Father Knows Best

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 ESV

Once again, using a steady, staccato stream of parables as his tool, Solomon provides us with yet more proof of the futility of a life lived under the sun. Still maintaining his somewhat pessimistic outlook, he utilizes a series of stark contrasts in order to support his central theme that all is vanity.

He juxtaposes birth and death, sorrow and laughter, wisdom and foolishness, the beginning and the end, and the patient and the proud. In each case, Solomon draws a conclusion, deeming one better than the other, and what he decides is meant to shock and surprise us. He starts out comparing birth with death, and while we might logically conclude that the beginning of life is preferable to its end, Solomon would disagree. And he uses a somewhat odd comparison to make his point. In verse one, Solomon utilizes a wordplay, using two similar sounding Hebrew words: shem and shemen, to make his point. Shem means “name” and refers to someone’s reputation. Shemen is the Hebrew word for “oil” and it typically refers to highly fragrant anointing oil.

Solomon states that a good name or reputation is better than precious ointment. To put it another way, he seems to be saying that being good is better than smelling good. A man who hasn’t bathed can douse himself with cologne, but he will only cover up the fact that he stinks. He isn’t fixing his problem; he’s simply masking it. His life is a sham and marked by hypocrisy.

Solomon uses shem and shemen to make a point about birth and death. While the beginning of life is associated with feasting and celebration, it masks the reality that much hurt and heartache lie ahead. A baby is born without a reputation. It has had no time to establish a name for itself. And no one knows the ultimate outcome of that child’s life. Yet, we celebrate and rejoice on the day of his birth. Solomon is not suggesting we cease celebrating a new birth, but that we recognize the end of one’s life is what truly matters. Why? Because we all face the same fate. Death is inevitable and inescapable. And when it comes time to mourn the life of someone we knew and loved, those who have managed to achieve and maintain a good reputation will be missed most. When it comes time to mourn the loss of someone of good character, sorrow will prove better than laughter, because the reflections on that individual’s life will bring sweet and lasting memories. It will remind the living of what is truly important, and the wise will glean invaluable lessons from a life lived well.

When a child is born, words of encouragement may be spoken, but they’re all hypothetical in nature. No one knows the future, so no one can presume to know how that child’s life will turn out. We can and should be hopeful, but we can’t be certain that our expectations will come to fruition. Yet, at the time of death, there will be irrefutable evidence that proves the true nature of a person’s life. A life lived well will be well documented and greatly celebrated. Even in the sorrow of the moment, there will be joy. Solomon puts it this way: “by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Ecclesiastes 7:3 ESV). The memories of the one we have lost bring joy to our hearts and put a smile on our faces, and we experience the seeming dichotomy of sadness and gladness.

Solomon’s use of shem and shemen has ongoing application. He seems to be advocating a life that is lived beneath the surface – well beyond the shallow and pretentious trappings of materialism and hedonism. He refers to “the house of mirth,” the place where fools tend to gather. It is a place of joy and gladness, rejoicing and pleasure. The fool makes it his primary destination, believing that it is only there that his heart will find satisfaction and fulfillment.

But Solomon recommends the house of mourning, where sadness and sorrow are found. Again, it is at the end of one’s life that their true character will be revealed in detail. The tears of sorrow may be for one who lived his life well and whose departure will leave a hole in the lives of those left behind. But, in far too many cases, the tears flow out of sadness over a life that was little more than a facade. All was not as it appeared to be. The sweet-smelling oil of success and outer happiness merely masked the reality that there was nothing of value on the inside. The “perfumes” of life are the things we acquire and accumulate, none of which we can take with us. They represent the oil of achievement and visible success. Our homes, cars, clothes, portfolios, resumes, and 401ks may leave the impression that we had it all but, at death, they will prove of little value or significance. As Job so aptly put it, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave” (Job 1:21 NLT).

Solomon has learned that life should be accompanied by thoughtfulness and soberness. It requires serious reflection and careful examination to discover all that life has to offer. But we are prone to live life with our hearts and eyes set on those things that bring us the greatest amount of pleasure and satisfaction, temporary though they may be. We prefer the sweet-smelling, short-lived perfume of a self-indulgent lifestyle. We want it all now. We prefer joy to sorrow, pleasure over pain, happiness rather than heartache, and a good time instead a good name.

