A Serious Heart Condition

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-23 ESV

A small contingent of scribes and Pharisees had confronted Jesus with an accusation presented in the form of a question. They were demanding that Jesus explain the “shocking” behavior of His disciples.

“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” – Mark 7:5 ESV

What shocked these pious religious leaders was the sight of Jesus’ disciples consuming food without having first cleansed their hands properly.  The word “defiled” is a translation of the Greek word, aniptos which means “unwashed.”  Mark provides a clue as to what was motivating the religious leaders.

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders… – Mark 7:3 ESV

According to these men, the disciples had violated established protocol. The “tradition of the elders” or oral law, required that all Jews go through a ceremonial cleansing of the hands before eating. Jews were required to wash their hands and say a blessing before eating any meal that included bread. The ritual was known as netilat yadayim, and involved the use of a cup that was used to pour water onto the hands and allowing it to flow down to the elbows. The ritual had nothing to do with personal hygiene but was done for ritualistic purposes.

According to the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, this was nothing more than a ceremony that had little pragmatic value.

When, therefore, some of the Pharisees remarked that our Lord’s disciples ate with “unwashen hands,” it is not to be understood literally that they did not at all wash their hands, but that they did not wash them ceremonially according to their own practice. And this was expected of them only as the disciples of a religious teacher; for these refinements were not practised by the class of people from which the disciples were chiefly drawn. – Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

And Jesus was well aware of the intentions of His accusers. These men were trying to label He and His disciples as law-breakers. But Jesus took the opportunity to teach His followers a valuable lesson on hygiene and holiness.

While the Pharisees had focused all their attention on the outward practice of hand-washing, Jesus took the conversation deeper. To put it another way, He went to the “heart” of the matter. Gathering the people around Him, Jesus said, “All of you listen…and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart” (Mark 7:14-15 NLT).

And that was all He said. As usual, Jesus’ reply was short and succinct, but not exactly clear. And Mark indicates that even the 12 disciples had a difficult time understanding the meaning behind Jesus’ abbreviated lesson. When they were able to be alone with Jesus, they asked Him to explain the meaning behind what they understood to be another one of His parables. But this was less a parable than it was a moral object lesson. What had precipitated Jesus’ comment was the emphasis of the scribes and Pharisees on ritualistic cleansing. These men were all about appearances and used their lengthy list of man-made rules as a way to promote and prove their own righteousness. Their behavior became their badge of honor. Rule-keeping became their primary means for measuring righteousness. But Jesus was much more interested in the inside than the outside. On another occasion, He would level a stinging accusation against the Pharisees, exposing the farcical nature of all their religious rule-keeping.

“you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

These attacks on the well-respected religious leaders always left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Weren’t the scribes and Pharisees to be revered for their obvious displays of righteousness? How could Jesus get away with calling them hypocrites and blind guides? Why did He feel the constant need to anger them?

But Jesus was attempting to teach His disciples that the problem mankind faced was not of a physical nature but of a spiritual one. It all had to do with the condition of the heart. And no amount of outward cleansing or ritual purification could result in a holy heart. So, He reiterated His original statement one more time, but with further clarification.

“Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” – Mark 7:18 NLT

Food was little more than fuel, taken into the body as a source of energy, then passed out as human waste. The washing of hands, pots, pans, and the food itself, while beneficial from a personal hygiene perspective, had no value when it came to a person’s spiritual condition. Food may help power the human heart, but it can do nothing to influence the moral state of the human soul, either positively or negatively. Drinking from a ritualistically cleansed cup may make one feel purer, but it was nothing more than a  facade, an exercise in self-deception.

Mark adds another important parenthetical statement intended to provide further clarification for the readers of his gospel.

By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes. – Mark 7:19 NLT

This expanded explanation most likely escaped the disciples. But it would become clearer to them when Jesus had ascended back into heaven after His resurrection. In the days after Jesus departed and the Holy Spirit ascended, the disciples would obey His commission and take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And, before long, there would be Gentiles accepting the free gift of God’s grace made possible through faith in Jesus Christ and receiving the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. The addition of Gentile converts to the early church would produce an important debate among the disciples about the role of the Mosaic law in the lives of these former pagans. There were those, like Peter, who believed that any Gentiles who came to faith should be required to keep the Jewish religious laws, just as they did. But Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would push back strongly against this unnecessary requirement. In doing so, he was not denigrating God’s law, but simply denying that salvation was by faith alone in Christ alone, with no other requirements necessary. Paul would argue vehemently that the law had no place in the lives of these Gentile converts. The Jewish dietary laws no longer applied. And even the Jewish rite of circumcision was to be set aside.

