a poor choice by God and the Cushite marriage agreement had proven Moses’ lack of discernment. But God disagreed with their assessment and ordered the three siblings to meet Him at the tent of meeting, located just outside the camp.

And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words…” – Numbers 12:5-6 ESV

God wanted a word with these dissatisfied siblings and, when He was done, they were going to wish they had never opened their mouths against Moses. The first thing God cleared up was His divine right to choose whomever He wanted as His leader. Miriam may have been a prophetess of God, but that did not put her on equal footing with Moses. In fact, God seems to be taking a dig at Miriam’s prophetess status when He states, “If there were prophets among you, I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams” (Numbers 12:6 NLT).

Miriam had experienced no dreams or visions from God. Her demand for equal status was a figment of her own overactive imagination and over-inflated sense of self-worth. And to make sure she understood the vast difference between His relationship with her and the one He shared with Moses, God declared:

“Of all my house, he is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the Lord as he is.” – Numbers 12:7-8 NLT

That had to have hit Miriam like a brick to the forehead. God’s words stung and burst the bubble of her own sense of self-importance. And, to make matters worse, God demanded to know why she had shown no fear to criticize Moses. Who did she think she was?

Having stated His case against Miriam and Aaron, God departed from them. But He left an unsettling reminder of His displeasure. When Aaron turned to look at Miriam, he was shocked to discover that her entire body was covered with leprosy. And fearing that he was next, he called out to Moses to intervene on their behalf.

“Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed.” – Numbers 12:11 NLT

The sudden and unexpected sight of his sister covered with leprosy must have reminded Aaron of another day when something similar had happened to Moses. Back when God had called Moses to be the chosen deliverer of the people of Israel, He had given him a series of signs that were intended to prove to the people of Israel that Yahweh had sent him.

“Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. – Exodus 4:6-7 ESV

Now, more than a year later, Moses and Aaron were staring at their sister, Miriam, whose entire body was covered with this hideous disease. But this time, there was no quick fix. Moses desperately pleaded for her immediate healing.

O God, please heal her—please.” – Numbers 12:13 ESV

But God refused to grant his request. Instead, He graciously announced that her punishment would not match the gravity of her crime.

“If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.” – Numbers 12:14 NLT

In essence, God is declaring that Miriam had defiled herself through her actions. And while God could have left her to suffer from the hideous effects of leprosy for a lifetime, He mercifully restricted her period of suffering to only seven days. But she would be required to spend the entire time on the outskirts of the camp, suffering the indignity of the disease and the social stigmatization of ceremonial impurity. She was to be treated as unclean and unwelcome among the people of God – until God had healed her. And during the seven days of her punishment, the entire nation of Israel was forced to delay their journey to the land of promise. Everything came to a halt because Miriam had decided to question the will of God and the authority of His chosen leader. And this painful punishment from God should have served as a powerful reminder to the entire nation that no one was immune to God’s discipline against disobedience. Even the sister of Moses.

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.

Our Limited Perspective Can’t Limit God

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted. Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV

Habakkuk refers to his message as an “oracle.” The Hebrew word is massa’ and it means “burden” or “that which is carried.” It was often used to refer to the carrying of a tribute or gift to be presented to a king or other high official. What makes Habakkuk’s book unique among all the other prophetic writings is that he is delivering a message to God, rather than speaking on behalf of God to the people of Judah. In the case of many of the other prophets, they struggled with their task of delivering God’s message of judgment, desiring instead to see their people repent and be restored. The prophet Jeremiah wept over the fate of his people.

If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered. – Jeremiah 9:1 NLT

But in the case of Habakkuk, he opens his “oracle” by carrying his burden to the throne of God and delivering his message of confusion and consternation concerning the Almighty’s failure to bring judgment upon the people of Judah. He complains to God that his cries have gone unheard and unanswered. He accuses God of refusing to do something about all the violence and wickedness taking place in Judah. Habakkuk paints himself as a suffering servant of God, having to put up with all the “destruction and violence” and “strife and contention” taking place around him (Habakkuk 1:3 ESV).

So, this is not your average, run-of-the-mill prophetic book.

