Faith in the Face of Affliction

1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

We know from Luke’s account of Paul’s second missionary journey, recorded in the book of Acts, that Paul and Silas had been forced to flee Thessalonica because of threats against their lives. They left under the cover of night and made their way to Berea. Their initial reception in Berea was positive and Luke records that the Jews there “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV). But before long, the Jews in Thessalonica got word that Paul and Silas were in Berea and sent men to stir up the local Jews against them. Once again, Paul was forced to leave, but he asked Silas and Timothy to remain behind in Berea (Acts 17:14). Paul then made his way to Athens by boat. Once there, he immediately went to work sharing the gospel, even preaching in the Areopagus, an outdoor arena located on a small hill northwest of the city of Athens. The term,  Areopagus referred to the place and the council of rulers who met there to debate and discuss important topics. Paul addressed this learned group, using the local shrine to the “unknown god” to discuss with them the truth regarding Jesus Christ. And all went well until he mentioned Jesus being raised from the dead.

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. – Acts 17:31-33 ESV

In spite of the negative response of the council, there were those who heard Paul’s message and believed.

In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul picks up the recounting of his travel itinerary right at this point.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith… – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 ESV

Paul had left Silas and Timothy back in Berea, but a further decision had been made to have Timothy return to Thessalonica to continue the work of building up the local congregation there. In a series of letters he had written to Timothy, Paul provided his young friend and ministry partner with some specific instructions regarding his work among these fledgling congregations.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. – 1 Timothy 4:12-13 NLT

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. – 2 Timothy 4:2 NLT

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that Timothy had been sent to encourage and instruct them, but also to strengthen their faith as they wrestled with the persecution they were facing.

We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith, and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. – 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 NLT

If you recall, a year earlier, when Paul and Silas had been in Thessalonica, a mob attacked the home of Jason, one of the members of the local congregation. He and a few other Christians had been dragged before the city council where they had been falsely accused of insurrection against the Roman government.

“They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.” – Acts 17:7 NLT

Jason and his companions were forced to post bond and released, but the pressure on this small congregation did not let up. The Jews living in Thessalonica saw them as a threat and continued to stir up trouble for them. The Gospel was having an impact, resulting in the conversions of some of the members of the local synagogue. And this resulted in a spirit of jealousy and resentment among the Jews. And the city council, answerable to the Roman government, was not about to tolerate anyone or anything that caused a spirit of dissent or discord in their community. So, this small congregation of Christ-followers was under increasing pressure and growing persecution.

But Paul reminds them:

…you know that we are destined for such troubles. Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 NLT

He had warned them that trouble would come, and it had shown up as promised. Evidently, this had been the motivation behind Paul’s decision to send Timothy back to Thessalonica. He was concerned that the pressure being placed upon the believers there would cause them to consider reneging on their commitment to Christ.

Paul had a strong commitment to the spiritual well-being of the local church and, knowing that persecution was to be expected, he had sent Timothy to provide godly leadership in the face of opposition. And he had already provided Timothy with ample instructions regarding his role as an elder/shepherd of the people of God.

I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15 NLT

The church was to be the pillar and foundation of the truth. The local congregation in Thessalonica was meant to conduct itself in keeping with the truth of the Gospel, exhibiting its life-transforming power even in the face of persecution. Paul was well aware of the fact that Satan would do everything in his power to discourage and demoralize the young believers in Thessalonica. In fact, he confessed to them his fear that they would give in to the enemy’s attacks on their faith.

I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless. – 1 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT

Paul had expressed similar concerns to the believers in Ephesus and had provided them with insights into the nature of the spiritual battle in which they were engaged.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Faith in Christ had resulted in salvation for the believers in Thessalonica. But it had also resulted in persecution. Their commitment to Christ had placed a bullseye on their backs and made them tempting targets for the enemy. And Paul knew that the constant presence of trials and tribulations would cause some to lose faith. Their strength to stand firm in the face of opposition would grow weak and the temptation to return to their old way of life would be great.

Paul had warned Timothy that this would happen, so he had encouraged him to “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith” (1 Timothy 1:18-19 BSB).

The local church is meant to be the pillar and foundation of the truth. It is within the local fellowship that the miracle of the Gospel shows up in transformed lives and a loving community of Christ-centered people who love God and each other. But for that local church to be impactful, it will require individual believers who remain committed to the cause of Christ regardless of any persecutions or problems they may face.

Paul knew that the Thessalonian believers were suffering, but he also knew that they could survive and thrive. His answer to their problem of persecution was simple. It was the very same thing he had told the believers in Corinth.

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love. – 1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

And God had not left them ill-equipped or on their own. He had provided them with ample resources to fight the good fight of faith.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:13-17 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

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You Want Me To Do What?

1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” – Ruth 3:1-5 ESV

Back in chapter one, we have the record of Naomi’s words to her two distraught daughters-in-law, spoken not long after they had lost their husbands. She expressed her heartfelt desire that they find rest. And she knew that this would only be possible when each of them found a new husband. There would be no rest for them as long as they remained widows.

The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Judges 1:9 ESV

The Hebrew word she used is mĕnuwchah, and it conveys the idea of repose or comfort. It was often used in reference to matrimony because it was only in this state that a woman could find the safety and security she needed in a society where women were sometimes treated as second-class citizens and were afforded few individual rights. It was within the context of marriage that a woman could find a home to live in and a husband to provide for her needs. As a widow herself, Naomi was well-acquainted with the insecurities and insufficiencies that would accompany the unmarried state of her daughters.

Now, in chapter 3, we see Naomi repeating her desire that Ruth find rest, but this time she seems to take upon herself the responsibility for making it happen.

