The Hands and Feet of God

1 “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess— if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ – Deuteronomy 15:1-11 ESV

Once the people of God had obeyed the will of God and crossed over into the land of promise, they would enjoy His blessings. But they were not to be content with being the recipients of His He undeserved blessings. They were to pass on the goodness of God to those around them. Moses had already commanded them to care for the Levites, aliens, orphans, and widows among them. Now, he addresses the poor and indebted in their midst.

Once again, the point behind all this was that the Israelites, the chosen people of God, live up to their unique status by conducting themselves in a distinctively different manner than all the nations around them. They were not free to treat one another with disdain or indifference. And the needy among them were not to be overlooked, especially when God was busy blessing the nation as a whole.

The first command issued by Moses in this chapter has to do with the sabbatical year. This was closely related to another law given by God concerning the sabbath. It’s found in Exodus 23: 10-11.

“For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

Every seven years, the Israelites were required by God to allow their fields, orchards, vineyards to “rest” by allowing them to remain fallow. to use the bounty provided by God to bless the poor and needy among them. The Hebrew word natash means “to forsake” or “leave” them. For six consecutive years, they were to till, plant, and harvest the land, but during the seventh year they were to allow it to remain just as it was. And anything that grew during those 12 months was to be left for the poor and needy to harvest, whether grain, grapes, or olives.

Another God-ordained law, intended to be practiced on a yearly basis, provided another means by which the Israelites could provide for the needy among them.

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:22 ESV

When God chose the people of Israel as His possession, He included everyone from every conceivable economic strata. He had been non-discriminatory when He set them apart, and He expected them to treat one another with the same gracious and inclusive kindness. They were never to forget that His choice of them and His loving kindness to them had been totally undeserved. And, earlier in this very same book, Moses made that point quite clear.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations!” – Deuteronomy 7:7 NLT

They had no reason to be prideful or arrogant. Their enjoyment of God’s blessings was, in a real sense, in spite of them, not because of them. So, God would not tolerate any display of superiority among them. The rich were not to look down on the poor. The strong were not to take advantage of the weak. The powerful were not to abuse the defenseless. Kindness and compassion were the order of the day. And by living in this way, the Israelites would reflect the very character of God.

Debt was considered a form of enslavement because the one who owed the debt was obligated to pay back the one who made the loan. And failure to settle a debt left the guilty party open to indentured servitude until the debt was paid. The book of Proverbs has some strong words to say about the relationship between the rich and the poor and the lender and the borrower.

Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender.
 – Proverbs 22:7 NLT

A sad fact was that the poor often found themselves at the mercy of the rich. Their financial state left them little recourse but to cry out for mercy. But as the Proverbs so sadly states: “The poor plead for mercy; the rich answer with insults” (Proverbs 18:13 NLT).

So, God provided clear guidelines for avoiding such ungodly situations. The last thing He wanted was His chosen people being known for their injustice and inequality. They belonged to Him and, as a result, they were to reflect His character. Which is why the prophet Micah wrote:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

So, every seventh year, God commanded that “every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor” (Deuteronomy 15:2 ESV). There is some debate as to whether this debt forgiveness extended for perpetuity or only during the seventh year, but their is no debate as to God’s intent behind this command: “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deuteronomy 15:4 ESV).

God was going to bless them, and the blessings they received were to be shared with all those in their midst, from the richest to the poorest. There was no room or need for greed. There was no place for injustice or the practice of usury. Taking advantage of one another was to be considered illegal, immoral, and unacceptable.

By obeying God’s commands concerning these matters, they would experience even greater blessings from God. He would prevent the nation of Israel from every finding itself on the debtor end of a transaction. Moses assured them, “The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you” (Deuteronomy 15:6 NLT).

But God knew the true condition of the human heart, so He provided further instructions that, hopefully, would prevent the Israelites from abusing the practice of the sabbatical year and the release of debt. As the seventh year approached, God knew there would be those who refused to lend much-needed help to those who were down on their luck. The thought behind their actions was that if they made the loan, there would not be adequate time to collect enough debt payments to justify the expense the incurred. The seventh year would wipe the debt clean, leaving them in the hole financially. The motivation behind their stinginess is painfully apparent and Moses addresses it.

“Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin.” – Deuteronomy 15:9 NLT

As has been the case with every other law or command issued by God, these focus on the heart. God wasn’t just looking for compliance to a set of rules, but a willing commitment to a way of life, which is why Moses warned them: “Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do” (Deuteronomy 15:10 NLT).

Moses assures them that poor people will be a permanent part of their community. It is the nature of humanity. People make poor decisions. Others, by no fault of their own, are simply born into poverty. It is their lot in life. But the presence of the poor is not an excuse to treat them as second-class citizens. Their presence among the people of Israel was intended to provide a tangible means for expressing the goodness and graciousness of God – man to man. The Israelites were to be the hands and feet of God, providing for the downtrodden, the destitute, the underprivileged, and indebted among them. No one was to be overlooked. No one was to be treated as unworthy or unlovable. The Israelites were expected to love as they had been loved: Unconditionally and undeservedly.

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

 

 

 

In the Fullness of Time.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:1-7 ESV

Here in chapter four, Paul continues to contrast law and grace. More specifically, he will show how faith alone is the means by which men must be saved. And to make his point, he uses yet another analogy. He has already compared the law to a jail, imprisoning everything under sin (Galatians 2:22). He also referred to it as a guardian, watching over us and managing our affairs until Christ came. The Greek word he used was παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which “was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class” (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Here in chapter four, he uses the term, “guardian” again, but it is a different Greek word. It is ἐπίτροπος (epitropos) and it referred to “one to whose care or honor anything has been instructed” (“G2012 – epitropos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was commonly used to refer to a steward or overseer of one’s estate or children. Paul also compares the law to a manager. He uses the Greek word, οἰκονόμος (oikonomos), which referred to a steward, manager or superintendent, who was responsible for overseeing the affairs of another (“G3623 – oikonomos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

In Paul’s day, this guardian or overseer was appointed by a father and given the responsibility to care for his child and oversee his well-being and manage his inheritance. This, as Paul points out, was to be the arrangement “until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:2 ESV). In a sense, the son was no different than a slave as long as he was under the responsibility of his guardian or steward. He was expected to do exactly what the guardian told him to do. He had no access to his inheritance, except through the guardian, who managed all his affairs. He was under the watchful eye of his guardian at all times, until the day set by his father arrived.

Paul tells his readers that this was their former situation. They were under the guardianship of the law until faith came (Galatians 3:23). Up until the time that Jesus came, they had been “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3 ESV). Paul does not explain what he means by this phrase, but it most certainly conveys the idea of the limited understanding available to men without the help of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12 ESV). Without the Spirit of God in them, men cannot understand the truths of God. They are incapable. Paul went on to say, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). Those without Christ are limited in their understanding. They are stunted in their understanding, incapable of grasping the truth about God or the mysteries of spirituality. In speaking of the coming Holy Spirit, Jesus told His disciples, “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him” (John 14:17 NLT). Paul also said that “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT).

Man, no matter how smart he may be, cannot understand or comprehend the truth regarding God. He is “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” But Paul reminds his readers that, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4 ESV). At just the right time, according to His eternal plan, God sent Jesus “to redeem those were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:5 ESV). The amazing thing is that God, in His mercy and kindness, chose to adopt those who were not even His own. The audience to whom Paul was writing was made up primarily of Gentiles. They had not been part of the chosen people of God. They were outsiders, aliens and strangers to the family of God. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). But he went on to tell them the good news that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