But Solomon knew from experience that living in the house of mirth never brings true happiness. He had learned the hard way that a life lived with pleasure as its primary focus rarely results in lasting satisfaction or true joy. Like perfume, its aroma faded with time. This is why Solomon always reverted to wisdom.

Wisdom is even better when you have money.
    Both are a benefit as you go through life.
Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
    but only wisdom can save your life. – Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 NLT

Money might improve your life over the short term, but only wisdom can protect and prolong your life. And wisdom can’t be bought or acquired. It comes through observation and the application of life lessons, and that requires a willingness to look beneath the surface, beyond the pleasant-sounding lies of the enemy. The apostle John gives us some sober-sounding, wisdom-producing words to consider.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

And Solomon reminds us to look at life more soberly and seriously, judging it not from our limited human vantage point, but through the eyes of God.

Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? – Ecclesiastes 7:13 NLT

We see death as negative, the end of life. But God sees things differently. We view pleasure as preferable to pain, but God works in ways we can’t comprehend, using the seeming incongruities of life to teach us the most valuable lessons. And as before, Solomon boils his thoughts down to one simple suggestion:

Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the pleasures of life and the blessings that God bestows on us in this life. But we must recognize that God is found in the extremes of life. He is sovereign over all that we experience; the good, the bad, the pleasant, the painful, death and life, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow. A wise man will look for God in everything and find Him. The fool will set his sights on experiencing joy, pleasure, satisfaction, significance, and pleasure, but miss God in the process.

For those who believe in God, the future is always bright because they know that He has a plan for them. They refuse to live in the past and they refrain from allowing the present to dominate their lives. Instead, they consider the words that God spoke to the people of Israel when they were living as exiles in the land of Babylon.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

The wise realize that God is always at work. He never sleeps. He never stops implementing His sovereign plan for those He loves. And while life may sometimes take a turn for the worse, a believer understands that God is far from done. That’s why Solomon warns that living in the past is a waste of time. When things don’t turn out quite the way we expected, it doesn’t pay to reminisce and wax nostalgic.

Don’t long for “the good old days.”
    This is not wise. – Ecclesiastes 7:10 NLT

Keep trusting God. Focus your eyes on the future and trust that His sovereign plan will bring about the best outcome. He will not disappoint. Rather than judging God’s faithfulness by the quality of the circumstances surrounding your life, try resting in the fact that He knows what is best and has a purpose for everything that happens in life.

Accept the way God does things,
    for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. – Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 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 Mask of Zoar

12 Then the men said to Lot, “Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. 13 For we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it.” 14 So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up! Get out of this place, for the Lord is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

15 As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.” 16 But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. 17 And as they brought them out, one said, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” 18 And Lot said to them, “Oh, no, my lords. 19 Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die. 20 Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!” 21 He said to him, “Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. 22 Escape there quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there.” Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. Genesis 19:12-22 ESV

As the crowd of blinded deviants groped helplessly outside Lot’s door, his angelic guests warned him of the seriousness of the situation. They wanted him to know that the most pressing problem he faced was not his sex-crazed neighbors but the wrath of a holy God.

“…we are about to destroy this city completely. The outcry against this place is so great it has reached the Lord, and he has sent us to destroy it.” – Genesis 19:13 NLT

Despite Abraham’s aggressive negotiation efforts and God’s promise to spare the city for the sake of 10 righteous residents, destruction was coming. The moral situation in Sodom was so bad that there was less than half that number of righteous individuals living in the city.

The angels ordered Lot to gather his family and prepare to leave the city before the wrath of God fell. It is interesting to note that they posed this command in the form of a question.

“Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone you have in the city, bring them out of the place. – Genesis 19:12 ESV

As messengers of God, they would have known exactly who was on the divine list of designated survivors. Yet, they give Lot an opportunity to choose those whom he would consider worthy of salvation. And Lot included the two Sodomite men to whom he had betrothed his daughters. Considering Moses’ earlier revelation that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:13 ESV), and that “the men of the city…to the last man, surrounded the house” (Genesis 19:4 ESV), it is difficult to believe that Lot’s two son-in-laws-to-be were righteous. And when he attempted to warn them of God’s pending judgment, they refused to take him seriously.