“My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? – Ruth 3:1 ESV

It seems that Naomi had become the self-appointed matchmaker for Ruth, driven in part by her feelings of responsibility for her daughter-in-law’s current predicament. Naomi hoped to find her a suitable husband so that Ruth wouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life in a constant state of distress and deprivation. It also seems clear that Naomi sensed there might be something more “intimate” between Ruth and Boaz than even her daughter-in-law realized. She recognized that Boaz’s displays of kindness to Ruth were driven by more than an obligation to fulfill his responsibilities as the kindred-redeemer.

It seems quite apparent that Naomi had developed a plan to bring about the “rest” that she longed for Ruth to experience. Knowing that Boaz was her kinsman-redeemer and that Boaz seemed to be attracted to her widowed daughter-in-law, Naomi shared her plan with Ruth.

“So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal.” – Ruth 3:3 NLT

In essence, Naomi told Ruth to “paint the barn.” No doubt, Ruth was accustomed to wearing the kind of clothes that made sense for working in the fields. Chapter 2 makes it clear that Naomi was returning to the fields of Boaz on a regular basis. She began during the barley harvest but continued to glean when the wheat harvest came in.

So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. – Ruth 2:23 NLT

There would have been few reasons for Ruth to clean up, let alone dress up. She was a common laborer whose long days were filled with back-breaking labor. But on this occasion, Naomi told Ruth to dress like she was going out on a date. She was to bathe, put on her best outfit, and splash on her best-smelling perfume. It seems clear that Naomi was not sending Ruth on a job interview. And the next set of instructions reveals that Naomi had ulterior motives in mind.

“When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him.” – Ruth 3:4 NLT

There is a lot going on here. While it appears that Naomi’s actions are totally focused on Ruth’s well-being, her actions are not purely selfless. It is important to remember that Ruth was the widow of Naomi’s son, Chilion. And the story makes it clear that neither Chilion or his brother, Mahlon, had lived long enough to sire any male heirs. That means there was no one to carry on Elimelech’s lineage. It would have died with his two sons. But if a brother or other family member were to marry Ruth, any son she bore would bear Elimelech’s name and keep the line alive. So, Naomi had a vested interest in this opportunity with Boaz developing into something long-term and with more intimate ramifications.

This entire scene is strange to our modern-day sensibilities. We are not exactly sure what is going on and why Naomi is giving these bizarre instructions to her daughter-in-law. Amazingly, Ruth never bats an eye or expresses any concerns or reluctance. She simply conveys her determination to do whatever her mother-in-law’s told her to do.

“All that you say I will do.” – Ruth 3:5 ESV

But look closely at the content of Naomi’s instructions. Ruth as to wait until Boaz fell asleep, then she was to “uncover his legs, and lie down beside him” (Ruth 3:4 NLT). What in the world is going on here? This strange-sounding counsel must have even left Ruth scratching her head in wonder. What possible good could come out of this?

The matter is somewhat complicated by the input of various commentators who suggest that the phrase, “uncover his legs” is actually a euphemism for the male reproductive organ. But this seems unlikely. For Ruth to do so would have been an act of immorality. But it could mean that Naomi was asking Ruth to pull back Boaz’s blanket, exposing his feet and torso, thus exposing his mid-section to the cold night air. This unexpected “wake-up call” would have roused Boaz from his sleep, only to find Ruth curled up next to him, uncovered and unprotected from the elements.

As an act of chivalry, Boaz would have taken his blanket and covered the woman lying by his side. And this action would have been in keeping with God’s covenant relationship with Israel as portrayed by the prophet Ezekiel.

 “‘Then I passed by you and watched you, noticing that you had reached the age for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your nakedness. I swore a solemn oath to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.’” – Ezekiel 16:8 NLT

Naomi told Ruth that after carrying out all she had told her to do, Ruth was to wait for Boaz’s response.

“…he will tell you what to do…” – Ruth 3:4 ESV

At this point in the story, we have no way of knowing what that even means. But neither did Ruth. But she must have questioned the wisdom of Naomi’s plan. Would Boaz become angry? Would he react in confusion? Was there a possibility that he saw her actions as insubordinate or somehow presumptuous? Ruth had no way of knowing the answers to any of those questions, but she indicated her willingness to obey Naomi’s instructions. She placed her trust in her mother-in-law by doing the illogical and unimaginable.

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

Missing the Point

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8 ESV

From this point forward in his gospel, Matthew will reveal an increasing and palpable tension between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. Their disdain for Jesus will grow as His popularity among the people spreads. This obscure rabbi from Nazareth was rocking their religious world by openly contradicting their authority and establishing Himself as some kind of savior of the people. To them, Jesus was nothing more than a charlatan and the next in a long line of would-be Messiahs, attempting to garner His 15-minutes of prominence in the national spotlight.

One of the central themes that will arise in this conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders will be that of authority. In their minds, they were the sole arbiters of religious rules and decorum. They viewed themselves as the spiritual police force, with responsibility for maintaining a tight reign on the ethical and moral behavior of the people. They were the self-appointed enforcers of the law, and they took their job seriously. These pride-filled men were religious elitists, who looked down their noses at the common people, viewing them as law-breakers and the cause of all the nation’s problems.

