I Am the Lord Their God with Them

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 34:25-31 ESV

Despite the absence of godly leadership that led to a centuries-long pattern of sin, God had not given up on His rebellious people. Their lack of faithfulness had not diminished His unwavering commitment to His covenant. Early on in this book, Ezekiel recorded Yahweh’s promise to keep His covenant promises.

“I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” – Ezekiel 16:59-60 NLT

Their failure to hold up their end of the covenant commitment would not deter God from fulfilling His promises. He would do all that He said He would do. That included their judgment, in the form of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, as well as their future restoration. There would be many dark days in the wake of Judah’s fall, but they would be followed by a glorious and bright future.

As Ezekiel addressed the Jews living in forced exile in Babylon, he was dealing with a doubly defeated audience. They had already experienced the pain and degradation of captivity and had lived for years as refugees in a foreign land. But they managed to endure their humiliating circumstances by dreaming of a day when they would return to the land of Canaan. So, when they received the latest news that Jerusalem had fallen and the temple had been destroyed, they were left in a state of abject despair. All was lost. They had no king, no country, no temple, and, therefore, no hope. Yet, God wanted them to know that He was still in control and had great plans for their future. And He will reiterate that plan repeatedly.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Ezekiel 37:26-27 NLT

Imagine the impact of those words on a people who had just learned that their beloved temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. They were still reeling from the news that their homeland was now a vassal state of a foreign power and their capital city lie in ruins. The news that God was going to return them to their land and restore their temple would have been music to their ears. And almost as if to silence any doubts they may still have harbored, God stated His intentions yet again.

“I will end the captivity of my people; I will have mercy on all Israel, for I jealously guard my holy reputation! They will accept responsibility for their past shame and unfaithfulness after they come home to live in peace in their own land, with no one to bother them. When I bring them home from the lands of their enemies, I will display my holiness among them for all the nations to see.” – Ezekiel 39:25-27 NLT

To a captive people who hailed from a now-defeated country, this was almost too good to be true. The thought of ever returning to the land would have seemed impossible to them. Even if they could return, how would they ever survive in such abysmal conditions? Yet, God was promising their return to a land of peace and plenty. In the place of the demolished temple, there would stand a glorious new temple. Rather than living as the underlings of the Babylonian king, they would serve the King of kings, Jehovah Himself.

But this divine promise of a bright future has yet to be fulfilled. While a remnant of the Babylonian captives eventually returned to the land of Judah, they did not find it in the glorious state that God described. Some 70 years after the first wave of Jewish citizens arrived in Babylon as captives, Nehemiah would lead a small contingent of Jews back to the land of Judah, arriving sometime in the year 445 B.C. And what they found was far from idyllic or encouraging.

After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate. – Nehemiah 2:13-15 NLT

Nehemiah was appalled by what he saw. Yes, he had returned to the land but he did not find a restored Jerusalem and a rebuilt temple. After his inspection, he reported his findings to the Jewish leaders.

“You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!” – Nehemiah 2:17 NLT

Thanks to Nehemiah’s organizational skills and the hard work of the people, the walls of the city were eventually restored, the gates rehung, and the temple rebuilt. But when the dust settled, Jerusalem was just a shadow of its former glory. And over the centuries, Judah would never regain its former status as a powerful nation-state. It would remain under the heavy hand of foreign powers, all the way up to the coming of Christ when the Romans ruled over the land of Palestine.

But regardless of Israel’s current conditions, these promises of God remain. Nothing has changed. His commitment to their future restoration has not expired or been abrogated. God speaks of a time when their chains will be removed and their fortunes reversed. The land will provide for all their needs. They will enjoy peace and prosperity.

They will live in safety, and no one will frighten them. – Ezekiel 34:28 NLT

They will suffer no more famines or foreign invasions. Instead, they will enjoy the permanent presence of God in their midst. And with God living amongst them, they will receive a new capacity to serve and worship Him alone.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:33-34 NLT

This unprecedented day lies somewhere in the future. It has yet to occur but comes with a divine guarantee of fulfillment. God has promised it and, therefore, it is as good as done.

The book of Isaiah also speaks of this future day, adding the important aspect of an heir of King David who will come to sit on the royal throne in Jerusalem.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.
In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time
    to bring back the remnant of his people—
those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt;
    in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam;
    in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.
He will raise a flag among the nations
    and assemble the exiles of Israel.
He will gather the scattered people of Judah
    from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:10-12 NLT

This heir is none other than Jesus Christ himself.  After His second coming, He will ascend to the throne and rule for a thousand years in the city of David. The end of His millennial reign will usher in the eternal state as He completes God’s plans for man’s redemption and the renewal of all creation. The victorious Christ will willingly relinquish His authority in an act of reverence to His Heavenly Father.

After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. – 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 NLT

In that Millennial Kingdom, Jesus, the son of David, will rule over the restored people of Israel in a revitalized land. He will reign in righteousness and usher in a time of peace and prosperity. Many of the promises found in the book of Ezekiel will be fulfilled at that time. But even that will not be the end. There will be yet another phase to God’s grand redemptive plan that includes a new heaven and a new earth. At the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ, Satan will be defeated and the eternal state will begin, and its arrival will be marked by the New Jerusalem. The apostle John described this epic event in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  – Revelation 21:1-4 NLT

God will be with them. The same God who founded them as a nation, set them apart as His own, and eventually punished them for their sins, would restore them to their former place at His side. The covenant-making God would prove Himself to be the covenant-keeping 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.

The Final Purging

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

23 The word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:21-33 ESV

Exactly three years earlier, “in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month” (Ezekiel 24:1 ESV), the prophet Ezekiel had received a message from Yahweh concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was told to “write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). And God informed His prophet that the Babylonian siege would last three years, then end with the city’s fall.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:25-27 NLT

Up until that point, Ezekiel had been struck mute by God and was completely unable to speak to the people. He was restricted to conveying his messages through dramatic demonstrations as dictated by God. But Ezekiel was informed that his muteness would come to an end on the day he received news of Jerusalem’s destruction. And chapter 33 of Ezekiel records that fateful day.

The night before the messenger arrived from Jerusalem with news of the city’s devastating end, God had opened Ezekiel’s mouth so that he could speak. The prophet’s renewed capacity for speech would be put to use immediately as God provided him with a message for “the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities” (Ezekiel 33:24 NLT). It seems that for seven-and-a-half years, Ezekiel had only been able to speak when God allowed him to do so.

“I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” – Ezekiel 3:26-27 NLT

But with Jerusalem’s demise, this on-again-off-again condition was removed and Ezekiel had full freedom to speak on behalf of God with no restrictions. His first message was to all those Israelites who were living as exiles in foreign lands or who had taken up residence in the wastelands of Canaan. Within these two groups, there were those who believed they had every right to return to the land and make it their own. Their assumption was based on their identity as children of Abraham, and the logic behind it was simple.

“Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.” – Ezekiel 33:24 NLT

In a sense, they were right. The land had been promised to them by God, but that promise came with conditions. God expected them to live in obedience to His commands. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not enough. Prior to them entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses had clearly communicated God’s expectations.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Obedience was the key to blessing. And those blessings would help to set them apart as God’s chosen people.

“If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you. – Deuteronomy 28:9-10 NLT

But now, centuries later, the Israelites were the laughingstock of the world. Hundreds of years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and now the southern kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonians. Its cities lay in ruins and its people had been relegated to a life of poverty and dispossession. Yet, they still believed they had every right to return to the land and enjoy all its benefits.

But God had other plans for them because He knew they remained unrepentant and unworthy to occupy His holy land. Their sinful actions had left the land of promise defiled and in need of divine purging, and God was merciless in exposing their culpability.

You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?” – Ezekiel 33:25-26 NLT

They were law-breakers and covenant violators and God knew that even the fall of Jerusalem would not cause them to acknowledge their sins and repent. Over the centuries, they had developed a track record of stubborn resistance to God’s calls for repentance, and now they were going to experience the full extent of His wrath, just as He had outlined it to Moses centuries earlier.

“…if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

God had given Moses a detailed description of His judgments, clearly indicating the escalating nature of their intensity if the people refused to respond.

And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:18 NLT

“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:21 NLT

“And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins.” – Leviticus 26:23-24 NLT

“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:27-28 NLT

Every if-then statement was fulfilled because the people of Israel refused to listen. No judgment awakened their sense of shame or caused them to repent of their sins. They stubbornly clung to their ways and watched as wave after wave of God’s judgments came against them. And now, God declares that He is going to bring the last phase of His judgment, just as He had predicted through the pen of Moses.

“And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies. You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:36-39 NLT

That day had come. God declares to Ezekiel, “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end” (Ezekiel 33:28 NLT). The time for purging and cleansing had arrived.

And as for the exiles among whom Ezekiel ministered, God had a word for them as well. Their plaintive pleas for the prophet to give them a message from God were a sham. They had no intentions of keeping the commands of God, whether written on a scroll as part of the Mosaic Law or spoken from the lips of His prophet.

“…my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

God informs Ezekiel that his audience only feigns interest. They listen politely and intently to what he has to say but have no intentions of changing their behavior. Yet God assures His prophet, “when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33 NLT). God hints at a day when the people will finally wake up and realize what they have done. The full weight of God’s judgment will have its full effect, awakening His rebellious people to their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. While this chapter ends on a negative note, it gives a glimpse of the good news to come. God’s judgment had a purpose and His plan was not yet complete.

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

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

Our Right and Righteous God

12 And the word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 14 even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.

15 “If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they ravage it, and it be made desolate, so that no one may pass through because of the beasts, 16 even if these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters. They alone would be delivered, but the land would be desolate.

17 “Or if I bring a sword upon that land and say, Let a sword pass through the land, and I cut off from it man and beast, 18 though these three men were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they alone would be delivered.

19 “Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out my wrath upon it with blood, to cut off from it man and beast, 20 even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord God, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.

21 “For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast! 22 But behold, some survivors will be left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out; behold, when they come out to you, and you see their ways and their deeds, you will be consoled for the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, for all that I have brought upon it. 23 They will console you, when you see their ways and their deeds, and you shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, declares the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 14:12-23 ESV

Even prophets of God have their moments of doubt and discouragement, and Ezekiel was no exception. Although he was a divinely-ordained spokesman for the Almighty, there must have been times when Ezekiel grew concerned about the message he was commanded to deliver. Standing before his peers each day and communicating God’s blistering message of condemnation and judgment could not have been easy. It’s likely that the shocked members of his audience registered their dissatisfaction with his raging rhetoric and raised questions of their own, causing Ezekiel to have second thoughts about God’s proposed plan for Jerusalem’s destruction.

Somewhere along the way, the young prophet must have considered the story of God informing Abraham of His intention to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s little doubt that Abraham knew about the less-than-flattering reputation of this pair of pagan communities. The tales of their immoral exploits had become legendry, and Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who had taken up residence in Sodom, had likely confirmed the truth behind the stories. So, when God informed Abraham that He was going to judge these cities “because their sin is so flagrant” (Genesis 18:20 NLT), Abraham grew concerned about the fate of Lot and his family, and he raised a concern about God’s plan.

“Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:23-25 NLT

It seems only logical that Ezekiel would have harbored similar apprehensions concerning God’s plans for the righteous remnant in his own day. He would have known about individuals back in Jerusalem whom he considered to be faithful followers of Yahweh. Were they to suffer the same fate as the wicked? Were they doomed to the same destruction as those who refused to honor God?

Whether Ezekiel had expressed his concerns verbally or they remained as unspoken thoughts in his mind, the all-knowing God of the universe knew what His prophet was thinking. So, He addressed the 800-pound gorilla in the room by proposing a not-so-hypothetical situation.

“Son of man, suppose the people of a country were to sin against me, and I lifted my fist to crush them, cutting off their food supply and sending a famine to destroy both people and animals. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 14:13-14 NLT

God was describing the fate that awaited Jerusalem and Ezekiel knew it. But God informs His prophet that the presence of a handful of righteous individuals would not be enough to spare the city from judgment – even if they were well-established icons of religious virtue and moral respectability. And to drive home His point, God lists the names of three such men: Noah, Daniel, and Job.

As a priest, Ezekiel would have been familiar with all three men. He was well-versed in the Genesis account of Noah and the great flood that destroyed all living things on the earth.

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:6 NLT

In the midst of the growing wickedness, there was one man in whom God found favor: Noah. He was a solitary ray of light in the pervading darkness of sin.

Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. – Genesis 6:9 NLT

Yet, Noah’s righteous standing did not forestall the destruction God had ordained. The flood came and the wicked were destroyed. But Noah and his family were preserved in the safe confines of the ark. While all humanity perished, Noah and his seven family members were spared.

What about Daniel? He was a fellow exile who had also been taken captive in the first deportation but had ended up living in the Babylonian capital. The book of Daniel provides the story of his life and affirms that he was a godly young man who had grown up in Jerusalem. But his righteousness had not prevented the fall of the city or kept him from being sent as a captive to Babylon. And while God knew that Daniel continued to walk in keeping with His commands, even while living as an exile in Babylon, the righteous behavior of this one man would not deliver Jerusalem.

Then there’s Job, an Old Testament character whose righteous reputation would have been very familiar to Ezekiel. His story, recorded in the book that bears his name, portrays him as a righteous man who enjoyed great favor with God.

He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. – Job 1:1 NLT

God even confirmed Job’s sterling reputation.

He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.” – Job 1:8 NLT

And yet, the book of Job tells the story of how this righteous man was forced to endure great suffering and undergo a devastating series of painful losses, including the deaths of all his children, devastating economic failure, and debilitating physical ailments. Yet, through it all, Job remained faithful to God. He was able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). This man’s righteousness did not immunize him from suffering. It did not prevent the deaths of his children.