The amazing thing, Paul tells his readers, is that they were now sons and daughters of God. Because He had sent His Son into the world, “born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 ESV), and His Son had kept the law to perfection, He had qualified Himself to be the sinless substitute to die in the place of sinful men. He took our place on the cross and died the death we deserved, so that we might be redeemed and restored to a right relationship with God. And those who place their faith in Christ become sons of God and receive the Spirit of God, which gives them the right to call on God as their Father. They are miraculously transformed from slaves to sons. They become princes, instead of paupers, and heirs of all the riches of God’s grace. But Paul’s point was that none of this was possible through the keeping of the law. Sonship was not achievable through hard work. The inheritance was not accessible through diligent rule-keeping. It was the gift of God made possible through faith in the Son of God and His sacrificial death on the cross. Man cannot earn a right standing with God. He cannot merit God’s favor through hard work. In fact, Paul will go on to say that, before placing their faith in Christ, his audience didn’t even know God (Galatians 4:8). They had been incapable of knowing God. They were enemies of God. And so were we. You cannot pursue that which you do not know. Natural man cannot know the things of God. Sinful men cannot seek the things of God. But God, in His great mercy and kindness, sent His Son to make Himself known.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

 

 

Something Better.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV

Let’s go back through the list again. Abel died at the hands of his brother. Enoch was taken by God in the prime of life. Noah lived to see the sin that plagued mankind before the flood raise its ugly head again and infect his own family. Abraham would never occupy the land God had promised to give him, and he would die long before his offspring would grow to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Sarah would bear a son in spite of her old age and barrenness, but would die without ever giving birth again. Isaac would watch his sons, Jacob and Esau, spend years of their lives separated from and loathing one another. Jacob would die in the land of Egypt, the patriarch of a family no more than 70 in number. Moses would lead the people of Israel to the Promised Land, but never step foot into it himself because of his anger against God. The people of Israel would make it into the land, but would fail to obey God’s commands and eventually end up being removed by God and forced to live in exile in Babylon. For Rahab, other than her mention in the lineage of Jesus, she passed on into obscurity, living among the people of Israel.

Their life stories, while marked by faith, are not all pictures of the good life. Their lives were not trouble-free or devoid of difficulty and doubt. They are recognized for their faith, but the author makes it clear that many who live lives of faith also experience their fair share of trials and troubles. He describes those who were tortured for their faith, “refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV). They would not recant their faith in God even under torture. Instead, they trusted that, should they die, God would raise them again to eternal life. The author speaks of women who “received back their dead by resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35 ESV). I don’t think this means that the dead were raised back to life, but that these women had faith that they would see their lost ones again in heaven. They were willing to suffer loss in this life because of their faith in the life to come.

What is amazing is that the author makes it clear that many in his list “did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39 ESV). Because the promise was future-oriented. The fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. His death and resurrection opened up the gospel to all people. No longer would the Jews be the sole beneficiaries of God’s blessings. Today, people from every tribe, nation and tongue have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and have become part of the family of Abraham. The book of Revelation tells us of a scene that will take place in the future where all the offspring of Abraham, both Jew and Gentile, will gather before the throne of God.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

Abraham longed to see that day, and died believing that it would come. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Each of the individuals in the list found in Hebrews 11 received something better. Because of their faith in the promise of God, they received entrance into the presence of God. Ultimately their faith was in the hope of God’s redemption. None of them lived long enough to see the coming of Jesus into the world. Yet, they lived their lives longing for a Messiah, a deliverer from the sin that surrounded them. Paul tells us, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22 ESV). This includes those who lived before the coming of Christ. Their belief in the promises and power of God were seen by God as faith in the coming Messiah. They were willing to trust God with their present circumstances, knowing that He had a future solution in mind.

Their faith was in God. They trusted Him for things they could not see. They hoped because they had an assurance that He could deliver what He had promised. They endured because they believed He would come through. Ultimately, all the promises of God were fulfilled in Christ. He was and is mankind’s hope. And while they may not have fully realized it, every one of the people in the Hall of Faith were placing their faith in Christ, God’s redeemer, deliverer, savior, sacrifice, and key to experiencing all the blessings God has in store. Abraham lived in tents all of his life, but we’re told “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). He knew that God had something better in store for him and he died believing that. The author of Hebrews tells us that these individuals “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They knew something better was in store for them, so they were willing to live as “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV). They put their faith in God and their hope in something they could not see. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16 ESV).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. Revelation 21:1-7 ESV