It is important to remember what Matthew recorded at the end of chapter 11. He recounted Jesus’ offer of rest to those “who labor and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). And now, Matthew reports a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, all centered around the supposed violation of the laws regarding the Sabbath. For the Jews, the Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, was considered sacred. The ongoing observation of this day had been decreed by God as part of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

The Sabbath was to be a day of rest and was intended to be a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

“Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.” – Exodus 31:13 ESV

But over time, God’s laws concerning the Sabbath had been heavily appended by the religious leaders, as they added a litany of man-made rules and regulations that made the keeping of the Sabbath onerous and burdensome. According to the Talmud, there were 39 categories of prohibitions tied to the keeping of the Sabbath. The first 11 categories featured restrictions associated with the baking of bread. The next 13 categories detailed rules concerning the making of a garment. Another 9 categories are restricted activities associated with the making of leather. And the final 6 categories were concerned with rules concerning the construction of any building.

In this passage, the disciples of Jesus are accused by the Pharisees as having violated the Sabbath restriction concerning reaping. They were caught picking the heads of grain and eating them. And in their self-righteous fervor, they confront Jesus for having allowed this egregious act to have happened.

“Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:2 ESV

But rather than admit any guilt or apologize on behalf of His disciples, Jesus gave the Pharisees a history lesson. He reminded them of a story concerning David that was recorded by the prophet, Samuel. David, who had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, was running for his life. The current king, Saul, was out to kill him. So, David and his men came to Ahimelech, the priest in Nob, and requested that he provide them with bread. But all that Ahimelech had available was consecrated bread or the bread of the Presence. This was bread that was set out every Sabbath as an offering to God and, according to the book of Leviticus, was only to be eaten by the priests. But on this occasion, Ahimelech made an exception and gave the bread to David and his men.

This story, which would have been very familiar to the Pharisees, must have caught them off guard. It must have also infuriated them that Jesus was comparing He and His disciples to David and his men. After all, David had been the greatest King Israel ever had. Who was Jesus to place Himself on the same level as the one whom God had deemed “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV)?

And Jesus made it clear that David and his men were in violation of the Sabbath law when they had taken the bread and eaten it.

“…it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?” – Matthew 12:4 ESV

David was the God-appointed and prophet-anointed king of Israel. He had been deemed by God to be Saul’s replacement, but the leadership of Israel had rejected him. David was the rightful ruler of Israel but had been relegated to living as a fugitive and an outcast. His followers were left to beg for assistance from the priest of God, who willingly broke with the accepted religious protocol in order to satisfy their hunger.

But the Pharisees were not about to bend the rules or make any concessions to Jesus and His followers. They were looking for any and every opportunity to expose Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker and serial violator of the law.

Next, Jesus used the priests themselves as examples of those who violate God’s law in order to keep it. In order to fulfill God’s commands concerning the Sabbath sacrifices, the priests must do work.

“‘On the Sabbath day, you must offer two unblemished lambs a year old, and two-tenths of an ephah of finely ground flour as a grain offering, mixed with olive oil, along with its drink offering. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, besides the continual burnt offering and its drink offering.’” – Numbers 28:9-10 NET

And Jesus pointed out this seeming discrepancy.

“…on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” – Matthew 12:5 ESV

In keeping one command of God, they appear to in violation of another. But they were doing exactly what God had instructed them to do. God had the authority to deem the priests as guiltless when it came to violating the Sabbath because they were obeying His commands.

And then, Jesus makes an intriguing observation that must have left the Pharisees shocked and appalled.

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” – Matthew 12:6 ESV

With this shift from discussing law-keeping to the temple, Jesus was indicating that the temple or house of God operated under a different set of standards. In the temple, the priests were allowed to do things that, for others, would be restricted and in violation of God’s law. The temple provided the priests who worked within it with a dispensation of grace. It allowed them to operate in seeming violation of God’s law while actually fulfilling His divine commands.

And Jesus announced that He was greater than the temple. As the Son of God, He operated under a divine mandate that granted He and His followers with authority to accomplish God’s will with immunity and impunity. That is why Jesus had no qualms about healing on the Sabbath, which He did regularly and, it seems, deliberately.

Jesus accused the Pharisees of having “condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7 ESV) because they failed to understand His divine nature and God-appointed mission. The temple was where God had promised to dwell with and appear to His people. But now, in Jesus, God had come to dwell among men. The glory of God was no longer restricted to the Holy of Holies but had left the recesses of the temple and entered into the daily lives of the people. Jesus deemed Himself to be the Son of Man and “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8 ESV). And, as such, He had the authority to grant special dispensations to His followers. They could pick grain on the Sabbath. They could even heal and cast out demons on the Sabbath. Why? Because, in doing so, they would be doing the will of God.

Jesus accused the Pharisees of being ignorant of the very will of God as expressed in their own Scriptures. He paraphrased the words of God found in the writings of the prophet Hosea.

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6 ESV

The Pharisees were all about law-keeping. They cared nothing for Jesus or His disciples. In their minds, adherence to the law had taken precedence and priority over people. Obeying the commands of God had become more important than knowing God Himself. And their obsession with rules had prevented them from recognizing the Son of God standing in their midst. They loved their laws more than they loved God. And they loved their status as the religious elite more than they loved God’s people. But law-keeping without love is worthless. And elevating the Sabbath over the Lord of the Sabbath makes an idol out of the Sabbath.

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

No One Like Him

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 ESV

The fateful day finally arrived. Moses had known for some time that he would never cross over the Jordan and walk in the land of Canaan. He had spent more than 40 years of his 120-year-long life leading the people to the land of promise, but he would never set foot in that land.  He had sinned against God and would pay the consequences for that sin. And that time had come.

As the people of Israel prepared to enter Canaan, God led Moses up to the top of Mount Nebo, located in the plains of Moab. From that vantage point, “the Lord showed him all the land,” from Dan in the north to the Dead Sea in the south. Directly across the valley, Moses would have seen the area on which the temple would later be erected by Solomon. His unobstructed view from the mountaintop would have given him a bird’s-eye perspective of the land promised by God to Abraham. And as Moses scanned the horizon, he was reminded by God:

“This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes…” – Deuteronomy 34:4 ESV

God had fulfilled His promise. He had done what He had said He would do. And now, He was allowing Moses to take it all in, but He would not allow Moses to go in.

“…but you shall not go over there.” – Deuteronomy 34:4 ESV

What an emotional moment this must have been for Moses. To stand, gazing into the vast valley that lay before him, realizing that he was looking at the fulfillment of a nearly half-century of toil and effort on his part. From the moment God had called him in Midian and assigned him the task of rescuing the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses had done all that God had asked Him to do. Sure, he had displayed a bit of reluctance early on, doubting that the people of Israel would buy his explanation that God had sent him as their deliverer.

“But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” – Exodus 4:1 ESV

So, God had given Moses tangible proof that the people would listen to what he had to say. He performed a sign, a somewhat disturbing and disconcerting sign. God turned the Moses’ shepherd staff into a snake and then commanded that he pick it up by the tail. When Moses did as God commanded, the snake transformed back into the staff. But God was not done. He commanded that Moses place his hand inside his cloak. Much to his shock and dismay, Moses removed his hand, only to find that it was covered with leprosy. Yet, God miraculously restored it.

But even with these miraculous signs as proof, Moses questioned his own qualifications to act as God’s spokesman.

“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10 ESV

At this point, Moses was making excuses. He was doing everything in his power to get out of the task God had assigned to him. But God wasn’t interested in Moses’ qualifications. HIs choice of Moses wasn’t based on anything this former murderer and fugitive from justice could bring to the table. God didn’t ask Moses to be eloquent or powerful. He didn’t pick Moses based on his impressive resume or track record as a leader. When God appeared to Moses, it was in the middle of Midian, where Moses had been leading sheep, not men. So, God assured Moses that He didn’t need him to be eloquent or persuasive. He simply needed him to be obedient.

“Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” – Exodus 4:12-13 ESV

But Moses had displayed a stubborn resistance to God’s will, begging that He find someone else to do this impossible task.

“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” – Exodus 4:13 ESV

But God didn’t let Moses off the hook. Instead, He gave Moses an assistant, someone who would walk alongside him and share the burden of leadership with him. God added Aaron, Moses’ brother, to the team.

“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.  He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.” – Exodus 4:15-16 ESV

These two men became God’s reluctant delivers. Together, they would confront Pharaoh and demand that he release the people of Israel from their slavery. Together, they would call down the plagues upon the nation of Egypt, bringing about the eventual release of the Israelites. Together, they would lead the people across the wilderness. And together, they would dishonor God before the people, and suffer the consequences for their actions. Years earlier, Aaron had been led by God to the top of another mountain, Mount Hor, where his life was taken by God. He was not allowed to enter the land of promise either.

“Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” – Numbers 20:24-26 ESV

And now, Moses was standing on the top of Mount Nebo, where he would experience the very same fate as his brother, Aaron.

 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. – Deuteronomy 34:5-6 ESV

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the death of Moses. And the book of Jude makes it even more difficult to understand what happened.

 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” – Jude 9 ESV

We have no idea what this means or to what Peter is referring. But suffice it to say, Moses disappeared from the scene and “no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” Moses died at a ripe old age, but “His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.” In other words, he was in good health when God took him home. And his departure made way for Joshua to take over the reins of leadership.

And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Deuteronomy 34:9 ESV

A new era was beginning. But God closed out the legacy of Moses with the following words:

No prophet ever again arose in Israel like Moses, who knew the Lord face to face. He did all the signs and wonders the Lord had sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, all his servants, and the whole land, and he displayed great power and awesome might in view of all Israel. – Deuteronomy 34:10-12 NLT

Moses received God’s “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” He had walked with God. He had done signs and wonders on behalf of God.  And he had done it all in the power of God. Moses had been called by God, led by God, empowered by God, and, ultimately, taken home by God. He had served his Master well, and there is little doubt that Moses heard those comforting words, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew25:23 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

Put On…Put Off…Grow Up

13 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
– Romans 13:14 ESV

20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. – Colossians 3:8-10 ESV

2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – 1 Peter 2:2 ESV

18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 3:18 ESV

15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… – Ephesians 4:15 ESV

By this point in our discussion, there should be little doubt that our sanctification is the work of God. In fact, each member of the Holy Trinity plays a vital and very specific part in our transformation from a sin-plagued, enemy of God to one of His chosen and fully forgiven children who stand in His presence as completely righteous and fully acceptable in His sight. And not just acceptable or tolerable, but loved and cherished as His very own.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that it was God the Father’s will that we be sanctified and the means by which He accomplished it was through His Son’s sacrificial death.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

Paul expands on this thought in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT

God chose to set some apart, even though they were undeserving and unbelieving. And then He sent His Son into the world to be the means by which the unholy and unrighteous could be sanctified or made fit for His presence. It was only through the shedding of the blood of Christ that sinful men and women could receive permanent cleansing from their sins and made pure and holy in God’s eyes. God willed our sanctification. Jesus made it possible. And Peter summarizes the three-fold work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in our salvation when he states that it was “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV).

But is our sanctification complete? Has everything been done that needs to be done? Is there anything left that we need to do to complete the process? If you go back and read the verses that opened up this post, you may get the impression that there is still much to be done. After all, we’re told to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.” And while we’re at it, we’re to put off the old self and put on the new self. And Peter tells us we’re supposed to grow up into salvation, whatever that means, and in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Sounds like there is plenty left for us to do. And in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul leaves the impression that even God has not yet completed the work of our sanctification.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV

And the author of Hebrews provides us with a somewhat confusing and contradictory statement regarding the status of our sanctification when he writes, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). So which is it? Are we perfected for all time, or are we becoming that way? Are we fully righteous or becoming more so? And if we are to supposed to be increasing in righteousness, is it up to us or up to God?

This is one of the classic debates of Christianity, and it has caused a lot of confusion and fostered a great deal of debate over the centuries. It has also resulted in a wide range of views regarding the doctrine of sanctification and man’s role in it. The primary crux of the debate revolves around the two poles of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. There is within every human being the desire to be the master of their own fate and the captain of their own soul. The thought of anyone or anything usurping our autonomy and controlling us from the outside rubs us the wrong way. We argue vehemently for our right to have a free will and the freedom to do as we choose – even as believers. But God would have us recognize that, apart from Him, free will is a misnomer, a lie of the enemy meant to keep man from recognizing the reality of his true condition. The apostle Paul reminds us that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, our so-called freedom was one-dimensional.

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. – Romans 20 NLT

Those who are outside of Christ are slaves to sin and have no other choice but to obey their own sin natures. And because all that they do is done in their own flesh, and corrupted by their sin natures, even their so-called righteous deeds are like filthy rags in God’s eyes. They are unholy people attempting to do holy things, but everything they say and do is mired and marred by their sin. Even their best efforts done with the best of intentions are unacceptable to God.

But what about those of us who are in Christ? Once we have a relationship with Him, what is our responsibility when it comes to sanctification? Do we have a part to play? The answer is simple: Yes. But the explanation as to how we pull this off is a bit more complex. And this is where we tend to get into the high weeds when it comes to the topic of sanctification or our growth in Christlikeness. Far too often, we make the task of spiritual growth our own. We hear the Scriptures say, “put on, put off, and grow up,” and we assume that it is all up to us. But we fail to recognize that this ongoing transformation is still the work of God. It is not something we can accomplish in our own strength or by virtue of our will power. It is the work of the Spirit of God.

Think about what Paul said to the Thessalonian believers: “may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely.” It was God’s will that we be sanctified and it is God’s will that web become completely sanctified. And He has chosen to accomplish His will through the indwelling presence of His Spirit in the life of each and every believer. But it is essential that we understand what Paul is not saying. He is not inferring that our sanctification is somehow deficient. We have been sanctified by God. It is a completed action. He has set us apart as His own and nothing can impact that reality. We cannot become un-set apart. We don’t run the risk of losing our set apart status as His children or our righteous standing before Him.  Those were paid for by the blood of Christ.

But we can live in greater reliance upon His Spirit and experience an ever-increasing transformation into the likeness of His Son. Paul makes this clear in his second letter to the church in Corinth.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

We stand before God as righteous because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that all we do in this life is righteous. Not all our thoughts and actions are righteous. We still have a sin nature that does daily battle with the Spirit within us. We have the capacity to ignore the Spirit’s promptings and to give in to our old desires. But it is the recognition of that interior battle that should drive us back to complete reliance upon God. He alone has made it possible for us to grow up in our salvation. He has provided the means by which we can be holy as He is holy. Or to put it another way, that we might live as who He has called us to be. Our daily lives can actually reflect the reality of our righteous standing as we put on Christ daily. But how do we pull that off?

Through complete dependence upon God. It is God alone who can produce in us the fruit of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). Remember, we are already righteous before God and, because we have His Holy Spirit within us, we can live righteous lives. Who we are can actually show up in how we act. Our righteous character can show up in righteous conduct. But it is only by the power of the Spirit of God.

So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. – Romans 8:3-6 NLT

When we read the words “put on, put off, and grow up,” we tend to hear commands telling us to get busy. They come across as tasks to perform and objectives to accomplish. But if we attempt to do them in our own strength, we will fail. They are a call to dependency and complete reliance upon the Spirit of God. They are reminders that our righteousness is God-given, not self-produced. They are meant to drive us back to the source of our sanctification: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The source of our sanctification is the same as that of our salvation.

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

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

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

 

A Recipe for Restoration.

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.
For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
    and trust in oppression and perverseness
    and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

15 For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill. – Isaiah 30:8-17 ESV

God commands Isaiah to make a permanent record of all that He has said against Judah. He wants it all in writing so that the people of Judah cannot disagree with the words that Isaiah spoke to them, or deny that they ever heard them. It seems that Isaiah is commanded to use two different mediums upon which to record God’s words against Judah. One was a tablet, on which he would inscribe the words and place in the public record. The second was a book or scroll, made of papyrus, on which he would record the very same words, but for future use. This scroll would be set aside and kept safe so that Isaiah could bring it out at a later date and remind the people of their refusal to listen to God. It would act as a permanent witness against them.

And all of this was necessary because the people were stubborn. God describes them as “a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). Like immature children, who think they can avoid anything bad by simply refusing to acknowledge its presence, the people of Judah begged their seers and prophets to stop giving them bad news.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right. – Isaiah 30:10 NLT

three-wise-monkeys-sculpture-in-bronze-finish-111676-p

They truly thought the could just escape the bad news by denying its reality. If they covered their ears, they wouldn’t hear. If they closed their eyes, they wouldn’t have to see what was happening around them and to them. And if the could only get everyone to stop talking about all this doom and gloom, they could go on with their lives. They could get back to business as usual. They even demanded that Isaiah change his message and tell them what they wanted to hear.

“Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:11 NLT

This reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. They were tired of hearing about God and His holiness. They even distance themselves from Yahweh, describing Him as Isaiah’s God, not their own. This desire to ignore God’s holiness and escape His judgment is nothing new. Remember, they had convinced themselves that God couldn’t see what they were doing anyway.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

This tendency among God’s people has always been around. Paul warned Timothy that the day would come in his own ministry when people would want their preachers to tell them nice things.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

For some reason, we think we can escape the truth by simply redefining it. In our day, we deny the reality of hell, by turning it into nothing more than the earthly results of our bad decision-making. Hell becomes figurative, not literal. But denying hell or redefining it, does not make it go away. Another major trend in modern evangelicalism is the emphasis being placed on the love of God, at the expense of His holiness. It goes something like this: A loving God would not send condemn anyone to an eternity in hell. Or another manifestation of this redefining of God shows up in a message of tolerance. We demand that a loving God is accepting of everyone and everything. He is all-loving. But in reaching this seemingly correct conclusion, we leave out the very important doctrine of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin. God does not tolerate sin. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin with His own life.

And God would tell us the same thing He said to the people of Judah:

“Because you despise what I tell you
    and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly.” – Isaiah 30:12-13 NLT

They didn’t like what God had to say. His words of condemnation and the constant call to repentance were not what they wanted to hear. So, they trusted in lies and half-truths. They changed the rules of the game. But their denunciation of Isaiah and their denial of his message would do nothing to alter the outcome. Their calamity was going to come – suddenly. Like a bulging wall that is on the brink of failure, their demise would take place quickly, and the consequences would be devastating. Their wall of lies and self-constructed truth was not going to stand the onslaught of God’s judgment. And God warns them, “You will be smashed like a piece of pottery—shattered so completely that
there won’t be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well” (Isaiah 30:14 NLT). 

But it didn’t have to be this way. Their inevitable destruction could have been avoided. And God makes it clear how they could have escaped what was about to happen.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

And it’s essential that we not miss how God refers to Himself in this passage. He is the “Holy One of Israel.” Remember, they had refused to recognize Him as such. But here, God is letting them know that He is their God, not just Isaiah’s. And He is holy. He is also sovereign. He is in complete control of all things, whether they want to admit it or not.

As the Holy One of Israel, He lets them know that remedy for their coming fall was simple. All they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him. Repent of their sin of trusting in Egypt, and rely upon Him instead.  It was that easy. And God lets them know that it was the only way they would find salvation. He uses two Hebrew words to describe what they had to do: shaqat and bitchah. The first refers to a state of rest or inactivity. It’s the thought conveyed by the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). It carries the idea of tranquility, even in the midst of trouble.

The second word has to do with a confidence that is a direct byproduct of trust. It is the same idea expressed by Isaiah earlier in this book.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
 – Isaiah 26:3 NLT

God spells out the remedy for what ailed them. But He also sadly states, “But you would have none of it” (Isaiah30:15 NLT). Rather than repenting and returning to God, they had made the decision to trust and find confidence in Egypt.

“No, we will get our help from Egypt.
    They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.” – Isaiah 30:16 NLT

But God breaks the bad news to them that their so-called savior was going to prove completely unreliable. The only swift horses they were going to see would be the ones their enemies rode. It would be a lopsided battle with the people of Judah completely routed and destroyed. And God describes their post-battle condition in bleak terms.

“You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
    or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” – Isaiah 30:17 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

Lord of the Sabbath.

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8 ESV

Jesus has condemed the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah. Now, Matthew provides specific examples of the rejection and contention He faced among the Jewish population. Of course, some of His greatest moments of conflict came as a result of His interactions with the Jewish religious leadership. They found this unknown rabbi from Nazareth to be an enigma. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and, from all places, the backwater town of Nazareth. Even Philip, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, had reacted with amazement when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, sarcastically responding, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

The Pharisees were a religious sect made up of mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Together with the Sadducees, they formed the Sanhedrin or religious high council of Israel. The Pharisees were seen as pious men who placed a high priority on the oral and written law of Israel. They were experts in the law of Moses and prided themselves on their strict adherence to the more than 600 laws found in the Torah. These men had created additional rules or regulations that they regarded as binding as the law of Moses. Later on in his gospel, Matthew will record the indictment Jesus labeled against these men.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

One of the primary points of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees will become the Sabbath, the weekday that had been set apart by God as a day or rest.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

The Pharisees had developed a whole series of regulations designed to deal with any and all scenarios that might come up on the Sabbath. They created a plethora of rules based on every imaginable situational possibility. In doing so, they missed out on the spirit of the law, and turned God’s command regarding the Sabbath into an impossible-to-keep list of dos and don’ts that no one could obey.

When they found Jesus and His disciples in a field plucking the heads of grain and eating them, they were appalled, because it was the Sabbath. They considered these men to be in violation of the law because they were “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath. There is an interesting point of conflict that often gets overlooked. If you recall, Jesus had just extended His Great Invitation offering people a release from their weariness and the heavy burdens that weighed them down. He offered them rest for their souls. And yet, here were the Pharisees demanding that the disciples deny the satisfying of their hunger in order to obey man-made rules regarding Sabbath rest.

Knowing that the Pharisees prided themselves in their knowledge of the Old Testament, Jesus reminded them of a story involving David found in the book of 1 Samuel. David was on the run, having been forced to flee from King Saul, who was out to take David’s life. David made his way to the city of Nob in order to seek aid from Ahimelech the priest. When David had requested food, the priest had informed David that the only bread available was that which was offered as a sacrifice in the tabernacle.

Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread. – 1 Samuel 21:6 NLT

And Jesus used this historic event to expose the fallacy of the Pharisees’ understanding of the Sabbath. In taking the Bread of the Presence, David had violated the law of God, but was not condemned for doing so. And, to further prove His point, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the priests who served in the temple were technically in violation of the law every time they offered sacrifices on the Sabbath, because they were doing “work.” But they were not condemned by their efforts. They were guiltless because they were doing the “work” of God. And Jesus informed the Pharisees, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6 ESV). He was referring to Himself and pointing to His superior authority over the earthly temple. The disciples had been operating under the authority and with the permission of Jesus. And Jesus made it clear that He was far more concerned about mercy than law-keeping.

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” – Matthew 12:7 ESV

The Pharisees had placed rules ahead of any regard for the needs of the people. Jesus had allowed the disciples to do what they did because they were hungry. He knew the ridiculous rules of the Pharisees and He was fully aware that the actions of the disciples were in direct violation of those rules. But He was far more concerned with extending mercy than demanding legalistic adherence to a set of arbitrary regulations. He was focused on the heart, not any outward display of ritualistic rule-keeping. And Jesus sums up His response to the Pharisees with a statement that must have left them incensed.

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8 ESV

They would have known full well that Jesus was referring to Himself with the Messianic designation of “Son of Man.” And they would not have like what they heard. But Jesus’ claim to be lord of the Sabbath would have left them in a rage. How dare this itinerant teacher from the backwater town of Nazareth claim to have authority over the Sabbath day of God. Jesus was not bound by the Sabbath. He was greater than the Sabbath, with full authority to do as He saw fit on that day or any other. Which is why Jesus seemed to make it a regular habit to heal on the Sabbath. He was doing the work of His Father in Heaven, and the work of God took precedence over the Sabbath and any rules men may have made regarding that day. The work of God always trumps the laws of men.

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 Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

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

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

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

Place of Rest.

1 Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.

There remained among the people of Israel seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? Provide three men from each tribe, and I will send them out that they may set out and go up and down the land. They shall write a description of it with a view to their inheritances, and then come to me. They shall divide it into seven portions. Judah shall continue in his territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall continue in their territory on the north. And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God. The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage. And Gad and Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan eastward, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them.”

So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” So the men went and passed up and down in the land and wrote in a book a description of it by towns in seven divisions. Then they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh, 10 and Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion. Joshua 18:1-10 ESV

Tabaernacle

After having settled the tribes of Judah, Manasseh and Ephraim in the southern region of the land of Canaan, Joshua still had the task of apportioning the rest of the land between the seven remaining tribes. The tribes of Reuben and Gad had already been allotted their portions on the eastern side of the Jordan, as they had requested. But before Joshua proceeds with the final distribution of the land, he calls for an assembly of all the people of Israel at a place called Shiloh, and oversees the erecting of the tabernacle.

When God had originally given Moses His instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle, He had included commands regarding its placement in the land of promise.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

So, Joshua’s choice of Shiloh as the resting place for the tabernacle was obviously determined by God. It’s interesting to note that the name, Shiloh, means “place of rest.” The tabernacle was to be a reminder of God’s presence and power, and a representation of God’s promise of rest. When God dwells with His people, they enjoy rest. His presence brings peace and an assurance of His care for them. The movement of the tabernacle from Gilgal is significant. It had been Israel’s base camp during their days of conquest of the promised land. But now that “the land lay subdued before them,” it was time to relocate the tabernacle to an appropriate place within the land of promise. And God’s choice of Shiloh was in keeping with His promise to bring Israel into the promised land, a place of rest.

When Jacob had pronounced blessings upon his sons, he had said of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). In the Hebrew, the phrase, “until tribute comes to him” actually reads “until Shiloh come.” In the Jewish Orthodox Bible, verse 10 reads, “The shevet (sceptre) shall not depart from Yehudah, nor a Mekhokek (Lawgiver) from between his raglayim, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the obedience of the amim (peoples, nations).

This passage, containing Jacob’s blessing of the tribe of Judah, is a Messianic prophecy. It predicts the Jesus (Shiloh) as coming from the tribe of Judah. He will one day be the ruler who will hold the scepter, a sign of authority and kingship. He will rule and reign as king. And He will come to offer rest to His people.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-29 ESV

Jesus came that He might offer rest to the weary. And Shiloh, located in the territory allotted to the tribe of Ephraim, was the location of the tabernacle. It was to be a sign of God’s presence and should have been a cause for great peace and tranquility. When the people came to offer their sacrifices and worship, they would have found forgiveness for their sins and an acceptance by their God. But years later, the prophet Isaiah would speak words of condemnation against Ephraim. They would prove to be disobedient to God. And rather than find rest, they would discover themselves suffering the wrath of God for failing to enter into His rest and enjoy His blessings. 

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear. – Isaiah 28:11-12 ESV

In a single verse, the author of the book of Joshua mentions the setting up of the tabernacle in Shiloh. It was to have been a symbolic act, establishing God’s abiding presence among His people. He had brought them to the land and provided for them a place of rest. But their enjoyment of that rest would require faithful obedience on their part. And it is significant that the final apportioning of the land did not take place until after the tabernacle was established in Shiloh.

Joshua had to read the riot act to the seven remaining tribes, scolding them for having procrastinated in subduing the remainder of the land. It appears that they had failed to continue their conquest of the inhabitants of the land. Perhaps Joshua’s decision to set up the tabernacle was meant to be a form of motivation, letting the remaining tribes know that God was with them. He set out teams of three men from each tribe, having them survey the remaining land, establishing boundaries for the establishment of their potential inheritance. Once this process was complete, Joshua would cast lots, determining which portion of the land was assigned to each of the tribes.