God wants Ezekiel to understand that the presence of a righteous remnant would not be enough to save the city of Jerusalem.

“…even if those three men were there, they wouldn’t be able to save their own sons or daughters.” – Ezekiel 14:16 NLT

War, famine, wild animals, and disease were coming. There were the inevitable and unavoidable consequences of Judah’s sin. But God acknowledges that He will preserve any who are righteous. If there are any in Jerusalem who model their lives after Noah, Daniel, and Job, they can expect to enjoy the same fate as these three men.

“They alone would be saved, but the land would be made desolate.” – Ezekiel 14:16 NLT

“They alone would be saved.” – Ezekiel 14:18 NLT

“They alone would be saved by their righteousness. – Ezekiel 14:20 NLT

But the rest will experience the full extent of God’s wrath.

“How terrible it will be when all four of these dreadful punishments fall upon Jerusalem—war, famine, wild animals, and disease—destroying all her people and animals.” – Ezekiel 14:21 NLT

Yet, God will mercifully spare some, and they will end up as exiles in Babylon just like Ezekiel and Daniel. And when Ezekiel sees them for the first time, he will fully understand the nature of God’s ways.

Yet there will be survivors, and they will come here to join you as exiles in Babylon. You will see with your own eyes how wicked they are, and then you will feel better about what I have done to Jerusalem. When you meet them and see their behavior, you will understand that these things are not being done to Israel without cause. – Ezekiel 14:22-23 NLT

Even after experiencing the fall of Jerusalem, witnessing the destruction of the temple, and enduring their forced march to Babylon, these wicked and rebellious people will have learned nothing. Their unrighteous behavior will be on full display and provide ample justification for God’s actions. Ezekiel will know with unquestionable certainty that the Sovereign Lord has administered justice and displayed His glory and holiness in the lives of His rebellious people. The Judge of all the earth has done what is good and right.

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 Unexpected Ways of God

The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the house of the Lord, which faces east. And behold, at the entrance of the gateway there were twenty-five men. And I saw among them Jaazaniah the son of Azzur, and Pelatiah the son of Benaiah, princes of the people. And he said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who devise iniquity and who give wicked counsel in this city; who say, ‘The time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron, and we are the meat.’ Therefore prophesy against them; prophesy, O son of man.”

And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind. You have multiplied your slain in this city and have filled its streets with the slain. Therefore thus says the Lord God: Your slain whom you have laid in the midst of it, they are the meat, and this city is the cauldron, but you shall be brought out of the midst of it. You have feared the sword, and I will bring the sword upon you, declares the Lord God. And I will bring you out of the midst of it, and give you into the hands of foreigners, and execute judgments upon you. 10 You shall fall by the sword. I will judge you at the border of Israel, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 11 This city shall not be your cauldron, nor shall you be the meat in the midst of it. I will judge you at the border of Israel, 12 and you shall know that I am the Lord. For you have not walked in my statutes, nor obeyed my rules, but have acted according to the rules of the nations that are around you.”

13 And it came to pass, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell down on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Ah, Lord God! Will you make a full end of the remnant of Israel?” Ezekiel 11:1-13 ESV

Ezekiel’s vision of Jerusalem continues as he is transported to the eastern gate of the temple courtyard. This gate overlooks the Kidron Valley with the Mount of Olives lying on the opposite side. There at the gate, Ezekiel saw the glory of manifestation of the Lord’s glory hovering over the entrance.

…as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. – Ezekiel 10:19 NLT

And there at the gate, Ezekiel saw 25 of the city’s most powerful and prominent men. In their role as civic leaders, these men were conducting business at the gate and communicating their plans to the citizens of the city. With the Babylonian forces nearby and threatening the city with an imminent attack, these dignitaries were attempting to assuage the worries of their constituents. Yet, God accuses them of devising iniquity and giving wicked counsel. Their advice is faulty and their intentions are evil. They are deceiving the people with ungodly counsel that contradicts the words of the prophets. They are telling the people, “The time is not near to build houses. This city is the cauldron, and we are the meat” (Ezekiel 11:3 ESV).

The exact meaning of their words is somewhat difficult to discern. It seems clear that they recognize the dangerous nature of their situation. It would have been impossible to ignore the presence of the Babylonian army outside the gates of the city. But their statement seems to indicate a lack of concern. They admit that the current circumstances are less-than-ideal and that this is not the time to be planning for the future. But they seem to believe that all will be well. They refer to Jerusalem as a sturdy and fire-resistant iron cauldron and the citizens of the city are the meat. The flames will come and the heat will be intense, but the people will be safe inside the city’s walls.

In a sense, they were advising the citizens of the city to bide their time. In their estimation, the Babylonians posed no real threat and would eventually go away. But God had already warned the people of Judah that Nebuchadnezzar and his army were going to destroy the city along with everything and everyone in it.

Jeremiah replied, “Go back to King Zedekiah and tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will make your weapons useless against the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside your walls attacking you. In fact, I will bring your enemies right into the heart of this city. I myself will fight against you with a strong hand and a powerful arm, for I am very angry. You have made me furious! I will send a terrible plague upon this city, and both people and animals will die. And after all that, says the Lord, I will hand over King Zedekiah, his staff, and everyone else in the city who survives the disease, war, and famine. I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and to their other enemies. He will slaughter them and show them no mercy, pity, or compassion.’

“Tell all the people, ‘This is what the Lord says: Take your choice of life or death! Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who go out and surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life! For I have decided to bring disaster and not good upon this city, says the Lord. It will be handed over to the king of Babylon, and he will reduce it to ashes.’” – Jeremiah 21:3-10 NLT

Yet, these men were directly contradicting the word of God. So, God gives Ezekiel a stinging indictment to level against these overconfident and arrogant men. He turns their pleasant-sounding metaphor on its ear.

“This city is an iron pot all right, but the pieces of meat are the victims of your injustice. As for you, I will soon drag you from this pot.” – Ezekiel 11:7 NLT

God places all the blame on them. They are guilty of gross misconduct and dereliction of duty. As leaders, they had proven to be abusive and self-serving, lining their pockets by fleecing the flock of God. The “meat” within the cauldron of Jerusalem represented the bodies of the innocent victims of their injustice and unrighteous rule.

“You have murdered many in this city and filled its streets with the dead.” – Ezekiel 11:6 NLT

These men had actually used the presence of the Babylonians to their own selfish advantage. They had taken advantage of peoples’ fears and concerns. They had used the threat of a siege to charge the people exorbitant prices for food and supplies. They had actually grown wealthy by manipulating their power as official government employees. And all along, they had failed to heed God’s repeated calls to repentance. And God, having grown weary of their act, gave Ezekiel a not-so-subtle hint as to their fate.