“Habakkuk is a unique book. Unlike other prophets who declared God’s message to people this prophet dialogued with God about people. Most Old Testament prophets proclaimed divine judgment. Habakkuk pleaded for divine judgment. In contrast with the typical indictment, this little book records an intriguing interchange between a perplexed prophet and his Maker.” – Ronald J. Blue, “Habakkuk.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament

Habakkuk’s opening prayer is a lament and echoes the sentiments found in many of the psalms.

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. – Psalm 10:1-2 NLT

Arise, O Lord!
    Punish the wicked, O God!
    Do not ignore the helpless!
Why do the wicked get away with despising God? – Psalm 10:12-13 NLT

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand? – Psalm 13:1-2 NLT

And while Habakkuk was unique among the prophets, he was not the only one who wondered how long God would delay before He dealt a decisive blow to the wicked.

How long must this land mourn?
    Even the grass in the fields has withered.
The wild animals and birds have disappeared
    because of the evil in the land.
For the people have said,
    “The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us!” – Jeremiah 12:4 NLT

Upon hearing this, the angel of the Lord prayed this prayer: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, for seventy years now you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. How long until you again show mercy to them?” – Zechariah 1:12 NLT

From Habakkuk’s perspective, God had been irritatingly silent and non-responsive. The prophet had repeatedly cried out to God, informing Him of the violence and injustice taking place among the people of Judah. Conflict and strife were everywhere. The law had become impotent and incapable of delivering justice when needed. The courts and the judges were not doing their jobs. And Habakkuk complained that “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT).

The problem was getting worse, not better. And Habakkuk not-so-subtly accuses God of inaction and apparent indifference. His question, “How long?” was essentially the same as asking God, “When are you going to do something about all this?” Habakkuk was demanding action. He wanted to see results. He was fed up with the current state of affairs in Judah and was expecting God to do something about it.

This opening prayer reflects Habakkuk’s distress and despair over the spiritual condition of his nation. Things were not as they were supposed to be. Six different times in his book, Habakkuk will refer to the violence taking place in Judah. This is not just a reference to the physical harm committed by one person against another. The Hebrew word is chamac and has a much broader meaning. It includes physical violence, but also injustice, oppression, and cruelty. Someone committing chamac was guilty of violating the moral law. They were willingly breaking established ethical standards.

Habakkuk’s frustration seems to be based on the lack of divine intervention. Because it appeared that God was doing nothing about these moral indiscretions and abuses of the Mosaic Law, the people were getting bolder and more blatant in their disregard for God’s standards. From Habakkuk’s limited earthly perspective, it appeared that God’s silence was encouraging further violence among the people. They were getting cocky and arrogant, emboldened by their assumption that God was not going to do anything about their actions. The psalmist took his concerns to God as well, sharing a similar frustration with how God’s inaction was causing the wicked to become increasingly bolder and blatant in their sinful actions.

How long, O Lord?
    How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
How long will they speak with arrogance?
    How long will these evil people boast?
They crush your people, Lord,
    hurting those you claim as your own.
They kill widows and foreigners
    and murder orphans.
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
    “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”  – Psalm 94:3-7 NLT

It’s all about perspective. The psalmist and Habakkuk were both limited by their earth-bound viewpoint. They could not see into heaven and, therefore, had no idea what God was doing. They could only judge by what they saw taking place around them. Not only that, but these men were also incapable of seeing into the future. They had no way of looking beyond the immediate conditions in which they lived. The present was all they knew because they were temporal, time-bound creatures who had no capacity to see what God had planned.

Habakkuk was demanding answers and action. He wanted to see results – right here, right now. You can sense the frustration he felt and his impatience with God is evident in the tone of his prayer.

“…you will not save!”

“…you will not hear!”

“…you make me see iniquity!”

“…do you idly look at wrong!”

Those are strong words and the apostle Paul would lovingly warn Habakkuk, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God?” (Romans 9:20 NLT). Habakkuk was guilty of questioning the integrity and intentions of God. It wasn’t that he lacked faith in God or that he felt God was incapable of doing anything about the situation in Judah. He wasn’t questioning whether God could do something but was simply wanting to know when He would.

But Habakkuk was going to learn that God was not obligated to operate according to his timeline. The Almighty was not answerable to Habakkuk, but God was going to respond to His disgruntled prophet. Yet, what He had to say would convey a message of coming judgment, not salvation. God was going to respond to the injustice in Judah with His own brand of justice. He was going to deal with the violence and moral corruption of His people by bringing His righteous wrath to bear.

