The Greatest Gift of All

1 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. – Job 42:1-9 ESV

Job had been in search of answers from God but, instead, he had ended up discovering God himself. His quest for justice, vindication, and explanations for his suffering had forced him the seek God and, in the end, what he found eclipsed his any of his expectations. Job’s unexpected and unwanted sufferings actually brought him closer to God. Ever since his trials had begun, Job had been in a constant search for relief and redemption, and while he received those things in full, they where nothing when compared to his restored relationship with God.

Job has suffered much at the hands of Satan, but also as a result of the critical words of his friends. But as the book comes to an end, God has stepped into the scene and administered a profound theological lesson that has left Job virtually speechless. The only words that come out of his mouth are statements of praise and contrition.

“I know that you can do anything,
    and no one can stop you.” – Job 42:2 NLT

I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
    things far too wonderful for me. – Job 42:3 NLT

I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:6 NLT

Job’s encounter with God left him a changed man, and while the restoration of his health and wealth would have an impact on his life, it was the change within his heart that produced the greatest transformation. Job confessed that his relationship with God had been dramatically altered because his understanding of the Almighty had been greatly expanded. His suffering and subsequent face-off with God had opened his eyes to things he had never considered before. His knowledge of God had moved from the head to the heart. Rather than having to rely on purely theoretical concepts, Job had moved to an experiential understanding of God.

“I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes. – Job 42:5 NLT

God had become real and relatable. He was no longer distant and disconnected from Job’s daily life, but was an up-close and personal God who had chosen to meet with Job face to face.

has spoken and condemned Eliphaz and his friends as having spoken our of turn. In fact, God tells them, ” you have not been right in what you said about me” (Job 42:7 NLT). He commands them to offer burnt offerings for their sin and to have Job pray for them. If they don’t, God would be forced to deal with them according to their folly.

After 42 chapters of dialogue, the most important part of the story of Job seems to be the lessons he learns about his God. Up until this point, Job’s understanding of God was based on what he had heard about God. His was an academic, intellectual understanding of God, and it showed up in his diatribes against God. But now he realized that he was wrong. He had spoken out of turn and out of ignorance. But now, Job’s view of God had changed because he had experienced and heard from Him.

And isn’t that what God is always trying to do – reveal Himself to men? He wants us to know Him, not just know about Him. He wants us to experience Him – in all His power, mercy, grace, and love. That is why He sent His Son – as a living revelation of God on earth in the form of a man. In Jesus, we see the character of God come alive. He gave us an up-close and personal glimpse of God.

For in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body. – Colossians 2:9 NLT

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ. –  Colossians 1:19 NLT

It was the apostle Peter who encouraged followers of Christ to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). Yet, for too many of us, our knowledge of God is what we have heard, read, or assumed. Our understanding of God is limited to what we have been taught or told. It lacks the personal, experiential touch.

Our God ends up being distant and, at times, a little difficult to know. But God wants us to know Him. He wants us to see and experience Him in our everyday lives. He challenges us get to know Him better.

“Stop your striving and recognize that I am God!” – Psalm 46:10 NET

In Hebrew, that word “recognize” means “to know, realize, see, find out, discern, or to know by experience.” God wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He truly is who He says He is. He wants us to know by experience that He is God.

It is in the daily experiences of life that God wants to reveal Himself, including our trials and difficulties. He wants to display His glory and goodness in those impossible situations that come our way; in our relationships, finances, health, homes, workplaces, and those moments of doubt and fear.

Job didn’t come to know God because God blessed him. The restoration of Job’s health and wealth were not the impetus for his improved understanding of God; it was he because actually heard from God. God spoke to Job and the truth about Himself. He gave Job a glimpse of His power and majesty by comparing Himself to His own creation.

The interesting thing is, He never gave Job an explanation for what had happened. He never defended Himself to Job because He didn’t have to. He was God. He simply reminded Job who it was he was complaining to. He reminded Job of His power and sovereign will. God didn’t owe Job an explanation. He also didn’t owe Job reparations or compensation of any kind. But Job learned that he owed God reverence and respect.

With Job on his knees in repentance, God turns attention to Eliphaz and his friends, and He shows them no mercy.

“I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has. – Job 42:7 NLT

What happens next appears to be a test of the validity of Job’s heart transformation. God commands Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to offer an atoning sacrifice for having misrepresented themselves as His spokesmen and for having misspoken about His character. They had neither heard from God or fully understood the nature of God but they had not let that stop them from speaking on behalf of God. So, God required them to make atonement for their sins, and then he commanded Job to pray for them.

My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer on your behalf. I will not treat you as you deserve, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:8 NLT

One can only imagine how difficult this assignment would have been for Job. These three men had caused him untold amounts of grief and suffering. They had berated and belittled him. They had falsely accused him. And now, God was asking Job to act as their intercessor. If Job would pray for them, God would withhold His judgment of them. That means that Job held their lives in his hands. He could have refused to petition the Lord on their behalf. In his anger and resentment, He could have chosen to get even and give them over the God’s judgment. But he didn’t. His heart had been changed and his desire to please God was greater than his need for vengeance or vindictiveness.

We know Job prayed because the text tells us “the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:9 NLT). The sacrifices were made, Job’s supplication was offered up to God, and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were forgiven.

Four separate times in these verses, God refers to Job as his servant. He wants Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar to understand that their estimation and subsequent condemnation of Job had been totally wrong. They had declared Job to be wicked and immoral. They had accused him of committing acts of injustice and unrighteousness. And yet, God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant Job” (Job 42:7, 8). Job’s sufferings had not been a sign of sin. His losses had not been evidence of wrongdoing. Throughout it all, Job had remained a servant of God. He was a suffering saint who endured tremendous pain and loss in this life but whose relationship with God had remained unchanged.

In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the author chronicles the lives of Old Testament saints who, like Job, exhibited faith in the midst of sorrow and loss. These men and women were willing to endure great pain while still holding onto to their belief in the goodness and greatness of God.

others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. – Hebrews 11:35-40 NLT

Job’s reputation was restored. His integrity and good name were vindicated. But God was not done. In a demonstration of divine mercy and grace, God will prove Job’s innocence by putting everything back to the way it was before Satan entered the scene. God will graciously and abundantly bless His servant Job and allow him to once again experience the joys of his former life. But the greatest gift Job received was his restored relationship with God.

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.

Too Wise for His Own Good

23 “If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
24 and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
25 let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
26 then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
    he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
27     He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’

29 “Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
30 to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
31 Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
be silent, and I will speak.
32 If you have any words, answer me;
speak, for I desire to justify you.
33 If not, listen to me;
be silent, and I will teach you wisdom.”– Job 33:23-33 ESV

According to Elihu, Job has only one chance for redemption and restoration, and that involves the intercession of an angel or mediator sent from God. It is difficult to tell whether this divine agent is mediating on behalf of the guilty party before God, or whether their goal is to show the sinner the error of his ways. The English Standard Version Bible translates verse 23 as “to declare to man what is right for him.” The New English Translation takes a similar approach: “to tell a person what constitutes his uprightness.” These translations seem to indicate that the angel has been sent to reveal the path to righteousness to the wayward sinner.

But the New Living Translation translates the same line a slightly different way: “to intercede for a person and declare that he is upright.” This would indicate that the angel or agent is mediating on behalf of the falsely accused victim and declaring his innocence before God.

Based on Elihu’s earlier declarations of his own uprightness, it would appear that the NET Bible and the ESV Bible have rendered the text accurately. Elihu seems to be alluding to himself as the angel or mediator sent from God. Look back at how he described himself to Job when he began his address.

I speak with all sincerity;
    I speak the truth.
For the Spirit of God has made me,
   and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” – Job 33:3-4 NLT

Elihu believes he has been sent to Job by God in order to call him to repentance. That is why he is so adamant and repetitive in his calls for Job to listen to what he has to say.

“Listen to my words, Job;
    pay attention to what I have to say. – Job 33:1 NLT

“…you are wrong, and I will show you why. – Job 33:12 NLT

“…listen to me.
    Keep silent and I will teach you wisdom!” – Job 33:33 NLT

Elihu’s entire speech is a not-so-subtle master’s class in self-promotion. He is out to toot his own horn and establish himself up as Job’s divinely-ordained rescuer. He even alludes to the fact that he is the “dream” sent from God to serve as the wake-up call that will deliver Job from his living nightmare of a life.

For God speaks again and again,
    though people do not recognize it.
He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they lie in their beds.
He whispers in their ears
    and terrifies them with warnings.
He makes them turn from doing wrong;
    he keeps them from pride. – Job 33:14-17 NLT

Elihu is convinced that he is Job’s deliverer. While his three companions have failed in their attempts to persuade Job of his guilt, Elihu is convinced of his success because he believes he speaks for God. As a further sign of his self-inflated worth, Elihu claims to have direct access to the Almighty and enough influence to intercede on Job’s behalf. Look closely at what he promises Job.

“If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,
    to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’” – Job 33:23-25 ESV

This arrogant young man states that he has the power to offer Job mercy and to provide him with a ransom that will atone for all his sins. According to Elihu, his  “gracious” and undeserved mercy will restore Job to health and happiness. But Elihu is not only overly confident in his assertion; he is sorely mistaken. Elihu seems to suffer from a bad case of savior complex. He is fully convinced that he is the remedy to Job’s problem and can restore him to health and happiness. He even believes he can provide a ransom that will satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. But compare his words with those of the psalmist.

Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
    and never see the pit.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. – Psalm 49:7-9, 15 ESV

Elihu provides no details concerning the ransom he intends to offer on Job’s behalf. But the psalmist would argue that there is nothing Elihu can offer that would ever cover the cost for a man’s sin. Even the sinner himself cannot ransom his own life.

Elihu is so over-confident that he places God is a subsidiary role, with nothing more to do than to rubber stamp the transaction that Elihu has arranged. Once Job has seen the error of his ways and Elihu has offered whatever ransom he has in mind, then all Job has to do is pray and “he will be accepted. And God will receive him with joy” (Job 33:26 NLT). Because of Elihu’s efforts, God will restore Job to righteousness. Done deal. Case closed.

Elihu attempts to manipulate his suffering friend by describing a future scene that pictures Job is confessing his sins and rejoicing in his redemption.

“‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
    and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
    and my life shall look upon the light.’” – Job 33:27-28 ESV

All Job has to do is admit his guilt and all will be well. That is the deal Elihu is offering and it is nothing more than a form of plea bargaining. In his desperation to get a full confession out of Job, Elihu guarantees absolution and complete restoration. But those things are not his to give. He has no power or authority to promise Job anything. Elihu does not speak for God, and he is not an angel sent from God.

He is right about one thing; God can and does rescue and restore those who are suffering.

“God does these things
    again and again for people.
He rescues them from the grave
    so they may enjoy the light of life.” – Job 33:29-30 NLT

But Elihu has no business guaranteeing such an outcome to Job or anyone else. And he is way out of bounds when he places himself in the role of Job’s savior and ransom provider. Yet, he is so self-deceived and over-confident that he demands Job’s undivided attention to his words.

“Pay attention, O Job, listen to me;
    be silent, and I will speak. – Job 33:31 ESV

After all, he is the “angel” of God, the divine mediator who has the power to redeem Job from the grave. He is Job’s self-appointed Messiah and he has a direct line to the throne of God in heaven. So, if Job wants to see his fortunes restored and his life spared, he will need to listen to what Elihu has to say.

And sadly, Elihu was far from finished. He has another entire speech to deliver, in which he will lecture Job on the justice of God. His primary purpose will be to refute Job’s claim on innocence and establish God’s right to judge justly. But in all of this, Elihu will mirror the mistakes of his predecessors. He will make assumptions and draw conclusions based on incomplete data. He will say right things about God but make false accusations against Job – all because he is ignorant of all the facts. This “angel of God” will prove to be a lousy spokesperson for God because he doesn’t know the mind of God.

If only Elihu could have accessed the wisdom of the apostle Paul, he could have avoided the pitfalls of the savior complex and spared Job a lot of grief.

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?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! – Romans 11:33-36 NLT

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.

Faith That Changed the World

31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. – Hebrews 11:31 ESV

The Israelites followed the strange-sounding commands of God and enjoyed a lopsided victory over the city of Jericho. This first battle in their efforts to occupy the land of Canaan had gone off without a hitch because they followed God’s instructions down to the last detail. But now the story gets really interesting.

Up to this point in the chapter, the author of Hebrews has been dealing with some fairly significant and well-known individuals in the family tree of Israel – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, and by extension, Joshua. But it should catch us a bit by surprise to find the name of a prostitute in this great “Hall of Faith.”

To understand her presence in this list of the faithful we have to go back to the original story found in the book of Joshua. When it came time for the people of Israel to begin their God-ordained occupation of the land of Canaan, Joshua sent out spies to reconnoiter the cities on the western side of the Jordan River.

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. – Joshua 2:1 ESV

There are a lot of details left out of this story. We aren’t told why the spies chose Rahab’s home as a safe house. Had they been given her name by someone else? Were they aware that she was a follower of Yahweh? Did they choose a prostitute’s house because they believed no one would think to look for them there? Or was their selection of her house because of its location within the walls of the city (Joshua 2:15)?

The passage doesn’t provide us with answers to these questions. But we do know that someone informed on the two spies, and the king of Jericho sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to find them.

Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” – Joshua 2:3 ESV

But rather than turn the two spies over to the king’s soldiers, Rahab chose to protect them and even concocted a story that diverted the soldiers from her home, giving the men time to escape.

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” – Joshua 2:4-5 ESV

But why did this woman take such a dangerous risk? Because she was a God-fearer. Rahab had somehow heard about the God of Israel and believed in Him. News of God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt had gotten out, and Rahab determined that their God must be the one true God. Without realizing it, she was living out the truth of the following verse.

…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. – Hebrews 11:6 ESV

Rahab had somehow deduced that her city would prove to be no match for the God of Israel, so she chose to protect the spies and asked them to return the favor when the time came. She believed that this powerful God of the Israelites was going to destroy her hometown and she wanted to live. She greatly desired to be saved from the coming destruction.

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” – Joshua 2:9-13 ESV

I tend to believe that the two spies inadvertently ended up at Rahab’s house and that they had no idea she was a believer in Yahweh. That would have been the last thing they expected from a woman who made her living as a prostitute in a pagan city. But according to His divine and sovereignly ordained plan, God arranged for them to go to the very house where they would find a woman who had placed her faith in the God of Israel. She was so convinced of God’s power that she knew Jericho was going to fall, and only asked that she and her family be spared. She believed with all her heart that the God of Israel was the “God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

The spies made an agreement with Rahab, instructing her to tie a scarlet thread in her window. That would serve as a sign, much like the blood that was placed on the doorpost and lintels of the Israelite homes during the Passover. That red-colored thread would tell the Israelite troops to spare all the individuals found within that house. The book of Joshua reveals that when the walls of Jericho fell, Rahab and her family were protected from the devastation and escaped death.

…they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” – Joshua 6:22-23 ESV

The spies kept their word and Rahab was spared.

Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.Joshua 6:25 ESV

One might be tempted to say that Rahab’s faith was in the two spies. She had to trust that these men would do as they had promised. She had no guarantees from the God of Israel. She had been given no promises by Yahweh. But while it’s true that she had to have faith in the two spies, the thing that drove her actions from the outset was her belief that God was the one true God and that He would give the city into the hands of the Israelite troops. The Israelites’ God was greater. And in providing protection for the two spies, she was acknowledging that she believed in this superior God of Israel.

Hebrews 11:6 states, “…without faith it is impossible to please him [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Rahab believed in God’s existence, and she was seeking His protection and the reward of her life being spared. Rahab had no track record with God. She had simply heard the stories of His deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. News of His redemptive power as illustrated by the parting of the Red Sea had reached her ears. God’s role in the Israelites’ defeat of the Amorites had gotten her attention. For her, all the rumors and hearsay about God had become cause for belief. Her faith that this God was real and that He had the power to save as well as to destroy led to life, rather than death. While everyone else in the city was doomed to destruction, Rahab’s faith in God resulted in her salvation and that of her family.

Rahab would go on to spend the rest of her life living among God’s people. She would marry and have children. In fact, her name appears in the gospel of Matthew in the lineage of King David.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. – Matthew 1:2-6 ESV

But Matthew’s record of David’s lineage doesn’t stop there. His list goes on to include the name of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Not only did Rahab’s faith result in the sparing of her own life, but it paved the way for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Her faith saved her and her family, but it had much longer-lasting repercussions. Out of faith in God, she gave a friendly welcome to the spies, and that faith would result in her redemption but also pave the way for the coming of the Redeemer of the world.

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.

Faith Rather Than Fear

27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27 ESV

Once again, we have an apparent contradiction between the Exodus account of the life of Moses and that of the author of Hebrews. Exodus tells us that when Moses became aware that news of his murder of the Egyptian had gotten out, he became afraid.

Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” – Exodus 2:14 ESV

Then it goes on to say that when Pharaoh heard about Moses’ crime,  he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian” (Exodus 2:15 ESV). Yet, the Hebrews account states, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king.”

Which is it? Was Moses afraid or not? Did he flee or not? The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provides the answers. Yes, Moses was afraid, but the context tells us that his fear was based on his awareness that news of the murder had spread. His little secret was out. By the time Pharaoh heard about it, Moses had had time to think about his predicament and to reflect on what he should do. According to Hebrews 11, he had already made plans to go to Midian; not out of fear, but out of faith.

Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “flee” can mean “to hasten” or “to put to flight.” The Exodus passage can make it sound like Moses fled for his life out of fear of Pharaoh. But when you combine the two passages, it makes better sense that Moses was put to flight by Pharaoh. We almost immediately assume that Moses was in fear for his life. He ran because he was fearful that Pharaoh would have him captured and killed. But think about what Hebrews 11:24-25 says, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses had already made the decision to extricate himself from Pharaoh’s household. But as the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, the likelihood that he would be put to death for murder was probably slim to none. What Moses feared was having to go back to his life in the royal palace with its “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 ESV). Again, we read that Moses left Egypt because, “he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV).

So it was “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Hebrews 11:27a ESV). Moses didn’t leave Egypt because of Pharaoh, but because of God.

He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. – Hebrews 11:27b NLT

Moses headed to Midian, not out of fear for his life, but out of faith in God. He somehow knew that God was going to fulfill His promise to His people and restore them to the land of Canaan. He didn’t know how yet. He didn’t know when. But he believed it was just a matter of time and he was content to go to Midian and persevere until that time came. Little did Moses know that it would be 40 years before God put that part of His plan into action. And when God finally did decide to act, Moses would be surprised to discover that He was God’s choice to set the plan into motion.

The day would come when God deemed it time to redeem His people. Exodus tells us, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).

God knew their plight, and He knew where Moses was. He knew what Moses had been doing for the last 40 years. The flight of Moses to Midian had been part of God’s plan. Just as Moses had been kept alive in the basket made of bulrushes, He had been protected in Midian, removed from the effects of the fleeting pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt. During his 40 years in Midian, Moses had given up his quest to be the savior of the people of Israel. He still believed in God’s promise to redeem His people, but he had long ago given up the idea that he might play a role.

But God had other plans. He was still going to use Moses, but in a way that Moses would find surprising and a bit scary. Hebrews says that Moses “kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.” During his time in Midian, he kept trusting in God. Remember how the author described faith in verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Moses had never seen God and yet he “kept his eyes” on Him. He kept believing in the reality of the One he could not see and the promises he had yet to see fulfilled. According to Hebrews 11:6, faith is required to please God and whoever wishes to draw near to God “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

It would be safe to say that Moses sought God during his time in Midian, and the day would come when God revealed Himself to Moses.

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” – Exodus 3:1-4 ESV

Moses had a direct encounter with the unseen God. He came face to face with Yahweh, and it was a life-changing moment. Forty years after leaving Egypt, he returned, not as the grandson of Pharaoh, but as the representative of God. By faith, he had left Egypt and now he was going to be returning the same way – trusting in the promises of God Almighty.

To be directed by God requires faith in God. We must believe that He is at work in our lives in ways that we cannot see or even understand. When Moses left Egypt, he left everything behind.  He was forced to begin a new life. He left looking like an Egyptian (Exodus 2:19) but upon his return, he appeared as a Hebrew prophet and the personal spokesman for God.

His 40-year exile in Midian proved to be little more than a temporary pause in the plan of God. Yahweh was watching and waiting, preparing to implement His divine redemptive plan at just the right time and using just the right person for the job: 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.

Solidarity, Suffering, and Salvation

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:10-18 ESV

God made His Son a man. Through the miracle of conception and the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to a baby boy whom she would name Jesus. But He was not just any boy. He was the incarnate Son of God, the second person of the Trinity in human flesh. This is why the writer of Hebrews describes Him as he “who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9 ESV).

He became our brother in the flesh. In His incarnation, Jesus became like us so that He could live among us and share the earthly experience of living as a human being in a fallen world. And just a few chapters later in this same letter, we read that Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT).

He didn’t live some kind of charmed, country-club lifestyle because He was the Son of God. His deity didn’t protect Him from harm, weariness, temptation, testing, or trials. In fact, it was His divinity that got Him into trouble. His claims to be the Son of God brought about the greatest degree of suffering. And suffer He did. In fact, the author of Hebrews says that God made Jesus, the founder of our salvation, “perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10 ESV).

Before Jesus could be perfected or glorified by His Father, He had to take the path of suffering. He could only experience glorification by passing through persecution and pain. And it’s interesting to realize that Satan, when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, attempted to get Jesus to bypass the suffering and go straight to glorification.

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” – Matthew 4:8-9 NLT

But God’s path for Jesus took Him through humiliation, rejection, pain, suffering, and death. The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus took His earthly mission seriously and obeyed His Father’s will completely, even to the point of death.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

It was only after He had walked that path in faith and obedience, that God raised Him up and glorified Him. The sinless Son of God took on human flesh just like us. He became one of us. Jesus didn’t take on the appearance of a man. Unlike the Greek pantheon of gods, who were believed to appear on earth disguised in human form, Jesus was 100 percent human. He wasn’t masquerading as a man; He was a “Son of Man.” That was one of Jesus’ favorite descriptions of Himself.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God. – Luke 12:8 ESV

He was born of a woman, just like every other person who has ever lived. He had to grow from infancy to adulthood and experience all the phases of maturation that every human being goes through. Early in His life, He had to be breastfed, cared for, comforted, and protected. In His adolescent years, He had to do the will of His earthly father and mother. He attended the synagogue. He learned the Torah. He did chores around the family home. He endured ridicule from those who believed Him to be an illegitimate son because Joseph was not His real father.

Without these early phases of Jesus’ life, He would never have left Nazareth and begun His earthly ministry. But those 30-plus years of relative anonymity had to precede the last three years of His life. He didn’t appear on earth in the form of a full-grown man. He grew up.

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. – Luke 2:52 ESV

Jesus put Himself through all of this so that He could save us. “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV).

That was His ultimate mission. Jesus was born to die. But unlike every other human being, Jesus’ death served an eternal purpose. His death was the key to humanity’s deliverance from the power of death. His life became a payment for the sins of mankind.

But not only did Jesus become one of us so that He might die for us, He invites us to become one with Him. He extends an invitation to every man and woman to accept Him as their personal Savior, their redeemer. His suffering and death provided a way for men to be made right with God. Sin separates us from God and we are incapable of bridging the gap because even our best works on our best day are still marred by sin. There is nothing we can do to earn or merit a right standing before God, but when we place our faith in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf, we become one with Him.

We are made His brothers and sisters, His fellow heirs, and sons and daughters of God. But the path to our glorification, like His, includes suffering. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become aliens and strangers in this world. We remain in it but are no longer to be part of it. That doesn’t mean we are to isolate ourselves from it, but that we should live in it according to a different set of standards and as if it is no longer our home.

Jesus told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). The apostle Paul understood that suffering and solidarity with Christ went hand in hand.

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. – 2 Corinthians 6:4 NLT

There is a purpose behind our suffering. Paul reminds us, “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).

Our suffering on this earth is not pointless. It has a God-ordained purpose behind it. God is perfecting us and producing in us the very character of His Son. Suffering should not produce in us a spirit of resentment but should make us more dependent. Our weakness should remind us of our need for God’s strength and assistance. Our pain should cause us to desire God’s comfort and healing. Our loneliness should drive us to God for His companionship. We have a “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17 ESV) – Jesus Christ, our brother. He has made propitiation for our sins, having satisfied the just demands of a holy God. But He is also making intercession for us, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and reminding Him that our sins are paid in full and our future glorification is guaranteed.

Solidarity, suffering, and salvation. We have each of these in common with Christ because of what He has done. And we can rest assured that one day we will also share in His glorification.

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

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.

Let Your Yes Be Yes

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford. Leviticus 27:1-8 ESV

As has been made clear from the rest of the book of Leviticus, God places a high priority on keeping one’s commitments. He is a God who keeps His word, and who never fails to follow through on all His promises.

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 23:29 NLT

In making His covenant with the people of Israel, God clearly communicated the non-negotiable requirements that came with their preferred status as His chosen nation.  In the first 26 chapters of this book, Moses records all the laws, statutes, and holy days that the Israelites were required to keep, then he closes with these words:

These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai. – Leviticus 26:46 ESV

In the very next verse of the closing chapter, Moses records yet one more divine communication that addresses the topic of vows. Some scholars believe chapter 27 was a later addition to the book because it doesn’t seem to fit the prevailing narrative of the preceding chapters. It appears to veer off-topic, dealing with voluntary vows when the rest of the book has been focused on the mandatory laws ordained by God. Yet, upon closer examination, these closing verses provide an appropriate ending to the book.

From the day the people of Israel arrived at Sinai and began receiving God’s divine decrees from the mountaintop, they had repeatedly expressed their intentions to obey His commands.

“…if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do. – Exodus 19:5-8 ESV

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do. – Exodus 24:3 ESV

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” – Exodus 24:7 ESV

“Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” – Deuteronomy 5:27 ESV

The people of Israel had vowed to keep the commands of God. They had verbally declared their commitment to do all that God had said and to remain obedient to His revealed will. But it is interesting to note how God responded to their overwhelming vow of faithfulness.

I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! – Deuteronomy 5:28-29 ESV

God knew His people would have a difficult time keeping their commitments. He doesn’t question their sincerity, but He has serious doubts about their ability to keep their word. God understood that their hearts were in the right place, but He also knew that their hearts had been infected by sin. They fully intended to do the right thing but lacked the inner capacity to carry out their commitment. Yet, rather than simplify His laws or dumb down His requirements, God went on to stress their need for unwavering obedience.

“You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. – Deuteronomy 5:32-33 ESV

It is important to remember that while the law was given to regulate the behavior of God’s people, it was also designed to expose their sinfulness. The apostle Paul points out this fact in several of his letters.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NLT

Paul understood that the law was holy, righteous, and good. It revealed God’s holy expectations for His chosen people. But sin took advantage of the law, using those divine decrees as a tool to condemn and defeat God’s people.

Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. – Romans 7:11 NLT

God knew that His people could not live up to His commands. That’s why He provided them with the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness and atonement for sin. He had made provision for their hard hearts and sin-prone dispositions. And even when it came to the making of vows, God provided a gracious means by which they could keep their word even when their hearts weren’t in it.

The topic of vows was important to God because it involved the keeping of one’s commitments. He had provided Moses with clear instructions regarding the making and keeping of vows.

“When you make a vow to the Lord your God, be prompt in fulfilling whatever you promised him. For the Lord your God demands that you promptly fulfill all your vows, or you will be guilty of sin. However, it is not a sin to refrain from making a vow. But once you have voluntarily made a vow, be careful to fulfill your promise to the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 23:21-23 NLT

A vow was a voluntary oath, a verbal commitment or promise to do or not do something. In many cases, the one making the vow would invoke the name of God as a witness or guarantee. It would be something like the phrase we hear so often today: “I swear to God…” But God warned His people about swearing oaths of any kind, either to Him or to others. These verbal commitments were to be taken seriously and the name of God was to be treated with reverence at all times.

In the opening verses of Leviticus 27, God addresses the issue of vows made specially to Him. These would have involved promises to be kept should God fulfill a request. The book of Judges gives an example of just such a vow.

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” – Judges 11:30-31 NLT

When God provided Jephthah with the victory he requested, the exuberant warrior returned home to find his young daughter coming out of the door of his house to greet him.

When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. – Judges 11:34-35 NLT

Vows were not to be treated lightly or flippantly. It was a dangerous thing to attempt to bargain with God. But God, in His mercy and grace, provided His people with a way to fulfill their commitments when their hearts were no longer in it. In verses 1-7, God focuses His attention on those cases in which an individual vowed to dedicate someone to the Lord in return for divine intervention. The book of 1 Samuel contains a record of this type of vow. It involves a barren woman named Hannah. Unable to bear her husband a child, Hannah took her problem to the Lord.

Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime…” – 1 Samuel 1:10-11 NLT

God graciously fulfilled her request and gave her a son, whom she named Samuel. And when the day came for her to fulfill her vow, Hannah did as she had promised to do. When Samuel had been weaned, she brought him to the Tabernacle and presented him to the priest, saying, “I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life” (1 Samuel 1:27 NLT). 

But God had provided an option. Had Hannah had second thoughts about dedicating her only son to the Lord, she could have purchased his freedom. According to Leviticus 27, Hannah could have given the priest 5 shekels of silver and returned home with her child. But it should not be overlooked that this exchange rate was very high. The average income of a common laborer in biblical times was about one shekel per month. So, this payment would have required five months’ wages.

And God outlined the various valuations based on the age and gender of the person whose life had been vowed. Extrabiblical texts reveal that these amounts reflected the going rate for slaves in those days. These purchase prices were high in order to discourage the making of rash vows. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus addressed the topic of vows, stating, “You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows!” (Matthew 4:33-34 NLT). 

He discouraged the making of vows altogether, encouraging His listeners to simply do what they promise to do.

“Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:37 NLT

Vows were dangerous. They could result in divine judgment. And even when God provided a gracious way of fulfilling a vow you had no intention of keeping, it came with a high price. God values truth. His word is truth. He does not lie and He expects His children to follow His example. But He also knows that they are incapable of living up to His holy standards. So, He graciously provides them with ways to fulfill their commitments even when they lack the heart to do so.

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.

If You Won’t, God Will

47 “If a stranger or sojourner with you becomes rich, and your brother beside him becomes poor and sells himself to the stranger or sojourner with you or to a member of the stranger’s clan, 48 then after he is sold he may be redeemed. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or a close relative from his clan may redeem him. Or if he grows rich he may redeem himself. 50 He shall calculate with his buyer from the year when he sold himself to him until the year of jubilee, and the price of his sale shall vary with the number of years. The time he was with his owner shall be rated as the time of a hired worker. 51 If there are still many years left, he shall pay proportionately for his redemption some of his sale price. 52 If there remain but a few years until the year of jubilee, he shall calculate and pay for his redemption in proportion to his years of service. 53 He shall treat him as a worker hired year by year. He shall not rule ruthlessly over him in your sight. 54 And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee. 55 For it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 25:47-55 ESV

God provides one final example of an Israelite who has hit upon hard times and has been forced to seek recourse by selling himself to a “stranger or sojourner” living among them. This is a reference to a non-Israelite or foreigner. What God describes here would have been considered a travesty because it revealed that this destitute Israelite had no other options. No one within the community of faith had come to his aid (verse 35). There wasn’t even a fellow Israelite willing to make this man his indentured servant. Desperate to alleviate his own debt and care for his family, the man was forced to sell himself to someone outside the family of God.

“This would be on the face of it an embarrassment and the opposite of what God had in mind for his people. Foreigners in God’s economy were not to rule over the covenant people. Foreigners were welcomed and well treated by the Hebrews, but they were to be under the social orbit of the native Israelites. Israelites were permitted to purchase slaves who were foreigners but never fellow covenant members.” – Kenneth A. Matthews, Leviticus: Holy People, Holy God

In the Book of the Covenant, God had given His commands concerning the treatment of strangers and sojourners living among the Israelites.

When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. – Leviticus 20:33-34 BSB

But while foreigners were welcome to live among the Israelites, these “strangers” were never considered part of the covenant community. Many of them may have been proselytes to the Hebrew religion or what became known as “God-fearers,” but they were never allowed to share in the inheritance of the land of Canaan. These “God-fearing” pagans were Gentiles who had chosen to attach themselves to Yahweh and His people but had not fully converted to Judaism. Many of them may have been Egyptians who chose to accompany the Israelites when they were delivered by God (Exodus 12:38).

These God-fearing foreigners were allowed to dwell among the Israelites, but they were never to possess any of the lands that had been given by God as an inheritance to His covenant people. But if a foreigner had somehow been able to accrue enough wealth to purchase an Israelite as his slave, he might well end up with rights to that man’s property. This would have been unacceptable to God. So, to protect His people and the land He had given them, God made special provisions for this kind of situation.

“If any of your fellow Israelites fall into poverty and are forced to sell themselves to such a foreigner or to a member of his family, they still retain the right to be bought back, even after they have been purchased. They may be bought back by a brother, an uncle, or a cousin. In fact, anyone from the extended family may buy them back. – Leviticus 25:47-49 NLT

Even in this worst-case scenario, God gave His people a second chance to do the right thing. If one of their own became so desperate that they sold themselves to a foreigner, the rest of the Israelite community was expected to step in and rectify the situation. Not only was the land considered sacred, but it also belonged to Yahweh (Leviticus 25:23). The people had no right to sell it in order to profit from it. And they were to do everything in their power to see that the land remained occupied by God’s chosen people. Foreigners were welcome but they were not allowed to possess what rightfully belonged to God. And to ensure that the land of God and the people of God remained His possessions, God provided the Year of Jubilee as a final form of restitution and redemption.

Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. – Leviticus 25:10 NLT

When the Year of Jubilee arrived, any lands that had been leased or mortgaged were returned to their original owners, and all slaves and bonded laborers were provided with their freedom. If the people did not redeem their own, God would do it.

But God did not want His people to treat the Year of Jubilee like some kind of divine lottery system. They were not to wait around until the 50th year, living as slaves to one another or outsiders. Each individual was expected to do whatever was necessary to settle his debts and seek freedom. Redemption was the focus. They were not to bide their time and settle for a life of slavery while waiting for the redemption of God. No, they were to do everything in their power to seek redemption.

“…they still retain the right to be bought back, even after they have been purchased. They may be bought back by a brother, an uncle, or a cousin. In fact, anyone from the extended family may buy them back. They may also redeem themselves if they have prospered.” – Leviticus 25:48-49 NLT

During the 49 years that led up to the Year of Jubilee, the Israelites were to be pursuing their own redemption and that of their neighbors. There were no shortcuts and workarounds. To settle their debts, they were required to calculate the value of their services based on the time remaining until the Year of Jubilee.

If many years still remain until the jubilee, they will repay the proper proportion of what they received when they sold themselves. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they will repay a small amount for their redemption. – Leviticus 25:51-52 NLT

Restoration and redemption came with a price. They had to pay back what they owed. And anyone who had purchased the debt of an Israelite was to treat their “servant” with dignity and respect. The debtor, despite his dire circumstances, remained a child of God and deserved to be treated that way. No foreigner was allowed to mistreat an Israelite. No Israelite was permitted to denigrate a brother by taking advantage of his impoverished condition and abusing him like a slave. The people of God were never to forget their former condition as slaves in Egypt.

Always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery. That is why I have given you this command. – Deuteronomy 24:18 NLT

And God reminded His people that each of them belonged to Him. The rich and the poor, the social elite, and the common peasant were all considered God’s possessions.

For the people of Israel belong to me. They are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 25:55 NLT

The land belonged to God and so did the people, and that is why God expected the Israelites to treat both with equal honor and dignity. The land was not theirs to sell, profit from, abuse, or neglect. God had given them the land to provide for their needs and to serve as their permanent homeland. But God had also chosen the entire nation of Israel as His treasured possession (Deuteronomy 14:2). Each of them, from the greatest to the least, was considered holy in the eyes of God.

“…you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

There was to be no hierarchy or caste system within the people of God. The rich were not to lord it over the poor. The destitute were not to be treated as second-class citizens. And God provided His people with plenty of examples of how He expected this to unfold in daily life.

“If your neighbor is poor and gives you his cloak as security for a loan, do not keep the cloak overnight. Return the cloak to its owner by sunset so he can stay warm through the night and bless you, and the Lord your God will count you as righteous.” – Deuteronomy 24:12-13 NLT

Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns.Deuteronomy 24:14 NLT

“True justice must be given to foreigners living among you and to orphans, and you must never accept a widow’s garment as security for her debt.Deuteronomy 24:17 NLT

“When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do.Deuteronomy 24:19 NLT

The land and the people belonged to God. They were His possessions and were to be treated as holy. And when His people inevitably failed to honor that which belonged to God, He would see to it that redemption was achieved. The Year of Jubilee was designed to remedy the sins of man and restore that which belonged to God to its rightful place as His possession.

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

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

The Right of Ownership

23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land.

25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.

29 “If a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city, he may redeem it within a year of its sale. For a full year he shall have the right of redemption. 30 If it is not redeemed within a full year, then the house in the walled city shall belong in perpetuity to the buyer, throughout his generations; it shall not be released in the jubilee. 31 But the houses of the villages that have no wall around them shall be classified with the fields of the land. They may be redeemed, and they shall be released in the jubilee. 32 As for the cities of the Levites, the Levites may redeem at any time the houses in the cities they possess. 33 And if one of the Levites exercises his right of redemption, then the house that was sold in a city they possess shall be released in the jubilee. For the houses in the cities of the Levites are their possession among the people of Israel. 34 But the fields of pastureland belonging to their cities may not be sold, for that is their possession forever.” Leviticus 25:23-34 ESV

As God continues to expand His regulations concerning the Year of Jubilee, He addresses the issue of land ownership. Keep in mind that this information reached the ears of the Israelites long before they ever entered the land of Canaan or took actual possession of it. They were still encamped at the base of Mount Sinai and had a long journey ahead of them. Currently living in tents, they could only speculate about the full impact these regulations would have on their lives. For four centuries, the Israelites had been living on land that belonged to the Egyptians. While they had prospered during their time in Egypt and grown in number, they never owned any property. In fact, during much of their time in Egypt, they had been forced to serve as slaves.

Now, as they stood in their temporary tent city, they must have been excited and a bit confused as they listened to the words of God delivered to them by Moses. The thought of owning their own property would have been music to their ears. But God’s discussions about the Year of Jubilee when property rights reverted back to the original owner must have been difficult to comprehend. But God attempts to assuage all their confusion by informing them that “the land is mine” (Leviticus 25:23 ESV). He wanted them to know that their inheritance of the land of Canaan was going to be less about ownership than about stewardship. The whole concept of an inheritance conveys the idea that God was graciously giving His chosen people the right to live in and care for the land that was rightfully His to give. It was His possession. That meant it did not belong to the Canaanites either. They were little more than squatters, having claimed the land as their own without ever consulting the One to whom it belonged.

Yet God was going to remedy the situation by evicting the illegal tenants and replacing them with His chosen people. But when the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob arrived in the land and took up residence in its cities, villages, and towns, they were to understand that the land remained God’s possession.

“The land belongs to God! The people of God did not own the land – or anything else for that matter. They were given the use of the land by God’s goodness and mercy. And so on the basis of this, no land could be sold forever (ṣmṯṯ in25:23 means “beyond reclaim’). With the sale of property they had to grant its redemption. This means that sellers always had the right to buy the property back whenever they were able to do so.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

While God remained the rightful owner of all the land in Canaan, He was going to allow the Israelites to treat the land as their own. During the 49 years the preceded each of the Jubilee years, the Israelites were able to transfer the rights to their allotted land. But He reminded them that they were “strangers and sojourners” (Leviticus 25:23 ESV). In other words, each of them was to understand that they were literal guests of the One to whom the land belonged.

God knew that the people would end up using the land for their own benefit. Some would attempt to profit from the sale of the land given to them by God. Others would prove to be poor stewards of their God-given resources and end up in poverty, and forced to sell their land to pay off debt. So, God wanted them to understand that, in His eyes, the land never really changed ownership because it all belonged to Him. That’s why God told them, “in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land” (Leviticus 25:24 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “With every purchase of land you must grant the seller the right to buy it back.

God knew His people well. He understood that life was going to happen and that the Israelites would make poor decisions. Greed would prompt some to sell that which God had given them to steward. Consumerism and coveteousness would cause others to live beyond their means, resulting in debt and poverty. The psalmist reminds us that God gave the land to the people of Israel so that He might bless and enrich them.

Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV

Yet, the Israelites would end up treating the land as a commodity. Later in the book of Leviticus, God will assure His people that the land of Canaan will more than provide for all their needs.

“I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land.” – Leviticus 26:4-5 NLT

The land wasn’t just a gift to be sold and bartered at will. It was God’s means of providing for the needs of His people. But God didn’t want His people to treat that gift with contempt by using it for dishonorable or purely selfish purposes. If a man found himself in a position where he was forced to liquidate his property to pay off debt, God provided a way for him to redeem what he had lost.

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell some family land, then a close relative should buy it back for him. If there is no close relative to buy the land, but the person who sold it gets enough money to buy it back, he then has the right to redeem it from the one who bought it. – Leviticus 25:25-27 NLT

If this plan failed, God provided the Year of Jubilee as a way of redeeming the land and restoring it back to the one who had lost it. The one interesting exemption to all of this involved a house that lay in a walled city. Because the house did not include farmable land, it could only be redeemed within the first year after its sale. After that, it was a permanent possession of the new owner. The real focus of this passage is on arable land that was suitable for farming and capable of producing crops. The farmland of Canaan was intended to meet the needs of the people. It was to be considered communal land, with the edges of the fields reserved for the poor and needy of the community (Leviticus 23:22). When an Israelite sold his land, he was potentially jeopardizing the well-being of the entire community. God had intended the land to provide for the needs of all, not just its designated landowner.

In the case of the tribe of Levi, they were given their own exemption concerning houses owned in walled cities. As part of their designation as God’s priestly caste, they received the possession of homes located within cities belonging to the other tribes. In other words, they were given no land as their inheritance.

“Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel.…They will have no land of their own among the Israelites. – Deuteronomy 18:1, 2 NLT

In time, God would command the Israelites to set aside 48 cities within their allotted lands to serve as housing for the Levites.

“Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites from their property certain towns to live in, along with the surrounding pasturelands. These towns will be for the Levites to live in, and the surrounding lands will provide pasture for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock. – Numbers 35:2-3 NLT

And God provided the Levites with an exemption for these homes within walled cities. Unlike all the rest of the Israelites, the Levites would be given the right to repurchase any home they had sold – at any time.

“The Levites always have the right to buy back a house they have sold within the towns allotted to them. And any property that is sold by the Levites—all houses within the Levitical towns—must be returned in the Year of Jubilee. After all, the houses in the towns reserved for the Levites are the only property they own in all Israel. – Leviticus 25:32-33 NLT

God would care for the needs of His priests. He would ensure that they had a place to live and access to the farmland that surrounded these cities. God had given them no inheritance in the land, but He had provided for all their needs, even designating an area around each of the 48 cities to serve as pastureland for their flocks and farmland to raise crops.

“The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 1,500 feet from the town walls in every direction.” – Numbers 35:4 NLT

The land was to be God’s gift to His people – ALL of His people. It was to be viewed as a source of provision, not a means of profit. It was to be treated with dignity and honor because it actually belonged to God. The people of Israel were never to forget that they were guests in this land. They had been graciously invited to share in the bounty and blessings of God’s possession and were never to forget that the land belonged to God, not them.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him. – Psalm 24:1 NLT

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

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

The Year of Jubilee

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

13 “In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. 14 And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. 15 You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. 16 If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. 17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.

18 “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely. 20 And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ 21 I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. 22 When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.” Leviticus 25:8-22 ESV

Beginning in verse 9 and ending in verse 55, God begins to unpack yet another national religious observance that He is adding to Israel’s calendar. But this regularly occurring event would only take place every 50 years. The Jubilee Year would occur after seven “weeks” of years which equates to 49 years. The 50th year was supposed to be another sabbatical year, but one that had a greater level of significance.

The Hebrew term for “Jubilee“ is (tᵊrûʿâ) and it can mean “joy, shouting, loud noise, rejoicing.” God’s instructions were that on the tenth day of the seventh month in the 50th year, the ram’s horn was to be blown to start a year of universal redemption. In other words, the Year of Jubilee was to begin on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32). This year was special because it was marked by rest but also by new beginnings that featured a year-long emphasis on release and renewal.

Like any other sabbatical year (every seventh year), the Year of Jubilee featured a divine prohibition against labor. For the entire year, the people of Israel were to rest from all their work in the fields and vineyards, allowing the land itself to rest and be restored.

You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” – Leviticus 25:4-5 ESV

But God decreed that the 50th year would be a time of community-wide restoration that provided release from indebtedness and freedom from bondage. In a sense, it provided every Israelite citizen with a do-over, an opportunity to start anew in life. Old debts were forgiven. Land that had been lost because of bad decisions or financial setbacks was to be returned to its original owner.  Prisoners and captives were to be released. Slaves were to be set free. All labor contracts were to be absolved.

“It provided a general overhaul of economic and social life to restore people and properties to their rightful conditions. It was meant to be a new beginning, a time when all who had failed to maintain their place in society were given a chance to start over and when all who had benefited from such failures released what they had gained.” – Allen P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus

At first glance, this passage seems to carry socialist overtones that seem unfair and even unproductive. Why would God decree that land, rightfully purchased, be returned to its original owner? What reason could God have for releasing prisoners who were rightfully tried and justly condemned? It all seems so disruptive and counterproductive. But God states that it is to be a time to “proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Leviticus 25:10 ESV).

It’s important to consider how much life would transpire in the space of 50 years. During those five decades, people’s fortunes would ebb and flow. Some would experience financial loss and be forced to sell their land in order to pay off debt. Those without property to liquidate would have no choice but to become the indentured servant of their creditor. Some would commit crimes that resulted in their imprisonment. During this 50-year period of time, a lot of life would occur – some good and some bad. So, God ordained a royal reboot to return things to their original condition. It was, in essence, a year-long festival of freedom.

The Year of Jubilee was not designed to look back or commemorate some past event in Israel’s history. If anything, it was a time to look forward and recognize that God was both just and the justifier of all men. In a large community like that of ancient Israel, there would be countless individuals who found themselves on the losing end of life. They would sin and suffer the consequences. Others would make bad decisions and have to endure the ramifications of those poor choices.

There is an old proverb that states, “But for the grace of God go I.” It carries the idea that no one is immune from making mistakes or committing sins that result in judgment. It conveys a sense of humility that acknowledges one’s own sinful nature but also an awareness of the role that God’s grace plays in the life of every man. None of us are above reproach or impervious to failure. On any given day, anyone could find themselves in a place of suffering, loss, or bondage. When we see another human being suffering, we are to refrain from judgment and, instead, we are to recognize the grace of God in our lives. The apostle Paul was fully aware that he was not above reproach or immune from committing iniquity. In fact, he described himself in rather unflattering terms.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 ESV

Paul understood that his work ethic was not the reason for the radically altered status of his life. It had been the work of God and was based solely on the grace of God. And he would later encourage the believers in Rome to consider the amazing nature of God’s grace that transformed their lives by providing them freedom from sin and release from the debt they owed.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 ESV

That is the heart behind the Year of Jubilee. God was not instituting a socialist makeover of Israelite society; He was reminding His people that everything they had belonged to Him. The land was His. The produce in the fields was His. The flocks and herds they cared for belonged to Him. He had graciously shared these divine possessions with His people and now it was time to allow all within the community to enjoy the benefits and blessings of His goodness.

“The relationship of land and people under God is of fundamental importance for understanding the Old Testament and the Jewish people. . . . The Promised Land was a gift from God, not an inalienable right of anyone’s to sell or incorporate as they wished.” – Walter Higgins, Numbers

The people of Israel were supposed to live their lives with the Year of Jubilee in mind. When buying and selling land, they needed to consider the time until the Year of Jubilee when determining the sales price. The proximity of the Year of Jubilee would determine the price of the land because when the 50th year arrived, the land would automatically revert to the seller. Everything was to be negotiated with the Year of Jubilee in mind. And God makes it clear that in the Year of Jubilee, all land was to return to the original owner, which would ensure that the land remained within the tribe to which it was initially given by God. He had divinely ordained the division and distribution of the land and the Year of Jubilee was intended to restore property rights so that each tribe and clan retained their original apportionment.

There was to be no subterfuge or attempts to swindle one another. Everything was to be done fairly, justly, and above board.

“You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 25:17 ESV

God expected His people to treat one another with dignity and respect. The rich were not to take advantage of the poor. Someone who owned property was not to attempt to unjustly profit from its sale by charging an exorbitant price. If the Year of Jubilee was near, the value of the land was significantly lower and the price should reflect that reality.

God knew His people would struggle with this new statute. It would have sounded as unreasonable and unfair to them as it does to us. It raised all kinds of questions in their minds, such as how they were to survive if they were forced to return land that they had legally and legitimately bought. So, God assured His people that He would meet all their needs. No one would go hungry or homeless.

The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely.” – Leviticus 25:19 ESV

God would provide. That is the major theme conveyed by this new statute. By obeying God’s commands, the people would enjoy the providence and provision of God. Every sixth year, God would bless the people with twice as much harvest, ensuring that they had plenty of grain for the sabbatical year. And the same would be true for the 50th year. God would take care of His people. Even with the somewhat disruptive nature of the Year of Jubilee, the people would discover that God could and would take care of every one of His children. By following His commands, they would learn that He alone was their provider. The land was simply a tool He used to accomplish His will. The one who had to relinquish his land would find that his needs were fully met by God. The one who had been forced to sell his land would discover the joy of having his fortunes restored by a gracious and forgiving God. Everyone in Israel would discover the goodness and greatness of their God as they celebrated the Year of Jubilee – the year of restoration and renewal.

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.

From Isolation to Restoration

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean.

10 “And on the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb a year old without blemish, and a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. 11 And the priest who cleanses him shall set the man who is to be cleansed and these things before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 12 And the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. 13 And he shall kill the lamb in the place where they kill the sin offering and the burnt offering, in the place of the sanctuary. For the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest; it is most holy. 14 The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and the priest shall put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 15 Then the priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand 16 and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. 17 And some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. 18 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord. 19 The priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. And afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. 20 And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.

21 “But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, then he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be waved, to make atonement for him, and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil; 22 also two turtledoves or two pigeons, whichever he can afford. The one shall be a sin offering and the other a burnt offering. 23 And on the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Lord. 24 And the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall wave them for a wave offering before the Lord. 25 And he shall kill the lamb of the guilt offering. And the priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 26 And the priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, 27 and shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the Lord. 28 And the priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the lobe of the right ear of him who is to be cleansed and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot, in the place where the blood of the guilt offering was put. 29 And the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of him who is to be cleansed, to make atonement for him before the Lord. 30 And he shall offer, of the turtledoves or pigeons, whichever he can afford, 31 one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, along with a grain offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for him who is being cleansed. 32 This is the law for him in whom is a case of leprous disease, who cannot afford the offerings for his cleansing.” – Leviticus 14:1-32 ESV

Chapter 13 paints a far-from-pleasant picture for all those who suffer from skin diseases.

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. – Leviticus 13: 45-46 NLT

These unfortunate individuals were to be treated as outcasts, forced to live outside the camp, and treated as social pariahs. Not only were they forbidden to come into contact with their fellow Israelites, but they were also denied access to the Tabernacle and separated from the presence of Yahweh. In their infected state, they were forbidden to come anywhere near the house of God for fear that their ceremonial impurity would render the Tabernacle unclean and unfit for God’s presence. So, once they were diagnosed by the priest and declared to be “leprous,” they were forced to live outside the camp for a period of seven days.

“…the priest must quarantine the infected person for seven days. On the seventh day the priest must examine the person again.” – Leviticus 13:26-27 NLT

Chapter 14 picks up the story on the eighth day, “the day of his cleansing” (Leviticus 14:1 ESV). The priest was required to examine the individual one more time but this required the priest to visit the infected person outside the camp. Even on the eighth day, the “leprous” individual was denied re-entry to the community. Before he could return to camp, he had to be ceremonially cleansed. This involved two separate and highly elaborate sacrificial rites. The first was done outside the camp and required that the one wishing to be restored to fellowship bring “two live birds that are ceremonially clean, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch” (Leviticus 14:4 NLT).

One of the birds was to be killed over a clay bowl containing fresh water, allowing its blood to mingle with the water. Then the priest was to take the remaining live bird, along with the cedar, scarlet yarn, and hyssop, and dip them into the mixture of water and blood. The contents of the bowl were then sprinkled seven times on the one who desired to be cleansed. At the end of this ceremony, the priest pronounced the individual to be clean and the live bird was released into the wilderness.

The next step involved physical cleansing, requiring the worshiper to “wash their clothes, shave off all their hair, and bathe themselves in water” (Leviticus 14:7 NLT). But even then, they were required to spend another seven days in isolation. At the end of this period of time, “they must again shave all the hair from their heads, including the hair of the beard and eyebrows. They must also wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water” (Leviticus 14:9 NLT).

Only after having completed all the required rituals would the worshiper be deemed ceremonially clean and free to return to the camp and to the Tabernacle. And his ability to return to the Tabernacle was vital because it was there that he would experience the second half of his cleansing. While the formerly leprous individual was officially clean, he needed atonement. This required that he offer a series of sacrifices that included reparation, purification, burnt, and meal offerings.

The point behind all of this was the restoration of the outcast. The one who had been as good as dead had been restored to life, and his healing had fostered his return to fellowship within the community. Now, it was time for him to be restored to fellowship with Yahweh.

This entire ceremony took place at the entrance to the Tabernacle, the house of God.

“…the officiating priest will present that person for purification, along with the offerings, before the Lord at the entrance of the Tabernacle.” – Leviticus 14:11 NLT

This must have been a time of great joy and excitement for the former outcast. Once considered a threat to the community, the cleansed congregant was welcomed back into fellowship and allowed to enter the house of God. The one who had spent weeks verbally declaring himself to be unclean was reinstated to the faith community and welcomed with open arms at the gates of the Tabernacle.

While the one seeking atonement had not contracted his skin disease as a result of sin, he still needed to make reparations and atonement because his condition had rendered him unclean and an offense to a holy God. His forced separation had kept him from offering sacrifices and even presenting his tithes to God. Now it was time to make things right.

The very fact that the affected person was standing in the courtyard of the Tabernacle was evidence that he had been accepted by the priest and the people. But it was essential that his cleansed state be approved by God. This required sacrifice and it is interesting to note the similarities between the rite for priestly ordination and the restoration process of the newly cleansed individual. The blood from the sacrificed animals was sprinkled on “the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot of the person being purified” (Leviticus 14:14 NLT). This same process was done to set apart Aaron and his sons for the priesthood.

Then Moses took some of its blood and applied it to the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot. Next Moses presented Aaron’s sons and applied some of the blood to the lobes of their right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and the big toes of their right feet. – Leviticus 8:23-24 NLT

The formerly exiled worship was being reconsecrated to God and fully accepted into His presence and approved for service. The unclean outcast was now considered a purified child of God who was welcome in His house. His sacrifices were deemed worthy and acceptable to God.

A vital point to consider is that none of the rituals contained in chapter 14 were meant to provide healing. Everything was intended for purification and not for curative purposes. The healing of the individual was God’s doing. Even though the one affected by the disease was cast out from the community, God did not abandon them. Their physical restoration was provided for them by God. And their return to the faith community was also made possible by God.

God had told the Israelites, “I am the Lord, your healer” (Exodus 15:26 ESV). He would later reiterate that truth, declaring His sovereignty over life and death, sickness and healing.

“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

All could receive renewed health and healing from God. Even the poorest among them could be restored because God made provision for their poverty. Verses 21-32 outline the alternate offerings that God deemed acceptable for any who were financially challenged. There was nothing to keep the penitent sinner from receiving full atonement from the Lord. Decay and disease had separated them from their God and their fellow Israelites, but God had made provision for their full restoration and redemption.

Through this process, the priest will purify the person before the Lord. – Leviticus 14:29 NLT

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.