As the morning sun broke over the horizon, the angels pleaded with Lot to take his wife and two daughters and escape for their lives. For the second time, they warned Lot of the looming judgment of God. The entire city and all its inhabitants were to be completely destroyed. “But he lingered” (Genesis 19:16 ESV). Consider the gravity of that three-word sentence. And to truly appreciate its implications, one must take into account their meaning in Hebrew. The word “lingered” is מָהַהּ (māhah), and it carries the idea of reluctance or doubtful hesitation. This wasn’t a case of Lot delaying his exit so he could pack another bag. It’s almost as if he too found the words of his two guests to be a bit hyperbolic and overblown. Or perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to believe that God would actually destroy all his friends and neighbors. But whatever his reasons, Lot’s hesitation revealed a reluctance to obey the word of the messengers.

So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. – Genesis 19:16 ESV

Once again, consider the implications of that sentence. In the face of divine judgment, Lot hesitated. He couldn’t bring himself to accept the gravity of the moment or the veracity of the warning. So, in His mercy, God had the two angels drag Lot and his family out of Sodom. We’re not told how the angels managed to navigate their way through the city streets undetected and unmolested. But there is a hint of the miraculous in this scene. And for the Jewish audience to whom Moses had written this book, the salvation of Lot would have reminded them of the liberation of their ancestors from Egypt.

When Moses declares that the angels “brought him out,” he uses the Hebrew word יָצָא (yāṣā’), which means “to bring out” or “to lead out.” It is the very same word that God had spoken to Moses when He delivered His plan to redeem Israel from their captivity.

“Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out (yāṣā’) of Egypt.” – Exodus 3:9-10 NLT

The other word Moses used was יָנַח (yānaḥ), a word that means “to cause to rest.” Lot and his family were led to a place of rest and security – outside the city walls and away from the pending judgment of God. They had been delivered from imminent danger and destruction and awarded with redemption and rest.

Standing outside the gates of the city, Lot found himself in a strange predicament. One doesn’t get the impression that he felt a sense of peace or rest. He had just packed up his belongings, dragged his wife and two daughters out of their home, and was now facing an uncertain future. And, once again, the angels were forced to deal with Lot’s continued reluctance to leave Sodom behind.

“Run for your lives! And don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away!” – Genesis 19:17 NLT

Their message was crystal clear. Lot was not safe as long as he remained anywhere in the vicinity of Sodom or Gomorrah. He may have been standing outside the gate but he remained well within the impact zone of God’s judgment. Time was running out and it was time for Lot to run for his life. God had done His part by mercifully delivering Lot out of harm’s way. But now Lot needed to leave Sodom behind.

Lot found himself facing the most important decision of his life. He had been saved by God, but now he needed to live out that salvation by taking advantage of the freedom he had been graciously given. His situation is similar to that of every Christ-follower. The apostle Paul provides a powerful admonition that could have proved beneficial to Lot.

…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

Lot could have used the word of warning that Paul gave to his young protege, Timothy.

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

But rather than running for the hills, Lot delayed his departure once again by running his mouth. He chose to bargain with his rescuers. Instead of taking their advice and seeking refuge in the mountains, Lot expressed his preference for a less primitive and desolate destination. He had grown accustomed to the city life and feared that exile to the mountain wilderness would be the death of him.

“You have been so gracious to me and saved my life, and you have shown such great kindness. But I cannot go to the mountains. Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die. See, there is a small village nearby. Please let me go there instead; don’t you see how small it is? Then my life will be saved.” – Genesis 19:19-20 NLT

What Lot failed to realize was that the same God who had just rescued him was fully capable of protecting and providing for him in the wilderness. Lot had grown comfortable living in the city, where all his needs could be easily met. He found the thought of returning to his former nomadic lifestyle unappealing and unacceptable. So, he bargained for an alternative landing place. And the angel of the Lord agreed to Lot’s request.

All right,” the angel said, “I will grant your request. I will not destroy the little village. But hurry! Escape to it, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” (This explains why that village was known as Zoar, which means “little place”). – Genesis 19:21-22 NLT

Lot got his wish. But there is a profound lesson to be found in Lot’s little victory. He had chosen a small village as his final destination. He even emphasized its diminutive size. It wasn’t really a city, it was just a small, insignificant village. But there lies the lesson. Through his bargaining to escape to Zoar, Lot was relegating himself to a life of insignificance. In Hebrew, the name, Zoar, comes from a root word that means “to be brought low, to grow insignificant.” By choosing Zoar over the mountains, Lot was dooming himself to irrelevance. By refusing God’s will for his life, Lot would never experience the power and provision of God for his life. To Lot, the mountains had appeared unattractive and foreboding. But the little village of Zoar seemed to offer just enough of the pleasures and comforts he had grown to love and appreciate. But God’s people were not meant to live lives of insignificance in Zoar. And it would be just a matter of time before Lot learned the painful reality of that truth.