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 NLT

It was all about the heart. And that was the very point Jesus was trying to make with His disciples. And knowing that their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52), making it difficult for them to grasp the meaning behind His teaching, Jesus made it plain and simple.

“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” – Mark 7:20-23 NLT

This less-than-flattering list is similar to one found in Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

These ungodly, unholy, and unrighteous actions are not the result of unwashed hands but an unregenerate heart. Man’s heart is wicked and controlled by his sinful nature. It is not the byproduct of poor living conditions, improper hygiene, insufficient education, or the failure to keep a set of religious rules.

James reminds us that “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death” (James 1:14-16 NLT). The prophet Jeremiah adds, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).

So, Jesus was trying to communicate a deep and abiding truth regarding the nature of man’s sinful state. No amount of ritual cleansing was going to solve the problem. The Pharisees could cleanse the outside of “the cup,” but they would be missing the real problem. Like all men, they were suffering from a serious heart condition that was untreatable by human means. Even their strict adherence to the laws of Moses and their faithful keeping of the traditions of the fathers could do nothing to render their hearts holy and acceptable to God.

And as Paul would later tell the Galatian believers, “it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Galatians 3:11 NLT).

This was news to the disciples and it went against everything they had been taught as young boys receiving training in the local synagogue. Jesus was letting them know that the problem of sin was far greater and more pervasive than they realized. Man’s defilement and condemnation before God was an internal problem, not an external one, and there would be only one solution. And He was standing right in front of them.

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

Rest for the Weary

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:23-28 ESV

The disciples of John had come to Jesus, wanting to know why He and His disciples didn’t follow their lead and keep the fast days appointed by the Pharisees. Their question has a certain sense of superiority about it because the brand of Judaism under which they were raised placed a heavy emphasis on religious performance. In a sense, the practice of one’s faith had become competitive rather than contemplative. It had become more about outward appearances than the inner disposition of the heart.

That is why Jesus dedicated a large portion of His sermon on the mount addressing the hypocrisy associated with a performance-based religion.

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity!” – Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. – Matthew 6:5 NLT

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.” – Matthew 6:16 NLT

Jesus had come to free the people from this dead-end existence of religious ritualism and rule-keeping. Not long after delivering His sermon on the mount, Jesus had issued what has come to be known as His Great Invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Jesus was offering rest to those who were worn out by the constant pressure to measure up and keep up with all the rules, regulations, rituals, and rites associated with their religion. It was a non-stop and never-ending treadmill of existence based on effort and earning. But Jesus had come to offer something far better: rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).

Which brings us to today’s passage. The scene is a wheat field somewhere in Galilee.  Mark describes Jesus and His disciples taking a short-cut through the field and as they did, the disciples were casually plucking off the heads of grain and eating them as a snack. They were not doing anything illegal because the Mosaic Law had made allowances for such behavior.

“When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, but you must not carry any away in a basket. And when you enter your neighbor’s field of grain, you may pluck the heads of grain with your hand, but you must not harvest it with a sickle.” – Deuteronomy 23:24-25 NLT

But as Mark reveals, the problem wasn’t what they were doing, it was when they were doing it. It was the Sabbath. And there were all kinds of rules associated with this particular day of the week. God had originally established the Sabbath as a day of rest and had included its observance as part of the Ten Commandments.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.” – Exodus 20:8-10 NLT

And God had provided the people of Israel with the rationale behind His setting apart of this one day above all the other days of the week.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:11 NLT

It was to be a day of commemoration, on which the people were to set aside all their normal daily activities so that they might recall what God had done on their behalf. He was the Creator-God, who made the universe and all that it contained, including them. Observing the Sabbath was intended to remind them of their complete dependence upon God. Their human effort was of no real value. Their very existence was totally dependent upon God and by resting on the seventh day, they were placing all their hope in Him. He would meet their needs. And God had illustrated this principle to the people of Israel long before He set apart the seventh day as holy.

When the Israelites had been making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, God had graciously provided them with “bread from heaven.”

“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:4-5 ESV

This bread from heaven (manna), was to collected daily, but on the sixth day, they were to collect enough to meet their needs for two days. On the seventh day, they were to “rest” from their gathering of manna.  God had provided all that they needed.

The Sabbath was to have been a reminder of God’s provision for all their needs. But over time, the religious leaders of Israel had managed to turn the Sabbath into a rule-laden, performance-driven day where everything was measured by human effort. They had transformed the God-ordained mandate to rest into a form of work. And the religious leaders had created a litany of man-made laws that were used to measure the peoples’ observance of this day of rest. It had become all about their ability to keep all the laws that had been placed on this one particular day.

According to the Mishnah (the oral law of Israel), there were 39 different categories of laws associated with the keeping of the Sabbath. They included laws concerning carrying, burning, cooking, washing, harvesting, and threshing. According to this oral law, a Jew was forbidden to light a candle on the Sabbath but could hire a Gentile to do so. It was also considered Sabbath-breaking to gaze at one’s image in a mirror. So, this day of rest had actually become a day of wearisome and burdensome rule-keeping.

So, when the Pharisees observed Jesus’ disciples plucking wheat, they condemned them for “reaping” on the Sabbath. And they confronted Jesus for allowing His disciples to violate their oral laws.

“Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” – Mark 2:24 NLT

And Jesus, knowing these men prided themselves on their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, used a story contained in the writings of Samuel, to justify the actions of His disciples (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Jesus recounts how David, who was on the run from King Saul, had arrived at the town of Nob and asked the high priest to provide food for him and his soldiers. The only bread available was “the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 21:6 ESV).

According to the Mosaic Law, this bread was reserved for the priests alone. Yet, Jesus points out that when David “was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him…entered the house of God…and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him” (Mark 2:25-26 ESV). In doing so, David was actually violating the law, but in this case, it was acceptable because David was the Lord’s anointed. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. He was to be the God-ordained replacement for the disobedient and disappointing King Saul.

And Jesus points out a major flaw in their understanding of the Sabbath.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27 ESV

God had set apart the Sabbath as a reminder to the people of Israel that He was their provider. He would care for them. It was to be the day on which they rested from all their vain efforts at self-provision and relied completely on the One who made the universe and all it contains. God had allowed the feeding of David and his men because David was the Lord’s anointed. The physical needs of David had taken precedence over the laws concerning the holy bread.

And Jesus points out to the Pharisees that he, as the Son of Man, was “lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV). As God’s anointed, Jesus had the full authority to allow the behavior of His disciples. He was placing their well-being above the oral law of the Pharisees. God had made the Sabbath and, as the Son of God, Jesus had every right to do what He deemed to be holy and acceptable on the Sabbath. 

Jesus had come to bring rest to the weary and to remove the burden of performance and religious rule-keeping. For the average Jew, the Sabbath had become a burdensome and tiring 24 hours marked by constant vigilance and fear of violating the rules. There was no rest. But Jesus had come to change all that.

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

Regulations For Real Life

15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.

17 “None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel shall be a cult prostitute. 18 You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.

19 “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but you may not charge your brother interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22 But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23 You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.

24 “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. – Deuteronomy 23:15-25 ESV

Moses now moves his point of emphasis from times of war to the everyday affairs of life. There would be periods of peace in Israel and during these times the men of war would return home to the normal circumstances of life. These occasions would call for an additional set of regulations to govern  a wide range of situations, and Moses left nothing up to chance.

The first scenario involves an escaped slave. The context seems to indicate that this fugitive slave has arrived in Israel from a distant land. This does not appear to be a reference to an indentured servant. There were slaves in Israel, but many of these individuals were fellow Israelites whose financial circumstances had obligated them to take on the role of a household servant in order to pay a debt they owed. And there were very strict rules regarding the treatment of these fellow Israelites, including the Year of Jubilee, when theses servants were to be set free and their debt wiped clean.

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. – Exodus 21:2 NLT

The reference to an escaped slave found in verses 15-16 would appear to be dealing with a foreign slave who has shown up in Israel seeking refuge. In this case, there would be no obligation to return the slave to his master, because the master would be considered a pagan. Any rules concerning Hebrew slaves  would not apply in this case. But if an escaped slave showed up in Israel seeking asylum, they were to be treated with compassion and given the right to settle anywhere within the borders of Israel. These individuals were not be oppressed or treated like property. Instead, they were to be extended every courtesy and considered as a guest of the nation.

The very fact that the Bible deals with the topic of slavery yet never explicitly demands its abolition, leaves many modern-day Christians confused. Non-Christians have used the Bible’s seeming silence regarding the issue of slavery as a reason for rejecting the faith. But it is important to remember that the Bible is to be read and observed in its entirety. As a book, it covers a great stretch of time and deals with a wide range of social issues. The Bible neither condemns or condones slavery. Slavery, like so many other social aberrations, was the direct result of the fall. When sin entered the scene, not only was man’s relationship with God damanged, but the interpersonal dynamic between individuals changed for the worse. Not long after Adam and Eve rebelled against God, one of their own sons murdered his brother. And it goes downhill from there. The Bible is not about God telling man how to restore everything back to the way it was before the fall. It is about God revealing just how bad man’s spiritual condition had become because of the fall.

All of these laws given to the Israelites were designed to reveal man’s inherent sinfulness. The apostle Paul answers the age-old question, “Why, then, was the law given?” by stating,  “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins” (Galatians 19 NLT). He wrote the very same thing to the believers in Rome.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

The Mosaic Law was not intended to rectify all of man’s sinful inclinations. But it was meant to regulate behavior. Without the law, men would not even be aware that what they were doing was sin. Again, Paul provides us with a clarification on the purpose of the law.

I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NIV

Murder, slavery, adultery, lust, rape, incest – all of these things are the sad and inevitable outcomes of the fall. Everything has been perverted. The entire creation has been marred by sin. And the Scriptures provides an overview of mankind’s relationship with God ever since the entrance of sin into His creation. The answer to the problem of slavery is not its abolition, but the redemption of mankind from slavery to sin. Telling sinful human beings not to enslave one another would be no more effective then demanding that they not lust after one another. The underlying problem is the heart.

So, all of these scenarios deal with what were everyday issues confronting the Israelites. Slavery was an everyday part of life because mankind was plagued by sin. And the second scenario deals with an other common problem during that day: Cult prostitution. We don’t react to this quite like we could slavery, but it was just as egregious a problem. The pagan nations surrounding Israel had incorporated sexual immorality into the worship of their false gods. But God prohibited Israel from emulating these pagan practices. They were forbidden from allowing their sons and daughters to serve as cult prostitutes. This kind of immoral practice was off-limits for the Israelites. And they were not allowed to use any money earned through this activity as a form of tithe or offering. In essense, Moses was preventing the Israelites from rationalizing their immoral behavior through apparent acts of righteousness.

The final set of regulations seem disconnected and dissimilar. But they all have to do with the interpersonal relationships between members of the covenant community of Israel. God placed a high priority on these relationships, providing the Israelites with very specific regulations regarding their actions toward one another. They were not allowed to charge one another interest. They could loan one another money, but they were not to do so in order to make a profit. This was really intended as a kind of social welfare system, designed to ensure that no Israelite was ever in need. But God allowed the charging of interest to non-Jews.

If an Israelite made a vow, he was expected to keep it. Vowing to do something in God’s name was to be taken seriously. It was a promise that was guaranteed by the holiness and integrity of God. To fail to keep that commitment was a grave sin. So, it was better not to vow at all, since the making of a vow was totally voluntary. Failing to keep your commitments was to be seen as unacceptable behavior among the Israelites. Jesus provided an important clarification on this matter in His Sermon on the Mount.

“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows; you must carry out the vows you make to the Lord.’ But I say, do not make any vows!…

“Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” – Matthew 5:33-34, 37 NLT

The final verses in this section deal with the sharing of one’s resources. If an Israelite was passing through another man’s vineyard or field of grain, he was free to gather enough food to sustain him on his journey. In other words, he could meet his immediate need for food, but he was not allowed to harvest the crops belonging to another man. To do so would be theft. But as long as he was taking just enough grapes to satisfy his hunger, he was free to do so. The Israelites were expected to care for the needs of one another, but they were also respect one another’s rights.

All of these regulations were intended to govern the everyday lives of the people of Israel. They cover with a wide range of topics, but they all deal with the daily interactions between the people of God. The nation of Israel had been set apart by God and were expected to glorify His name through the way they lived their lives. While the nations around them were operating according to their sin natures, Israel had been provided with the Mosaic Law, a gracious gift from God designed to expose their own sinful dispositions and remind them of the holiness of their 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

Their Heart Wasn’t In It

22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’

28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever! 30 Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” 31 But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’ 32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.” – Deuteronomy 5:22-33 ESV

What a spectacular sight that must have been. As the people stood at the base of Mount Sinai, they had seen the peak covered in what appeared to be fire and smoke, and out of the darkness of the cloud had come bolts of lightning and peals of thunder. But they had also heard the unmistakable voice of God Almighty. The book of Exodus tells us that God had told Moses to prepare the people for this amazing encounter. Their invisible God was going to make Himself known.

“Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” – Exodus 19:9 ESV

God was going to allow the people of Israel to overhear His conversation with Moses. And, while they would not actually see God, they would hear His voice and witness the amazing display of His glory. But the people were not to take this one-of-a-kind opportunity lightly. Moses was commanded by God to have the people prepared because they would be encountering the holiness of God. This was not to be treated like some kind of Fourth of July fireworks spectacular.

“Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”  – Exodus 19:10-13 ESV

The people did as Moses instructed them. They came, they saw, and they heard.

All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. – Exodus 19:18 NLT

And this remarkable display of God’s glory had its intended effect. The people were blown away by all that they had seen and heard and expressed their amazement to Moses.

“Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Today we have seen that God can speak to us humans, and yet we live!” – Deuteronomy 5:24 NLT

They were amazed and petrified at the same time. Their exposure to the might and majesty of God created within them a fear that bordered on paranoia. They wanted nothing more to do with Him and preferred that Moses do the dirty and obviously dangerous work of receiving any further instructions from God. But they committed themselves to obey whatever it was that God told them to do.

“But now, why should we risk death again? If the Lord our God speaks to us again, we will certainly die and be consumed by this awesome fire. Can any living thing hear the voice of the living God from the heart of the fire as we did and yet survive?  Go yourself and listen to what the Lord our God says. Then come and tell us everything he tells you, and we will listen and obey.” – Deuteronomy 5:25-27 NLT

Once again, the book of Exodus provides us with additional details regarding this historical event. After Moses had returned from the mountaintop, having received all of God’s commands, he had shared them with the people. And this time, the law had expanded beyond the initial Ten Commandments and included a wider range of rules and regulations, covering everything from the proper construction of altars to the treatment of slaves. There were laws concerning restitution and the practice of social justice. God even included commands regarding the feasts and festivals they were to celebrate and rules concerning their keeping of the Sabbath. And when the people heard all that God had commanded, they responded affirmatively.

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 24:3 NLT

But their enthusiastic commitment to keep God’s commands was driven more by fear than by a heartfelt desire to live in obedience to Him. They had committed to keeping His law because they feared His judgment. But fear alone would prove to be an insufficient motivation to foster long-term obedience. And God saw through their exuberant verbal affirmation.

“I have heard what the people said to you, and they are right. Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” – Deuteronomy 5:28-29 NLT

He knew what was going to happen. Eventually, the fire on the mountain would go out, and the smoke would dissipate. The thunder and lightning would fade away like a distant memory, and the fear the people felt would evaporate along with them. God knew that their commitment to obey His commands would be short-lived. And yet, He longed to bless and prosper them.

God had tied His blessing of them directly to their obedience to Him. Later on, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses would articulate the vital link between blessing and obedience.

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

But failure to obey had its consequences. Disobedience would result in curses.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

God longed to bless His people. But His covenant with them was conditional. He had given them His law and required that it be obeyed. If they wanted to live long and prosper, they had to live in obedience to His commands. This wasn’t just a case of blind obedience to an arbitrary set of rules. Every single command given by God had inherent benefits associated with it because it came from a holy and just God. The laws provided by God were meant to protect and prosper the people of Israel. If obeyed, they would set the people of Israel apart and bestow on them blessings beyond belief. Walking submissively and obediently within the will of God always brings the blessings of God. Living according to His standards and submitting to His will always results in a guarantee of His blessings. Which is why Moses pleaded with the people of Israel to do all that God had commanded them to do.

“You must be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, following his instructions in every detail. Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy. – Deuteronomy 5:32-33 NLT

But God desires obedience from the heart, not a robotic, going-through-the-motions adherence to a set of rules. The law was never intended to be a set of live-sucking regulations that require mindless obedience. God desires obedience that flows from the heart and is motivated by love, not fear.

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 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




Proverbs 29b

World Gone Wild.