God was in their midst. He had chosen to dwell among them, and with the erection of the tabernacle in the city of Shiloh, the place of rest, God was reminding them of their need to do their part to enjoy the rest He had promised them. Just as Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened to accept His invitation to find rest in Him, the Israelites were going to have to take God at His word and discover that His rest came through obedience to His commands.

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

Entering His Rest.

10 And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 11 “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’”

12 And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13 “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, 15 until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

16 And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” – Joshua 1:10-18 ESV

The conquest of the land of Canaan is about to begin. This day has been long in coming. It goes all the way back to the promise that God had made to Abram, when He called him out of the land of Ur.

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Abram did as God had commanded him and was led by God to the land of Canaan.

5 When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” – Genesis 12:5-7 ESV

The book of Hebrews tells us that Abram, who later had his name changed to Abraham by God, lived in the land, but never possessed a single acre of it, except the plot where his wife was eventually buried.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. – Hebrews 11:8-9 ESV

Abraham remained a nomad, living in tents within the land of promise, but never actually possessing any of it as his own, and the author of Hebrews says he eventually “died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Eventually, Abraham’s son, Isaac, had a son named Jacob, who had a son named Joseph. Joseph would be sold into slavery by his own brothers, out of jealousy over their father’s treatment of him as his favorite son, Joseph would end up in Egypt where, through a series of God-ordained events, he became the second-highest official in the Egyptian government. In time, a famine came to the land of Canaan, forcing Jacob, his sons, and their families to search for aid in the land of Egypt. There they were surprisingly reunited with the brother they had left for dead. But rather than seek revenge on his brothers for what they had done, Joseph assured them that it had all been part of God’s sovereign plan.

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. – Genesis 45:5-8 ESV

Jacob was reluctant to move his family to Egypt, but he received a word from God, assuring him that this was all part of His plan.

3 “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again…” – Genesis 46:3-4 ESV

Jacob and his family did relocate to Egypt and, not long after his death, Joseph reassured his brothers of God’s involvement in all that had happened, and of his own intentions to care for them as long as they lived in the land of Egypt.

19 “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:19-20 ESV

And he kept that commitment. But the presence of the people of Israel in the land of Egypt would extend far beyond the life of Joseph. They would remain in the land of Egypt for 400 years. Eventually, a new Pharaoh came to power who found the explosive growth of the descendants of Abraham to be a potential threat to national security so, he began a program of enslavement and persecution of them that would last . And even this had been a part of God’s plan. Centuries earlier, God had told Abraham that all of this would happen.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. – Genesis 15:13 ESV

But God also had a plan for their deliverance. He used Moses to free His people from their captivity and to lead them to the land He had promised to Abraham. And Moses had been successful in his emancipation of the descendants of Abraham and his 40-year-long effort to get them to the land of promise. Which brings us to this moment in time, where Joshua stands poised to take a new generation of Israelites into the long-awaited promised land. You can almost sense the fear and anticipation among the people as Joshua commands his officers to inform them of what is about to happen.

“Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.” – Joshua 1:11 ESV

They had been here before. This was not the first time they had planned on entering the land of promise. More than 40 years earlier, Moses had them poised to take possession of the land, but the people had balked. When spies reported that the land was fruitful, but also occupied by apparently insurmountable armed forces, the people had refused to enter the land, even threatening to stone Moses and Aaron, and choose new leaders to guide them back to Egypt. So God, in His anger, cursed that generation, telling them that they would never enter the land.

22 …none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” – Numbers 14:22-23 ESV

And now, 40 years later, that next generation was being called to do what their predecessors had refused to do. Nothing had changed. The same formidable foes were still living in the land. There were going to be days filled with battles and the threat of death for everyone who obeyed God’s command to enter the land. But they also had the assurance that God was going to be with them. He was going to go before them. His promise of the land, given hundreds of years earlier to Moses, was going to be fulfilled.

And as they prepared to cross the Jordan River, Moses called upon the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, to assist them in their conquest of the land. At their own requests, they had all been given land on the opposite side of the Jordan, but they had agreed to fight alongside their brothers and sisters in order to ensure that all the land of Canaan was eventually possessed by the descendants of Abraham, just as God had said. And they assured Joshua of their commitment to keep their word.

16 “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses!” – Joshua 1:16 ESV

What is interesting to note is that this event signals the day on which the people of Israel were to enter their rest. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan, preparing to enter the land, they were doing so as an army. And yet, the minute they crossed over that river they would be entering not only the land of Canaan, but the rest that God had promised them. The very rest their ancestors had rejected.

“…don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
10 So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
11 So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Hebrews 3:8-11 ESV

Entering into God’s place of rest was not a guarantee of a trouble-free life. It was not to be a picture of ease and comfort. The land was not going to be taken without a fight. The days ahead would be filled with battles and loss of life. But they had ceased from wandering. They were no longer going to have to wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled. They would be in the land and resting in the presence and power of God Almighty. And the book of Joshua will close with a reminder that God would remain with them throughout the entirety of their conquest of the land, providing them with victory after victory and slowly solidifying their possession of the land.

43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. – Joshua 21:43-45 ESV

The author of Hebrews reminds us that the previous generation of Israel died in the wilderness, and it was “because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest” (Hebrews 3:19 NLT). And he warns us, as believers, to not repeat the mistakes of those stubborn Israelites who refused to place their faith and trust in God.

12 Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13 You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:12-14 NLT

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

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

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