“I will bring on you the sword of war you so greatly fear, says the Sovereign Lord. I will drive you out of Jerusalem and hand you over to foreigners, who will carry out my judgments against you. You will be slaughtered all the way to the borders of Israel. I will execute judgment on you, and you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 11:8-10 NLT

Their hopes of riding out the siege safe and secure within the walls of Jerusalem were going to prove to be a pipe dream.

“No, this city will not be an iron pot for you, and you will not be like meat safe inside it. I will judge you even to the borders of Israel, and you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 11:11-12 NLT

For the second time, God reminds these rebellious and unrepentant leaders that when all is said and done, they will know that He is the Lord. One way or the other, they will wake up and recognize the power and holiness of Yahweh. For the time being, they had chosen to disobey His decrees and regulations. They had decided to live according to their own set of moral standards or to adopt and adapt to the ways of the pagan world around them. God had become an afterthought. His laws and decrees had become little more than suggestions rather than commands. But they were about to discover the painful truth that God’s covenant commandments were obligatory and not optional. He demanded and expected obedience on the part of His people.

And, as if to prove that He was serious, God struck one of the men dead – right on the spot. As Ezekiel was delivering the Lord’s message, “Pelatiah son of Benaiah suddenly died” (Ezekiel 11:13 NLT). And this tragic and unexpected death hit Ezekiel like a brick. Once again, he found himself questioning God’s intentions.

“O Sovereign Lord, are you going to kill everyone in Israel?” – Ezekiel 11:13 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Pelatiah’s name means “Jehovah delivers” and his father’s name, Benaiah means “Jehovah has built.” This particular individual with this very specific name dropped dead right before Ezekiel’s eyes and this left the prophet perplexed and confused. Would there be no survivors? Was God going to destroy every last citizen of the city? As an exile living in Babylon, Ezekiel had hoped that there were still a few faithful followers of Yahweh left in Judah. The thought that the entire nation had turned its back on God left Ezekiel in a state of shock and dismay. What hope did he and his fellow exiles have if God was going to destroy the city of David and annihilate its entire population? Any thought of ever returning to their homeland would be lost forever.

But despite Pelatiah’s death and God’s stern message of pending judgment, there was still reason for Ezekiel to maintain his hope. God would remain faithful to His covenant commitments. He would preserve a remnant. His plan of redemption remained in place and the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would come to fruition.

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 Faithful Few

13 “Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ 14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? 15 And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’”

16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. 17 “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. 18 Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. – Malachi 3:13-18 ESV

The returned exiles found life in Judah difficult and far below their expectations as God’s chosen people. After having made the arduous journey from Babylon to their former homeland, things had not turned out quite as they had hoped. From their perspective, God had not done His part, having left them relatively defenseless and struggling to make ends meet while the nations around them prospered and threatened their very existence.

As a result, they had taken matters into their own hands, compromising their convictions by worshiping the false gods of their pagan neighbors. They defended their actions as just and necessary, even convincing themselves that they were better off because of the things they had done. To them, God was part of the problem, because they believed His laws to be too restrictive and any attempt to keep them to be far from beneficial.

“What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins?” – Malachi 3:14 NLT

This attitude led them to minimize their need for obedience or repentance. They refused to alter their behavior or even admit that they were out of step with God’s will. Instead, they arrogantly boasted about their decision to live their lives in a way that was antithetical to the commands of God.

“From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.” – Malachi 3:15 NLT

They had come to the conclusion that God was either powerless to do anything about their behavior or altogether indifferent as to what was going on in Judah. Having wrongly determined that God was not keeping His end of the covenant agreement, they had chosen to go their own way. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

But years earlier, God had delivered a powerful indictment against such flawed thinking. This was not the first time that the people of Israel had decided to establish a code of conduct that was diametrically opposed to God’s law. Long before God brought the Babylonians to destroy Judah, He had warned His people about their arrogant tendency to establish their own standard of righteousness.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

Spiritually speaking, things were looking bleak in Judah. But according to Malachi, things were not yet hopeless. He indicates that there were a faithful few who remained committed to maintaining their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Evidently, this righteous remnant regularly met together to encourage and motivate one another to remain faithful. While everyone around them was compromising their convictions and joining in the spiritual apostasy of the prevailing culture, these few were determined to stand their ground in the face of overwhelming odds. And God took notice.

God was anything but indifferent or distant. He heard their discussions and took note of their plight. And Malachi indicates that He had each of their names recorded for posterity.

In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. – Malachi 3:16 NLT

These people stood out from the crowd. They were outliers in the midst of a nation that had sold out and given in to moral compromise. While everyone else was calling evil good and good evil, this small contingent of believers remained dedicated to God, choosing to show Him reverence and honor by living according to His will rather than their own. They too were suffering, but they refused to blame God. Their lives were just as difficult as anyone else’s, but they were unwilling to turn their backs on God or blame their circumstances on Him. He had repeatedly proven Himself to be faithful and they were willing to continue placing their trust in Him.

And God responded, “They will be my people” (Malachi 3:17 NLT). Having recorded their names in His scroll of remembrance, God assures that their faithfulness will not be forgotten or go unrewarded. He doesn’t promise immediate deliverance or a timely display of compensatory blessings. No, He indicates that their reward will come in the form of deliverance on the coming day of judgment.

“On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. – Malachi 3:17 NLT

Malachi opened this chapter with a reminder from God concerning the coming “messenger of the covenant,” stating, “who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap” (Malachi 3:2 ESV).

And God vowed that, in that coming day of judgment, He will hold the people of Israel accountable for their actions. Their conduct will be exposed, judged, and condemned.

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me.” – Malachi 3:5 NLT

God is warning of a future day of retribution and reward that will take place at the second coming of Christ. The tiny remnant who honored and revered His name in the face of growing opposition will stand before God and be rewarded for their faithfulness. But all those who chose to treat His law with disdain and dishonor the holiness of His name will be held accountable.

Before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus provided His disciples with a vivid description of His return and the day of judgment that will take place for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. – Matthew 25:31-33 NLT

There will be a separating of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This judgment will not involve those who came to faith in Christ after His ascension. But it will include all the Old Testament saints and everyone else who has lived since the beginning of time. That small remnant of faithful Yahweh followers will be included in the vast crowds that will stand before the Lord. And they will find that their names have been recorded in God’s scroll of remembrance, deeming them free from condemnation and worthy of the reward of eternal life.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.’” – Matthew 25:34 NLT

The key differentiator between the sheep and the goats will be their behavior. But it will not be their behavior that saves them. It will be their faith in God as illustrated by their willingness to live in keeping with His will. These individuals will have displayed a trust in God that manifested itself in a selfless display of care and concern for others. Rather than putting their own needs first, they will have sacrificed their security and comfort for the benefit of others. These people are the ones who offered the full amount of their tithes and offerings so that all the oppressed among them, including the widows, orphans, and foreigners might be cared for. And that is exactly what Jesus describes in His depiction of the day of judgment.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:35-40 NLT

The righteous remnant will be rewarded. Not because they have a righteousness of their own, but a righteousness based on their faith in the promises of God. Their unfailing belief that God was faithful and true motivated them to live their lives in keeping with His commands and trusting in His future reward.