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

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

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

A Case of Déjà Vu

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.

13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Genesis 8:1-19 ESV

The ark had been God’s idea all along, and He had graciously shared the plans for its construction with Noah. And when Noah had faithfully completed his work on the massive project, God had extended a gracious invitation for him and his family to enter the safety and security of the ark.

“Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I consider you godly among this generation. – Genesis 7:1 NET

After years of faithful and obedient service to God, constructing the vessel that would be the means of his own salvation, Noah was offered a chance to cease from his labors and enter into the rest that God had ordained for him. Noah had proven his reverence for God by doing all that the Lord commanded him to do. And the reward for all his work was rest and refuge from the coming storm.

This divine invitation, offering Noah a chance to rest in the safety and security of God’s chosen means of salvation, is echoed in the words spoken by Jesus as He inaugurated His earthly ministry.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NET

The ark had always been intended to foreshadow the coming of Christ. In a sin-stained world, condemned to suffer the wrath of God’s just and righteous judgment, a means of salvation had graciously been provided. God had invited a weary and worn-out Noah to enter into His rest and find salvation from the coming judgment.

One of the fascinating things to consider is how many trees Noah would have had to cut down in order to build the ark. Created by God, these fully mature trees would have been cut down in the prime of their lives, so that Noah and his family might be saved. They sacrificed their lives so that others might live. And, in the same way, Jesus would offer up His life so that others might find salvation. It was Isaiah who later prophesied of the Messiah’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of sinful humanity.

Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people. – Isaiah 53:8 NLT

The ark provided Noah and his family with protection from the judgment of God. He invited them in and then closed the door behind them. And there, in the safety of God’s preordained vessel of salvation, a remnant of humanity found refuge from the flood of divine judgment. And Moses paints a vivid picture of God’s mercy and grace when he writes, “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1 ESV). The waters rose and covered the face of the earth. And the majority of God’s creation was destroyed in the process. But God remembered (זָכַרz – āḵar) Noah. In other words, God had not forgotten the covenant promise He had made.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you.”  – Genesis 6:17-18 NLT

The ark was not intended to be Noah’s final destination. It was simply the means by which he and his family would find access to the preferred future God had in store for them. In the same way, Jesus became the ark of mankind’s salvation, offering His life as a ransom for many. As He Himself stated, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV).

Noah wasn’t meant to stay on the ark. He had been delivered from death so that he might enjoy abundant life in a new, recreated world. The old was gone. God was giving humanity a new opportunity to begin again. But it took time for the waters to recede. This period of waiting provided time for the planet to be cleansed from all the death and decay caused by the flood.

Moses puts a great deal of emphasis on the steady decline of the deadly floodwaters.

the waters receded from the earth continually. – Genesis 8:3 ESV

And the waters continued to abate – Genesis 8:5 ESV

Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. – Genesis 8:8 ESV

So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. – Genesis 8:11 ESV

The time came when the waters of destruction receded and the formerly sin-saturated world was cleansed of all wickedness.

In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. – Genesis 8:13 ESV

It was time for Noah and his family to exit the ark and re-enter the world. So, God extended yet another invitation to His faithful servant.

“Leave the boat, all of you—you and your wife, and your sons and their wives. Release all the animals—the birds, the livestock, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—so they can be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth.” – Genesis 8:16-17 NLT

In a way, Noah was invited by God to enjoy the resurrected life. For months, he and his family had been “entombed” in the ark. But the day came when they were invited to walk out of the “grave” and into the light of God’s new day. The apostle Paul would later write about the vicarious death-to-life experience that comes to all who place their faith in Christ.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:1-4 ESV

God invited Noah to exit the ark and reenter the world. He and his family were to fulfill the original kingdom mandate given to Adam and Eve. God expected them to be fruitful and fill the earth. He was starting over with a man who walked with Him, and whom He had deemed to be righteous and blameless. This was to be a new beginning. And Moses records that “Noah, his wife, and his sons and their wives left the boat. And all of the large and small animals and birds came out of the boat, pair by pair” (Genesis 8:18-19 NLT). When they stepped out of the ark, they were beginning a new chapter of the human story. This man and his wife were the new Adam and Eve. They were the divinely ordained pair who would be given the opportunity to act as God’s vice-regents, bearing His image, and faithfully stewarding the vast resources He had placed at their disposal.

