Your God Reigns!

1 Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
    touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
    you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand. Isaiah 52:1-15 ESV

There are times in life when it is difficult to imagine God sitting on His throne and ruling in unparalleled power and sovereignty. We look at the circumstances surrounding us and see no signs of His presence or power. The world appears to be in a state of chaos. The enemies of God seem to hold the upper hand. Righteousness looks as if it is on the wane, while wickedness spreads like a cancer through the land. Immorality runs rampant and injustice prevails. People call good evil and evil good. And, it appears as if God is going nothing about. Either because He can’t or because He doesn’t care.

But Isaiah 52 extends to the people of God, in every generation, a much-needed wake up call. This particular message is directed at Zion, the holy mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem sat. It is a call to the people of Judah, but it is timeless in nature. The situation in which they found themselves was unique to them but, at the same time, universal. They were facing difficult days and wrestling with strong feelings of doubt regarding God’s involvement in their circumstances. Which is why, in chapter 51, they had extended their own wake up call to God.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

From their vantage point, it appeared that God was the one who had fallen asleep on the job. The evidence was all around them that God had either abandoned them or simply forgotten all about them. But their perspective was skewed and their conclusion was wrong. Not only was God there, He cared, and He was going to act on their behalf. But, as we have seen, His intervention into their difficulties was going to be on His schedule and according to His divine plan, not theirs. He knew what was best and He was going to do what needed to be done at just the right time – no sooner or later. And, they were going to have to trust Him.

Salvation comes easy to God. It requires no effort on His part. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Which is why He told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NLT). Which is the same thing God said to Abraham when Sarah had laughed at His announcement that she would bear a son, in spite of her barrenness

“Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” – Genesis 18:14 NLT

It is the same message Jesus conveyed to His disciples when they had asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He responded, ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The problems facing the people of Judah were not a problem for God. In fact, He is the one who had sovereignly ordained each and every circumstance in which they found themselves. The Assyrians and Babylonians had been instruments in His hands. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians had been His doing. Their 70 years of captivity were part of His divine plan for them. And, just as God had found it quite easy to bring His judgment upon the people of Judah, He would find it just as easy to bring about their salvation. The 800-pound gorilla in the room was not God’s lack of power, but the peoples’ lack of faith. They didn’t trust God.

Now, God addresses the people of Judah in their captive state – in the midst of one of darkest days of their corporate history.

Remove the chains of slavery from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“When I sold you into exile,
    I received no payment.
Now I can redeem you
    without having to pay for you.” – Isaiah 52:2-3 NLT

Just as no one had forced God to sell the people of Judah into slavery, no one would coerce or bribe Him to redeem them. He would act according to His own divine will.

The truth was, that the people of God had a track record of finding themselves in difficult situations. Generations earlier, Jacob and his family had willingly sought shelter in Egypt, in an attempt to escape the famine in Canaan. But they ended up enslaved to the Egyptians and had to be rescued by God. Centuries later, when they had occupied the land, they found themselves harassed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and deported as slaves.

And hundreds of years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would find itself living in captivity in Babylon, enslaved once again and crying out in despair. Their captors would mock the name of God, declaring their false gods to be superior in strength. And even the Jews would end up blaspheming the name of God by failing to trust in His word and rely on His covenant faithfulness. Their wailing and moaning would be a visible sign of their lack of faith. And yet, God tells them:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” – Isaiah 52:6 NLT

And the following verses contain a powerful song of praise from the lips of Isaiah as he considers the incredible nature of God’s promise of redemption.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Don’t miss what Isaiah is saying here. The key to the salvation of God’s people was the fact that God reigns. He is in complete control of all things. He is the ruler over all the earth. He is final determiner of all that happens. God is not only powerful, He is ALL powerful. And, as far as Isaiah is concerned, the salvation of the Lord is as good as done because He reigns over all.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:10 ESV

God would one day return a remnant of the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. But there is an even greater deliverance foreshadowed here. This passage predicts an even more remarkable day when the people of God experience release from their captivity to sin. Look back on verse 7 and consider the significance of what is conveyed in its words.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!

Now fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Romans. He picks up on this very same passage when addressing the Roman believers about their need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost in their community.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

The release of the people of Judah from their physical captivity in Babylon did nothing to restore their broken relationship with God. They remained stubbornly unfaithful and persistently inconsistent in their obedience to and worship of Him. Sin still plagued their lives. Immorality and injustice remained a constant part of their individual and corporate existence.

But one day, God would send His Son to remedy their true problem: Their slavery to sin. And, He would do it by sending His Son. In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah is given a vision of the coming Messiah, God’s servant who “shall be high and lifted up,  and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 ESV). In these three verses we have a prophecy concerning Jesus and His incarnation, crucifixion and ultimate glorification, as described so eloquently by the apostle Paul.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It required His death. It also demanded His resurrection and ascension. And it will include His eventual return to earth to consummate God’s redemptive plan for the earth and for His people, Israel. And all of this will take place because our God reigns, whether we see it, believe it, or place our trust in it.

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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God Doesn’t Need Our Approval or Advice

1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to
loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
    and level the exalted places,
[a
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
    and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
    the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness;
    I make well-being and create calamity;
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

“Shower, O heavens, from above,
    and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
    let the earth cause them both to sprout;
    I the Lord have created it.

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
    or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
    will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
12 I made the earth
    and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
    and I commanded all their host.
13 I have stirred him up in righteousness,
    and I will make all his ways level;
he shall build my city
    and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
    says the Lord of host
s. – Isaiah 45:1-13 ESV

God doesn’t do things the way we might expect. And later on, in the book of Isaiah, God will explain His sometimes confusing and frustrating way of doing things.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
– Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV

Yet, we find it so easy to judge God and question His methodology and the logic behind His actions. From our perspective, it can sometimes appear as if He has not thought things through. His timing seems off to us. We deem His decision-making ability as questionable and, at times, objectionable.

And, in this passage, we find God providing the people of Judah some insights into His efforts on their behalf. He has already dropped the bombshell of a report that He is going to use the Babylonians to destroy their capital city and its glorious temple. Then, King Nebuchadnezzar is going to take a good portion of the citizens of Jerusalem into captivity in Babylon. That bit of news had to have left the people of Judah reeling and wondering about the character of their God.

Then, as if to make His actions even more disconcerting and perplexing, God opens up this section by referring to the king of Persia as His “anointed.” This is a designation typically reserved for the king of Israel, the high priest, or in reference to the Messiah. But here, God calls this pagan king His anointed one. The Hebrew word is mashiyach, and it is derived from the root word, mashach, which refers to the consecrating or setting apart of someone or something for a specific task by the anointing with oil.

We see this action displayed in the life of King David, when God sent the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse, in order to find the one who would replace Saul as the king of Israel. God commanded Samuel to “invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me” (1 Samuel 16:3 NLT). When David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons appeared before the prophet, God said, “This is the one; anoint him” (1 Samuel 16:12 NLT). And then we read:

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. – 1 Samuel 16:13 NLT

But why would God use a word, typically used to designate divine consecration, to refer to a pagan king? Because God was letting the people of Judah know that Cyrus had been set apart by God for a very specific and special purpose. He will take Cyrus by the hand and open doors before him so that he can subdue nations. God even makes a promise to this Persian king.

“I will go before you, Cyrus,
    and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
    secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”
– Isaiah 45:2-3 NLT

Just imagine how all of this sounded to the people of Judah. These words are reminiscent of the promises God had made to the people of Israel before they entered the land of Canaan. They sound like something God would have said to David as he prepared to take the throne of Israel. But to hear God speak them to a pagan king? That had to have left their heads spinning.

And just to make sure the people of Judah understood that Cyrus was God’s chosen instrument, He states that He has called Cyrus by name, even though Cyrus does not know Him. Even before Cyrus was born and long before he ascended to the Persian throne, God had consecrated Cyrus for this purpose. And God explains why He did so.

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen.”
– Isaiah 45:4 ESV

This was all about the people of God. They were the focus of God’s divine intentions. He had a plan in place for them and it included the use of this pagan king and his kingdom. Just as God would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian kingdom to punish the people of Judah, He would use King Cyrus and his Persian empire to restore His people to their land. These powerful and seemingly autonomous kings were actually nothing more than instruments in the hands of God Almighty. Daniel 2:21 states: “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars” (Daniel 2:21 NLT).

Multiple times in this passage, God emphasizes Cyrus’ ignorance of His existence by stating, “though you do not know me” (Isaiah 55:4, 5 ESV). But by using Cyrus to achieve His divine ends, God desired to reveal to the world that He alone is God.

“…that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.”
– Isaiah 45:6 ESV

The sovereignty of human kings is subject to the sovereignty of God. He rules and reigns and, ultimately, all answer to Him.

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1 NLT

And God assures His people that He alone can “create the light and make the darkness.” He is the only one who can “send good times and bad times” (Isaiah 45:7 NLT). Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were nothing more than instruments in the hands of God. Their will was subject to His. And in Psalm 2, the psalmist warns the kings of the earth:

Now then, you kings, act wisely!
    Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,
    and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
    But what joy for all who take refuge in him!
– Psalm 2:10-12 ESV

But God doesn’t just reign over the kings of the earth. He controls all of creation. And as proof that He alone can send the good times, God commands the clouds to “rain down righteousness” (Isaiah 45:8 ESV). He commands the earth to open, “that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit” (Isaiah 45:8 ESV). God can use kings and creation to do His bidding. He has the ability to bless His children however and through whomever He desires.

And not He turns His attention to His chosen people, warning them to not allow their lack of understanding to cause them to question His methods or integrity.

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
    Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
    ‘How clumsy can you be?’”
– Isaiah 45:9 ESV

They may not like God is doing, but they have no right to question His motivation. And God asks them: “Do you question what I do for my children? Do you give me orders about the work of my hands?” (Isaiah 45:11 NLT). He is the creator of the universe and they are in no position to demand that He provide them with an explanation for His actions. And, as if drawing the conversation to an abrupt close, God announces:

“I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose,
    and I will guide his actions.
He will restore my city and free my captive people—
    without seeking a reward!
    I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!”
– Isaiah 45:13 ESV

God was going to do what He deemed best. He wasn’t seeking their input or asking for their buy-in. Their approval of His methods was not His concern. He had far greater plans in store for them than they were aware of. He had a long-term strategy in place that far outweighed their desire for immediate comfort and their present happiness.



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

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

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

You Are God Alone

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.” – Isaiah 37:14-20 ESV

Faced with the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Assyrians, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, had taken the situation directly to God. He had entered the temple to pray and sent his key officials to plead with Isaiah to intercede with God on behalf of the nation. And Isaiah had sent the king a reassuring message from God.

“Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” – Isaiah 37:6 ESV

God promised to save Jerusalem from the threat of Assyrian invasion. King Sennacherib would receive a divinely inspired message that forced him to return home, where he would be assassinated by his own sons. So, God has provided the king of Judah with His personal guarantee that none of the boastful threats of the Assyrian king will come to fruition. Yet, in spite of God’s assurances, King Hezekiah still has the Assyrians camped outside the walls of his city and the threats of the Assyrian emissary ringing in his ears.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? – Isaiah 37:10-11 ESV

The problem persisted. The enemy was still outside the city walls. And Hezekiah was left with two options: Believe the words of King Sennacherib or those of God Almighty. At this point in the story, that is all he has to go on. The words of a man and the words of His God. One was visible, his power manifested in the sizeable army camped outside the walls of Jerusalem. His words were backed by a well-documented reputation for accomplishing what he set out to do.

“Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

Hezekiah could see the power of Sennacherib with his own eyes. It was all around him. And it was clear that the forces of Judah were outmanned and ill-equipped to deal with the circumstances facing them.

To make matters worse, Hezekiah’s God was invisible. Yes, the king believed in Him. He even spoke to Him. But he couldn’t see Him. And, unlike the gods of the pagans, there were no statues or figurines representing Yahweh that Hezekiah could turn to for assurance. His God was transcendent and hidden from human view.

But while God was invisible, He was far from unknowable or imperceptible. He had a reputation as well. Yahweh had a long track record of intervening in the affairs of mankind, especially on behalf of His chosen people. From the day He had called Abram out of Ur, God had chosen to reveal Himself in a variety of ways, to reassure His people of His imminence or nearness. He spoke to Abraham audibly and regularly. He appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a flame of fire and a cloud, leading them across the wilderness for 40 years. And God had repeatedly intervened on behalf of His people, accomplishing great victories on their behalf, even when they faced more formidable foes and insurmountable odds.

Hezekiah was faced with a dilemma familiar to all believers of all times. He could allow the presence of a tangible trial to influence his decision-making, or he could rely on the promises of a God he couldn’t see but who had proven Himself faithful time and time again. And the text tells us that Hezekiah made the right choice. He took his problem to God.

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord – Isaiah 37:14-15 ESV

He took the enemy’s message to the only one he could trust: God. And he opened his prayer to God with a series of appellations that seemed designed to remind himself of God’s power and distinctiveness.

“O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. – Isaiah 37:16 NLT

He addresses God as the divine warrior-God. He leads the innumerable hosts of heaven, a supernatural army that far surpasses any earthly or human foe, including the Assyrians. He describes God as Israel’s God, a not-so-subtle reminder that God had chosen the nation of Israel as His own. They belonged to Him, and He was responsible for their well-being. Hezekiah goes on to describe God as sitting on a throne, but unlike any earthly throne occupied by a human king. God sits enthroned between cherubim – supernatural, angelic beings who are unlike anything of this earth. This designation of God’s glory and magnitude is borrowed from the psalms.

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us! – Psalm 80:1-2 NLT

The Lord is king!
    Let the nations tremble!
He sits on his throne between the cherubim.
    Let the whole earth quake! – Psalm 99:1 NLT

And Hezekiah acknowledges that Yahweh alone is God of all the kingdoms of the earth, including the kingdom of Assyria. He is sovereign over all. In fact, Hezekiah admits that God created all that exists. He made the heavens and the earth and every living creature. While Sennacherib could brag about his creation of a mighty kingdom, only God could claim the title of Creator. Hezekiah was bringing his problem to the source and the solution of all things.

And Hezekiah begs the great, majestic, transcendent, all-powerful God of the universe to intervene on Judah’s behalf.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. – Isaiah 37:17 ESV

Hezekiah acknowledges that Assyria had successfully defeated the other nations, but only because the gods of those nations were lifeless and impotent. They were fabricated by men and, unlike Yahweh, had no power to save.

For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. – Isaiah 37:19 ESV

False gods provide faulty help in times of trouble. They can’t deliver the necessary aid because they lack the necessary ingredient to do so: Life. But not so with Yahweh. He is alive and well. He is all-powerful and fully capable of providing the hope and help we need in life’s darkest moment. There is no challenge too great. There is no enemy too strong. There is no challenge we will face that is beyond His awareness or outside His ability to provide a solution. So, Hezekiah asks his Sovereign for salvation.

So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord. – Isaiah 37:20 ESV

Selfishly, Hezekiah wants to see Jerusalem saved. But he also wants to see God glorified. And he knows that the seriousness of the situation will require the power of God for any hope of salvation. He longs to see God work so that the nations will see that God is sovereign over all. He wants His God to receive the glory He deserves. And so, he begs God to save. When we trust God to do what only God can do, He alone gets the glory. When we turn to Him as our sole source of help and hope, we get to see Him work, and the world gets to see the one true God in action. Our reliance upon Him gives proof of His reliability. Our trust in Him demonstrates before the world the trustworthiness of 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

 

A Day of Distress, Rebuke, and Disgrace

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV

The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.

“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV

These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.

Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT

It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.

What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.

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. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT

Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.

Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).

And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.

“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT

And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:

“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.

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

 

Free To Sin.

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
    and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
    and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
    whose stump remains
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump. – Isaiah 6:9-13 ESV

When God had asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?,” Isaiah had quickly responded, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV). And now, Isaiah receives his marching orders from God. His task would not prove easy, because his audience would not prove receptive to the message God had given him. He would challenge them to listen carefully and look closely, but it would be to no avail, for they would fail to understand what he had to say or learn anything from the things they saw. 

In other words, they would continue on in their stubbornness. And that trait would last for generations, all the way into the first century A.D., when Jesus attempted to persuade the Jewish people that He was their long-awaited Messiah. But John records that the people of Jesus’ day also proved to be stubbornly resistant to the call to repent, even quoting Isaiah in his indictment of the people:

But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

Lord, who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

“The Lord has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and have me heal them.” – John 12:37-40 NLT

The idea of God blinding the eyes and hardening the hearts of His people so that they will not respond to Isaiah’s message sounds unfair to many of us. It sounds as if God is forcing them to reject His call to repentant and leaving them no chance of restoration. This passage raises the uncomfortable and controversial debate over the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. As human beings, we take our free will quite seriously. We demand the right to do what we want to do, without any outer control or unwanted manipulation. But from a theological perspective, there really is no such thing as “free” will.

The apostle Paul reminds all believers of their pre-salvation condition:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. – Ephesians 2:1-3 NLT

Then, in his letter to the Colossians, he adds:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. – Colossians 2:13 NLT

Notice what Paul says. Satan is at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. He controls their thoughts and actions. He influences their decision-making and manipulates every aspect of their lives. That does not mean that all that they do is evil all the time, but it does mean that nothing they do is considered righteous in the eyes of God. Isaiah will put it this way:

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

And Paul will expand on that thought:

No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

And Paul was simply quoting the great king, David, the man after God’s own heart.

They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

God looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 53:1-3 NLT

Man is not free to do whatever he wants to do. He is controlled by his own sin nature and heavily influenced by Satan, the “father of lies.” Jesus made this point perfectly and painfully clear when speaking to a crowd of His fellows Jews:

For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me! – John 8:44-45 NLT

And Paul adds that Satan plays a vital role in man’s stubborn refusal to hear the gracious message of God to repent.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

So, this idea of free will is really a misconception. Between man’s inherent sin nature and Satan’s control, no one is truly free to do what he or she wants to do. Apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, all men are slaves to sin. They are not free to do as they wish. Yes, they make decisions every day and appear to be making choices that are the direct result of their own will, but they are NOT free to do righteousness – at least a righteousness that meets God’s exacting standard. Their best choices made on their best day are still viewed as filthy rags by a holy God.

So, God tells Isaiah:

“Harden the hearts of these people.
    Plug their ears and shut their eyes.
That way, they will not see with their eyes,
    nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their hearts
    and turn to me for healing.”
– Isaiah 6:10 NLT

He will tell them the truth, but they will refuse to hear of accept it. The very act of delivering the message of God will result in their rejection of God. And they will be doing what they want to do. It will be their choice. But they will not be able to hear, believe and repent. That is a work of God. The prophet, Isaiah, records what is necessary for sinful man to respond to the gracious message offered by God. It requires the divine assistance of God.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26 NLT

And God goes on to let them know that this is not something they deserve or have earned.

“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

The people of Judah had a long track record of disobeying God. This was not a knee-jerk reaction on God’s part. He had exhibited extreme patience for many generations. But the the had come for their sins to be punished. He could not and would not overlook their rebellion against Him.

But Isaiah asks God how long the people will display their stubborn resistance to his message. And God tells him.

“Until their towns are empty,
    their houses are deserted,
    and the whole country is a wasteland;
until the Lord has sent everyone away,
    and the entire land of Israel lies deserted.
If even a tenth—a remnant—survive,
    it will be invaded again and burned.
But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down.” – Isaiah 6:11-13 NLT

Judgment was coming. Destruction was going to take place. Their cities would be destroyed and their people taken captive. But, there some good news amidst all the doom and gloom. God will spare a remnant – a tenth – who will survive. After all the destruction and devastation, a stump will remain. And God reveals that “Israel’s stump will be a holy seed” (Isaiah 6:13 NLT).

Even after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem, and the deportation of the people to Babylon, a remnant would be allowed to return 70 years later. They would rebuild the city and the temple. The people would once again occupy the land given to them by God. And generations later, in the land of Judah, a baby boy would be born. He would be that holy seed. And Isaiah describes him just a few chapters later.

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. – Isaiah 11:1-2 NLT

God had plans for His people. Yes, He was going to judge them, but the day is coming when He will restore them. From them would come the “holy seed” – the descendant of David, who would offer His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind. And the day is coming when He will restore the fortunes of the people of Israel, once and for all. Jesus Himself lets us know what He has planned.

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.…I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.…Surely I am coming soon. – Revelation 22:12-13, 16, 20 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

The Matchless Grace of God.

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.

“‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” Joshua 24:1-13 ESV

The last chapter revealed that “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (Joshua 23:1 ESV). He knew his days were numbered and his time for leading the people of Israel was coming to an end. So, in this closing chapter of the book of Joshua, we see him attempting to prepare them for the next phase of their spiritual and physical journey with God. And he chose to prepare them for the future by looking at the past. Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem. This was an important location that held significant memories for the Israelites. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to God, in response to the promise made to him by God: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). At that point in time, Abraham had no children, a barren wife, and the land was filled with Canaanites. But it was a promise made to him by God and Abraham took God at His word. 

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. – Genesis 15:6 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua and the offspring of Abraham stood on the very same spot where Abraham had built his altar to God. It was at this strategic location that Joshua chose to give the people a brief, but vital history lesson. But from the outset, he let them know that this was actually a message from Yahweh, prefacing his remarks, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2 ESV). This was a message from God Himself, reminding His people of the role He had played in their founding as a nation. And the entire timeline concerning God’s interactions with the nation of Israel is filled with exampled of His unmerited grace and favor. He began with the call of Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolatrous pagan living beyond the Euphrates River in the land of Ur. God had chosen Abraham, not the other way around. God, in His grace and according to His sovereign will, had picked Abraham out of all the other inhabitants on the earth at the time. Notice that God mentions Nahor, the brother of Abraham, but that he was not the one selected. God’s choice was Abraham, and in spite of his idolatrous background. God had plans for Abraham, and those plans included a long and arduous journey to the land of Canaan. It was in Canaan that God provided Abraham with a son, Isaac. And, once again, this abbreviated version of the story stressed God’s matchless grace. It fails to mention Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barrenness. It doesn’t point out their failure to trust God and their attempts to bring about His promise through human means. Abraham had tried to convince God to accept his manservant, Eliezer, as his heir. Sarah had tried to help God out by convincing Abraham to have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. But God had something far greater in mind. He was the God of the impossible and His promise was not going to be fulfilled through human cunning and cleverness. Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, another example of God’s grace. And from this one son came Jacob and Esau, from whom would come the nations of Israel and Edom. And while the Edomites would settle in the land of Seir, it was God’s sovereign will that the Israelites end up in Egypt, just as God had promised to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 14:13 ESV

Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, ended up in Egypt where he became the second-highest ranking official in the land. And a famine in the land of Canaan forced his father and brothers to turn to Egypt for aid, reuniting the family and fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Jacob would remain in Egypt for 400 years, until God sent Moses to set them free from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh. Once again, a picture of God’s grace, because they had long ago stopped worshiping Him as God. During their four-century stay in Egypt they had begun to worship the false gods of Egypt. But God graciously delivered them, using a series of plagues to prove to them that He was the one and only God. God had told Moses:

6 “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. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

And their exodus from Egypt had culminated with God’s gracious deliverance of the people of Israel from certain death at banks of the Red Sea. They had walked out of Egypt, only to find themselves standing at the shore of the sea with the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on them. And the people saw their situation as hopeless.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:11-12 ESV

But God had graciously delivered them that day. And He had led them through the wilderness. He had taken to the land of Canaan. He had provided them with victories over their enemies. He had defeated Balak, thwarted the plans of Balaam, handed over the city of Jericho, and given them possession of the land, just as He had promised to do nearly half a century earlier. Over and over again, God stressed His role in their corporate story.

I took… (vs 3)

I led… (vs 3)

I made… (vs 4)

I gave… (vs 4, 8, 11, 13)

I sent… (vs 5, 12)

I plagued… (vs 5)

I did… (vs 5)

I brought… (vs 5, 6)

I destroyed… (vs 8)

I delivered… (vs 10)

And God summarized it all with the statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). From the moment God had called Abraham to the day they had begun to occupy the land and enjoy the fruits it provided, God had been actively, graciously working on their behalf. Their entire history had been His story. He had done it all. From beginning to end. And it had all been an act of grace of God’s part – totally undeserved and unmerited. And God had done it all so that He might fulfill His divine plan to send His Son as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Galatia.

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

God had preordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. God’s plan was far greater in scope than just the occupation of a land somewhere in the Middle East by a particular people group. It was about the redemption of mankind and the future restoration of His creation. It was about the ultimate defeat of sin and death, not just the conquest of Canaan. Each and every part of Israel’s story was an expression of God’s grace and mercy, as He orchestrated His plan for the salvation of mankind. God was reminding His people that the many blessings they enjoyed were the result of His grace, not their inherent goodness or greatness.

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

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

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

The Sovereign Work of God.

1 The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of the people of Simeon, according to their clans, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah. And they had for their inheritance Beersheba, Sheba, Moladah, Hazar-shual, Balah, Ezem, Eltolad, Bethul, Hormah, Ziklag, Beth-marcaboth, Hazar-susah, Beth-lebaoth, and Sharuhen—thirteen cities with their villages; Ain, Rimmon, Ether, and Ashan—four cities with their villages, together with all the villages around these cities as far as Baalath-beer, Ramah of the Negeb. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Simeon according to their clans. The inheritance of the people of Simeon formed part of the territory of the people of Judah. Because the portion of the people of Judah was too large for them, the people of Simeon obtained an inheritance in the midst of their inheritance.

10 The third lot came up for the people of Zebulun, according to their clans. And the territory of their inheritance reached as far as Sarid. 11 Then their boundary goes up westward and on to Mareal and touches Dabbesheth, then the brook that is east of Jokneam. 12 From Sarid it goes in the other direction eastward toward the sunrise to the boundary of Chisloth-tabor. From there it goes to Daberath, then up to Japhia. 13 From there it passes along on the east toward the sunrise to Gath-hepher, to Eth-kazin, and going on to Rimmon it bends toward Neah, 14 then on the north the boundary turns about to Hannathon, and it ends at the Valley of Iphtahel; 15 and Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem—twelve cities with their villages. 16 This is the inheritance of the people of Zebulun, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

17 The fourth lot came out for Issachar, for the people of Issachar, according to their clans. 18 Their territory included Jezreel, Chesulloth, Shunem, 19 Hapharaim, Shion, Anaharath, 20 Rabbith, Kishion, Ebez, 21 Remeth, En-gannim, En-haddah, Beth-pazzez. 22 The boundary also touches Tabor, Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh, and its boundary ends at the Jordan—sixteen cities with their villages. 23 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Issachar, according to their clans—the cities with their villages.

24 The fifth lot came out for the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans. 25 Their territory included Helkath, Hali, Beten, Achshaph, 26 Allammelech, Amad, and Mishal. On the west it touches Carmel and Shihor-libnath, 27 then it turns eastward, it goes to Beth-dagon, and touches Zebulun and the Valley of Iphtahel northward to Beth-emek and Neiel. Then it continues in the north to Cabul, 28 Ebron, Rehob, Hammon, Kanah, as far as Sidon the Great. 29 Then the boundary turns to Ramah, reaching to the fortified city of Tyre. Then the boundary turns to Hosah, and it ends at the sea; Mahalab,[a] Achzib, 30 Ummah, Aphek and Rehob—twenty-two cities with their villages. 31 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

32 The sixth lot came out for the people of Naphtali, for the people of Naphtali, according to their clans. 33 And their boundary ran from Heleph, from the oak in Zaanannim, and Adami-nekeb, and Jabneel, as far as Lakkum, and it ended at the Jordan. 34 Then the boundary turns westward to Aznoth-tabor and goes from there to Hukkok, touching Zebulun at the south and Asher on the west and Judah on the east at the Jordan. 35 The fortified cities are Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Chinnereth, 36 Adamah, Ramah, Hazor, 37 Kedesh, Edrei, En-hazor, 38 Yiron, Migdal-el, Horem, Beth-anath, and Beth-shemesh—nineteen cities with their villages. 39 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Naphtali according to their clans—the cities with their villages.

40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans. 41 And the territory of its inheritance included Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir-shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene-berak, Gath-rimmon, 46 and Me-jarkon and Rakkon with the territory over against Joppa. 47 When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it, calling Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor. 48 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. 50 By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it.

51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. Joshua 19:1-51 ESV

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This is a long chapter that contains seemingly insignificant information that is of little use to us as 21st-Century Christians. There are plenty of details regarding the borders of the various land allotments and the names of cities located within those lands, but there appears to be no theological or doctrinal insights we can glean from the passage and apply to our daily lives. It is what I tend to call a “skip-over” passage – one of those sections of Scripture, like the genealogies found in the gospels, that prompt us to skip over them rather than waste time wading through their apparently unimportant content. But their very inclusion in the Scriptures begs the question: Why are they there? If, as the Bible states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT), why did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors of the Scriptures to include passages like this? What is remotely useful in this passage and how can it teach us what is true?

In this chapter we have the allocation of land to the remaining seven tribes. The major tribes have been taken care of, including Judah, Manasseh, and Ephraim. And the smaller, but far from insignificant tribe of Benjamin has also received its allotment. But there are seven tribes remaining, many of which we know little or nothing about. The names of Simeon, Asher, Zebulun, Napthali, Dan, and Issachar may be familiar to us, but most of us would be hard-pressed to provide any pertinent information regarding these tribes if pressed to do so. And yet, they represent the rest of the nation of Israel. They are the descendants of the sons of Jacob and, as such, they are the rightful heirs of the promises made by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land is as much theirs as it is Judah’s or the sons of Joseph. In Genesis 49:1-27, we have recorded the words of Jacob as he lie on his deathbed and pronounces his blessings upon each of his 12 sons. And when he was done, the text provides us with the following summary statement:

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. – Genesis 49:28 ESV

Each of Jacob’s sons received a blessing that was appropriate for them, and when it came time to disperse to each of them their allotment of land in Canaan, they each received what God deemed right. It is important to remember the process that was used to discern the allotment of land. Joshua had sent out three representatives from each of the seven tribes, charging them with the task of conducting a survey of the remaining territory. They were to divide the land into seven sections and then the decision as to which tribe received what land would be determined by God, using lots.

“And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.” – Joshua 18:6 ESV

And after having followed Joshua’s instructions, the men returned with a map containing a detailed survey of the seven tracts of land, “and Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion” (Joshua 18:10 ESV). There was no arguing or fighting over who got what land. It was a decision determined by God. And Proverbs 16:33 clearly reflects the belief of the Jews that the casting of lots was anything but a game of chance.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

If you compare the blessings spoken by Jacob in Genesis 49 with the allotment of the land recorded in Joshua 19, you will see some slight differences. For instance, concerning his son, Zebulun, Jacob had said:

Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.” – Genesis 49:13 ESV

And yet, according to the allotment, the tribe of Zebulun ended up landlocked. The land located along the Mediterranean coast, including the city of Sidon, was actually given to the tribe of Asher. But in his Antiquities, the 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus wrote:

“The tribe of Zebulon’s lot included the land which lay as far as the Lake of Genesareth [Sea of Galilee], and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea [Mediterranean]”

There was evidently a certain amount of fluidity among the borders of the various tribes. Over time, the actual boundaries of their respective land allotments fluctuated. So, it is not so much that Jacob’s blessing was in error, as it reveals that God was in control of the timing and specifics of each tribe’s assignment of land. It seems that Jacob’s blessings had far more to do with the character of each of his sons and what he believed would be God’s future treatment of them. While he made vague references to the land, he was actually making a prophetic pronouncement regarding the future status of each son’s descendants. God would reward or punish each son according to his actions. And each son’s descendants would be impacted by how they had lived their lives. God’s determination of their land allotment would coincide with Jacob’s blessings, fully bringing about each and every word that Jacob had spoken.

This chapter, while a somewhat boring read, is a classic example of Scripture revealing the sovereign hand of God in the affairs of men. Jacob had 12 sons, and he had spoken 12 separate blessings over each one. Those 12 sons had descendants, who eventually made it to the land promised to Abraham by God. And those 12 tribes would be awarded their portion of the land according to the sovereign will of God. Not one tribe was left out. Each and every tribe received their fair share of the land, according to the divine will and wisdom of God. While lots were used to make the determination, this had not been a case of chance or blind luck. It was the result of the providential and predetermined will of God Almighty. And as 21st-Century Christians, we should be encouraged by the knowledge that our God was in control of every detail of the process that made the land of promise a reality for the people of Israel. Every tribe, from Judah to Issachar, received their allotment. They each were given their appropriate portion within the land that God had promised to Jacob. And the God who orchestrated every detail of this historic event is the same God who moves behind the scenes in our lives. He is in control, whether we feel like it or not. He is sovereign, whether we recognize it or not. Our God is not distant or detached, but intimately involved in the daily affairs of our lives.

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

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

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

He Wholly Followed the Lord.

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1 These are the inheritances that the people of Israel received in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel gave them to inherit. Their inheritance was by lot, just as the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses for the nine and one-half tribes. For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. The people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses; they allotted the land.

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel. 15 Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war. Joshua 14:1-15 ESV

JudahMapThe tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had received their land on the eastern side of the Jordan, just as they had requested. Now, it was time to divide up the land that had been promised by God to Abraham. And God had provided Moses with a very precise plan to follow, which Moses had then passed on to Joshua. This was not going to be a free-for-all, where each tribe asserted itself and grabbed whatever land it wanted. God had dictated a very specific methodology for determining the dividing up of the land of Canaan between the tribes of Israel. There were now nine-and-a-half tribes left and the entire land of Canaan to parcel out and it was important that each received what God had ordained.

52 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. 55 But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. 56 Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.” – Numbers 26:52-56 ESV

God had commanded Moses to utilize the casting of lots to determine the exact location and size of each tribe’s allotment. The casting of lots was a common practice among the people of God and is mentioned some 70 times in the Old Testament. We are not exactly sure what the lots looked like or how they were used, and to our modern sensibilities, it would appear to be nothing short of a game of chance, like throwing dice. But the Jews had a different perspective. Yes, casting lots involved a degree of chance, but as the book of Proverbs makes clear, the sovereign will of God determined the outcome.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

What might appear to us as nothing more than luck, was to the Hebrews a sign of God’s will. They believed that when the lots were cast, God was behind how they fell. They were a means of determining the will of God when it had not been made known. This means for determining the boundaries of each tribe’s inheritance provided a fair and reasonable outcome that prevented any show of favoritism on the part of Joshua. No one, but God, could know how the lots would fall. And the fact that all the tribes were willing to abide by the outcome determined by the lots, reveals that they firmly believed God was behind it all.

But before this process could be implemented, Joshua was approached by Caleb, a member of the tribe of Judah and one of the original 12 men who had spied out the land of Canaan 40 years earlier. Moses had sent Caleb and his 11 companions into the land in order to bring back a report concerning its natural resources and the military strength of its inhabitants.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” – Numbers 13:17-20 ESV

And when the 12 spies returned, they had brought good news and bad news. Yes, the land was abundant in fruit and rich in resources, but it was also filled with enemies who were too powerful for Israel to defeat. The spies painted a very bleak picture, causing the people of Israel to lose hope and to turn their backs on the promise of God.

32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” – Numbers 13:32-33 ESV

But Caleb had spoken up, presenting a very different outcome. He didn’t deny the presence of the enemy or attempted to underplay their strength. He simply encouraged the people to trust God. He believed that God had given them the land as an inheritance and, therefore, God would give them victory over their enemies.

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” – Numbers 13:30 ESV

But the people did not listen to Caleb. They went with the majority report and refused to enter the land. And God punished them for their lack of faith and their demonstration of unbelief in His promises.

26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. – Numbers 14:26-30 ESV

Here we learn that Joshua was also one of the 12 spies and had sided with Caleb in his positive report and recommendation to enter the land. These two men were the only two to survive God’s purging of the people. And 40 years later, when the Israelites had finally entered the land, Joshua and Caleb were the only two from that previous generation who were still alive. Both were in their 80s and now Caleb was asking for his portion of the land he had waited so long and patiently to receive. And it is interesting to note that Caleb requested the very land that his fellow spies had said was occupied by giants. Caleb wanted to live in the very land where the Anakim lived. He was asking for the most difficult tract of land occupied by the most formidable enemy, because he was sure that God would give him victory over them.

“So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” – Joshua 14:12 ESV

And Joshua gladly honored Caleb’s request, allotting to him and his people the land of Hebron, “because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 14:14 ESV). And the author provides us with an important side note that states, “the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim)” (Joshua 14:15 ESV). Caleb was given the city that belonged to the mightiest of all the descendants of Anak. Caleb would have to conquer the city of Hebron to make it his own. He would have to eliminate the Anakim in order to possess the land given to him by Joshua. And the text clearly indicates that he did. “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” (Joshua 14:14 ESV). And the chapter ends with the a statement that Caleb kept his promise to drive out the Anakim from the land: “And the land had rest from war” (Joshua 14:15 ESV).

Caleb provides us with an illustration of faithfulness in the face of overwhelming odds. Not only did he stand opposed to the words of his fellow spies, encouraging obedience to God when everyone else was recommending rebellion, he waited decades to receive the promise of God. He had endured 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and then seven years of battle before he got the chance to enjoy his long-awaited inheritance. And even then, he had to fight to make it his own. But he did. God gave him victory, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.

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

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

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

The Hope of Israel.

11 After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. 13 And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium. And after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome. 15 And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. 16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who guarded him.

17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. 19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” 21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Acts 28:11-22 ESV

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After their shipwreck on Malta, the Roman centurion and his troops who had been assigned the task of delivering Paul to Rome, determined to spend the winter on the island. In the early spring, when the weather made safe travel possible, the centurion booked passage on a ship headed to Italy. Luke makes an interesting observation, commenting that the ship that would carry Paul on the last leg of his journey has a figurehead on the bow that represented the twin gods. This was a reference to the Greek gods, Castor and Pollux. We can’t be sure why Luke chose to include this information, but it’s almost as if he is trying to convey the irony of the situation. If you recall, back in chapter 14, when Paul and Barnabas had gone to Lystra and had healed a man with crippled feet, they were immediately lauded as gods, with the people shouting, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11 NLT). They claimed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Well, Castor and Pollux were the sons born to Zeus as a result of his relationship with a human, Leda, queen of Sparta. According to Greek mythology, Zeus transformed his two human sons into gods and gave them the responsibility of providing for he safety of sailors. So, perhaps Luke found humor in the fact that the figurehead on the ship to carry Paul (Hermes) to Rome represented the two sons of Barnabas (Zeus). On top of that, these two gods (Castor and Pollux) were supposed to be the ones who protected sailors from the storms at sea. Considering all that Luke and Paul had just endured on their journey to Rome, all of this would have come across as more than a bit ironic.

When the finally set foot on Roman soil at the port of Puteoli, they were greeted by fellow believers. We’re not told how these people came to faith. But we know that, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, there had been individuals from Rome in the crowd that heard them speaking in foreign languages.

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” – Acts 2:9-11 ESV

These visitors from Rome and elsewhere in Italy, were most likely Jews, who had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover and the feast of Pentecost. And we know that more than 3,000 people came to faith as a result of Peter’s impromptu sermon. It’s likely that some of the visitors from Rome and other regions of Italy were among those who came to faith. So, they would have returned to Rome, ready to share the news of the gospel with their friends and family members. Regardless of how these people had come to faith, Paul and Luke found themselves surrounded by fellow believers as soon as they stepped off the ship. And they stayed with them for seven days.

Upon arrival in the capital city of Rome, Paul and Luke were once again greeted by fellow believers. This must have been a tremendous encouragement to these two men, who were far from home and who had just endured a great deal of pain and suffering to make it this far. What a powerful reminder this must have been to Paul of the unstoppable power of God’s sovereign plan. Paul had grown used to arriving in a town and being the lone Christian, responsible for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people who had never heard His name before. But here he was, in the heart of the Roman empire, where no apostle had been before, and God had already been there. The gospel had already arrived and the Spirit had begun His work.

One of the things we learn about Paul in this passage is his relentless desire to share the gospel with the Jews. Just three days into his stay in Rome, he called the leaders of the local Jewish congregation, desiring to share with them all that had gone on and why he was there. Paul was getting ahead of the game, preempting the Jewish leadership from Jerusalem, who had surely sent a contingent to Rome to represent their case against Paul before Caesar. Paul wanted to make sure that the local Jews heard his side of the story before the opposition had a chance to poison the well. And so, he related all that had happened in Jerusalem, assuring them of his innocence, and clearly presenting the basis for his imprisonment and presence in Rome: “it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain” (Acts 28:20 ESV). Once again, he tied his arrest and imprisonment to the claim that Jesus was the hope of Israel: The Messiah. These Jews would have known that Paul was referring to the Messiah. The arrival of the Messiah was something all Jews hoped, wished and prayed for. Even Jews living as far away as Rome, would have longed for the day when their long-awaited Messiah showed up and returned the people of Israel to their former state of glory. Those Jews living in the capital of Rome would have been in the minority, surrounded by the power and paganism of Rome. They had no temple. Every day they faced reminders of their own oppressed state and the weakened condition of their own nation. They were no longer a force to be reckoned with, as in the days of David and Solomon. The Romans and their gods were the bullies on the block.

It would have been hard for these people to maintain their hope in the Messiah while living so far from Israel. Their sense of anticipation would have been beaten down and driven from them by the daily affairs of life. With each passing day, their hope would have diminished and their resignation would have increased. But Paul came bearing good news, and they desired to hear more. They admitted that they knew nothing of Paul’s confrontations in Jerusalem and had received no visitors bearing news or words of ill will against Paul. But they expressed their desire to hear more, telling Paul, “we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). They had heard about Jesus, but to them, he was nothing more than the martyred leader of a religious sect that had a less-than-ideal reputation. And yet, they were interested. Their curiosity had been piqued. Here was Paul, the messenger of the good news to the Gentiles, being invited by the Jews in Rome, to tell them more about Jesus, the hope of Israel. God works in mysterious ways.

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

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

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

Shipwrecked, Snake-bit, and Sovereignly Spared.

39 Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

1 After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They also honored us greatly, and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed. Acts 27:39-28:10 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Paul was headed to Rome. While it would appear that his journey was the result of a decision made by the Roman governor, Festus, and in keeping with Paul’s own request for a trial before the emperor, Luke repeatedly insinuates that Paul’s trip was due to the sovereign will of God. Yes, the Romans were funding the trip and had provided the soldiers to accompany Paul all the way to Rome. The sailors were piloting the ship on which Paul was a passenger, but as we have already seen, they were far from in control of the situation, and completely unable to deal with the weather conditions hammering their ship. Until Paul had intervened and assured them of God’s sovereign plan to spare all their lives, they had been ready to abandon all hope of survival. The sailors had even tried to escape by using the lifeboat, but were prevented from doing so by the Roman soldiers. Through the words of an angel, God had made it clear to Paul that everyone would be spared, even though the ship would be lost.

Luke wants us to recognize that this entire affair, from Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem to his repeated hearings in Caesarea and his departure for Rome, had all been part of God’s divine plan for Paul’s life. None of this had happened by chance. And while everyone from the Jewish high priest, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, the centurion in charge of Paul’s safety, and the ship’s captain, thought they were in control, Luke repeatedly reveals that it was the sovereign God of the universe who was in charge of any and all things – from the wind and the waves to the decisions of men. As the angel had foretold, the ship carrying Paul eventually ran aground and began to break up. Everyone on board was forced to abandon ship and swim for shore. And while they had no idea where they were, God did. Upon reaching shore, waterlogged but safe, they discovered themselves to be on the island of Malta. And as the angel had predicted, not a soul had been lost. Every sailor, soldier, prisoner and passenger had been spared by God. What had appeared to be a hopeless ending to a very difficult and doomed journey, had ended in no loss of life. And the shipwrecked survivors found themselves surrounded by the caring citizens of Malta, who Luke describes as having showed them “unusual kindness.” They had built fires on the beach in an effort to warm the weary men who had washed ashore. So, not only had they survived the shipwreck, but they were greeted and well taken care of by the people of Malta. They hadn’t washed ashore on some deserted island or along an uninhabited section of the Maltese shoreline. Again, the sovereign hand of God had been propelling them along and protecting them every step of the way.

But God was not done. As Paul was adding wood to one of the fires, a venomous snake escaping the flames, sunk its fangs into his hand. The natives of Malta, seeing Paul shake the snake from his hand, assumed the worst. They quickly made the determination that Paul was an ill-fated soul who, while having escaped drowning at sea, was destined to die for his sins.

“No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” – Acts 28:4 ESV

Yet, once again, Paul survived. He was far from ill-fated, cursed or doomed. He was under the watchful eye of God Almighty. His life was not destined to end as a result of drowning or poisoning. Storms would not take his life, neither would a snake. God was not done with Paul. Paul was under the impenetrable force-field of God’s protective plan. There was nothing anyone or anything could to to him that did not first have to come through God’s hands and with His permission. Paul had a confidence in God that matched that of the author of Hebrews.

5 For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT

In fact, what can the storms of life do to me? Or vindictive Jews? Or all-powerful Romans? Or governors and kings? Or even a deadly venomous snake? For Paul, the answer was nothing. Nothing at all.

When the people of Malta failed to see Paul swell up and drop down dead, they had determined that he must have been some kind of god. How else could they explain such a miraculous scene? They had no concept of God Almighty. And while they believed in the idea of supernatural beings, knew nothing of Yahweh and were completely ignorant of Jesus, the Messiah. But it would not be long before they saw the power of God on display, as Paul was given the opportunity to perform a miracle in their midst, healing the father of a man named Publius. And Luke tells us that when news of this incredible event for out, “the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured” (Acts 28:9 ESV). Paul’s presence on Malta was eventful. From surviving a deadly snake bite to healing the sick, Paul was.a walking advertisement for the power of God. And while Luke doesn’t report it, there’ss little doubt that Paul was sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone who would listen. He didn’t waste a single second of his time on Malta. Yes, he performed miracles. He healed the sick. He cured those who came to him with diseases. But based on what we know about Paul, he shared the good news of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And according to verse 11, God would provide Paul with a three-month window of opportunity to do so. He was still headed to Rome. That would be his final destination. But Malta would prove to be a divinely determined detour that had been a part of God’s divine plan all along. Stormy seas, helpless sailors, a shipwreck, and a poisonous serpent were no match for the sovereign will of God.

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

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

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