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

God Has Spoken.

Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. The Lord said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?

“Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”

O Lord, you know;
    remember me and visit me,
    and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
    know that for your sake I bear reproach.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of revelers,
    nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
    for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
    my wound incurable,
    refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
    like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the Lord:
“If you return, I will restore you,
    and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
    you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
    but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
    but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
    to save you and deliver you,
declares the Lord.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
    and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” – Jeremiah 15:10-21 ESV

Jeremiah was fed up and burned out. He had come to an end of his rope and was ready to throw in the towel. His ministry had been anything but successful. The people were not responding to his message. And in spite of his intercession for them, pleading with God to spare them, God had completely rejected that idea. Their destruction was unavoidable and inevitable. So, it’s no wonder that Jeremiah felt like an abject failure. He even cursed the day he was born. After all, what had he accomplished in life? He was despised, rejected and an apparent failure at the one calling God had given him. And his frustration was aggravated by his knowledge that he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. He had just followed the commands of God. It wasn’t like he had cheated somebody out of their money or was about to kick someone out of their home for not being able to pay their mortgage.

“I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose
    nor a borrower who refuses to pay—
    yet they all curse me.” – Jeremiah 15:10 NLT

All Jeremiah had done was faithfully proclaim the word of God. And he had absolutely nothing to show for it, except pain, rejection and failure.

But God had another perspective. He told Jeremiah, “I will take care of you, Jeremiah. Your enemies will ask you to plead on their behalf in times of trouble and distress” (Jeremiah 15:11 NLT). Little did Jeremiah know that God had plans for him. He would care for him, in spite of how bad things appeared. All Jeremiah could think about was the coming destruction and devastation of the land. He had a hard time seeing how any good could come out of that. He had forgotten the words of God, spoken to him when he had received his initial calling. 

For see, today I have made you strong
    like a fortified city that cannot be captured,
    like an iron pillar or a bronze wall.
You will stand against the whole land—
    the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah.
They will fight you, but they will fail.
    For I am with you, and I will take care of you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:18-19 NLT

Nothing had changed, except that the date of Judah’s destruction had come closer. But God’s commitment to be with Jeremiah remained the same. While Judah and its fortified cities would fall to the Babylonians, Jeremiah would stand firm. He would come out of this stronger than ever. But it was difficult for Jeremiah to understand how any of this was going to be beneficial to anyone, himself included. And when God confirmed yet again that the destruction of Judah was eminent, that failed to help Jeremiah feel any better about his circumstances.

“At no cost to them,
    I will hand over your wealth and treasures
as plunder to your enemies,
    for sin runs rampant in your land.
I will tell your enemies to take you
    as captives to a foreign land.
For my anger blazes like a fire
    that will burn forever.” – Jeremiah 15:13-14 NLT

How was Jeremiah to accept that as good news? Why should that news give him any sense of peace or assurance that everything was going to be okay? It was because God was faithful to keep His word. What He promises to do, He does. And that not only applied to the fate of Judah, but to His promise to take care of Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to know that He would fulfill His commitment to provide for and protect Jeremiah, in spite of all that was going to happen. But Jeremiah was having a hard time seeing things from God’s perspective. All he could see was doom and disaster. He was stuck feeling like a failure and as if his days were numbered.

Lord, you know what’s happening to me.
    Please step in and help me. Punish my persecutors!
Please give me time; don’t let me die young.
    It’s for your sake that I am suffering. – Jeremiah 15:15 NLT

What Jeremiah feared most was death at the hands of his own people. He wasn’t sure he would live long enough to even see the coming of the Babylonians and the fall of Judah. He reminded God of his faithfulness and his refusal to take part in the sins of the people. And he couldn’t help but question God’s apparent unconcern and wonder about His seeming unreliability.

“Why then does my suffering continue?
    Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
    like a spring that has gone dry.” – Jeremiah 15:18 NLT

And God responds to Jeremiah, but in a somewhat surprising way. Rather than tenderly answer Jeremiah’s questions, God demands that Jeremiah repent. His self-pitying was exposing his lack of faith in God. He was whining about his lot in life and refusing to trust the God who had given him life. When God had called Jeremiah, He had told him:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5 NLT

God had made Jeremiah for a purpose. He had commissioned Jeremiah for a job, to act as His prophet and to convey His message to the people of Judah. But Jeremiah had lost focus. He was more consumed with being liked than being faithful. He was spending more time questioning God’s faithfulness than relying upon it. So, God demands that Jeremiah have a change of heart.

“If you return to me, I will restore you
    so you can continue to serve me.
If you speak good words rather than worthless ones,
    you will be my spokesman.
You must influence them;
    do not let them influence you! – Jeremiah 15:19 NLT

It is when we get our eyes off of God that we begin to lose sight of His goodness and grace. We begin to question His reliability and wonder about His power to save. One of the most powerful things God said to Jeremiah was “you just influence them; do not let them influence you!” The negativity of the people was rubbing off on Jeremiah. Their rejection of God was having an influence of the prophet of God. He began to doubt God’s goodness. He began to question God’s power. But God simply said, “Return to me.” And, if Jeremiah would do so, God recommitted Himself to taking care of Jeremiah.

“I will make you as secure as a fortified wall of bronze.
They will not conquer you,
    for I am with you to protect and rescue you.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 15:20 NLT

God had spoken, and that is all the reassurance that Jeremiah should have needed. God would do His part. But it was essential that Jeremiah remain committed to God and faithful to fulfill His God-given responsibility – in spite of the dire nature of the circumstances. Everything that had happened was according to God’s plan. God had told Jeremiah that he would be despised and rejected. He had warned him that the people would refuse to listen to his message. But He had also assured Jeremiah that He would be with him.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 1:7-8 NLT

God has spoken. That should be all the assurance we need. He is good for His word. He is faithful to fulfill what He has promised. He is not a liar. He never fails to come through. So, there is no reason we should ever doubt what He is doing or question His integrity for doing it.

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

God can be trusted. Even in the midst of what appears to be devastating circumstances, we can trust that God loves us and has not forsaken us. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust them. He is the faithful one, at all times. But we must keep our eyes focused on Him. We must rest in who He is and trust that all He does flows from His all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful nature.
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

In Wrath Remember Mercy.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 ESV

How well do you know God? How intimately are you acquainted with His character and how does that impact the way you view life and influence your prayers? Habakkuk was a prophet of God who lived during the seventh-century B.C. and prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah during the period of time before they went into exile. Those were difficult days. The people were rebellious. The nation had had a long succession of kings, most of whom had failed to lead well or serve God faithfully. Habakkuk’s job was to call the people to repentance. Like virtually every prophet of God, his message tended to fall on deaf ears and he experienced little to no success for his efforts. Earlier, Habakkuk had prayed another prayer, asking God to explain Himself. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV). Habakkuk was struggling. He had a difficult, if not impossible job to do. He found himself surrounded by sinful, rebellious people, living in a society where wickedness was rampant. Even the governmental and legal systems were perverted and failing to do their jobs.

God’s response to Habakkuk was simple and direct. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:4 ESV). He went on to tell Habakkuk of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The once great nation would fall and the people would be taken into captivity as a result of their consistent rebellion against God. And Habakkuk was not shocked by God’s news of Judah’s pending doom. He simply stated, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He trusted God, but he was confused that He would use an even more wicked, immoral and godless nation to punish the chosen people of God. Habakkuk was wrestling with what he knew about God and how it all fit into his current circumstances. He asked God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 ESV). Habakkuk was having an internal struggle with what he knew about God and what he saw happening all around him. He was surrounded by injustice and inequality. He helplessly watched as the wicked seemingly enjoy success at the expense of the godly. And then God had told him that the godless, pagan Babylonians would be His chosen instrument of punishment on the nation of Judah.

Judah was looking and praying for salvation. He was asking God to remedy the dismal situation in Judah. But God revealed that judgment was coming, and it would be coming from a source that would shock and surprise most people. God was going to answer Habakkuk’s prayer, but in a way that was unexpected and seemingly unjust. All of this was so confusing to the poor prophet. He trusted God, but he also couldn’t help but look around and see the sinful mess in which the people of Judah found themselves. Everything was topsy-turvy and upside down. Wickedness was winning out over righteousness within the walls of Jerusalem and now God was going to use a pagan nation to destroy those very same walls and the nation that lived within them. And Habakkuk knew that God was justified in His actions. The people were going to get exactly what they deserved. Which led Habakkuk to pray, “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” Habakkuk knew what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel. God had used the nation of Assyria to punish them, destroying their capital and taking their people into captivity. Habakkuk understood the nature of God’s sovereignty, justice and power, and it caused him to fear God. It was not a cowering, run-for-your-life kind of fear, but a sobering reverence and awe that resulted in a healthy respect for who God was.

Habakkuk appealed to God, asking that “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.” He wanted God to reveal His divine plan of judgment to the people. He wanted God to make it known that His wrath was coming, so that the people might yet return to Him and be revived. And God was using Habakkuk as His chosen instrument to accomplish just that end. But when all was said and done, Habakkuk knew that, whatever happened, they were dependent upon God’s mercy. God had every right to be angry. He had been faithful. He had provided blessing upon blessing to His people, but they had chosen to repeatedly and persistently rebel against Him. Now judgment was imminent. So Habakkuk pleaded that God would “in wrath remember mercy.” He knew His God to be loving, faithful, merciful and kind. While He was obligated to punish sin, He was also consistent in extending mercy. Even His punishment would be an expression of His love for the people of Judah. He would use it to bring them to an end of themselves and to create in them an awareness of their need for Him. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). Habakkuk was placing his hope, faith and trust in what he knew about God. He was going to trust Him to do the right thing, regardless of whether it made logical sense or not. He was learning to judge his circumstances through the lens of God’s character, rather than the other way around. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always just, righteous and loving.

Finger-Pointing Prayers.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” – Joshua 7:6-9 ESV

The nation of Israel had survived 40 years of wandering in the wilderness on their way to the land that God had promised them. Once they set foot in Canaan, the land of promise, they had experienced an extraordinary victory over the city of Jericho. God had delivered this walled city into their hands in a miraculous fashion that clearly revealed it was a divinely ordained victory. Under God’s direction, Joshua had led the people around the walls of Jericho in a grand processional for six straight days. On the seventh day they marched around the circumference of the city seven times. At the end of their last lap, seven priests blew seven trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls fell. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill military engagement. But that’s because it was God’s doing. Nobody could claim credit for the victory but Him.

But the joy of the victory was to be short-lived. Because the next city to be attacked was Ai, a much smaller town that should have been a breeze compared to Jericho. The problem was that “the people of Israel broke faith in regards to the devoted things” (Joshua 7:1 ESV). Just prior to their final “victory lap” around Jericho, Joshua had warned the people “the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). But a single individual would choose to ignore Joshua’s warning and take some of the forbidden plunder for himself. Achan ended up stashing a costly cloak, 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels in his tent. As a result of his sin, the Israelites would suffer an unexpected and humiliating defeat at the hands of the people of Ai. Routed and demoralized, “the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:5 ESV). And it is within that bleak context that Joshua, the God-appointed heir to Moses’ mantle as leader, brought his case before God. His was a very blunt and bleak prayer. It reflects Joshua’s confusion over what had just happened. He began his prayer by asking, “Why?!”

“Why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all?” He was looking for an explanation. He wanted answers. What he had just witnessed made no sense to him. They had gone from overwhelming victory to inexplicable defeat. At this point, Joshua had not idea why this tragedy had happened. He didn’t get it. He didn’t like it. And as far as he was concerned, God had some explaining to do. Had it been God’s plan to release them from captivity in Egypt and drag them across the wilderness for 40 years, only to allow them to suffer defeat at the hands of the Amorites? Joshua even sarcastically commented that it would have been better had they just been content to stay in Egypt. In essence, Joshua questioned God’s integrity and intentions. When he couldn’t explain his less-than-acceptable circumstances, he was quick to blame God. Not only that, he jumped to the worse-case-scenario, automatically assuming that all was lost. Once every other nation caught wind of their defeat, the days of Israel’s existence as a nation would be numbered. It would be just a matter of time before they were just a memory.

This passage is seldom used as a model for prayer. Joshua’s brutally honest verbal fusillade is rarely held up as a healthy example of proper prayer etiquette. And yet, God answered Joshua. He didn’t reprimand him. He didn’t respond with a haughty, “Who do you think you’re talking to, young man?!” Seeing Joshua lying face first in the dirt with his clothes torn as a sign of mourning, God simply said, “Get up!” Then He asked for an explanation for Joshua’s actions. “Why have you fallen on your face?” (Joshua 7:10 ESV). But before Joshua could respond, God gave His own answer. He provided an explanation for what had just happened. “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV). God was more than willing to accept responsibility for Israel’s defeat, but He would NOT accept blame for their sin. Joshua could question God’s intentions and motives, but he should never have questioned His integrity. There was and always is a very good reason and explanation for what God does and for what He allows. He is never out of control, caught off guard, mistaken, or ever unjust in His interactions with men. Whether we like or understand the circumstances of our lives, God is sovereignly overseeing each moment. Joshua’s prayer was based on ignorance. He was pointing fingers at God, questioning His intentions and doubting His integrity. But little did he know that sin had entered the camp. Because they had failed to keep God’s command to devote all the plunder to destruction, God was forced to devote them to destruction. Their circumstances were self-inflicted, but God ordained. It was not wrong for Joshua to ask God, “Why?” But it was wrong for him to doubt God’s character. There was a perfectly good reason for their defeat, and it had nothing to do with God’s power or His failure to keep His promises. Our prayers should always begin with what we know about God. His character is unquestionable. His integrity is unshakeable. His intentions are always justifiable. It is perfectly okay to ask God why, but it is safe to say that any blame to be had will never be His. We must always be willing to say along with David, you are “justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4 ESV).

Romans 11:25-36

Our Unfathomable, Yet Reliable God.

Romans 11:25-36

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

Who are we to question the ways of God? I find it fascinating how often we, as mere men, want to take on God, putting Him on trial – trying to determine whether we agree with or approve of His ways. We debate whether God could or would do something. We argue over whether God has the right to act in a certain way, because it offends our sensibilities or our understanding of right and wrong. But when we doubt God or try to judge Him based on our limited human understanding, we reveal just how little we really know Him. It shows how we have tried to put God in a box in an effort to make Him more comprehensible and believable. But Paul would argue that His God is greater than our capacity to understand. “How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33b NLT). Paul knew enough about God to know better than to try and explain away His actions or question His logic. God does not have to answer to us or even explain Himself to us.

As Paul wraps up his discussion regarding God’s plans for the people of Israel, he wants his readers to understand that God is not obligated to do things in a way that we can understand. He does not have to appeal to our sense of fairness. God is holy, righteous, and completely sovereign. He can and will do what He wants to do, and whatever He does is always right. His treatment of the people of Israel, while it may appear harsh in our eyes, is completely just and wholly necessary. God had a plan in place that included their rejection of His own Son as their Messiah. He was not caught off guard or surprised by their actions. He knew they would refuse to accept Him as the Anointed One. God was prepared for their actions and had planned for them in advance. It was all part of His divine will. Their rejection opened up the door for the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles. But God is not done with the people of Israel. There is a day coming when “the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ” (Romans 11:25b NLT). In other words, there is an apparent limit on the number of people who will accept Christ as their personal Savior. Not ALL will be saved. And only God knows that number. That may sound unfair and capricious to us, but again, who are we to question the justice of God? When that full number is reached, then God will turn His attention back to the people of Israel. He will once again show His favor on them, sending His Son a second time, to restore a large number of the nation of Israel back to a right relationship with Him. “The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is my covenant with them, that I will take away their sins” (Romans 11:26-27 NLT). At the second coming of Jesus, God will do what the Israelites could have never have done for themselves – He will change their hardened hearts and give them the capacity to believe in His Son as their Messiah and Savior. Why? Because God is a covenant keeping God. “Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn” (Romans 11:28-29 NLT).

We may not understand it or even agree with it, but God’s plan is just, righteous, and completely perfect. God does not need or want our advice. He does not require our approval. He does not owe us an explanation. We can’t even fully understand why He chose to save us. But we are grateful that He did. Paul would encourage us to rest in the knowledge of God’s unchanging, holy and righteous character. He can be trusted. He always does what is right. “For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever!” (Romans 11:36 NLT).

Father, I don’t understand Your ways, but I am learning to trust them more and more with each passing day. I can’t fully explain how and why You do things the way You do, but I am trying to rest more and more in Your faithfulness. There are things that happen in my life every day that cause me to doubt and question Your ways, but I am learning to rest in Your sovereign, loving, all-knowing plan for me. You know what is best, whether it looks like it or feels like it at the time. I can trust You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Romans 9:16-33

The Mysterious, Yet Merciful Ways of God

Romans 9:16-33

Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before.” – Romans 9:25 NLT

Paul has been emphasizing the point that God shows mercy on whomever He so chooses. And he knows that this difficult-to-understand reality about God is going to cause some of his readers to cry, “Foul!” They’re going to wrestle with the apparent fairness of a God who chooses some and not others. And in doing so, they will really be questioning the justice of God. But if God ever failed to be just, He would cease to be God. Yes, from our limited perspective, it would appear at times that God is acting in ways that are inconsistent with His character. But we can’t always see the bigger picture. We don’t have the ability to see what God is doing behind the scenes, orchestrating events and even sovereignly ordaining the affairs of men to accomplish His divine will. Paul uses the example of Pharaoh. Over and over again, God had spared Pharaoh, in spite of his open rebellion against God and his ongoing resistance to release the people of Israel from captivity. God would have been just in punishing Pharaoh for his stubborn opposition and open insolence, but God spared his life so that He might accomplish His will for the people of Israel. God always has a purpose behind His actions. What may appear to us as unfair and unjust can always be written up to the problem of our own limited perspective.

It is so easy for us to question God’s motives and doubt His goodness based on what we see. As human beings, we over-value our own importance, and under-appreciate God’s sovereign will. We look up from our restricted vantage point here on earth and shake our fist at God, demanding that He explain Himself. Which is why Paul uses the analogy of a potter working with clay. “When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory” (Romans 9:21-23 NLT). The potter has the right to do as he wishes with the clay. He need not ask for permission or take a vote. He fashions the clay, forming it into vessels of various kinds, to be used according to his own purposes and plans. The same is true when it comes to God’s interactions with mankind. God has created us and He is fully just and right to do with us as He sees fit. Paul has clearly indicated that all men stand as guilty and condemned before God and worthy of death. All men and women have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. And yet, God has chosen to redeem some. He has chosen to show mercy on some and not on others. The very fact that God shows mercy on any should blow us all away. That God would extend His grace and mercy to Gentiles, when it appeared all along that His chosen people had been the Israelites, should show us that God is anything but unfair. Remember that God’s mercy and grace are always undeserved and unmerited. No one has the right to demand God’s goodness or should expect to receive God’s grace. Jew and Gentile alike, stand as guilty before God. “No one is righteous—not even one” (Romans 9:10 NLT). “No one does good, not a single one” (Romans 9:12 NLT). Even the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God, were undeserving of God’s love and mercy. In spite of all that God had done for them, they continually and openly rebelled against Him. Yet, while He would have been justified in destroying them for their rebellion, God regularly preserved a remnant of them, so that His divine will could be fulfilled. God would have been fully just had He decided to destroy the entire nation, but He had made a promise to Abraham, and His divine character required that He keep that promise.

As Gentile believers, we stand before God as fully righteous and restored to a right relationship with Him, not because we deserved it or somehow earned it. We weren’t trying to keep God’s righteous standards, and yet we were shown mercy and received His grace. The Jews spent generations attempting to keep God’s righteous law in order to make themselves right before, but failed time and time again. But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem both Jews and Gentiles. Neither group deserved to be shown mercy. Neither group was worthy of God’s grace. “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5 NLT). The very fact that God saves any of us should amaze and astound us. Somehow we have mistakenly assumed that God can be good only if He saves ALL. But we fail to remember that God would be fully just and right if He destroyed ALL. All men are deserving of death. All have sinned and fallen short of His glory. All are under a sentence of death. But God, in His mercy, has chosen to redeem some. He has graciously provided a way of escape for a remnant. And rather than rejoice in that amazing display of grace, we mistakenly and ungratefully question His goodness and fairness. And yet, the very fact that the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected Him as their Messiah and refused to accept Him as their Savior and as the Son of God, opened up the door so that we as Gentiles might be recipients of the Good News and the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Unfair? Hardly. Difficult to understand? Most certainly. But amazing grace nonetheless. God’s ways are not our ways. He is God and He does not need to report to us or explain Himself to us. Like a lump of clay, we are in no position to question the motives or mind of God. “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back?” (Romans 11:33-35 NLT).

Father, while I may not always understand Your ways, I am growing ever more comfortable with them. I still question how and why You do things at times, but I am learning to trust You because You know what You are doing. You are God and I am not. You have a perspective that I do not. What appears as unfair to me, is right, just and holy from Your vantage point. The day will come when I am finally able to see things the way You do. “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT). In the meantime, give me a growing trust in Your sovereign, divine and holy will. You know what is best and You can be trusted at all times. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 11 – Matthew 14:4-12; Luke 3:19-20; John 1:26-27

Can This Be God’s Will?

Matthew 14:4-12; Luke 3:19-20; John 1:26-27

“So John was beheaded in prison.’” – Matthew 14:10 NLT

How many times in life does something happen that makes us ask the question, “Can this be God’s will?” Usually, it involves an event or situation that appears tragic, unfair, unexplainable or, in our minds, unacceptable. It could be the death of a child or a spouse. Someone innocent who is treated unfairly or accused unjustly. At those times in our lives, it is easy to question God and wonder about His will. Was He in charge? If so, why didn’t He do something about the situation? Why didn’t He intervene? Doesn’t He care? If it was all a part of God’s will, how can a loving God allow something so tragic or unjust to happen? Invariably, we begin to measure God based on our understanding of the circumstance, rather than the other way around.

Here in the opening days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we read the tragic story of the death of John the Baptist. John had been arrested by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for publicly reprimanding him about having an immoral relationship with the wife of his brother, Phillip. Here was John, the cousin of Jesus, and the one chosen by God to herald the coming of the Messiah, locked in prison for speaking the truth of God. He and his disciples had to be wondering how this could have happened. He had a God-given job to perform. He didn’t have time to sit in prison. He had a message of repentance to preach and more people to baptize. But not only was John confined to jail, he was about to be beheaded at the request of Herod’s wife, as a party favor for a dance her daughter performed for his friends. John’s head would literally be handed over on a silver platter, ending his life and putting an end to his career as God’s voice in the wilderness.

But why? How could God allow this to happen? How could this tragic event be a part of His divine will? Those are legitimate and yet difficult questions. And there are no easy answers. But we must not allow ourselves to question the wisdom, righteousness, or justness of God. We must remind ourselves that at no point was God up in heaven shocked by these events, or caught off guard by the outcome. He was fully aware and fully in control – otherwise He would cease to be God as we know and understand Him. As difficult as it is for us to understand the why behind events like these, we must refrain from questioning the Who. God reminds us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8 NLT). God does not always act in ways that we can understand or comprehend. He does not operate according to a rule book devised by men. There are things happening behind the scenes that we cannot see. There are outcomes we are not aware of. We tend to equate the activity of God with those events we deem good and that produce for us a measure of happiness. A job promotion most certainly be God’s will. The birth of a baby must be His will. A bride and groom exchanging vows and rings has to be within the will of God. But should anything seemingly negative or unfair happen in or around our lives, and suddenly we begin to question God and His will. And yet, when Job found himself covered in sores, financially devastated, and having lost all of his children through a tragic event, he told his wife, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT).

Yes, John the Baptist died a tragic, undeserved death. From our point of view, it was unnecessary, unfair and far to early in his young life. But God had a reason. There was a purpose behind it all. Does He explain it to us? No. Is He obligated to explain Himself to us? No. But would the death of Jesus be any less tragic, unfair, seemingly unnecessary, and unacceptable to the disciples when it took place just a few years later? No. Would they question the will of God for allowing their Messiah to be murdered at the hands of their own religious leaders? Probably. But God had a purpose. God had a plan. It was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die. And for some reason, it was necessary for John to do the same. Why? I don’t know. We can speculate that God needed to remove John from the scene so that there would be no chance of anyone mistaking John for the Messiah, but the Scriptures don’t tell us. God doesn’t give us His reasoning. But rather than view God through the lens of life’s events, we must learn to view life’s events through the character of God. We must remind ourselves that He is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful, sovereign, wise, just, righteous, holy, merciful, gracious, and in complete control of ALL that is happening in the world around us. We see only in part. Our perspective is limited. Our understanding is restricted. So we must learn to trust that God, in His infinite wisdom and love, is doing what He knows to be best, according to His divine, perfect will.

Father, open our eyes and help us to see You. It is so easy to concentrate on what we see happening and not recognize that we have a faithful, loving, all-powerful God working behind the scenes in ways that we cannot see or comprehend. We have such limited perspectives and are quick to call You unjust or unfair without knowing the full outcome. Teach us to continue to trust You even when we don’t understand. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men