The Art of Self-Denial

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18 ESV

After having provided His listeners with a model for how to pray, Jesus turns His attention to the topic of fasting. In order for us to understand what Jesus is trying to say about fasting, it’s essential that we discern its role within the Hebrew cultural context. Otherwise, we will try to apply our modern perception of fasting and miss Jesus’ intended application.

For many of us, fasting is a rather foreign concept. The kind of fasting of which we are familiar seems to be tied to dieting or weight loss. And fasting has also become a popular form of cleansing or purging for health reasons. But that is not what Jesus is talking about. In Jesus’ day, fasting was a religious rite, practiced in conjunction with a particular feast day or religious festival. For instance, fasting was a regular part of the yearly celebration of the Day of Atonement.

Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. – Leviticus 23:26-29 ESV

The phrase “afflict yourselves” is a reference to fasting. The people were to fast or deny themselves their normal intake of food, while at the same time presenting a food offering to the Lord. Fasting, in this case, was intended to be an expression of one’s complete dependence upon God. But it was also a way of focusing your attention solely upon God. Rather than seeking your sustenance from food, you were turning to God to meet your needs. It was a spiritual exercise that was usually accompanied by prayer and confession of sins (1 Samuel 7:5-6). Fasting was not done for its potential health benefits or cleansing properties. While it may have had beneficial side effects, fasting was meant to focus one’s attention on God, not on self. In fact, fasting was, at its core, a denial of self.

But once again, the Jews had managed to turn fasting into an external show of self-righteous piety and religious one-upmanship. And this had been going on for some time. God had confronted the Israelites regarding their false view of fasting before. He had spoken harsh words to them through the prophet Isaiah.

“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
    ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!’

“I will tell you why!” I respond.
    It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?

Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:1-7 NLT

So, when Jesus confronts the Jews in His audience with their false concept of fasting, He is simply reiterating the concerns of His Father. Once again, He refers to “the hypocrites,” a clear reference to the Pharisees and other religious leaders. They had taken fasting, a form of self-denial and self-humiliation, and turned it into a means of self-promotion. They fasted to get noticed. They fasted to garner the praises of men, but not to confess their sins before God. This was not the kind of fasting God desired. He desired fasting that came from the heart. He wanted them to deny themselves the sins they so deeply enjoyed committing. In the case of the Isaiah passage, God expected the Jews to free the wrongly imprisoned, to lighten the burdens of their workers, to let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that held people bound. While they were busy wearing sackcloth and denying themselves food in an attempt to get God’s attention, they were also busy practicing all kinds of moral and ethical injustices. And God was not impressed.

For the Jews in Jesus’ audience, the problem was even worse. The kind of fasting they were exposed to was not even intended to get God’s attention. It was aimed at men. Jesus accuses them of trying “to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting” (Matthew 6:16 NLT). Fasting had become all about the outward impression it left on those around you. But throughout His message, Jesus has been talking about those who are approved by God. And just as we have seen in the Isaiah passage, God does not approve of fasting that is done with wrong motives or in a hypocritical manner.

Like any spiritual discipline, fasting can be abused. It can also be misunderstood and practiced for all the wrong reasons. Reading the Bible is a good thing. It is proper for God’s children to spend time in His Word. But we can make Bible reading a badge of honor and a means by which we show others just how spiritual we really are. The same thing can be said of prayer, Scripture memory, Bible study, and giving. These spiritual disciplines can be twisted and misused, becoming nothing more than outward signs of piety that do not reflect the true condition of the heart. It was King David who wrote these powerful words after having been confronted and convicted by the prophet Samuel regarding his affair with Bathsheba.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

The external practice of offering sacrifices meant nothing if the heart remained unchanged and unrepentant. Fasting that was merely an outward show done to convince others of our spirituality will never impress God. He sees our hearts. He knows our motives. And Jesus says that if you fast to garner the praise of men, you will get all the reward you are seeking, but you won’t have the approval of God. You won’t know what it means to be blessed by God. Like the Jews in Isaiah’s day, you will find yourself saying, “I have fasted before you! Why aren’t you impressed?”

Seeking the praise of men is a dangerous game to play. It means we value their opinions over that of God. We care more about their perceptions of us than we do about how God sees us. And Jesus warns us that if the reward we seek through our acts of spiritual discipline is the praise of men, we will get exactly what we want, but no more.

Let’s bring it into a modern context. If I tell others I am fasting in order to impress them with my spirituality, but my real intent is to lose weight, I may impress my friends and drop a few pounds, but I will not gain favor with God.

If I truly want to deny myself something as a means of humbling myself before God, Jesus would recommend that I do it in secret. He would tell me to hide what I am doing from others because they don’t need to know. I don’t need to advertise my fast because God sees my heart. I don’t need to tell others how much I read my Bible or how many Scripture verses I have memorized. God knows, and that is all that matters. But it is important to remember that God also knows my motives. He knows why I read my Bible and memorize Scripture. If I do these things while ignoring sin in my life, I am nothing more than a hypocrite, a play-actor. I am attempting to cover up my sin by doing righteous things. But God wants a broken and contrite heart. Listen to the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
    Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
    and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
    Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
    and a restorer of homes.” – Isaiah 58:9-12 NLT

Fasting should be an outward expression of the inward condition of the heart. If our hearts are prideful and self-focused, our fasting will end up being done for our own glory, and not for God’s. If our hearts are broken, humble, and dependent upon God and His mercy, our fasting will be done for His glory and His approval, not for the praise of men. God knows our heart, and He will reward us according to the intention of our heart. Our Father, who sees in secret, will reward us.

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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The Filling of the Spirit

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

We’ve discussed the power of the indweling Holy Spirit. At the moment of salvation, the third person of the Trinity takes up permanent residence in the believer, enabling them to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). It is the indwelling Spirit who makes it possible for the believer to conduct their life “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 BSB).

Yet, we all know that our lives don’t always reflect the Holy Spirit’s presence or demonstrate His power. If He indwells us and His power is meant to enable us, why do our lives so often appear as if He has abandoned us?

Paul would have us understand that it is an issue of obedience and submission. The Holy Spirit, just like the Father and the Son, must be obeyed. His permanent presence within us doesn’t mean He forces Himself upon us. Paul commanded the believers in Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

He reminded them that their new life in Christ was due to the Spirit. He said, “we live by the Spirit,” but he added, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). The Holy Spirit is the one who had made possible their new life in Christ. Paul told Titus that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 ESV). And yet, this new life requires that we “keep in step with the Spirit.”

The danger each believer faces is the temptation to live the Christian life in their own strength. In fact, Paul saw the Galatian believers doing that very thing and asked them, “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). They were falling back on their own ability to keep the law or, to put it another way, on their own self-righteousness. But in doing so, they were circumventing the power made available to them by the Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was attempting to remind the believers of their need to be distinct and different from the world around them. He wanted them to imitate God and to live lives filled with love, following the example of Christ Himself. He warned them to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” and to “take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness” (Ephesians 5:10-11 NLT). They were to live as people of the light, influencing others and exposing the darkness around them.

But how were they supposed to pull this off? What would make this kind of life possible? Paul warned them to be careful about how they conducted their daily lives, and to make sure they lived wisely and not like fools. But it all sounds so impossible. So, Paul gave them the only possible way to live the lives they’ve been called to live. And he used a very interesting comparison to make his point.

Strangely enough, Paul chose to use the imagery of drunkenness to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I don’t think he wrote these words because the believers in Ephesus had a drinking problem, but because the imagery would have made perfect sense to them. They had all seen the affects of alcohol and knew from first-hand experience what drunkenness looked like. So, Paul used this very down-to-earth analogy to help them understand that the Christ-life required submission to a power outside of themselves. It was all about control. Paul makes a direct comparison between being drunk and being filled.

drunk = filled

To be drunk with wine is to be controlled by or under the influence of wine. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by or under the influence of the Spirit. Control has to do with submission to someone or something else. It is to submit to the influence of another. In the case of alcohol, to become drunk is to place yourself under its influence and control. When drunk, people say things they wouldn’t normally say. They do things that are out of character. They allow themselves to be controlled by a substance that influences their behavior and their thinking.

Paul’s audience knew what it meant to be drunk with and controlled by wine. And he used that imagery to help them understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit. He was calling them to live controlled by the Spirit, not their own sinful flesh. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you (Romans 8:9 NLT). It’s a matter of control.

As believers, we are to live under the influence of the Spirit of God. And when Paul writes, “if you have the Spirit of God living in you,” he is not questioning their salvation. He is making a point about a positional truth. They did have the Spirit living within them, so they should have been living under His influence. Just like a drunk person can’t help but be influenced by alcohol, a believer can’t help but be influenced by the Spirit of God. For Paul, the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer was non-negotiable and non-debatable.

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:10-11 NLT

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. – Romans 8:12-13 NLT

We have a power available to us that is beyond our wildest imaginations. It is the very same power that raised Jesus back to life after His body had laid lifeless in a grave for three days. That power resides within us and is available to us. It is designed to control and empower us. The Spirit of God is to fill us and flow from us, influencing our thoughts and actions. He makes it possible for you to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 NLT). He allows you to “understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).

But we must choose to live under His influence. Just as we can choose to get drunk with wine, we can choose to be filled with the Spirit by submitting to Him on a daily basis. We must seek Him. We must desire Him. We must obey Him. We must live under the influence of the Spirit of God if we want to have an influence in this world. And it’s all about submission and control.

As long as we think we are the masters of our own fate and the ones who control our lives, we will live powerless and pathetic lives, marked by defeat rather than victory and disappointment rather than joy. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, but that life is only possible through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. But we must allow the Spirit of God to control us. We must willingly submit ourselves to His authority and avail ourselves of His divine power. When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV), he knew the source of that strength was the Spirit of God. And he was more than willing to live under the Spirit’s control and according to the Spirit’s plan.

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

 

More Is Caught Than Taught

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. – Titus 2:3-5 ESV

Having addressed the older men, Paul now addresses their counterparts, the older women. He uses the same Greek word he used earlier, but in its feminine gender: presbytis. He is specifically speaking to believing women within the churches who had years of experience to offer and whose lives should be models to all those around them, especially the younger women in the church.

In the day and age when Paul wrote this letter, the elderly were considered worthy of respect and treated with honor. They were considered to be wise because of their longevity of life. The Proverbs taught that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31 ESV). Having lived a long life was considered a sign of God’s blessing and evidence of wisdom. “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29 ESV).

But Paul was expecting more from these women. He desired that their lives reflect the wisdom that comes with age, but also the spiritual maturity that comes from knowing Christ. First, he addresses their behavior, calling them to live reverent lives. The Greek actually reads, “that they be in behavior as becometh holiness.” Their lifestyle was to match their calling by God. Their daily deportment was to reflect their having been set apart by God for His use. Paul put it this way to the believers in Ephesus:

I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. – Ephesians 4:1 NLT

He told the believers in Philippi the very same thing.

…you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

These older women had the experience that comes with age, but they also had the maturity to understand that their relationship with Christ was to make a difference in the way they lived their lives. And just to make sure they understood what he meant, Paul gave them some examples of the kind of behavior to avoid. They were not to be slanderers. The Greek is mē diabolos, and it was used to refer to false accusers. One of the names used of Satan was diabolos or devil, and Jesus used when referring to his lying nature. He told the religious leaders:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44 ESV

Satan is the father or source of all lies. And when Paul commands that the older women in the church refrain from slander, he is referring to something far worse than mere gossip. He is addressing the very dangerous reality of believers leveling false accusations against one another or spreading false rumors designed to harm the reputation of others. The book of Revelation makes it clear that this kind of behavior is evidence of Satan’s influence, not that of the Holy Spirit.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth … the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. – Revelation 12:9, 10 ESV

There is no such thing as idle gossip. It is extremely active and, while it can be devastating to the reputation of others, it can also spread like cancer, infecting an entire congregation with a spirit of judgment based on lies.

Secondly, these older women were to manage their intake of wine. It would appear that over-consumption of wine was a problem among the churches on Crete because Paul had addressed it multiple times. The Greek word Paul used is douloō, and it was most commonly used of a slave. These women were not to allow themselves to become enslaved or addicted to wine, because the end result of that kind of behavior was anything but good. And Paul made that point quite clear to the believers in Ephesus.

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 5:18 NLT

On a positive note, Paul tells them that they are to “teach what is good.” This is one word in the Greek: kalodidaskalos, and it literally means “teacher of goodness.” Their lives were to be a living testimony to the goodness of godliness. This is less a command that these women verbally teach than that they visibly portray what it means to be a believer in Jesus Christ. As the old saying goes, “more is caught than taught.” Our actions tend to speak volumes and what we say means nothing if it fails to influence the way we live.

Paul insists that the older women were to teach their younger peers “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Titus 2:4 ESV). But what would be the most effective means of infusing these characteristics into the lives of the younger women in the church? The daily modeling of them by the older women in the church. Telling a woman that she needs to love her husband and children is far less impactful than showing her how it is done. The power of example is irreplaceable. And Paul provides a list of positive qualities that he expected these older women to model for their younger counterparts.

First on the list is self-control. This is the very same word Paul used when addressing the older men in the church. It has to do with “curbing one’s desires and impulses,” and the power to accomplish it comes from the indwelling Spirit of God.

Secondly, the older women were to model purity. The Greek word Paul used comes from the word for holiness. Their lives were to reflect their having been set-apart by God for His use and His glory. Every area of their lives was to reflect their holiness before God, showing up in modesty, sexual purity, and behavior that won them the reverent respect of others in the church, especially the younger women.

Next, Paul emphasizes that they model diligence and dedication to their families. That seems to be the point of his phrase, “working at home.” This is not, as some have interpreted it, a prohibition against women working outside of the home. But it is a call for women to care for their households well. Paul would have been very familiar with the Proverb concerning the faithful working woman, wife, and mother

She carefully watches everything in her household
    and suffers nothing from laziness.

Her children stand and bless her.
    Her husband praises her… – Proverbs 31:27-28 NLT

The rest of that Proverbs makes it clear that the woman being praised was a working woman. She had a business and many responsibilities outside the home, but she did not neglect the affairs of her household. She was a woman who worked hard at all that she did, including managing the needs of her husband and children. In fact, she used her business outside of the home to impact that well-being of those within her home. So, Paul is demanding that the older women in the church model what it looks like to be godly wives who use their God-given talents and abilities to care for their families. A job or responsibility that draws a woman away from the care of her household is to be avoided at all costs. Marriage and the family are God-ordained institutions, and He holds them in high regard. He will not tolerate anyone, man or woman, who places their career or personal pursuits ahead of the well-being of their family.

Finally, Paul calls on the older women to model what it means to be kind and submissive to their husbands. While the first word is understandable and even acceptable to most, the second word carries a lot of weight. It has been given a bad rap in our society, conveying a false sense of subjugation and subservience. But that is not what Paul had in mind. The Greek word Paul used it hypotassō, and it refers to a willing coming under another. It is the very same word Paul used in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he demanded that they “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). Jesus Himself modeled this kind of submission by willingly and gladly sacrificing His will for that of God the Father.

This has nothing to do with worth or value. But it has everything to do with modeling Christ-likeness. Paul describes the attitude that Christ had:

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:6-7 NLT

It was likely that many of the women in the churches on Crete had come to faith in Christ apart from their husbands. And they ran the risk of seeing themselves as somehow better than their husbands because of their newfound relationship with Christ. They were redeemed, and their husbands were not. They were new creations, and their husbands remained in their sinful state. And Paul wanted them to know that the best way to influence their husbands would be through humble, willing submission to their mate’s spiritual good, not through a willful demand of respect or recognition of their new status in Christ.

And for Paul, the whole point behind all of this was “that the word of God may not be reviled.” His greatest fear was that the integrity of the gospel message would be maligned by the way the believers on Crete lived their lives. And he held the older women responsible for living out Christ-likeness in front of the younger women in the church and, in so doing, teaching by example what it means to be truly saved.

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.s

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

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

No Place For Pride

Isaiah 66:1-6

As human beings, we tend to put a lot of significance in those things that we have made with our own hands. We take great pride in our achievements. We boast in our accomplishments.  In short, we celebrate our own success. And there is no better example of this kind of self-exaltation than the pride-filled words of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

And it’s interesting to note that Nebuchadnezzar’s beautiful city was located in the same area where Nimrod and his followers had attempted to disobey God and build a city for themselves, complete with a huge construction project intended as a permanent monument to their own self-importance and significance.

“Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves.” – Genesis 11:4 NLT

But their plans were contrary to God’s will so, He confused their language and scattered them to the four winds.

But back to Nebuchadnezzar. Before the sound of his own pride-filled voice had time to fade, he would receive some ego-diminishing news straight from God’s throne room in heaven.

“It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” – Daniel 4:31-32 NLT

Which brings us back to Isaiah 66. God opens up this section of His address to the people of Judah with the reminder: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1 ESV). He was reminding His covenant people that He was the sovereign ruler over all, including them. He was the King, and He alone deserved all glory and honor. And yet, God exposes a pride problem among His people. They were guilty of placing far too much value on the temple they had built for Him. It had become the symbol of their own significance. They treated it like a box they had built in which to contain the God of the universe. And yet, as God had said in response to King David’s plan to build the temple:

Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” – 2 Samuel 7:5-7 ESV

God didn’t need or ask for a temple to be built. What He desired was a people who would worship and obey Him. As the prophet Samuel had told David’s predecessor: “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 NLT). But the Jews had become enamored with their temple. Its very presence among them gave them a false sense of security and an over-confident belief in their own spirituality. They had come to value the temple they had created more than the Creator for whom they had built it.

So, God gives them a stark reminder of His criteria for measuring spirituality.

“But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.” – Isaiah 66:2 ESV

Notice that God looks for humility and contriteness in His people. But what do these two words mean? The Hebrew word translated “humble” means “poor, afflicted, humble, wretched.” It conveys the idea of need and abject dependence. But it also reveals an awareness that the one who is humble fully recognizes his or her condition. There is no false sense of pride or arrogance about them. The word translated “contrite” means “stricken” or “smitten” and seems to indicate the reason for the individual’s lowly condition. It provides the “why” behind their humble estate. They have been brought low by some circumstance of life and their condition has left them with a clear sense of need. Which is why God describes them as trembling at His word.

A humble or poor person has nothing to bring to God. They are in no condition to offer the God of the universe anything, and they recognize it. A contrite or stricken person understands that any suffering they experience is deserved. Even their righteous deeds are little more than filthy rags to a holy God. As sinners, they understand that they deserve little more than judgment from God. Which is why they tend to turn to God in fear and trembling, treating Him with the honor He deserves. They desire to do what He commands them to do.

But the people of Judah put a lot of stock in their keeping of the various religious rituals associated with their temple worship. God mentions the slaughter of an ox, the sacrifice of a lamb, and the offering of grain and frankincense. But then He turns around and labels these so-called acts of worship as little more than murder, animal cruelty,  a form of abomination, and idol worship. In other words, even worship, when done in pride and with an attitude of self-righteousness, is unacceptable to God.

Yes, they were keeping God’s commands by offering the appropriate sacrifices at the proper times and according to the temple calendar. But God says, “they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV). Even their adherence to His commands concerning sacrifices was tainted by their refusal to live in submission to Him in the rest of their lives. They were disobedient and disingenuous. And so, God warns them what is going to happen next.

I will send them great trouble—
    all the things they feared.” – Isaiah 66:4 NLT

But don’t miss the reason behind God’s declaration of judgment. He says that when He had called, they had refused to answer. When He spoke, they had failed to listen. Instead, He says, “They deliberately sinned before my very eyes and chose to do what they know I despise” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV).

And to make matters worse, these very same people mocked the faithful remnant of God. These prideful and pompous individuals turned their anger and arrogance on those who had chosen to remain obedient to and reliant upon God. In their hatred for these faithful few, the majority of the people of Judah chose to cast them out of their midst. They wanted nothing to do with them. But God assures His remnant that justice is coming. He will bring shame to all those who stand pridefully opposed to Him and who treat the faithful with contempt. God was going to bring judgment on the people of Judah in the form of vengeance on behalf of all those who were humble and contrite.

God was going to humiliate the non-humble. He was going to strike down the non-contrite. Their religious play-acting was not going to save them. Their pride in their own achievements and over-confidence in their self-righteous activities were not going to protect them from the wrath of God. They were missing the one thing God was looking for: Humility.

And James, in the letter that bears his name, reminds us that God “gives greater grace.” And then James goes on to remind us that God’s grace is reserved for the humble. “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.’ So submit to God” (James 4:5-6 NLT).

Submit to God. There is the key. But submission requires an admittance of God’s superiority and our own inferiority. He is greater and more glorious, and fully deserves our humble and contrite submission to His will. And when we come to Him in humility, we receive His grace – free of charge and fully apart from any merit on our part.

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 Model Prayer.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, while actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer simply to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in every prayer we pray. It provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He is responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinityand our own humanity. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We should never fail to remember that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later boldy claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God:

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. An individual’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to Him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Despite what we may believe, prayer is not primarily an opportunity to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and when we get to provide Him with a lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a willful submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are unable to make requests of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we do.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

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

Honor Like It.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  – 1 Peter 3:7 ESV

Now, Peter turns his attention to the husband. He addresses those men living within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who happen to be believers and married. And, as with the women, Peter is concerned with those who are married to either a believing or non-believing spouse. His counsel will apply in either case. And the words he has to say to the husbands, while shorter in length, are loaded with meaning and significance. He tells them to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” That sounds easy enough, but we have to grasp what Peter is really saying. The Greek phrase he uses is κατὰ γνῶσιν, and it means, “according to knowledge.” What does that mean? Well, it begins with the Greek word for knowledge, which has a range of meanings. It can refer to general knowledge or intelligence, but it can also refer to moral wisdom that exhibits itself in right living. Peter seems to be encouraging a believing husband to live with his wife in such a way that his behavior shows a clear knowledge of right and wrong regarding his relationship with her. What would God have him do? How would God have him treat his wife? On top of that, is the need for the husband to understand and know his wife, both as the individual to whom he is married and as a member of the female race. She is different in terms of personality and temperament, but also gender. The husband is going to have to take the time to get to know his wife and see her as God has made her. She is a unique individual whom God has gifted and equipped with her own personal character. A loving husband will take the time to know his wife well. And he will see her as God does, as “the weaker vessel.” 

But that phrase typically conjures up extremely negative connotations in our 21st-Century minds. It sounds patronizing and patriarchal, something a man would say and think. But Peter is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we have to attempt to figure out what he means by these words. Is he referring to women as somehow inferior to men? Is he insinuating that they are less valuable or incapable of contributing to the well-being of the family or society?

Peter tells husbands to show honor to their wives. The Greek word he uses is timē, and it refers to deference, even reverence. It is an honor which naturally belongs to the one it is shown. They deserve it. The wife, as a woman, is a creation of God. She was made in the image of God. She was uniquely crafted by God to complement and complete the man. If we go back to the creation account found in the book of Genesis, we hear these words from God, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2:18 NLT). In the book of Proverbs, we read this assessment regarding a man who finds a wife. “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22 NLT). A wife is a blessing. She is a gift from God. Proverbs 31:10 describes the value of a wife as “more precious than rubies.” Proverbs 12:4 says she is “the crown of her husband.” And a believing husband should understand these things and honor his wife as such. She is precious, priceless and a gift from God – whether she is a believer or not.

But let’s go back to the term, “weaker vessel.” What did Peter mean? Is it a statement of physical strength? Perhaps. But that would seem to be an incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate rendering. Not all women are physically weaker than all men. Is he referring to intelligence? That would be highly unlikely if we consider the centuries-worth of clear evidence that proves the female’s capacity to compete with men on an equal intellectual plane. So, what is Peter talking about and why would he use this kind of language to refer to wives? The Greek word Peter uses is asthenēs, and it has two significant parts: The second half of the word come from another Greek word, sthenoō, which refers to strength. The first half of the word is a negative participle that means “without.” So, the word Peter uses simply means, “without strength.” I tend to believe that Peter is using this word to speak of an unbelieving wife or at least, a wife who has followed her husband in accepting Christ, but is not as strong in her faith. It is the same word used by Paul when he refers to a weaker brother or sister in Christ.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul was forced to deal with a situation regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. There were those in the church who understood that there was nothing wrong with eating this meat because there are really no such thing as other gods. They are figments of man’s imagination. But there were some in the church who, having come out of pagan backgrounds, viewed the eating of meat sacrificed to false gods as somehow worshiping them. They did not fully understand that these gods were not real, and Paul refers to them as “weaker.” He writes:

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 NLT

The idea was that there were those in the fellowship who didn’t know any better. They were “weaker” only in the sense of their spiritual understanding of the matters at hand. I think Peter is using this term in the very same way. It is not a blanket statement about women, but a reference to those wives who were either new believers or unbelievers. Their spiritual understanding was “without strength. ” And their husbands were to show them honor and treat them as a “weaker vessel.” It s the same attitude that Paul had.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NLT

Peter says that these men were to see their wives as “heirs with you of the grace of life.” This does not necessarily mean salvation. Peter is most likely stating that men and women equally share in God’s gracious gift of life. He has made them both. And a husband and wife equally share in God’s gracious gift of marriage. They are in this thing called marriage together. And they share in the grace of God, together.

The final admonition Peter gives husbands is significant. He warns them that, if they ignore his words, their prayers will be hindered. It they do not treat their wives as “weaker vessels” and honor them as God does, their prayers to God will go unheard. Their inappropriate treatment of their wives will be seen as sin before God. That’s a sobering statement. And this all goes back to the behavior of those who have been called by God. We are to live differently. We are to behave in a way that mirrors our newfound status as sons and daughters of God. And one of the first ways our new life should show up  is in our relationships with other human beings, especially our spouses.

For a husband to live with his wife in an understanding way is going to take wisdom, patience, grace, mercy, and the help of the Holy Spirit. He is going to have to see his wife the way God does. He is going to have to view her through God’s eyes and make her spiritual well-being his highest priority, whether she is a believer or not. Just like the believing wife may bring her husband to faith by her righteous behavior, so a husband may lead his unbelieving wife to Christ by living with her in an understanding way, honoring her as a gift from God and his fellow heir in the grace of life.

 

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Relate Like It.

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

As Christians, our relationships are to be primary opportunities to live out our new relationship with Christ and to exhibit externally, the inner transformation that is taking place in our hearts because of the work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no more intimate and important relationship than the one between a husband and a wife. Peter was dealing with a situation where there were a growing number of individuals coming to faith in Christ who found themselves married to unbelieving spouses. Keep in mind the locations of those to whom he was writing: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were living in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern western Turkey. Not all of his audience would have been Gentiles, because there were literally millions of Jews who had relocated and settled in these very same provinces. But whether Gentiles or Jews, the recipients of his letter were believers who, in many cases, had become followers of Christ without their spouses. This important point will factor into what Peter has to say, because our behavior, as Christians, can have a significant impact on our lost relationships, especially with our unbelieving spouses.

Peter begins with the women. and his words continue to leave many modern-day women shaking their heads and labeling Peter as a male chauvinist. His counsel comes across as archaic and a product of some ancient cultural paradigm that has long lost its relativity. Peter begins his address to wives, saying, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). He would not be the only apostle to communicate this information. Paul would write virtually the same thing: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). He would repeat this statement to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Then, in his letter to Titus, Paul provides even more detail, when he challenges the older women in the church:

…train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. – Titus 2:4-5 NLT

Whether we like what these men have to say, we have to take their words seriously, because they speak for God – that is, if you believe they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which I do. These are not two 1st-Century Jewish males sharing their personal opinions about women. They are not misogynists. They don’t hate women and are not attempting to place them in a subservient position to their more superior male counterparts. And yet, this is how many modern-day Christians interpret these passages.

What we tend to miss is the definition of the word Peter and Paul use for submission. It is the Greek word, hypotassō, which means “to subject one’s self.” There is a willingness involved, a self-determination or personal decision to submit to another out of love and, in this case, obedience to the will of God. Remember what Paul said? Women are to do it “as to the Lord.”  He says, it is “fitting for those who belong to the Lord.” It is what those who belong to God should do. And Peter makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if the woman’s husband is a believer or not. There is a witness involved in all of this. He states that when wives willingly subject themselves to the leadership of their husbands, “Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). What Peter (and by extension, God) is interested in is godly living. This isn’t about rights and privileges, status and personal authority. It is about the cause of Christ, the name of God, and the witness of our lives in a lost and dying world.

But as if this wasn’t enough and Peter had not stepped on enough toes, he wades into even more deadly waters, giving advice on women’s clothing, hair and makeup. Was he just a glutton for punishment or was there a method to his madness? He gives his female readers the following Spirit-inspired counsel:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

The first thing we gravitate towards is the fashion advice. It seems that he is telling them how to dress. But what is his real point? “Clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within.” Peter is contrasting our natural obsession with the exterior aspects of our lives with that of the interior, spiritual dimension that reflects the nature of our heart. He talks of inner beauty and the spirit within. How we look is to be far less significant to us than how we behave. And our behavior is a product of our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23 NLT). 

Peter is simply reminding the women in his audience that dressing up the exterior of their lives means nothing if they give no importance to the interior condition of their hearts. They become little more than hypocrites, what Jesus called white-washed tombs. They look great on the outside, but their interiors are filled with death and decay. And that can be true of both women and men.

Peter gives additional insight into what he is saying by comparing the behavior of the “modern-day” women to whom he is writing with the “the holy women of old” (1 Peter 3:5 NLT). There are several points of interest in what he writes and they all relate to the subject of submission. First of all, he says these women of old made themselves beautiful by placing their hope in God. They trusted God for their lives, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lives. He uses Sarah as an example. She submitted to her husband, Abraham. But how? Remember, it was he who received the call of God to leave Ur and travel to a land yet to be named. And Sarah willingly followed her husband’s lead, even though it meant leaving her family behind. She was inherently trusting God, because her husband was not quite sure how all of this was going to work out. Even later on, when they found themselves moving to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, she went along with her husband’s counsel to pawn herself off as his sister. She trusted Abraham, because she was really trusting God.

Secondly, Peter points out that Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him “master.” Why? Because she believed he was following the leadership of Yahweh, God Almighty. So, she listened and obeyed. She showed him respect. She didn’t ridicule or belittle him, even when what he said didn’t work out for the best or seem to make any sense. She was trusting God. Third, Sarah was being transformed on the inside. She had her own set of issues. She struggled with doubt and disbelief. And by following her husband’s leadership, she was having her heart changed by God. Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example of someone who did what was right, according to the will of God. And he tells his female readers that they will be daughters of Sarah if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6 NLT). Submitting to a Christian husband is scary enough. Submitting to a lost one can be petrifying. But both situations require trust in God. There will be fearful days and moments of doubt. There will be situations that come up where the husband seems to lack any leadership skills or is devoid of common sense. But at the end of the day, believing women are to put their trust in God. They are to see themselves as those who “belong to the Lord” as Paul said. They are to submit, not because their husband deserves it or has earned it, but because it is fitting to the Lord. It reveals a heart that is submissive to God. And He finds that far more attractive than the outward beauty that comes from clothes, cosmetics or jewelry.

These are not easy words for women to hear. They are counter-cultural and seem to go against the grain. But Peter is speaking of deep-seated heart issues. He is addressing matters of character and Christ-likeness. Because when all is said and done, Peter is concerned about our witness in the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and our lives are to be a testimony to His life-transforming, counter-cultural calling on our lives.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The One True God.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes:Take in your hands large stones and hide them in the mortar in the pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will set his throne above these stones that I have hidden, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. He shall come and strike the land of Egypt, giving over to the pestilence those who are doomed to the pestilence, to captivity those who are doomed to captivity, and to the sword those who are doomed to the sword. I shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt, and he shall burn them and carry them away captive. And he shall clean the land of Egypt as a shepherd cleans his cloak of vermin, and he shall go away from there in peace. He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt, and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.’” Jeremiah 43:8-13 ESV

Reading the story of the lives of the people of Israel and Judah can be a depressing and frustrating experience. Depressing, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. Frustrating, because they bring so much unnecessary misery upon themselves through sheer disobedience. If they had just done what God had said, their lives could have been so much easier. But no, they had to do it their way. They stubbornly refused to obey God, because they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Johanan and his companions, along with those they had taken captive from Judah, had made their way all the way to Tahpanhes, an important city on the northern border of Egypt. And it was at this point that God determined to deliver yet another message to His wayward children. Jeremiah and Baruch had been forcefully dragged along to Egypt by Johanan. Since Johanan had murdered Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, who had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for Jeremiah, Johanan simply took the prophet and his scribe with him To Egypt. And God continued to speak to Jeremiah, giving him yet another strange object lesson to act out in front of the people of Judah.

“While the people of Judah are watching, take some large rocks and bury them under the pavement stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s palace here in Tahpanhes.” – Jeremiah 43:9 NLT

This rather bizarre bit of theatrics is not explained to Jeremiah or to us. We are not told what the rocks were meant to represent, but we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar would set his throne over them.

“I will certainly bring my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, here to Egypt. I will set his throne over these stones that I have hidden.” – Jeremiah 43:10 NLT

Perhaps the two large stones were meant to represent the people of Judah, who had chosen to hide from the Babylonians by escaping to Egypt. But God was letting them know that there was no escape from His divine will. He had commanded that they remain in Judah and subject themselves to the will of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom He had set over them. But since they had chosen to disobey God and follow their own plan, God let them know that their will was no match for His own. They would still find themselves subject to Nebuchadnezzar and, albeit unwillingly, submitting to the will of God. Not only that, their decision to escape to Egypt would bring destruction on the people of Egypt.

“And when he comes, he will destroy the land of Egypt. He will bring death to those destined for death, captivity to those destined for captivity, and war to those destined for war.” – Jeremiah 43:11 NLT

The prophet, Ezekiel, also spoke of the fall of Egypt to the Babylonians.

“Son of man, the army of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fought so hard against Tyre that the warriors’ heads were rubbed bare and their shoulders were raw and blistered. Yet Nebuchadnezzar and his army won no plunder to compensate them for all their work. Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He will carry off its wealth, plundering everything it has so he can pay his army. Yes, I have given him the land of Egypt as a reward for his work, says the Sovereign Lord, because he was working for me when he destroyed Tyre.” – Ezekiel 29:18-20 NLT

Just a few verses earlier, God gave His reason for destroying Egypt, addressing the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

“Because you said, ‘The Nile River is mine; I made it,’ I am now the enemy of both you and your river. I will make the land of Egypt a totally desolate wasteland, from Migdol to Aswan, as far south as the border of Ethiopia.” – Ezekiel 29:9-10

And God had made a similar accusation against the king of Tyre, the very nation whom He used the Babylonians to destroy.

“In your great pride you claim, ‘I am a god!
    I sit on a divine throne in the heart of the sea.’
But you are only a man and not a god,
    though you boast that you are a god. – Ezekiel 28:1 NLT

“Because you think you are as wise as a god,
    I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Both Pharoah and the king of Tyre were guilty of claiming to be divine. They had arrogantly set themselves up as gods. But they would both discover the painful truth that there is but one true God. He made it perfectly clear that they were nothing but men. Their wisdom and glory were limited. Their power, while extensive from an earthly perspective, was nothing when compared to God’s might.

God had used Nebuchadnezzar to punish the king of Tyre. And as a form of “reward”, God would allow Nebuchadnezzar to plunder Egypt. The thing that Johanan and his friends failed to understand was that God had far greater plans at work. He was doing things behind the scenes of which they were completely oblivious. Their little trip to Egypt, which had made so much sense to them at the time, was going to place them right in the middle of God’s divine strategy concerning the fates three nations: Egypt, Tyre and Babylon. Little did the Johanan know that his expedition to Egypt would end in disaster, and that the very fate he was attempting to escape would find him there.

King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt somewhere around 568-567 B.C., and he did to Egypt what he had done to Judah. His troops burned the temples of their gods and hauled away their idols as plunder. The people of Egypt were slaughtered or taken captive. Anything of value was seized as booty and hauled back to Babylon. And the nation was left desolate.

There is an easily overlooked lesson in all of this, and God makes it perfectly clear when He speaks through His prophet, Ezekiel.

“And when I put my sword in the hand of Babylon’s king and he brings it against the land of Egypt, Egypt will know that I am the Lord. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, dispersing them throughout the earth. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 30:25-26 NLT

He is Lord. No debate. No arguments. Case closed. And if anyone should have known that, it was the people of God. The people of Judah should have been the first to recognize that God alone is Lord. But they had set themselves up as gods, making their own decisions, following their own plans, and refusing to listen to the words of God. All people – whether kings or commoners, pagans or Jews, powerful or weak – will have to one day recognize that God is Lord. The king of Tyre would learn the painful lesson that he was anything but a god. Pharaoh would have to learn the same thing. And, ultimately, even Nebuchadnezzar, in his pride, would be brought low by God. At the zenith of his power, God would deliver a message to King Nebuchadnezzar through a disturbing dream, which Daniel would interpret for him.

For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth.…You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. – Daniel 4:22, 25 NLT

Even the great king was going to learn the painful lesson that there was only one true God. And not long after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream, Nebuchadnezzar found himself standing on the balcony of his palace, surveying his magnificent kingdom.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” – Daniel 48:30 NLT

In the midst of his self-glorification, the king suddenly lost his sanity. He went from ruling over the most powerful nation in the world to wandering around the land and acting like an animal. But then something happened. The text says that the king, in his dementia, looked up to heaven and his sanity suddenly returned to him. And he said:

“I extolled the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his authority is an everlasting authority,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” – Daniel 4:4-5 NLT

Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way that God alone is Lord. The king of Tyre and the Pharaoh of Egypt learned the same lesson. But what about Johanan and the people of Judah? Would they come to the point where they recognized and willingly confessed the sovereignty of God and their need to submit to His will for their lives? Time will tell. But one way or another, all men will be forced to acknowledge that God is who He says He is. They will have to stand before Him as judge and ruler over nations and kings. And at that time, they will know that He is Lord.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Resisting God’s Will.

In the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. As they ate bread together there at Mizpah, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him rose up and struck down Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, with the sword, and killed him, whom the king of Babylon had appointed governor in the land. Ishmael also struck down all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there.

On the day after the murder of Gedaliah, before anyone knew of it, eighty men arrived from Shechem and Shiloh and Samaria, with their beards shaved and their clothes torn, and their bodies gashed, bringing grain offerings and incense to present at the temple of the Lord. And Ishmael the son of Nethaniah came out from Mizpah to meet them, weeping as he came. As he met them, he said to them, “Come in to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam.” When they came into the city, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah and the men with him slaughtered them and cast them into a cistern. But there were ten men among them who said to Ishmael, “Do not put us to death, for we have stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.” So he refrained and did not put them to death with their companions.

Now the cistern into which Ishmael had thrown all the bodies of the men whom he had struck down along with Gedaliah was the large cistern that King Asa had made for defense against Baasha king of Israel; Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with the slain. Then Ishmael took captive all the rest of the people who were in Mizpah, the king’s daughters and all the people who were left at Mizpah, whom Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had committed to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam. Ishmael the son of Nethaniah took them captive and set out to cross over to the Ammonites. Jeremiah 41:1-10 ESV

To full comprehend what is going on in this passage, we have to take a look back at an earlier part of the book where God had Jeremiah deliver a message to King Zedekiah. This was the occasion when God had commanded Jeremiah to make a yoke of wood and leather, put it around his neck and then prophesy the following words to the king:

“I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit. I have at this time placed all these nations of yours under the power of my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have even made all the wild animals subject to him. All nations must serve him and his son and grandson until the time comes for his own nation to fall.” – Jeremiah27:5-7 NLT

The presence of Nebuchadnezzar and his troops in Judah was by the decree of God. This wasn’t a case of happenstance or even the result of decision made by Nebuchadnezzar himself. Yes, he obviously had to issue the orders to invade Judah, but it was under the sovereign will and by the decree of God Almighty.

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

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

What Ishmael failed to realize was that Gedaliah’s role as the governor of Judah was part of God’s foreordained plan. He mistakenly saw the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of King Zedekiah to Babylon as an opportunity to seize the throne. As a member of King David’s family, he saw himself as a legitimate heir with every right to be king. But what he overlooked was that God had a plan for Judah and even the king of Babylon was being used by God to accomplish that plan. So, in essence, Gedaliah was God’s choice to rule over Judah after the fall of Jerusalem. And yet, