In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
 
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

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

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

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

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

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

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A Coming Cleansing

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
    in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the Lord,
    like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
    nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
    and all your enemies shall be cut off.

10 And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
11 and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
12 and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
13 and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands;
14 and I will root out your Asherah images from among you
    and destroy your cities.
15 And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. Micah 5:7-15 ESV

Micah describes a scene that is radically different than the one facing his 8th-Century B.C. audience. They were living in a time when constant threats from the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians were a part of everyday life. So, the latter-day events that Micah is telling them about had to have sounded alien to their ears. Would there really be a day when they would have the upper hand on the enemies? Would the tables turn and the Israelites be the dominant force in the region once again?

The day is coming when the Israelites will be dispersed among the nations, but not as a result of God’s judgment. This time it will be so that they might refresh the nations of the earth by their very presence.

Then the remnant left in Israel
    will take their place among the nations.
They will be like dew sent by the Lord
    or like rain falling on the grass,
which no one can hold back
    and no one can restrain.
The remnant left in Israel
    will take their place among the nations. – Micah 5:7-8 NLT

Like dew and rain, the redeemed and restored people of God will have a positive and beneficial impact on the world of that day. But like God Almighty, they will also be a powerful presence in the world, displaying the strength of a lion among sheep.

They will be like a lion among the animals of the forest,
    like a strong young lion among flocks of sheep and goats,
pouncing and tearing as they go
    with no rescuer in sight.
The people of Israel will stand up to their foes,
    and all their enemies will be wiped out. – Micah 5:8-9 NLT

What a dramatic change of circumstances. Israel will find itself in the driver’s seat, operating from a position of strength, not weakness. And this will be in fulfillment of the promise Moses made to the people of Israel as they waited to cross into the promised land for the very first time.

If you listen to these commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today, and if you carefully obey them, the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom. – Deuteronomy 28:13 NLT

For the foreseeable future, Israel was going to find their fortunes to be quite the opposite of what Moses described. They would be the tail and not the head. And it would be their misfortune to be on the bottom rather than the top. Defeat, destruction, and exile were headed their way, but Micah wanted them to know that God had future plans for them that would reverse that trend – completely and permanently.

But there will also be a period of purging when God cleanses the land of all the vestiges of idolatry and rebellion that were the cause of His judgment against them. God will not be content to restore them to the land just to see them continue to live in the same way they did before. It will be a time of intense cleansing as God removes anything and everything that the people of Israel allowed to draw them away from their faithful worship of Him.

“In that day,” says the Lord,
“I will slaughter your horses
    and destroy your chariots.
I will tear down your walls
    and demolish your defenses.
I will put an end to all witchcraft,
    and there will be no more fortune-tellers.
I will destroy all your idols and sacred pillars,
    so you will never again worship the work of your own hands.
I will abolish your idol shrines with their Asherah poles
    and destroy your pagan cities.” – Micah 5:10-12 NLT

Horses and chariots represent man’s dependence upon military might. The psalmist wrote, “Some nations boast of their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the Lord our God. Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm” (Psalm 20:7-8 NLT). And yet, virtually every king of Israel and Judah had accumulated horses and chariots for himself, in a misguided attempt to provide a source of power and protection other than God Almighty.

The kings of Israel and Judah had constructed elaborate defensive fortifications, in a vain attempt to protect them from enemy attack. But what they failed to remember was that they had the Lord of Hosts as their champion. He was to have been their sole source of strength and the one on whom they relied for victory.

“When you go out to fight your enemies and you face horses and chariots and an army greater than your own, do not be afraid. The LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you!” – Deuteronomy 20: 1 NLT

Witchcraft, fortune-tellers, idols, and sacred pillars were all symbols of their misplaced trust in man-made replacements for God. Rather than place all their confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Israel had developed a litany of alternative sources of help, hope, and deliverance. He would no longer tolerate their spiritual infidelity. In the new Kingdom established by His Son, God would ensure that there would be no substitutes and stand-ins available that could draw the people away from worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

During the thousand-year reign of Christ, often referred to as the Millennial Kingdom, He will sit in righteous judgment over the entire world. And we are told that He will rule with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15). The nations of the earth will all recognize that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. That does not mean that they will worship Him as their Lord and Savior, but they will acknowledge His sovereign rule over all the earth.

In those days, God will no longer tolerate sin and rebellion. He will not put up with insurrection and insubordination, among His chosen people or the nations of the earth. His Son will sit on the throne of David, ruling in righteousness and judging the world with perfect justice.

But the millennial reign of Christ will come to an end. The thousand years will pass and then God will bring one last judgment upon the world.

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10 NLT

Amazingly, during the thousand years, Satan will be bound and incapable of influencing the nations of the earth. But he will be released and lead one more misguided insurrection against God and His Son. He will rally the nations of the world to his side and attempt one last overthrow of God’s power and dominion. But he will fail. And his evil influence over the world will be done away with once and for all.

And the apostle John provides us with insight into what happens next.

And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:11-15 NLT

The final judgment – the Great White Throne Judgment  – when Jesus Christ will deliver a just and righteous verdict on all those who have refused to accept Him as their Savior and Lord. All during the period of the Great Tribulation, God will offer mankind one more opportunity to accept His free gift of salvation through His Son. But the majority will choose death over eternal life. They will prefer judgment over redemption.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT

The day will come when no more opportunities for salvation are made available. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT).

Those who have placed their hope in Christ can face the future unafraid and fully confident in the eternal security of their relationship with God Almighty. But for all those who refused God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, death will be followed by judgment. And the judgment of God, without forgiveness made possible through faith in the Son of God, will end in eternal separation from 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

They Do Not Know

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore.

And you, O tower of the flock,
    hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
    the former dominion shall come,
    kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

Now why do you cry aloud?
    Is there no king in you?
Has your counselor perished,
    that pain seized you like a woman in labor?
10 Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion,
    like a woman in labor,
for now you shall go out from the city
    and dwell in the open country;
    you shall go to Babylon.
There you shall be rescued;
    there the Lord will redeem you
    from the hand of your enemies.

11 Now many nations
    are assembled against you,
saying, “Let her be defiled,
    and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.”
12 But they do not know
    the thoughts of the Lord;
they do not understand his plan,
    that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor.
13 Arise and thresh,
    O daughter of Zion,
for I will make your horn iron,
    and I will make your hoofs bronze;
you shall beat in pieces many peoples;
    and shall devote their gain to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. Micah 4:6-13 ESV

As we have seen, this chapter is all about the good news concerning Israel. Micah is delivering an addendum to his message that is remarkably positive when compared to all that he has told them up to this point. He is not altering God’s message of pending judgment in any way, he is simply adding a very important detail concerning God’s long-term plans for His people.

In the “latter days” of which Micah is speaking, God will gather a remnant of the people of Israel from exile all over the world and return them to the promised land. Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem sits, will become the center of the geopolitical landscape of the world. People from all over the world will make their way to Israel and its capital city, in order to learn the ways of the God of Israel.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Micah 4:2 ESV

A God-appointed ruler will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem, where he “shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away” (Micah 4:3 ESV). This king will usher in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity.

…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war anymore. – Micah 4:3 ESV

But who is this king? And when will he arrive on the scene? We know that the nation of Israel has had no king, ever since the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. To this day, they remain without a king. So, when will these latter days be fulfilled and who will be the one whom God chooses to sit on the throne of David and bring about these auspicious events?

The prophet, Zechariah gives us some insight into these last days.

Watch, for the day of the Lord is coming… – Zechariah 14:1 NLT

He warns that those days will be accompanied by yet another war waged against the people of Israel. And, as before, God will be the instigator behind that conflict.

“I will gather all the nations to fight against Jerusalem. The city will be taken, the houses looted, and the women raped. Half the population will be taken into captivity, and the rest will be left among the ruins of the city.” – Zechariah 14:2 NLT

But Zechariah explains that this time, God will intervene on Israel’s behalf. He will send a representative to fight on behalf of His people.

Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. – Zechariah 14:3-4 NLT

God will send His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, back to earth a second time, but this time He will come as a conquering King, not a helpless baby in a manger. The apostle John was given a glimpse of Jesus as He returns to earth at His second coming.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

He will return to do battle with the nations of the earth and to deal with Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet. And with Christ’s arrival, He will establish Himself as the King of all the earth. Which is exactly how Zechariah describes that day.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped. – Zechariah 14:9 NLT

The prophet, Jeremiah, also provides a stirring image of this last-days event.

“In that day Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Throne of the Lord.’ All nations will come there to honor the Lord. They will no longer stubbornly follow their own evil desires. In those days the people of Judah and Israel will return together from exile in the north. They will return to the land I gave your ancestors as an inheritance forever.” – Jeremiah 3:17-18 NLT

And, not to be left out, Micah adds his divinely inspired insights into the latter days.

“In that coming day,” says the Lord,
“I will gather together those who are lame,
    those who have been exiles,
    and those whom I have filled with grief.
Those who are weak will survive as a remnant;
    those who were exiles will become a strong nation.
Then I, the Lord, will rule from Jerusalem
    as their king forever.” – Micah 4:6-7 NLT

It seems quite obvious that this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. But it will be. It is a promise of God that has been recorded by the prophets of God. And whatever God says He will do, He will do.

God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:19 NLT

And God has promised to restore the fortunes of Jerusalem, reestablishing it as a formidable city but, more importantly, as the capital of His Son, the King.

As for you, Jerusalem,
    the citadel of God’s people,
your royal might and power
    will come back to you again.
The kingship will be restored
    to my precious Jerusalem. – Micah 4:8 NLT

But in the midst of all the good news concerning the latter days, Micah addresses those living in a less-distant time period. Verse 9 is prophetic in nature, in that it addresses a future day, but one that is much close in proximity than the end times events described in verses 1-8. Micah turns his attention to those who will be living in exile as a result of the Babylonian invasion and the fall of Jerusalem. And he addresses the desperate nature of their circumstances. Notice the stark contrast between verses 1-8 and what follows.

But why are you now screaming in terror?
    Have you no king to lead you?
Have your wise people all died?
    Pain has gripped you like a woman in childbirth. – Micah 4:9 NLT

He goes on to describe Jerusalem’s fall and the long march of the people as they make their way to Babylon where they will live as slaves for 70 years. But he also provides a glimmer of hope in the midst of all the gloom.

But the Lord will rescue you there;
    he will redeem you from the grip of your enemies. – Micah 4:10 NLT

Even this part of their story has a silver lining. The nation will fall, but God will not abandon them. He fully realizes the state of affairs in Judah.

Now many nations have gathered against you.
    “Let her be desecrated,” they say.
    “Let us see the destruction of Jerusalem. – Micah 4:11 NLT

God knows what is going on because He is the one behind it all. But Micah adds an important note that we often overlook. These very same nations that He will use to punish His own people have no idea that they are nothing more than tools in His hands. They are oblivious to His sovereign control over all their actions.

But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts
    or understand his plan.
These nations don’t know
    that he is gathering them together
to be beaten and trampled
    like sheaves of grain on a threshing floor. – Micah 4:12 NLT

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had no idea that God was behind his success. And He was totally unaware that God had plans in place for his ultimate demise. The nations of the earth operate as if God does not exist, but that does not change the reality that He is in complete control of all things. The psalmist paints a vivid picture of God’s mastery over the nations and His plan to bring all mankind under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
    in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.” – Psalm 2:1-6 NLT

Yes, Judah was going to fall and many of its citizens would be exiled to Babylon. While there, they would have no king and they would suffer under the hand of the Babylonians. But God would one day restore them to the land of promise. And the story does not end there. Because God will also send His Son to earth a second time, with the express purpose of defeating the nations of the earth and establishing His Kingdom in Jerusalem. And with the close of chapter four, Micah returns to his message concerning those end-times events.

“Rise up and crush the nations, O Jerusalem!”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give you iron horns and bronze hooves,
    so you can trample many nations to pieces.
You will present their stolen riches to the Lord,
    their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” – Micah 4:12 NLT

The nations of the world do not know what God has planned. They act as if they are the ones who are in control. But God has given us a glimpse into the future. He has provided us with an outline of His plans for the latter days. And all mankind will state shocked and amazed when they see what God has in store for His chosen people and for His creation.

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

Fulness of Joy

12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

13 The children of your elect sister greet you. – 2 John 1:12-13 ESV

Despite its abbreviated length, this letter packs a punch. John wasted no time or words in getting to the point he wanted to make. In fact, he indicated that, while there had been other topics he wanted to address with them, he had chosen to dedicate this letter to a single subject. And he let them know that it was his desire to come and visit them in person. It must have been difficult for John, Paul, and the other apostles to attempt to minister to so many churches spread over such a great distance.

These small and isolated congregations often lacked local leadership and were filled with people who had little knowledge of what it meant to live as a Christian. Beyond their initial exposure to the Gospel message and their acceptance of it, they had probably received scant details regarding their ongoing sanctification. That’s why these letters were so vital to the spiritual well-being of these local gatherings of new converts to Christianity. There was no completed canon of Scripture. There were no books available at the local Christian bookstore. They had no access to podcasts or online sermons and studies. Every day, they would find themselves bombarded by everything from false doctrine to the insults of their pagan friends and family members. The motivation to give in to temptation and to give up on the promises found in the Gospel would have been intense.

And the enemy knew that the compromise of their faith would be just as effective as their complete repudiation of it. A diminishment or diluting of their belief in the deity of Jesus would be just as damaging as if they denied Him altogether. That is why John wrote his letter. Finding himself physically separated from this fledgling congregation, he took advantage of the primary communications media of his day: The letter.

He penned a loving but stern warning to a group of people who he recognized as children in the faith. They were spiritual newborns who needed to be cared for and protected so they could reach full spiritual maturity. This was the same message that Peter expressed in one of his letters:

Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment… – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT

Both Peter and John recognized that everyone enters the faith as a spiritual infant, immature and ill-prepared for the journey ahead of them. Yes, they have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but they require feeding and instruction. That is why Jesus commissioned His disciples to “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:20 NLT). And beyond the initial group of men whom Jesus had sent, He had raised up other leaders to shepherd His flock. And the apostle Paul describes the job description of these individuals.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

But despite the efforts of these Christ-commissioned leaders, the spiritual maturity of the church is not automatic or guaranteed. Paul expressed his concern for the lack of spiritual growth among the believers in Corinth, describing them as infants in Christ, rather than healthy, mature adults.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Spiritual growth is non-optional. Just as parents expect their child to grow into a fully functioning adult, so God expects His children to mature in their faith until, as Paul put it, “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT).

But the sad reality is that some who claim to be followers of Christ fail to grow up. They remain spiritual infants, stunted in their growth and unable to contribute to the well-being of the body of Christ. The author of Hebrews had strong words for those who choose to remain in a state of spiritual infancy.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. – Hebrews 5:12 NLT

John cared deeply for those to whom he wrote. He knew that they were susceptible to false teaching and faulty doctrine. And the enemy was attacking the foundational elements of their faith: The deity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. If those pillars of the faith fell, there would be nothing to support their further growth in godliness. That is why John was so adamant that they have nothing to do with those who taught lies concerning Jesus. They needed to remain committed to the truth. It was the key to their future glorification, but also to their present sanctification.

The enemy continues to attack the church by disseminating falsehood. He cannot stop anyone from coming to faith in Christ, but he can hinder their efforts to grow up into Christ. He does so by turning Jesus into nothing more than a good man whose life is worth emulating. He presents Jesus as an icon of virtue and a model for righteousness. Idolizing Jesus is fully acceptable. But worshiping Him as God is not. Seeing Jesus as a saint-like figure who did good deeds is preferable to recognizing Him as the Savior who died for the sins of man.

But John wanted his readers to know that the lies of the enemy, while subtle, were sinister and deadly. They needed to wake up and grow up. They needed to be alert to the dangers all around them. The promises concerning the Gospel were true, but the enemy was going to do everything in his power to confuse truth with lies. But John started out his letter by reminding his audience that the truth “abides in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 1:2 ESV). And he ended his letter by stating his desire to see them face to face so “that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12 ESV).

These words echo what John wrote in his first letter. The fulness of joy John described and desired was available only through a persistent and unwavering trust in the truth about Jesus.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. – 1 John 4:1-4 NLT

The believers to whom John wrote had never seen Jesus. They had never had the pleasure of hearing Him teach or watching Him perform miracles. They had not been there when He rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples. But John wanted them to know that everything they had heard about Jesus was true. And he wanted them to experience the same degree of joy that he and the other disciples had felt when they saw their Savior in His resurrected state.

John knew that fulness of joy was directly tied to faith in Jesus. He would have recalled the words of Jesus

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:4-5 NLT

And John’s emphasis on fulness of joy was borrowed from the lips of Jesus Himself.

“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! – John 15:11 NLT

John knew that the key to joy was a commitment to the truth as proclaimed by Jesus. He was the vine and they were the branches. And as long as they remained in Him, they would produce much fruit. They would mature and grow, as the life-transforming power of God flowed through them and out from them to all those around 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

Our Righteously Wrathful God – Part II

For the Lord holds a cup in his hand
    that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices.
He pours out the wine in judgment,
    and all the wicked must drink it,
    draining it to the dregs.
 
– Psalm 75:8 NLT

28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”Matthew 10:28 NLT

5 “But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:5 NLT

So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. – 2 Peter 2:9 NLT

Discussing the wrath of God can come across as if we are dealing with a flaw in the divine character. It seems out of step with His love, grace, and mercy. But the wrath of God is never displayed in an arbitrary manner. He need never apologize for it or be embarrassed because of it. And His never unleashes His wrath undeservedly or unjustly. Unlike us, God never loses His temper. He never flies off the handle or suffers from a lack of self-control. He is always purposeful when displaying His wrath against sinful mankind. When doing so, He is displaying who He is, displaying His divine nature and bringing glory to Himself. In fact, God’s wrath is inseparably linked with His glory. When He exercises His wrath, He is revealing the fulness of His glory.

The book of Exodus records the encounter that Moses had with God on Mount Sinai. Moses, the deliverer God had chosen to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, made a bold request of God. He asked the Almighty, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18 ESV). God agreed to do so, but with one condition.

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord…But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:19, 20 ESV

God warned Moses that viewing His face would prove deadly. Why? Because of Moses’ sinfulness. No man can behold the full, unveiled glory of God while in his sinful state. Moses wanted to see God’s glory, but to do so without God’s protection would result in Moses’ destruction. Because the wrath of God goes hand-in-hand with the glory of God.

God kept His word, but in a display of His goodness and mercy, He prevented Moses from seeing Him in all His glory.

“I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:22-23 ESV

Moses, as a fallen human being, deserved to come under the wrath of God but, instead, he experienced God’s grace and mercy. Remember what God had said to Moses immediately after making his request:

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

God, because of His righteousness and holiness, is obligated to punish sin. He cannot overlook or ignore it. But He can make provision for it. And, in this case, that is what He did.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7 ESV

As God passed, with His hand placed protectively over His servant, He proclaimed His mercy and grace, His patience and steadfast love, His faithfulness, and forgiveness. In other words, He declared His divine attributes. But don’t miss this part. While God declared that He is willing to forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin, He will NOT clear the guilty. The Hebrew word translated as “clear” is naqah and it means to “acquit” or ”to leave unpunished.” The guilty must be held to account. They must pay for their sins. God cannot simply whitewash over them.

Just before Moses had been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the glory of God, he had been given the law of God – the Ten Commandments – on tablets of stone. And Moses had returned from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, only to find the people worshiping false gods down in the valley. In his shock and anger, Moses had destroyed the tablets containing God’s law. And God, in His wrath, brought a plague on the people, punishing them for their rejection of Him and their rebellion against Him.

…the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made. – Exodus 32:33-35 ESV

God punished the guilty. He could not and would not allow them to get away with their sin. The entire law, as prescribed by God on Mount Sinai, was based on the premise “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). There were those who would die by the plague that God had sent. Their deaths would assuage or propitiate God’s wrath. He had to punish the guilty. He could not simply clear or acquit them.

God gave Moses a second set of tablets, containing His code of conduct for the people of Israel. His laws were intended to set them apart as His chosen people. In them were contained all they needed to know about living life as His children. He left nothing up to their imaginations. They would not be free to live on their own terms or to follow the examples of the other nations around them. But Moses, knowing the hearts of his people, made yet another request of God.

“If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” – Exodus 34:9 ESV

Moses knew that, without God’s grace and mercy, the people of Israel would find themselves the fully deserving recipients of God’s wrath, once again. So, God renewed His covenant commitment with the people of Israel, but He warned them:

“…for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” – Exodus 34:14 ESV

God will not tolerate unfaithfulness. He will not put up with His creation turning their backs on Him by worshiping something or someone other than Him. But it is not because He is overly sensitive or wears His feelings on His sleeve. It is because He is God and worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.

In the book of Revelation, John records his vision of the throne room of God in heaven. He describes the four living creatures, standing around the throne of God:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
    the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” – Revelation 4:8 NLT

And they are joined by the 24 elders, who lay their crowns before God’s throne and say:

“You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:11

God is worthy of our praise. He deserves our worship. He created us. We exist for His glory. And when we refuse to give Him the glory He deserves, we sin against Him. Sin is not so much the action we commit, as it is the heart behind the action. What we do is an outward display of the state of our hearts. Jesus said that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). Then He added, “These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:20 NLT). The Greek word for “defile” is koinoō and it means “to make common or unclean.”

Our actions, which stem from our hearts, end up making us unacceptable to God. They display our love for something other than Him. When we sin, we are giving evidence that our hearts do not belong to God. We love something other than God. Such as pleasure, sensuality, self, success, power, position, prominence, or happiness. Those things become idols or substitutes for God. And our sin is an expression of our love affair with these false gods.

But God’s holiness demands justice. And His justice requires that He display His wrath “against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). Yet, in His mercy and grace, God came up with a way to satisfy His wrath and display His goodness at the same time. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission or forgiveness of sin. And since all men have sinned, all men deserve to fall under the wrath of God. But Paul reminds us of the amazing grace of God as displayed through the gift of His Son.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

God satisfied His own wrath by sending His own Son as the payment for mankind’s sin debt. He gave His sinless Son as the atonement for sinful men.

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. – Romans 4:25 NLT

But to escape the wrath of God, sinful men and women must accept the free gift of God’s sacrifice on their behalf. They must acknowledge their sin and their need for a Savior. The payment has been made. The gift has been offered. But it must be accepted. Paul goes on to state: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22 NLT). And a few chapters later, he adds: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

The wrath of God is real. But so is His grace and mercy. God is a just God who must punish sin. But He is also a gracious God who has provided a way that He might justify the ungodly. All for our good and His glory.

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

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

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

A Son Has Been Born

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. Ruth 4:13-21 ESV

When reading the closing verses of Ruth’s story, it is essential that we not miss the statement, “and the Lord gave her conception” (Ruth 4:13 ESV). First of all, those six simple words reinforce the underlying theme of God’s redemption that runs throughout the entire book. Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi are nothing more than actors in the divine drama, written by the hand of God and directed according to His sovereign will. Nothing in this story has been the result of luck, fate, kismet, karma, or blind chance.

It all began with Elimelech’s decision to escape the famine in Judah by moving his family to Moab. But his plan had not included any thought of his unexpected death. He never dreamed he would leave his wife a widow living in a foreign land. But that’s exactly what happened. And Naomi’s two sons, unsure of when they might be able to return to Bethlehem, decided to find wives among the Moabites and begin their families. But little did they know that, ten years later, they too would suffer unexpected deaths, leaving two more widows in the land of Moab.

But eventually, the famine subsided in Judah, and Naomi was able to return home, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Now, through a series of divinely-ordained encounters, Ruth is married to a wealthy relative of Naomi’s, a man named Boaz, who rescued these two widows by faithfully executing his obligations as their kinsman-redeemer.

All the way back in chapter 1, the author recorded Naomi’s words to her two daughters-in-law, as she prepared to return to Judah. She fully expected that they would choose to stay in Moab, remarry, and begin their lives anew.

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

But Ruth had chosen to remain with Naomi, and now that blessing had come to pass. Ruth had found a husband, but not just any husband. By God’s gracious will, she had found Boaz, who proved to be Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer and a man of integrity, honor, and compassion.

Back in Moab, when Ruth had expressed her intentions to remain with Naomi and follow her back to the land of Judah, she had no idea what the future held. But she was willing to accept whatever came her way.

“…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” – Ruth 1:16 ESV

And Ruth had proved true to her word. Now, God had rewarded her faithfulness with a loving husband, a home of her own, and a son. In buying Elimelech’s land, then marrying Ruth, Boaz had done far more than fulfill his responsibility as the kinsman-redeemer. Yes, he had redeemed Naomi and Ruth out of their helpless and seemingly hopeless predicament. But, unbeknownst to him, he had played a major role in God’s redemptive plan for the world.

The women in the city, upon hearing of Ruth’s delivery of her new son, pronounced a blessing that had far greater implications than they could have ever imagined.

“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” – Ruth 4:14-15 ESV

They gave God glory. But little did they know just how much glory their God deserved. This birth was going to have life-changing ramifications, and not just for Ruth and Boaz. Their words were directed at Naomi and were meant to remind her just how blessed she was. She had found a redeemer, who had restored her life and given her hope in her old age. But more than that, she had found a daughter-in-law who loved her deeply. And now, she had a new son-in-law, who had given her a grandson and the assurance that Elimelech’s line would be continued.

But, in the midst of all the joy and celebration, we have to stop and ask a difficult question: How could God approve of and bless a union between an Israelite and a Moabite when the law seems to have prohibited it?

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-4 ESV

The answer can be found in the pledge that Ruth made to Naomi back in the land of Moab: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16 ESV). Ruth was stating her intentions to become an Israelite, giving up her Moabite citizenship along with her allegiance to her god. With her words, Ruth was expressing her intentions to become a proselyte to Judaism.

The ancient Hebrews had no concept of “conversion”, although they did practice assimilation of non-Israelites into the Israelite community, either through marriage or acceptance of the beliefs and practices of the community. Having agreed to make Yahweh her God and the Israelites her people, Ruth would have been accepted into the faith community as one of their own. She would have been considered a gerim (Hebrew for “strangers”). And with her marriage to Boaz, a Hebrew in good standing, she would have become a permanent resident and given equal rights and responsibilities as a member of the community. The Israelites were commanded by God to love the gerim, for, at one time, they had been gerim in Egypt.

This inclusion of Ruth into the family of God is critical. And the author reveals its true significance by recording the following words: “A son has been born to Naomi.” Notice that it does not say, “A son has been born to Ruth.” The emphasis is on the lineage of Elimelech, the husband of Naomi. This son was going to carry on the family name. And the author goes on to state that “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17 ESV).

Obed means “redeemer,” which fits in with the whole kinsman-redeemer motif found throughout the story. The goʾel or kinsman-redeemer was, in essence, “a guardian of the family interests.” And Obed, this brand new baby was named “Redeemer” because his birth had redeemed Naomi’s life and restored her husband’s lineage. But he would prove to be an even greater “Redeemer,” as the closing verses of the chapter make clear.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:18-21 ESV

It seems a bit odd that the author chose to end his narrative with a genealogical record. But there is a divine method to his madness. It reveals God’s sovereign plan and makes clear that God does not operate according to man’s ways or in accordance to expected protocols. Dr. Thomas L. Constable points out the relevance of this genealogical record.

Why does the genealogy start with Perez? He was the founder of the branch of Judah’s family that took his name, to which Elimelech and Boaz belonged. Perez was the illegitimate son of Judah who, like Jacob, seized the initiative to stand in the line of messianic promise from his twin brother. This genealogy emphasizes how God circumvented custom and tradition in providing Israel’s great redeemer, David. Like Perez, Boaz was the descendant of an Israelite father, Salmon, and a Canaanite harlot, Rahab. Both Tamar and Rahab entered Israel because they believed and valued God’s promises to Israel, as Ruth did. David himself was the youngest rather than the eldest son of Jesse. (NET Bible study notes).

And if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find within his genealogy of Jesus the same list of names.

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

And Matthew goes on to point out that Jesus would be born a descendant of Abraham, through the line of David the king of Israel. The birth of Obed, “the redeemer,” would result in the birth of Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer of mankind. When the angel appeared to Joseph with news of Mary’s conception, he announced, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 ESV). Jesus would be the ultimate kinsman-redeemer. He would serve as the Savior, the one who takes away the sins of the world. His redemption would provide far more than release from widowhood, poverty, despair, or rejection. He would provide the means by which sinful men and women could be restored to a right relationship with God Almighty.

The story of Ruth is the story of redemption. But it’s true significance reaches far beyond the borders of Bethlehem and the period of the Judges. The redemption of God spans borders, boundaries, time, and space. His plan for mankind is not limited to a single nation and is not limited by the passing of years or centuries. The pages of the book of Ruth are filled with the presence of God and the reminder of His unwavering promise to send His Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf. – Micah 5:2 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

There Is A Redeemer

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” Ruth 3:6-13 ESV

As strange as Naomi’s counsel must have sounded to Ruth, she did exactly what her mother-in-law had told her to do. That night, when Boaz had fallen asleep, Ruth crept over to him, gently pulled back his cloak, and exposed his feet and legs to the cold night air. Then she lay down at his side and waited for him to wake up. And it wasn’t long before the uncomfortable sensation of having his limbs exposed caused Boaz to stir from his sleep, only to find a strange woman lying at his feet.

While the actions of Ruth may seem strange to us, there is nothing immoral or unethical about her behavior. In fact, it is likely that she was not the only woman sleeping at the threshing floor that evening. This was the peak of the harvest season and all the male and female servants of Boaz would have been working around the clock to harvest and thresh the wheat. Rather than go home, they would have slept on the site, ready to begin their work with the rising of the sun.

But Boaz was shocked to find this young woman sleeping in such close proximity. It was awkward at best and could easily be misconstrued by others. But the author reveals that this encounter between Ruth and Boaz took place at midnight, while everyone else remained asleep.

Boaz’s initial question had to do with the woman’s identity. While he had seen Ruth before, this was all taking place in the dark and he had no way of seeing who it was that was sleeping at his feet. So, he asked, ““Who are you?” And Ruth wasted no time in answering his question. “I am Ruth, your servant” she replied. But she didn’t stop there. Ruth immediately added, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV).

What in the world did she mean by this somewhat cryptic statement? And what possessed Ruth to use such a strange metaphor? We are not given any direct answers to these questions in the passage. But if we look at the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, we find a similar description used by God when speaking of His marriage to the people of Israel.

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” – Ezekiel 8 ESV

It would appear that Naomi has brought Ruth up to speed regarding the responsibilities of the kinsman-redeemer. Which may explain Ruth’s rather bold confrontation of Boaz. It is readily apparent that Ruth is looking for a lot more from Boaz than a cash loan or the guarantee of long-term employment as one of his maidservants. The NET Bible chose to translate verse 9 in such a way that Ruth’s intentions are quite clear.

“Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.” (NET)

The NET Bible study notes add: “Ruth’s words can be taken, in effect, as a marriage proposal.”

This young widow is asking for a long-term and costly commitment from Boaz. By making Ruth his wife, Boaz would not only be taking on her care but he would be making a binding covenant to be her husband. And all the way back in the garden, God expressed His intentions for a marriage to be a permanent union.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 24 ESV

It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Old Testament is marriage listed as an obligation of a kinsman-redeemer. So, it would seem that Ruth is asking more of Boaz than the law required. She must have sensed that Boaz had an interest in her. For some reason, she interpreted his treatment of her as much more than an act of kindness. And she seems fully prepared to call his bluff. In essence, Ruth is telling Boaz to fish or cut bait. She and Naomi needed help. They were widows without a reliable source of income and no means of meeting their long-term needs. Boaz was the go’el, the kinsman-redeemer, and Ruth was demanding that he step up to the plate and do what needs to be done.

And Boaz has an interesting response to what he obviously understood as a marriage proposal from Ruth.

“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. – Ruth 3:10 ESV

Rather than expressing surprise or shock at Ruth’s bold demand, Boaz lets Ruth know that he is flattered. He describes Ruth’s proposal of marriage as an act of kindness. He knew full well that she needed a husband, but probably thought she would prefer a much younger man. But Ruth had continued coming back to Boaz’s fields and was now expressing her desire to be his wife. That blew Boaz away. And this latest interaction with Ruth, on top of all that she had done to care for Naomi, further endeared her to Boaz. And he assures Ruth that he will do all that she has requested of him.

“Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.” – Ruth 3:11 NLT

But first, they would have to do things the right way. Unbeknownst to Ruth or Naomi, there was someone else in Bethlehem who was a closer relative of Elimelech than was Boaz. In an effort to do the right thing and not rob this man of his right to fulfill his kinsman-redeemer responsibility, Boaz recommended to Ruth that this man be given the first right of refusal.

“…while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you.” – Ruth 3:12-13 NLT

But Boaz assured Ruth that, should this other relative fail to marry Ruth, he was ready, willing, and able.

“But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” – Ruth 3:13 NLT

There is an unstated part of this whole transaction that will eventually come to light and provide much-needed clarification as to what is really going on. This is a far more complicated issue than a marriage agreement between Boaz and Ruth. As we will see, in the very next chapter, there are land rights involved. According to the Mosaic Law, land, which was apportioned by God to the various tribes, was to remain in the family at all costs. This required that a kinsman-redeemer purchase land that was up for sale or in risk of foreclosure due to unpaid debts.

In the case of Elimeleich, he had land that would have passed down to his sons, but they too were deceased. And as a woman, Naomi was legally prohibited from owning land. So, it was essential that a kinsman-redeemer step in and purchase the land. And it would come with the added responsibility of marrying Ruth, the widowed wife of one of Elimelech’s sons. All of this will be made perfectly clear as Boaz presents the full facts surrounding the case.

Eventually, Boaz and the other relative will appear before the elders of the city and determine which of them will take on the role of the kinsman-redeemer. But we have already seen how God has operating behind the scenes, orchestrating all the events so that the union of Ruth and Boaz might come to full fruition. He is not done yet. But, even without having read the story before, we can almost sense how all of this is going to turn out.

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

One of Our Redeemers

14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. – Ruth 2:14-23 ESV

The kindness of Boaz has taken Ruth by surprise. Being a foreigner in a strange land and unfamiliar with their religious laws and customs, Ruth would not have expected this unknown man to treat her with so much dignity and respect.

Boaz went well beyond the obligations prescribed by the Mosaic Law, inviting Ruth to remain in his field under his protection. He even fed her and treated her with the same dignity afforded the maidservants who worked for him. And Ruth, fully recognizing and appreciating the kindness of this stranger, expressed her surprise at his gracious words and generous actions towards her.

“…you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Judges 2:13 ESV

Boaz was motivated by his responsibilities as a kinsman-redeemer. According to the Mosaic Law, as a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband, Boaz was obligated to care for her. As a widow, Naomi was in a vulnerable position, having no means of livelihood and poor prospects for remarriage. But God had provided a safety net for situations such as this, commanding the relatives of individuals like Naomi to step in and redeem them from their distress.

Upon discovering the identity of the man in whose field Ruth had gleaned, Ruth refers to Boaz as her ga’al, her kinsman-redeemer. It is the same word used to describe God’s redemption of the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. – Exodus 6:6 ESV

Naomi had been just as impressed as Ruth with the over-the-top kindness that the landowner had shown to her. And when she found out he was a close relative, it all made sense to her. Now it was all beginning to make sense to her. Boaz was fulfilling his responsibility as her kinsman-redeemer, and this important detail did not escape Naomi’s notice.

“May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.” – Ruth 2:20 NLT

Things were looking up. Noami could begin to see a glimmer of hope in the overwhelming darkness that had marked her life for the last ten years. While the future had looked bleak and foreboding that morning, Naomi now had reason to believe that the days ahead might be brighter. And Ruth added a bit of additional good news.

“What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.” – Ruth 2:21 NLT

This dramatic change in circumstances should not be overlooked. If you recall, when Naomi had informed her two daughters-in-law that she was returning home to Bethlehem, they had expressed their desire to go with her. But she had tried to talk them out of it, providing a rather dark view of God and his recent actions in her life.

“Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” – Ruth 1:11-13 NLT

Yet now, with news of Ruth’s encounter with Boaz, Naomi was beginning to see things differently. But take note that Naomi recognized and commented upon the kindness of Boaz. She referred to his hesed, a Hebrew word that described the mercy or benevolence shown to those going through difficulty. It is a loyal love that expresses itself in willing sacrifice for another. And it is the kind of love Naomi had asked God to show to her two daughters-in-law because of their love to her.

And may the Lord reward you for your kindness [hesed] to your husbands and to me. – Ruth 1:8 NLT

God was answering her prayer. Boaz had shown kindness to Ruth and Naomi recognized it. But at this point in the story, Naomi makes no mention of God’s hesed. There is no indication that she saw the hand of God in the events of that day. She was glad that things had worked out so well for Ruth and was excited that Boaz had been the owner of the field where Ruth had gleaned that day. But at no point does Naomi express her recognition of God’s sovereign hand in her life. She simply tells Ruth to take advantage of their seeming good fortune.

“Good!” Naomi exclaimed. “Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.” – Ruth 2:22 NLT

Practical advice from a very pragmatic woman. This was all too good to be true, and Naomi wanted Ruth to take full advantage of the serendipitous circumstances in which they found themselves. Ruth had brought home far more grain than Naomi had expected. And the unexpected news that Ruth had wandered into the fields of one of Elimelech’s kinsman had been an unexpected and much-welcomed boon to Naomi.

Yet, neither of these women had any idea what God had in store for them. Their expectations were not ambitious. They were simply looking to survive. As Naomi had told her two daughters-in-law, she was too old to even consider remarriage. And Ruth was a Moabite widow living in the land of Judah, so her prospects of finding a husband were limited as well. They were content with Ruth continuing to glean grain from the fields of Boaz. Their luck had changed. Things were looking up. But little did they realize that all of this was because God was looking down on them. And He had far greater plans in store for them than they could have ever imagined. While the prospects of gleaning grain in a safe environment was good enough for Naomi and Ruth, God had something far better planned.

Yahweh, the kinsman-redeemer of Israel was about to do something that would eventually provide spiritual sustenance for generations of Jews and Gentiles.

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

Wait For Me

“I have cut off nations;
    their battlements are in ruins;
I have laid waste their streets
    so that no one walks in them;
their cities have been made desolate,
    without a man, without an inhabitant.
I said, ‘Surely you will fear me;
    you will accept correction.
Then your dwelling would not be cut off
    according to all that I have appointed against you.’
But all the more they were eager
    to make all their deeds corrupt.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed. – Zephaniah 3:6-8 ESV

At the time when Zephaniah penned the words of his prophecy from the city of Jerusalem, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been defeated by the Assyrians and its people had been taken captive. Samaria, the capital city of Israel, had been destroyed. The initial conquest of Israel had begun in 740 BC, and 20 years later it culminated with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians under King Shalmaneser V, but only after a three-year-long siege of the city.

Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT

And Shalmaneser V repopulated the northern kingdom with a vast array of people from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

And the people who occupied the southern kingdom of Judah had watched all of this happen. And the unstoppable Assyrian war machine had left a long line of defeated nations in its wake. They had even marched as far south as Judah where, in the year 701 BC they attempted to add Jerusalem to its growing list of victories. But God had intervened on Judah’s behalf.

Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to God in heaven. And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword.

That is how the Lord rescued Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from King Sennacherib of Assyria and from all the others who threatened them. So there was peace throughout the land. – 2 Chronicles 32:20-22 NLT

But by the time Zephaniah wrote the book that bears his name, it had been years since the people of Judah had witnessed the saving work of God. King Hezekiah had died and replaced by his son Manasseh of whom it was said, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had broken down. He constructed altars for the images of Baal and set up Asherah poles. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them” (2 Chronicles 33:2-3 NLT).

At his death, Manasseh was replaced by his son, Amon. And his reign was marked by increasing apostasy.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. He worshiped and sacrificed to all the idols his father had made. But unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord. Instead, Amon sinned even more. – 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 NLT

And Amon’s successor was his 8-year-old son, Josiah, whom the Scriptures paint in a far different light.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight and followed the example of his ancestor David. He did not turn away from doing what was right. – 2 Chronicles 34:2 NLT

Josiah was a reformer. He attempted to restore Judah’s relationship with and dependence upon God. And while his efforts were well-intentioned and heartfelt, they did little to change the spiritual state of Judah’s inhabitants. That is why Zephaniah is having to deliver the words of this prophecy to God’s chosen, yet stubborn people.

This entire book was intended as a wake-up call for the people of Judah. God was reminding them of His unwavering expectation that they obey Him. He had created them for His glory. They were meant to shine as lights in the darkness of the pagan world, revealing how sinful men could live in communion with a holy God. But they had failed. Rather than remain faithful to God and live according to His righteous law, they had chosen to emulate the nations around them. They had compromised their convictions and accommodated their beliefs to such a degree that it was difficult to discern any meaningful difference between themselves and the nations that surrounded them.

And God reminded them that these nations with whom they had chosen to associate and whose practices they had determined to assimilate, had all been the victims of His divine judgment.

“I have wiped out many nations,
    devastating their fortress walls and towers.
Their streets are now deserted;
    their cities lie in silent ruin.
There are no survivors—
    none at all.” – Zephaniah 3:6 NLT

Judah had to look no further than the borders of Israel to the north. Their cities were in ruins. And the once-prolific Jewish population had been supplanted by foreigners. Their towns, villages, and homes were occupied by people from other countries, and what few Jews remained in the land had intermarried with these invaders, creating a new mixed-race population that would later be referred to with the pejorative term, “Samaritans.”

But in spite of all that had happened around them, the people of Judah remained unrepentant and blissfully oblivious to God’s gracious intentions.

“Surely they will have reverence for me now!
    Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again,
    destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early
    to continue their evil deeds.” – Zephaniah 3:7 NLT

Even Zephaniah’s warnings would fall on deaf ears. But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God would not tolerate their behavior forever. He had given them ample warning. He had repeatedly sent His prophets to call His stubborn people to repentance. And He had shown them just how harsh His judgment could be by pouring out His wrath on the northern kingdom of Israel. They too had been descendants of Abraham. Their land had been part of the inheritance promised to the patriarchs and allocated to the various tribes of Israel. But now, ten of those tribes were all but destroyed and their land was occupied by foreign invaders.

Yet, the people of Judah still held onto the false hope that their status as God’s chosen people would act as an inoculation from further harm. They believed themselves to be immune from judgment because they belonged to God. But they were mistaken.

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord,
    “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey.
For my decision is to gather nations,
    to assemble kingdoms,
to pour out upon them my indignation,
    all my burning anger;
for in the fire of my jealousy
    all the earth shall be consumed.” – Zephaniah 3:8 ESV

God was going to bring His judgment. And in this verse, Zephaniah records the full extent of that coming judgment: “all the earth shall be consumed.”

Zephaniah had opened his prophecy with the very same warning from God.

“I will utterly sweep away everything
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away man and beast;
    I will sweep away the birds of the heavens
    and the fish of the sea,
and the rubble with the wicked.
    I will cut off mankind
    from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. – Zephaniah 1:2-3 ESV

The people of Judah were not to have a false sense of security. If God was willing to destroy all mankind from the face of the earth, what right did they have to think they were exempt?

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to recognize that this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. God has not yet cut off mankind from the face of the earth. But God did bring judgment upon Judah. It took place when He called the nation of Babylon and used them as His chosen instrument to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of the southern kingdom. For 70 years, the land of Judah would lay in a state of suspended animation, its cities and villages unoccupied, its fields untilled and its orchards untended. The once-great city of Jerusalem would be a heap of rubble, its walls and gates destroyed, and the former glory of its temple reduced to a pile of smoke-blackened stones.

Yet, after 70 years in captivity, God would allow a remnant of the people of Judah to return to the land, where they would once again occupy the city of Jerusalem, rebuilding its walls and restoring the temple and the sacrificial system. And it would be hundreds of years later that Jesus, the Messiah of the Jewish people, would enter the city of Jerusalem to the joyous shouts of the people.

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

And yet, those shouts would later turn to angry demands for His crucifixion. The people would reject God’s own Son. They would turn their backs on the very one who had come to offer them atonement for their sins and the hope of reconciliation with God.

But God is going to send His Son again. The day is coming when the Messiah will return to earth and the location of His arrival will be Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah describes that future day.

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. – Zechariah 14:3-4 ESV

The nations of the earth, under the leadership of Antichrist and the control of Satan, will gather to do battle with Jesus and His heavenly host.

And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:14-16 ESV

The people of Judah needed to recognize the full plan of God. It was extensive in nature and spanned the centuries. Their little slice of the divine timeline was nothing when compared with the full range of God’s redemptive plan. They were insignificant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. And they not exempt from God’s wrath. He would judge them for their sins and discipline them for their rebellion. But He would also restore them to the land because He had long-range plans that included the city of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. He was going to send His Son in human flesh, born into the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, and as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. And all of this had been prophesied long ago by the patriarch, Jacob.

Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor. – Genesis 49:9-10 NLT

God is not done with Judah. And He has not yet fulfilled all the prophecies found in the book of Zephaniah. But He will.

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

   

 

They Have Sinned Against the Lord

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
    near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
    the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
    a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
    and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
    so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.Zephaniah 1:14-18 ESV

Zephaniah is warning of two judgments to come. One will involve the people of Judah. The other will include the rest of humanity, as well as all beasts, birds, and fish. What makes reading these prophetic passages so difficult is that the timeline regarding these future judgments is unclear. The prophet seems to combine portions pertaining to each judgment into one message, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between the two. He uses a single phrase to reference both judgments: The great day of the Lord.

This speaks of a day, an actual point in time when God will display His wrath against sinful mankind. But it is important to recognize that Zephaniah is foretelling the coming judgment of Judah, the people of God, and the far-more-distant judgment of mankind. These are two separate events that will both be seen as “great days” because they will each involve the inescapable wrath of God against the sins of men.

And Zephaniah makes it quite clear that the coming judgments of God will be due to sin. God is not capricious or cavalier. He does not have an anger-management problem. The book of Ezekiel describes God as persistently patient and kind, having displayed amazing self-control, even in the face of mankind’s ongoing refusal to honor Him as their Creator and God. But God will not put up with humanity’s rejection of Him forever. As a holy God, He cannot allow sin to remain unpunished. The guilty must be condemned and face the righteous consequences for their acts.

The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. – Ezekial 36:23 ESV

And Zephaniah states that the great day of the Lord is coming on sinful mankind “because they have sinned against the Lord” (Zephaniah 1:17 ESV). King Solomon added his assessment of the problem: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And centuries later, the apostle Paul would provide his own Spirit-inspired take on the problem: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV).

In verses 14-16, Zephaniah describes the day of the Lord as being near. It is barreling down the track like an out-of-control freight train, with no means of stopping its devastating arrival.

It will be…

…a day of wrath
a day of distress and anguish
… day of ruin and devastation
a day of darkness and gloom
…a day of clouds and thick darkness
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry

It will be marked by bitterness and distress. It will involve great suffering and, ultimately, death. And there will be no escape.

These descriptors were meant to apply to the coming judgment of Judah, which would take place with the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. But they also describe the final day of the Lord, which will occur at the end of the seven-year period of time called the Great Tribulation – an end-times event that will precede the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on earth.

Both of these events, the defeat of Judah by the Babylonians, and the final judgment of all mankind at the hand of Christ are examples of the “day of the Lord.”

“As employed by the prophets, the Day of the Lord is that time when for His glory and in accordance with His purposes God intervenes in human affairs in judgment against sin or for the deliverance of His own.” – Richard D. Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

When Zephaniah described the day of the Lord as being near, he was not exaggerating. He was not using hyperbole. We know from the opening lines of the book that Zephaniah prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 BC). We also know that the first deportation of Jews to Babylon took place in 605 BC. Josiah died in 609 BC, and his son, Jehoahaz, replaced him on the throne. But his reign would last just three months, and he would be succeeded by his brother, Jehoiakim. At this point, the Babylonians had already begun their conquest of the region, demanding tribute payments from the occupants of the land. Jehoiakim joined the other nations in the area by sending exorbitant sums of money to Nebuchadnezzar in an effort to stave off further destruction. In spite of these ransom payments, Nebuchadnezzar began deporting the people of Judah in 609 BC.

When Zephaniah delivered this prophetic word concerning the coming day of the Lord, the end was nearer than anyone could have imagined. No more than five years remained until the pending judgment would begin. The deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon would ultimately be accompanied by the destruction of Jerusalem. And before the city fell, there would be a prolonged siege followed by intense fighting and the total annihilation of the city.

The people of Judah would no longer be able to buy their way out of trouble.

Neither their silver nor their gold
    shall be able to deliver them
    on the day of the wrath of the Lord. – Zephaniah 1:18 ESV

Once God made His decision to bring judgment against His people, there would be nothing they could do to prevent it. The opportunity to repent would no longer exist. The hope of buying more time by bribing the Babylonians would end. God’s patience with His people will have run its course, and the promise of His judgment will find its fulfillment.

But notice how this chapter ends.

In the fire of his jealousy,
    all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
    he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. – Zephaniah 1:18 ESV

This is one of those instances where the two different judgments being predicted by Zephaniah seem to overlap, creating a somewhat confusing and difficult to comprehend scenario. In the same verse, he warns that the people of Judah would be unable to buy their way out of God’s judgment, but he also warns that God’s judgment will result in the complete destruction of all the inhabitants of the earth.

The question that must be asked is whether this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled. And the answer is obviously, “No.” The inhabitants of the earth still exist. The earth itself has not yet been consumed. So, it would make sense that there are two judgments involved. One, in the not-so-distant future that will involve the nation of Judah. The other, in the as-yet-to-be-revealed future that will involve all the nations of the earth.

It is clear, from the historical record, that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC. It is also clear that after 70 years in captivity in Babylon, the Jews were allowed to return to the land of Canaan. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, a remnant of the people were given permission by King Cyrus to return to the land, rebuild the city of Jerusalem, restore its walls, and renovate the long-abandoned temple. The sacrificial system would be reinstituted, and the celebration of Passover reinstated to the annual calendar.  In keeping with His covenant promise, God would restore the Israelites to the land He had given them. And they remain in that land to this day.

And their restoration to the land was in order that God might one day send His Son in human flesh, born as a descendant of King David, into the tribe of Judah. But as the apostle John points out, Jesus would come to His own, but they would refuse to receive Him (John 1:11). And John adds that Jesus came into the world He created, “yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10 ESV).

The first advent of Jesus into the world was marked by rejection. The vast majority of the world, including His own people, the Jews, would refuse to accept Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And their rejection of Him would take the form of their demand for His crucifixion. The prophet Isaiah predicted that when Jesus came, He would be “despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT).  Rather than accept Him, the people would turn their backs on him and look the other way. He would be despised, and no one would care.

But there is a day when Jesus will come again. He will have a second advent or arrival on earth, but this time He will come to bring judgment. It will be the great day of the Lord when, as Robert Patterson put it, “God intervenes in human affairs in judgment against sin or for the deliverance of His own.”

God’s plan for mankind extends well beyond the people of Judah and the time period in which Zephaniah prophesied. He is providing through His prophet a glimpse into His full redemptive plan, which will find its final fulfillment in the Second Coming of Christ and the pouring out of His judgment upon unrepentant humanity. But all those who have placed their faith in God’s Son will find forgiveness for their sins, restoration to a right relationship with Him, and the joy of unbroken, undiminished fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Sin will be punished. Faith will be rewarded. The earth will be made new. The saints of God will receive their resurrected bodies. And the joy of the eternal state will begin and never end.

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