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

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

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

Repent and Rebuild

1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. Haggai 1:1-6 ESV

This relatively short prophetic book bears the name of Haggai, who was evidently its author. We are given scant details regarding Haggai’s life, other than a brief mention in the book of Ezra. According to the prophet Ezra, Haggai was a fellow prophet who served the Jews living in Judah and Jerusalem.

Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. – Ezra 5:1 ESV

Context is important to understanding the content of Haggai’s book. He provides the second year of Darius the king” as the time at which he received his message from God. That would date his letter sometime around 520 BC. This would have been about 66 years after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians. In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia had issued a decree that allowed the Jews who had been taken captive in the fall of Judah, to return to their land. In 537 BC, the first wave of exiles made their way back to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, who was later replaced by Zerubbabel. In 458 BC, a second wave of 42,000 Israelites left Babylon and returned to the land of promise under the leadership of Ezra. Then in 444 BC, Nehemiah led a third and final wave of exiles on the long and arduous journey home to Judah. It is believed that Haggai and Zechariah both returned with the first wave of refugees. That means that Haggai had been living back in the land of Judah for 17 years before he received his message from God.

During that time, the people had begun an aggressive rebuilding program, attempting to restore the city of Jerusalem’s damaged walls and gates. Under Zerubbabel, the first group of returned exiles had rebuilt the brazen altar in Jerusalem and reinstituted the sacrificial system. But the temple remained in ruins. They would lay the foundation for the temple’s construction, but due to opposition, they would postpone its construction for 16 years. That means that Haggai had been an eye-witness to the apathy that had set in among the people. He had stood back and watched as the rebuilding program ground to a halt and the rubble of the temple would have been a constant reminder of the people’s unwillingness to honor God. They had gone about the construction of their own homes but had failed to rebuild the house of God. Their priorities were misaligned and their neglect of God’s house was another sign of their continuing unfaithfulness. God had honored His promise to restore them to the land, and yet, in refusing to complete the temple, they were treating Him as a second-class citizen. Any gratitude they may have felt for their undeserved restoration to their homeland had been replaced by greed and selfishness. And God was going to use Haggai to call them out.

Like any other prophet, Haggai was a messenger. He spoke on behalf of God. And the first message God gave Haggai to deliver was addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, and Joshua, the high priest. God was going to hold these two men responsible for the people’s failure to complete the construction of the temple. But it’s important to note that God was not angry because He needed a place to live. When King David had come up with the original idea of building a house for God, he had received a not-so-subtle message from God delivered through the prophet Nathan.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God did not need a house to live in. Because He is transcendent and omnipresent, He cannot be contained in a single location. But God eventually allowed David’s son, Solomon, to build a magnificent temple and He graced it with His name and vowed to watch over it – as long as Solomon and the people remained faithful to follow Him. At the dedication of that original temple, God had sworn an oath to Solomon and the people of Israel.

“I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And this house will become a heap of ruins.” – 1 Kings 9:3-8 ESV

Of course, history reveals that Solomon failed to keep his commitment to God. He ended his reign by erecting idols to the false gods of his many wives and concubines. He led the people of Israel into idolatry and apostasy, which led God to split his kingdom in two, resulting in the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And the kings that followed Solomon would fare no better in keeping the covenant commitments to God. Their track records of unfaithfulness and disobedience would eventually result in the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians and the destruction of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians.

God’s message to Zerubbabel about the delay in building the temple was not about a divine housing shortage. It was about a shortfall in the people’s faithfulness to God. God accused them of complacency and procrastination.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” – Haggai 1:2 ESV

They had made a determination to disobey the will of God. The whole reason God had allowed them to return to the land was to rebuild, restore, and repopulate it. But when they had initially begun the process, they had encountered opposition.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. – Ezra 4:1-5 ESV

These “adversaries” were actually Jews who had been left in the land after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians. Over the years they had intermarried with foreigners from Cutha, Ava, and Sepharvaim, who had been relocated to the land of Israel by the King of Assyria. Many of these people had migrated into the southern kingdom of Judah after it fell to the Babylonians. So, when the exiled eventually returned, these interlopers were not keen on giving up their newly acquired land or seeing the southern kingdom of Judah restored to its former glory. As a result, they did everything in their power to delay any plans for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

But somehow, even in the face of opposition, the returned exiles had managed to build houses for themselves. And God points out the inconsistency of their behavior.

“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? – Ezra 1:4 NLT

They had been disobedient to God’s command. Their neglect of God’s house revealed the true nature of their hearts. Perhaps they assumed that God would be with them whether He had a house or not. But their failure to honor Him by rebuilding the house that bore His name revealed the selfish and self-centered conditions of their hearts. And God revealed that their disobedience had already begun to have consequences. But they were completely oblivious to what was happening to them.

“Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” – Haggai 1:5-6 NLT

All their efforts were producing diminished results. Because they had chosen to neglect God, they were experiencing negligible returns on their investments. They were unable to produce enough food to meet their needs. Their clothes were insufficient to keep them warm. Their wells and cisterns proved incapable of satisfying their thirst. And they never seemed to have enough money to meet their needs.

Don’t miss the point that God is making. They had beautiful homes, bountiful fields and vineyards, reliable water sources, ample clothing, and a ready source of income. But they were missing the blessing of God. They had put all their hope and trust in material things, and now they were finding that their sources of significance and sustenance were insufficient to meet their needs. It was time to rebuild. Haggai was going to make sure they understood that obedience to God took precedence over everything. As Jesus would later teach in His Sermon on the Mount, God expects His children to seek His Kingdom above all else.

“Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” – Matthew 6:30-33 NLT

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

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

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

For Evil and Not for Good

1 I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:

“Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake,
    and shatter them on the heads of all the people;
and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword;
    not one of them shall flee away;
    not one of them shall escape.

“If they dig into Sheol,
    from there shall my hand take them;
if they climb up to heaven,
    from there I will bring them down.
If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
    from there I will search them out and take them;
and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
    there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And if they go into captivity before their enemies,
    there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them
    for evil and not for good.”

The Lord God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who dwell in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
    and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens
    and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.

“For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’Amos 9:1-10 ESV

In this final vision, Amos sees God standing next to an altar. But this scene does not take place at the temple in Jerusalem. Ever since the kingdom of Solomon had been divided in two by God, the ten northern tribes had abstained from worshiping Yahweh at the temple that Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem. Instead, they worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam I had set up in Dan and Bethel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:26-31 NLT

And long after Jeroboam’s death, the kingdom of Israel continued to worship the golden calves he had set up in Dan and Bethel. So, the altar in Amos’ vision is most likely in one of those locations. He sees God standing next to the sacred shrine dedicated to the golden calf of Jeroboam – the false god that had been meant to replace Him.

Amos sees Yahweh, the one true God, standing in judgment over the altar of the false god that the people of Israel had chosen to worship instead of Him. In essence, God is standing next to one of the golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had created. And in the very presence of this false god, Yahweh calls for the destruction of his house.

Strike the tops of the Temple columns,
    so that the foundation will shake.
Bring down the roof
    on the heads of the people below.
I will kill with the sword those who survive.
    No one will escape!” – Amos 9:1 NLT

Amos is being given a glimpse of the coming judgment of God upon the house of Jacob (Israel). With the destruction of the temple dedicated to Israel’s false god, Yahweh is displaying His unparalleled power and declaring His well-deserved judgment upon them for their rejection of Him. While a literal destruction of this pagan temple would only result in a few deaths, God assures Amos that “no one will escape” His wrath. They can run but they won’t be able to escape the judgment of God Almighty. And God uses language that is reminiscent of the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 139.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me. – Psalm 139:7-10 NLT

It doesn’t matter where they go, God will find them and mete out His judgment upon them. Rather than guidance and strength, they will find only the righteous indignation and full fury of the God they have chosen to abandon. And one of the fascinating things about this passage is its rather veiled but obvious reference to Jonah. God states, “Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them” (Amos 9:3 NLT).

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, another prophet that God had appointed to the northern tribe of Israel. But at one point, God had given Jonah a commission to take His message of pending judgment to the Assyrians living in the capital city of Nineveh. Fearing that the pagan people of Nineveh would hear God’s message and repent, Jonah refused to obey God’s command. Instead, he booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, hoping to escape the presence of the Lord. But through a series of divinely ordained events, God pursued His rebellious and disobedient prophet. God sent a storm that placed Jonah and his fellow passengers in great danger.

Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:15-17 NLT

When Jonah was cast into the sea, he sank beneath the waves. He began to drown. And he later described for God what that experience had been like.

You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. – Jonah 2:3 NLT

But God sent the sea serpent to bite him (Amos 9:3). But in Jonah’s case, the “serpent” was actually a symbol of God’s salvation. Even Jonah recognized that the “great fish” had been an agent of God’s mercy.

I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death! – Jonah 2:6 NLT

After three days and nights inside the great fish, Jonah was unceremoniously vomited out on dry land. He was rescued and redeemed from death by the sovereign hand of God. After his miraculous and God-ordained deliverance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered God’s message of judgment, and the people repented. God’s will was done.

Jonah had rebelled against God and had suffered the consequences. He had thought He could escape the wrath of God and was proven wrong. And the people of Israel were going to learn the same painful lesson. Just as God had appointed the wind to create the storm that resulted in Jonah’s drowning, He would appoint enemies to destroy the people of Israel. The same God who “draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land” (Amos 9:6 NLT), was going to use His sovereign power to rain down judgment upon the disobedient people of Israel.

But, like Jonah, they would find that their God was merciful and longsuffering. Jonah did not drown, and the people of Israel would not be completely destroyed.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel…” – Amos 9:8 NLT

Jonah lived to tell the story of his own rebellion. And a remnant of the people of Israel would live to tell about God’s undeserved mercy and grace toward them. In the midst of His declaration of judgment, God promises to redeem a remnant of His people.

“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.” – Amos 9:9 NLT

There were still those in Israel who remained true to Yahweh, and He would preserve and protect them. Why? Because He was not yet done. The rebellion of His people would be punished, but His sovereign plan for the world would still be accomplished. God had set apart the people of Israel so that they might be a light to the nations, but they had failed to accomplish God’s will. Yet, He had a plan in place that would bring about the fulfillment of His original mandate that Israel be a light to the nations. And it would come about through His Son, the true Israel.

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus would accomplish what Israel had failed to do. He would be a descendant of Abraham and the son of King David who would fully accomplish God’s will. But for that to happen, God would spare a remnant of His people so that His Son could one day enter the world, born of the virgin, Mary, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. And, as Amos was about to see, while God was prepared to judge Israel, He was far from done with them, because He had a plan in place.

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

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

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

The Oil of Gladness

1 Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” 2 Kings 4:1-7 ESV

The author has made the corporate nature of Israel’s sin abundantly clear. While he has focused most of his attention on the men who ruled over the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, he has also exposed the pervasive nature of the unfaithfulness and apostasy that had infected the entire nation. As the kings of Israel continued to stubbornly pursue and promote the worship of false gods, the people followed their example. Yet, despite the ubiquitous presence of idolatry, there was a remnant of those who chose to remain faithful to Yahweh. These faithful few found themselves constantly tempted to compromise their convictions and cave into the pressure to conform. And on those occasions when God was forced to pour out His divine judgment upon the nation, these same individuals suffered alongside their rebellious neighbors.

Yet the author provides an occasional glimpse into the lives of these spiritual holdouts, and when he does, they shine like stars in the darkness of Israel’s apostasy and rebellion. These somewhat rare sightings of the faithful few also provide a powerful reminder of God’s mercy and love. He knows His flock and is well aware of those who still worship Him as God. Not only that, He is fully cognizant of their circumstances and always ready to care for them in their time of need.

Chapter four opens up with one such story, and it follows close on the heels of the account of Israel’s miraculous victory over the Moabites. God had graciously rescued the forces of Jehoram and Jehoshaphat after they had run out of water in the wilderness of Edom. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had intervened on their behalf, refreshing them with water and then rewarding them with a decisive, yet undeserved, victory over the Moabites.

The prophet Elisha had played a crucial role in this memorable affair, delivering the good news of God’s rescue from pending death and His victory over the enemies of Israel. And when the prophet returned home, he found himself facing yet another crisis, one that was much smaller in scale but just as serious in nature. He was approached by the wife of a fellow prophet. Her husband had recently died, leaving her and her two young boys with no source of income. The creditors were already knocking at the door, demanding payment of her husband’s debts. If she failed to settle her accounts in full, her boys would become indentured servants, paying off the debt through years of forced labor.

This was a common practice in those days, even among the Israelites. Those who were unable to pay off their debts could become servants to their creditor, working off their indebtedness through labor. But God had provided regulations concerning these transactions.

“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him. – Exodus 21:2-3 NLT

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell himself to you, do not treat him as a slave. Treat him instead as a hired worker or as a temporary resident who lives with you, and he will serve you only until the Year of Jubilee. At that time he and his children will no longer be obligated to you, and they will return to their clans and go back to the land originally allotted to their ancestors. The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly. – Leviticus 25:39-43 NLT

This widow found herself in a difficult situation, facing the potential loss of her two young sons, so she appealed to Elisha. We are given no insight into what she was expecting the prophet to do for her. Was she hoping he would intercede with her creditors and beg them for mercy? Did she think the prophet would pay off her debt? Even Elisha questioned her expectations.

“What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” – 2 Kings 4:2 ESV

To the widow, this question must have sounded like a request for payment. She heard the prophet asking what she had to offer in return for his help, so she sadly reported, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil” (2 Kings 4:2 ESV). Her circumstances were dire. She had nothing to offer the prophet and no way of paying off her debt. From her perspective, everything was hopeless and her prospects for deliverance were bleak. Even if her sons became indentured servants, it would be years before their labor would pay off the debt and, in the meantime, she would be left alone and with no means of financial support. It couldn’t get any worse.

But Elisha saw things from a different perspective. He had just witnessed His God bring water to a desert and rescue the army of an apostate, unbelieving king. And he fully trusted that God could and would rescue this helpless widow in her time of need. So, Elisha instructed her to gather as many jars, containers, pots, and pans as she could find. She was even to borrow them from her neighbors. He wanted her to be aggressive in her efforts, instructing her to find “not too few” of these empty vessels. When she was done, she and her boys were to close the door to their house and then begin the process of pouring the oil from the jar into the various jugs and jars they had gathered.

So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! – 2 Kings 4:5-6 NLT

At no point did the widow question Elisha’s instructions. Despite how strange his orders may have seemed, she and her boys faithfully did as they had been told. And a miracle took place – right before their eyes. The oil in the jar somehow replenished itself and did not run out until the last jar had been filled. Imagine the excitement of those young boys as they brought jar after jar to their mother and watched as she carefully filled them with the seemingly never-ending supply of oil. Soon, their entire house was filled with jars brimming with oil. And when the supply of jars finally ran out, so did the oil. But not before God had miraculously filled every last vessel.

When the woman informed Elisha what had happened, he showed no sign of surprise, but simply told her to take the oil and sell it. She was to use the proceeds to settle her debt. But God didn’t just bring her indebtedness to zero. He gave her a surplus. Once the oil had been sold, she and her sons would have more than enough money to take care of their needs for a long time to come.

This unnamed woman represents the remnant of the faithful who lived all throughout the nation of Israel at that time. In the midst of all the apostasy and unfaithfulness, there were those who longed to have their needs met by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had refused to bow the knee to Baal and Asherah. They had resisted the temptation to compromise their convictions. In her time of need, this woman did not call on the false gods of Israel. She sought out the prophet of Yahweh, and she asked for his help. She had no idea what to expect, but she knew that her only hope of rescue would be found by throwing herself at the mercy of the one true God. And He delivered. While Israel had proved to be unfaithful to God, He continued to exhibit His covenant faithfulness to them – in big and small ways. And this story provides a glimpse into the merciful nature of God and His care and concern for those who are “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:17-18 NLT

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

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

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

The Faithful Few

1 Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”

Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again. 10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” 11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” 12 When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city. 

13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 14 And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” 15 Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. 1 Kings 20:1-15 ESV

With the opening of chapter 20, both Elijah and Elisha, his newly commissioned replacement, suddenly disappear from the scene. Elijah will not be mentioned again until verse 17 of chapter 21. It would appear that he and his young protégé were busy fulfilling the command of God.

“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” – 1 Kings 19:15-16 ESV

After Elijah had cast his cloak on Elisha, the two of them must have spent a significant amount of time searching for Hazael and Jehu. They would have begun their journey in Abel-meholah, Elisha’s hometown, located about 25 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. As they made their way north to Damascus in Syria, the sovereign plan of God continued to unfold in the land of Israel. In his former state of disillusionment and despair, Elijah had thought he was the last prophet alive in Israel, but he was about to be proven wrong. While he and Elisha were busy searching for the new kings of Syria and Israel, God was going to raise up other prophets to act as His spokesmen to King Ahab.

God’s miraculous defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel had left Ahab and Jezebel unphased and unrepentant. The loss of their 450 prophets had not diminished their enthusiasm for their false god. And they had failed to acknowledge the sudden end of the three-and-a-half-year drought as a gracious act of God. This arrogant and prideful couple remained stubbornly opposed to the God of Israel. But just as the prophets of Baal had been no match for Yahweh, so Ahab and Jezebel would soon discover that their power and prominence would provide them no protection against the judgment of God.

With the end of the drought, the famine that had plagued the land slowly abated. But now, Ahab found himself facing a threat of a different sort. Any sense of relief he felt from the drought’s ending and Elijah’s sudden disappearance quickly faded when the Syrians laid siege to the capital city of Samaria. Surrounded and facing a confederation of forces that greatly outnumbered Israel’s army, Ahab found himself in a difficult situation. And the terms of surrender he received from King Ben-hadad made things far worse.

“Your silver and gold are mine, and so are your wives and the best of your children!” – 1 Kings 20:3 NLT

Operating from a position of weakness, Ahab was forced to agree to Ben-hadad’s terms but stubbornly refused to comply. Perhaps he was trying to buy time. But his delay only aggravated the problem, causing Ben-hadad to up the ante.

“I have already demanded that you give me your silver, gold, wives, and children. But about this time tomorrow I will send my officials to search your palace and the homes of your officials. They will take away everything you consider valuable!” – 1 Kings 20:5-6 NLT

Ahab had been able to survive the drought, living in luxury as his people suffered and died. But now, he was facing the loss of everything he held near and dear. Ben-hadad was threatening to steal Ahab’s glory, and for a man whose identity was derived from what he possessed, this message got his attention.

Ahab, desperate to preserve his status and prevent the loss of everything he considered of value, consulted his advisors. They convinced him to refuse any further negotiations with the Syrians. Their advice was that he keep his original commitment to give up his wives and children and pay Ben-hadad a large tribute of silver and gold. But he was not to allow the Syrians access to the capital so they could plunder all his possessions. Eager to protect his personal domain, Ahab took their counsel and sent word to Ben-hadad. But his message was not well-received. Ben-hadad reacted with anger and issued his final word on the matter in the form of a vow.

“The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” – 1 Kings 20:10 ESV

The words of Ben-hadad are eerily similar to those delivered by Queen Jezebel to Elijah after he had destroyed the 450 prophets of Baal. She, too, had made an oath to her false gods, swearing to kill Elijah or face their judgment.

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” – 1 Kings 19:2 ESV

It’s interesting to note that Ben-hadad, a pagan, believed that his gods were real and capable of giving him success in battle. Yet, Ahab, king over the chosen people of Yahweh, makes no mention of any gods whatsoever, including the gods of his wife. He was operating in his own strength and according to the wisdom of men. And he displays his arrogance and over-confidence in his response to Ben-hadad.

“A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won.” – 1 Kings 20:11 NLT

As would be expected, Ben-hadad was infuriated by Ahab’s boastful message and ordered an immediate attack on the city. He was done negotiating with this pompous and pride-filled fool. And, as those reading this story, we fully expect and even hope that God will allow Ahab to get what he so justly deserves.

But God’s ways are not our ways. While we see the Syrians’ attack as the hand of God against wicked King Ahab, the author reveals that God has other plans altogether. As Ahab and the citizens of Samaria brace themselves for the coming attack, God sends a prophet with a message of hope.

“This is what the Lord says: Do you see all these enemy forces? Today I will hand them all over to you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 NLT

This statement shocks and surprises us. It seems so unexpected and undeserved. Why in the world would God do such a thing for an arrogant and egotistical man like Ahab? He was idolatrous and had led the entire nation of Israel into apostasy. Among all the kings of Israel, he was the poster boy for wickedness and immorality. And yet, here was God giving him a message of divine deliverance.

Ahab responds with a series of questions rather than drop to his knees in humble repentance and gratitude for God’s gracious intervention. First, he asks, “By whom?” He demanded details. Ahab wanted to know who would get the credit for the victory. And the prophet replied, “By the servants of the governors of the districts” (1 Kings 20:14 ESV). Much to Ahab’s disappointment, God was not going to use him as the means of delivering the decisive blow to the Syrians. That prompted Ahab to ask, “Who shall begin the battle?” (1 Kings 20:14 ESV). He desperately wanted to know if he would have any part to play in this divine deliverance. And, once again, to our surprise and dismay, God informs Ahab that he will have the privilege of putting God’s plan into play.

With God’s plan clearly articulated, Ahab set about putting the pieces together to make it happen.

Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. – 1 Kings 20:15 ESV

This verse should bring to mind the promise God had made just before He sent Elijah on his mission to anoint the future kings of Syria and Israel.

“I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” – 1 Kings 19:18 NLT

God had promised His reluctant prophet that He would raise up a remnant from among the apostate people of Israel, and He would use these faithful few to accomplish His will. Now God was using Ahab, the apostate king of Israel, to choose the 7,000 faithful whom God would use to defeat the Syrians in battle. Ahab would begin the battle, but he would not secure the victory. That privilege would fall to those who had not bowed down to Baal.

None of this was about Ahab. He was the king, but, in reality, he was nothing more than a bit player in God’s sovereign plan for the redemption and restoration of His people. Ahab may have worn the crown, but God was King over Israel. And while Ben-hadad’s superior numbers appeared to give him the advantage, God had the faithful few. He was going to bring about a great victory, using those few who had refused to bow their knees to Baal.

God was about to reveal His power through weakness. And He would do so through those whose presence was unknown but whose faith had remained unwavering. With God on their side, this faithful remnant would defeat the enemy, and their unexpected victory would bring great glory to God. And in the Song of Moses recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, we’re given an explanation for the kind of victory God is about to bring.

How could one person chase a thousand of them,
    and two people put ten thousand to flight,
unless their Rock had sold them,
    unless the Lord had given them up?
But the rock of our enemies is not like our Rock… – Deuteronomy 32:30-31 NLT

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

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

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

Awake and Waiting

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:24-37 ESV

Almost the entire focus of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse is the far-distant future. He is telling His disciples about events that will take place long after they are gone. But He uses language that conveys a sense of anticipation, almost as if these things could happen tomorrow. In a sense, He is trying to help them understand that, in just a few days, they will be eyewitnesses to one of the most significant parts of God’s grand redemptive plan.

With all the emphasis on things to come, it is easy to forget that Jesus is just days away from His own death. But that singular event will inaugurate a new age. With His death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus will usher in the church age. His return to His Father’s side will make possible the coming of the Holy Spirit. And on the day of Pentecost, His followers will receive the “power from on high” that He promised, transforming them into bold and powerful ambassadors of the Gospel. And their efforts will help give birth to the church. And for generations, the church will grow and prosper, spreading throughout the world and impacting every tribe, nation, and tongue. But one day, Jesus will return for His bride, the church, and take them to be with Him in heaven. And with the removal of all believers from the face of the earth, the stage will be set for the day of Tribulation, a seven-year-long period of divine judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants. And Jesus has warned that “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (Mark 14:19 ESV).

Yet, even in those dark days, God will continue to redeem the lost, beginning with 144,000 Jews that will represent every one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Revelations 7:4). And they will become witnesses to the world, resulting in the salvation of countless individuals from every people group on the planet. And many of those believers will become martyrs, suffering death at the hand of Antichrist. But, according to God’s divine plan, the seven-years of the Tribulation will finally come to an end. And Jesus indicates that the end will be marked by cosmic disturbances.

“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,  and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25 ESV

These dramatic celestial displays will act as signs of another significant feature of God’s redemptive plan: The return of His Son.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” – Mark 13:26-27 ESV

This will be the long-awaited Second Coming of Jesus. Unlike His first advent, when Jesus came to earth in the form of a helpless baby, this time He will come as a mighty warrior and a conquering King.

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

Jesus will return to earth in order to wage war against all the forces of evil on the earth. He will gather all His saints, both living and dead. And He will defeat the forces of Satan, capturing and imprisoning Antichrist and his associates (Revelation 19:19-21). And then Jesus will set up His earthly Kingdom, ruling from His throne in Jerusalem for a period of 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6).

All of these amazing events are included in the future events Jesus is describing to His disciples. It is as if He is giving them a highly condensed preview of all that is going to take place in the days ahead, and it will begin with His own death in Jerusalem.

So, Jesus tells them, “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Mark 13:29 ESV). He is not suggesting that they be around when these events take place. He is simply suggesting that before the end comes, there will be ample signs that will make its arrival clear. Like a fig tree that blooms and presages the arrival of summer, the various stages of God’s redemptive plan will have warning signs.

His referral to “this generation” in verse 30, seems to be an indication that the disciples represent a new dispensation or age among mankind. They will become the firstfruits of those who make up the church age. But they will also represent all those who live after the cross and who face the choice between salvation through faith in Christ alone or the condemnation and death that come through disbelief.

“This generation” includes all those who will witness Christ’s ascension and all those who will see His second coming. They and the world they inhabit will not be destroyed until all these things take place. Believers and unbelievers will inhabit this planet until the bitter end. And Jesus assures His disciples that they can trust His words. His word will prove more lasting and permanent than the universe itself.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” – Mark 13;31 ESV

But while all that Jesus has told them will take place, it will be according to the secret plans of God. No one knows the timing of God’s plan, not even Jesus Himself. That’s why Jesus told His followers, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33 ESV). Jesus wanted them to live with a sense of urgency, with their eyes focused on the fulfillment of His mission. Jesus had not come just to die and rise again. He had come so that He might come again. His second coming will be the final act in God’s grand play of redemption and restoration. That is why Paul told the believers living in Philippi, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).

Jesus wanted His disciples to live with a sense of urgency and expectancy. So, He told them to “Be on guard, keep awake” (Mark 13:33 ESV). There is no room for complacency or laziness among God’s people. We are to live as if His Son’s return could take place at any moment. We are part of that “generation” that “will not pass away until all these things take place.” We may not live long enough to see any of these things take place, but we are to live with confident assurance that they will. And we are to eagerly wait for Him to return as our Savior.

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

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

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