“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” – Proverbs 29:18 NLT

Take a look around you. The world has gone wild. It has cast off the restraints imposed on it by God by rejecting His Word and His will and refusing to acknowledge Him as God. There are few, if any, restraints to public morality any more. Everything is acceptable, tolerable and normal in society. In the New International Version, this verse reads, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” The idea is that there is no longer any word from God from the lips of the prophets of God. They are no longer speaking because God is no longer talking. Without God’s divine guidance and righteous rules for living, the people literally, “let loose.” They throw caution to the wind and embrace anything and everything as morally acceptable. The mantra, “If it feels good, do it” becomes the rule of the day. Everyone becomes motivated by their own pleasures and desires. Whether God’s restraining hand gets removed or the people simply reject it, the outcome is always the same. There will be unchecked, unrestrained immorality and rebellion against God. They will run wild.

But there is another side to this proverb. It says, “But whoever obeys the law is joyful.” Those who choose to listen to the Word of God and obey it, will find joy. Rather than restrictive, they will find the Word of God restorative and rest-producing. Throughout the Word of God we are given clear indications of what God expects from His people. He does not save us, then allow us to live according to our own standards or some arbitrary set of guidelines set by the majority of our peers. No, God has righteous and holy standards which are designed to guide His people in their daily interactions with Him and with one another. Unlike during the days of the Jews, who were required to try and keep God’s law in order to live righteous lives, as believers we do not obey God’s Word out of some sense of earning favor or brownie points with God. Our righteousness is not based on the effectiveness of our obedience, but on what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. We obey because we have been redeemed. We gladly keep God’s law because we love the One who gave it. We obey because we know how much He loves us and wants what is best for us. That is what produces joy.

If we choose to disobey, which we all do at times, we “run wild.” We end up casting off the loving restraints put there by God and choose to live according to our own selfish, self-satisfying standards. We do what is right in our own eyes, not God’s. We become driven by our passions, rather than God’s Word. But God has called us to a life of obedience. He has set His divine rules over the world, not as some kind of cosmic kill-joy, but because He knows what is best. His standards are righteous and right. His rules have a restraining and restorative quality to them. They bring peace and joy. But when they’re ignored, the people run wild.

Father, may we learn to be a people who cherishes Your Word and obeys it. May we recognize the joy found in Your divine standards. We see the world running wild because they have cast off all restraints and rejected Your Word. May we as Your people remain a restraining and restorative factor in society because we value and cherish Your commands. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 28


“God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” – Proverbs 28:9 NLT

The verse above contains a pretty serious statement. It should grab out attention and make us question what it means to ignore the law. What law is he talking about? And what does it mean to ignore it? You and I certainly don’t want to find ourselves in the position where God detests our prayers. We don’t want to find ourselves crying out to God only to have Him refuse to hear or answer our prayers because of the fact that we have ignored His law. This Proverb, while a collection of independent wise sayings, does have somewhat of a theme. Most of the verses can be tied right back to the Ten Commandments, the original Law of God given on Mount Sinai to Moses during the days of the Exodus. Here they are:

  1. You must not have any other god but me.
  2. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens of on the earth or in the sea.
  3. You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You must not murder.
  7. You must not commit adultery.
  8. You must not steal.
  9. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. You must not covet.

If you notice, the first four regulate our relationship with God, while the last six deal with our human relationships. Now if you go back to Proverbs 28, you will see that most, if not all, of these verses have to do with our outlook on the law of God and its impact on our relationships with others. Throughout this Proverb you see contrasted the wicked and the righteous or godly. One group rejects the law of God while the other embraces and obeys it. “To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them” (Proverbs 28:4 NLT). God’s law is the standard for all life on this planet. How we treat Him and how we relate to one another is contained in the law. It gives us the basis for all our interactions. Without a standard, everyone does what is in their own best interests and according to their own set of self-centered rules. It leads to corruption, graft, greed, abuse, neglect of the poor, and justification of all kinds of harmful actions. We are warned, “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe” (Proverbs 28:26 NLT). To walk in wisdom is to live your life according to God’s terms, in obedience to His law or standard for life. God cares deeply about our human relationships. He wants us to treat one another with care, concern, respect, dignity, love, and honor – because all mankind is made in His image. But when we reject God’s law and disrespect our parents, murder out of hatred or for personal gain, take another man’s wife, steal what belongs to someone else, discredit another human being, or desire what they have more than we desire a relationship with them, we are fools. We lack wisdom because we are rejecting the conditions for life given to us by God Himself. It results in “moral rot” as described in verse 2. It leads to abuse and oppression. It becomes contagious, leading even good people to do bad things. It causes men to justify their actions and to reject accountability for the wrongs they commit.

The Ten Commandments begin with four statements about honoring God. We are to treat Him with respect, dignity, and honor at all times. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning” (Proverbs 1:7 MSG). Our relationships with men are all based on and dependent upon our relationship with God. Wise rulers are those who know God and honor Him with their lives. They live according to His rules and don’t rule based on their own set of subjective standards. Wise parents are those whose households are God-honoring, where He is lifted up and held as the standard for life. Wise young people obey the law because they love God. Wise vendors don’t try and take advantage of their customers in order to make a buck, because they love God and know that dishonesty is dishonoring to Him. The wise commit sins, but immediately confess them to God, because they know He sees and they value their relationship with Him more than any pleasure their sin may provide.

Loving the law is simply loving God. It is obeying His Word because you trust Him. It is doing what He says because You recognize that He knows best.

Father, You did not leave us here to do whatever we want to do according to our own set of subjective standards. That is what leads us to sin and causes us to harm one another. You have provided us with Your standard for living and You have given us the rules for governing our relationships with one another. But it all begins with our relationship with You. Help us to trust You more, and to rely on the fact that Your law is good, holy and right. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 23b


“Get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” – Proverbs 23:23 NLT

When our children are young, one of the most common words they hear come out of our mouths as their parents is “don’t!” It seems like we are constantly having to tell them what NOT to do. Why? Because they are young and lack the ability to know right from wrong. They are self-centered and live in a world that they think consists only of them. Their desires come first. If they see something they want, they simply take it, regardless if someone else is using it at that moment. If they desire something and someone denies them access to it, they find a way to get it anyway, even if it means disobeying the authorities in their life. Kids have to hear the word, “don’t” because they don’t know any better.

In chapters 22 and 23 of Proverbs we have a list of 30 wise sayings, most of which are prohibitions or restrictions against particular behaviors or attitudes. They address everything from drinking to the dangers of gluttony. We’re told not to cheat our neighbors and not to make friends with someone who has an anger problem. But why do we need to hear all these warnings and commands? Because many of us still lack the ability to make wise decisions on our own. Remember, the book of Proverbs is very practical, providing divinely inspired input for daily living. This is Monday-morning relevant stuff. No religious mumbo-jumbo or spiritual speak here. This is relevant counsel for real life. But if we try and apply these principles to our lives like self-help tips, we are going to be highly disappointed. Oh, they might work for a while, because they are truths from the very throne of God. But we will be incapable of keeping them long-term because we really don’t understand their value and we lack the convictions necessary to stick with them. We will be like a child who knows all the rules, but fails to keep them because he doesn’t understand the reasons behind them.

The key to all of this is understanding the truth. If we look at these wise sayings without an understanding of the truth behind them, we will simply see them as restrictions that keep us from doing the things we want to do. We will see them as road blocks to our self-satisfaction. We may keep them for a time, because someone bigger and stronger than us told us to, but as soon as we have the chance, we will rebel and reject them. That’s why we are told to “get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment.” The 30 wise sayings are not wisdom in and of themselves. They are the byproduct of wisdom. They are wise because they have come from a wise God and through the life experiences of wise men and women. We are told to get discipline, because without it we will never be able to follow the counsel in this book. We need good judgment, because without it we will never understand or appreciate the value of following the advice found on the pages of the book of Proverbs, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

There comes a time when we no longer have to say, “don’t!” to our children as much as used to. Why? Because they have grown in wisdom, discipline and understanding. They have reached a point where they understand the reason behind the restriction. They have grown wise in the ways of the world. For some of us, reading this list of 30 wise sayings leaves us nodding our head in agreement because we already know the truth found in them. Others of us may read them and think, “This is hard stuff, I don’t know if I can pull it off or if I even agree with it.” They sound restrictive and unattractive to many of us. Because we lack wisdom. We need understanding. We are short on discernment. And all these things come from God. We need to get to know Him better. We need to know His heart so that we can see the truth contained in His Word. When our children are young and we tell them “don’t!,” they think we’re mean. But as they grow older and get to know us better, they realize just how much we love them and have their best interest in mind. The same is true with God.

Father, at the end of the day, I need to understand just how much You love me. I need to see life through Your eyes, with the help of Your wisdom, with Your understanding, and assisted by Your discernment. While so much of what this world offers up seems attractive and appealing, it is dangerous and could do me harm. I need to trust You when You say, “don’t!” I need wisdom, understanding and discernment to see life and your rules for living life in the right way. I need to know Your heart. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men