But this passage is filled with a sense of déjà vu. It seems that a new chapter in the play has begun, but has anything really changed? With the floodwaters gone and the judgment of God fulfilled, will the story of humanity take a sudden turn for the better? Will Noah succeed where Adam failed? Will righteousness fill the earth? Will the godly remnant replicate and spread the image of God across the planet? Sadly, those questions have all been answered. Humanity was given a chance to begin again. Noah was provided with an opportunity to raise up a new generation that would walk with God. But as chapter five pointed out, Noah was a direct descendant of Adam. And as the apostle Paul later revealed, Noah had inherited the same sinful predisposition as his ancestor.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 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.

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

The Requirement of Rest

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3 ESV

With the opening of chapter two, Moses begins a more detailed synopsis of the seven days of creation with a special emphasis on the creation of the first man and woman. The first three verses provide a summary of all that was described in chapter one. In six days’ time, God had finalized His creation plan. He had made everything that He had planned to make. And with His work done, God rested. But God was not in need of rest because He was exhausted from His efforts. He had spoken the entire universe into existence.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:3 ESV

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters”…. And it was so. – Genesis 1:6, 7 ESV

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:9 ESV

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:11 ESV

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.”… And it was so. – Genesis 1:14, 15 ESV

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” – Genesis 1:20 ESV

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. – Genesis 1:24 ESV

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. – Genesis 1:26 ESV

God spoke, and what it was so. He sovereignly declared something to come into existence, and it happened just as He said. No effort was exhausted. No energy was expended. No rest was necessary. What God did on the seventh day was cease from any further act of creating. He had done all that He was going to do. His creation was complete and perfect. This divine pattern of work and rest was meant to set the standard for the first man and woman God created. Adam and Eve, made in the image of God, were to emulate His work ethic but also model His example of rest or cessation from work. God had given them a very clear mandate.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

And as chapter two will reveal, Adam and Eve were given very specific instructions concerning their “work” of managing God’s creation. According to verse 5, they were to “work the ground.” God had created a lush garden filled with fruit trees, which became the first couple’s home and the primary focus of their stewardship.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. – Genesis 1:15 ESV

Moses indicates that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:3 ESV). He purposefully set that day apart from the other six. The Hebrew word translated as “holy” is קָדַשׁ (qāḏaš), and it means “to consecrate, to set apart, to regard as sacred.” By resting on the seventh day and then declaring it to be holy or set apart,  God was establishing His expectations for humanity. They would be expected to follow His pattern of work and rest. This explanation of the “genesis” of sabbath rest would have resonated with Moses’ original audience. He had repeatedly given the people of Israel God’s commands concerning the Sabbath.

“This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” – Exodus 16:23 ESV

You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. – Exodus 31:14-15 ESV

The real point of the Sabbath was to teach the people of Israel to rely upon God. They were not meant to live self-sufficient lives, depending solely upon their own resources or capabilities. By ceasing from work on the seventh day, they were demonstrating their complete dependence and reliance upon God. They were resting in His ability to provide for all their needs. God never intended mankind to be autonomous and self-reliant. While He gave them dominion over His creation and delegated to them the stewardship of all that He had made, He expected them to remain submissive to His will and subject to His gracious care. He could and would provide for them.

The entire creation had been designed with mankind in mind. The placement of the sun and moon to determine the times and seasons, the presence of life-giving oxygen in the atmosphere, the abundance of edible plants, and the provision of a day of rest, all point to God’s gracious care and concern for humanity, the pinnacle of His creation.

From the very beginning, God desired that His children would enjoy His rest. Their partnership with Him would be filled with responsibilities but marked by a constant supply of rest and restoration. Adam was made in the image of God, but he was not divine. He could emulate God’s work ethic but would require rest. He could steward God’s creation but would need constant sustenance to maintain his energy.

From day one, God has desired to provide His children with rest. But the book of Genesis provides a sad recounting of mankind’s refusal to remain in a state of rest and reliance upon God. The garden was meant to be a place of unbroken fellowship with God where every possible human need was graciously provided for. There would be no want. There would be no lack. There would be no need to seek sustenance from anywhere or from anyone else.

But mankind has repeatedly demonstrated a sad proclivity to seek rest and comfort from all the wrong places. Ever since the beginning, humanity has displayed a self-reliant tendency to stubbornly refuse God’s offer of rest. Rather than humbly relying upon God’s all-sufficient power to supply every need, mankind has chosen the path of autonomy and self-determination.

The author of Hebrews recounts a time when the people of Israel had stood on the brink of the land of Canaan but had refused to go in. God had promised to give them the land as their inheritance, but they would have to cross over the Jordan River and conquer the nations that occupied it. It was a land of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. But before they could enjoy the rest it offered, they would have to do the work God had called them to do. Yet, they refused. And the author of Hebrews warned the readers of his letter not to follow the example of the Israelites.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    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.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Hebrews 3:7-11 NLT

He goes on to use this Old Testament story as a lesson for his Christian audience. He reminds them that God has not reneged on His offer of rest.

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. – Hebrews 4:1-2 NLT

Adam and Eve were meant to enjoy the rest provided for them in Eden. The Israelites were to enjoy the rest made possible in the land of Canaan. But the first couple, just like the chosen people of God, refused to take God at His word. Yet, as God’s children, followers of Christ are extended the promise of God’s rest.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

God has offered a Sabbath rest, made possible through the work of His Son. Jesus obeyed the will of His Heavenly Father, faithfully completing the assignment He had been given. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, satisfying the just demands of His Heavenly Father and providing the ultimate Sabbath rest for the wicked and weary.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Jesus offers an invitation to find rest in Him. He invites the weary to cease from their labors and rely upon His finished work on the cross. When Jesus had completed His redemptive work on the cross, He stated, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He had successfully completed His assignment and then entered His Father’s rest. And now, He offers sinful men and women the opportunity to enjoy the reward of never-ending rest through reliance upon the gift of God’s grace and forgiveness. And the author of Hebrews reminds us that this rest is real and readily available to all who will believe.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. – Hebrews 4:8-11 NLT

God has done it all. The only thing required of mankind is reliance upon and rest in the work that Christ has already done. It is finished.

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

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

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

God of the Past, Present, and Future

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’” Haggai 2:6-9 ESV

God has provided much-needed words of encouragement to His people.

Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:4 ESV

And He has reminded them that because He is a covenant-keeping God, they have no reason to fear. His presence among them is assured because He promised to never leave them or forsake them. God referred to the covenant He had made with their ancestors at Mount Sinai after He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt.

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had received the Ten Commandments from God, the divine code of conduct that was to regulate their behavior and determine their ongoing relationship with Him. God had set them apart as His own special possession, but He required that they conduct themselves in a manner that was in keeping with their status as His kingdom of priests and His holy nation. He expected them to keep the covenant agreement He was making with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, but that relationship required that they remain faithful to the covenant and obedient to live by all of its commands.

On the day that God had communicated His covenant commands to Moses, He had revealed Himself to the people in a formidable and unforgettable manner.

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. – Exodus 19:16-20 ESV

And this dramatic display of God’s glory had left the people in a state of fear.

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 ESV

But Moses had assured them that God’s glorious display of His power and might was actually for their good.

“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” – Exodus 20:20 ESV

It was God’s desire that His people live sinless lives, in keeping with His commands. But in order to receive His covenant blessings, they would be required to keep His covenant commands. Now, centuries later, the people of Judah were hearing from God once again. They had returned to the land of promise after nearly 70 years of captivity in Babylon, a punishment meted out by God because of their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. He had graciously kept His promise to restore them to the land and now He was reiterating His commitment to be their God and dwell among them. And God uses imagery that was meant to remind His people of Mount Sinai.

Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. – Haggai 2:6 ESV

Their ancestors had been given a sight and sound show intended to reveal the majesty and power of God Almighty.

…there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV

when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off – Exodus 20:18 ESV

God was promising to reveal Himself with such power and might that it would shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. This dynamic imagery concerning God’s power can be found throughout the Old Testament Scriptures. King David put the cosmic significance of God’s power in poetic terms.

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel. – Psalm 68:7-8 ESV

Asaph echoed David’s words in his own psalm.

When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook. – Psalm 77:6-18 ESV

In Haggai 2:6-9, God is describing a coming day when the people of Israel will once again experience a powerful display of God’s glory. He will reveal Himself in a supernatural, earth-shaking demonstration of never-before-seen power and might. The prophets had spoken of a great day to come when God would shake the heavens.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger. – Isaiah 13:13 ESV

All living things—the fish in the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals of the field, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people on earth—will quake in terror at my presence. Mountains will be thrown down; cliffs will crumble; walls will fall to the earth. – Ezekiel 38:20 NLT

All of this imagery points to a future day when God will bring about a divine intervention of global and cosmic proportions. His Son will return to earth again and bring about the culmination of the divine plan for the redemption of all things. The author of Hebrews was quoting Haggai 2:6 when he wrote:

“Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. – Hebrews 12:26-27 ESV

God is going to do far more than simply shake the heavens and earth. He is going to destroy and remake them. The prophet Isaiah referred to this great day when he recorded the following promise from God:

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness. – Isaiah 65:17-18 ESV

And centuries later, the apostle John was given a vision of this coming day, which he recorded in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4 ESV

Haggai is recording a promise from God that spans the centuries and looks far into the future when God will bring about the final phase of His grand redemptive plan for mankind and all creation. Yes, He wanted the people to complete their task of rebuilding the temple. But He also wanted them to understand that their faithfulness to do so was to be based on His faithfulness to fulfill all that He had promised to do. God had far more in mind than they could have ever imagined or believed. Their return to the land and the restoration of the temple was but one chapter in the divine narrative God had in store for His chosen people. Their ongoing existence was guaranteed because God had great plans for them. It would be through His chosen people that the Chosen One would come. His Son would be born a descendant of Abraham and a rightful heir to the Davidic throne. The Son of God would be the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In His first advent, Jesus offered His life as a ransom for many. But in His second coming, He will as King of kings and Lord of lords, and rule and reign on the throne of David in Jerusalem. And in that day, a new temple will exist that will far outshine the glory of the structure that Solomon had built. And God provides His guarantee of this future reality.

“The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:9 ESV

The people of Haggai’s day had a job to do. They had a role to play. It was their responsibility to rebuild the temple. That’s why God commanded them, “Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4 ESV). They were to be obedient and complete the task assigned to them by God, knowing that He would do His part and fulfill every promise He had made concerning their present and the future.

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

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

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

One Thing Is Necessary

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:38-42 ESV

Jesus is continuing His move toward Jerusalem. Since leaving Galilee, He has traveled through Samaria and is now in Judea, having arrived at the village of Bethany. While Luke does not provide the location for the events recorded in these verses, the apostle John reveals that Mary and Martha lived in the village of Bethany with their brother Lazarus (John 10:1). Sometime later, when Lazarus became deathly ill, the two sisters would beg Jesus to return to their home so that He might heal their brother. But by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus would die, providing Jesus with the opportunity to display His power and authority over death and the grave.

But on this occasion, Jesus and His disciples visit the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where they enjoy a much-needed respite from the travels. With His arrival in Bethany, Jesus had gotten within two miles of Jerusalem. Bethany will become Jesus’ unofficial headquarters in Judea as He prepares for the final weeks of His earthly ministry and life. In the days ahead, Mary and Martha will become recurring characters in the story surrounding His final days.

We are not told if Jesus had a previous relationship with these two women and their brother, or if this is His first encounter with them. But Luke reports that “Martha welcomed him into her house” (Luke 10:38 ESV). She played the role of gracious hostess, inviting Jesus and His disciples into her home, where she quickly busied herself with the preparations of a meal. But her sister, Mary, chose to join the disciples as they listened to Jesus teach. It seems clear that both of these women were familiar with Jesus and had some kind of former relationship with His ministry. Perhaps they had encountered Him in the Judean wilderness after His baptism by John.

But Luke’s intention for including this story seems to be based on the diametrically opposed responses of the two women. He presents Martha as an anxious and somewhat driven individual who wants to make a good impression on Jesus and His companions. Luke describes her as being “distracted by the big dinner she was preparing” (Luke 10:40 NLT). It seems obvious that Martha has the gift of hospitality. She is working feverishly to prepare a meal for Jesus and she wants everything to be just right. It almost appears as if Luke is attempting to portray Martha as being driven by a legalistic, works-based mentality. But for Martha, the presence of Jesus in her home presented her with the opportunity to do what she did best: Entertain her guests with a well-cooked meal. It was something she enjoyed doing and it brought her great joy. But Luke makes it clear that Martha was a bit put out that her sister was letting her do all the work. While she was slaving away in the kitchen, Mary was enjoying a relaxing evening in the living room, listening to Jesus teach. This prompted Martha to interrupt Jesus and ask, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me” (Luke 10:40 NLT).

It’s not difficult to tell that these two women had distinctly different personalities. Martha was a doer. Since the moment Jesus had shown up at her home, she had spent all her time in the kitchen, doing everything in her power to make sure that her guests were well taken care of. The thought of postponing her preparations so she could listen to Jesus teach never crossed her mind. And when she saw her sister doing just that, it made her angry and resentful – perhaps even jealous.

Martha wanted Jesus to take her side and order Mary to come to her assistance. But Jesus does just the opposite. Instead of speaking to Mary, He addresses the disgruntled Martha.

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” – Luke 10:41 ESV

Jesus can sense Martha’s frustration. She is filled with angst and anxiety, and more than a little put out with her sister’s lack of assistance. And Jesus’ words seem to convey that He knows there is more going on than meets the eye. Martha is dealing with far more than just resentment over having to prepare a meal on her own. Jesus reveals that she is “troubled about many things.” He seems to know that all her feverish activity is driven by hidden insecurities an incessant need to earn favor through hard work. And Jesus points out the fact that Martha’s nervous energy, while well-intended, was distracting her from what was really important.

“There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:42 NLT

Whether she realized it or not, Martha had the Messiah of Israel as a guest in her home. But rather than sitting at His feet and listening to Him teach, she was busy trying to impress Him with her culinary skills. Mary represents all those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). And as Jesus stated in His sermon on the mount, “they shall be satisfied.” But Martha was busy trying to prepare a meal so that she could feed Jesus. She had reversed the roles. She saw herself as the one responsible for meeting Jesus’ needs and she wanted Mary to assist her. But in doing so, she was missing the whole point of Jesus’ incarnation.

This entire scene is reminiscent of an earlier event in Jesus’ life involving a Samaritan woman whom He had encountered at a well. His disciples had gone into town to get food, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. He had struck up a conversation with the woman by asking her for a drink of water. “The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans” (John 4:9 NLT).

Shocked that Jesus had even spoken to her, the woman responded, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” (John 4:9 NLT). And Jesus further surprised the woman by stating, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10 NLT). This prompted a conversation between Jesus and the woman regarding that dealt with what Jesus meant by “living water.”

“…those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” – John 4:14 NLT

Jesus was offering the woman something far more significant than ordinary water from a well. He had begun by asking her for a drink of well water but had quickly turned the tables by offering her the source of eternal life. As their conversation progressed, the woman began to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. She went from thinking that He was offering her a better source of water to realizing that He was the long-awaited Messiah. She immediately left her water jar at the well and returned to the town where she told everyone she could find “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29 NLT).

Meanwhile, the disciples returned with food and urged Jesus to eat. But Jesus responded by telling them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). Like the woman who had considered offering Jesus water from her jar, the disciples had attempted to offer Jesus food they had purchased in town. But Jesus surprised them when He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV).

Jesus didn’t need the woman’s water or the disciples’ food. He had not come to receive but to give. And Martha was learning a similar lesson concerning her relationship with Jesus. He did not need the meal she was so feverishly preparing. But she did need what He had to offer. That’s why He told her, “Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42 NLT). Mary had been sitting at the feet of the Messiah, taking in all that He had to offer. He was feeding her from the rich bounty of His wisdom, satisfying her hunger and thirst for righteousness. She had willingly and submissively come to the true source of all her needs. And, unlike her sister, Mary’s life was marked by peace and security, rather than frenzied activity and anxiety.

This passage is not intended to condemn Martha’s activity or her desire to serve. But it is meant to stress the disciple’s need to rest at the feet of Jesus. He is the source of living water. He is the bread of life. It is He who provides for all our needs and not the other way around. Serving Jesus is commendable. But recognizing our constant need to be served by Him is essential if we are to experience the fulness of life He came to offer. That is why He reminded His disciples, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

We are to emulate His life of service and sacrifice, but we can only do so when we realize our complete dependence upon Him. When the Samaritan woman returned to her village, she was able to offer her friends living water because she had met the Messiah. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples were able to offer others the bread of life because their hunger for righteousness had been satisfied by Jesus, the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:50).

Mary had recognized that “one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). And it would not be long before Martha and all the disciples learned the same invaluable lesson. Jesus is the source of all that we need. He is living water, the bread of life, and the only means by which sinful men and women can be made right with God.

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

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

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

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

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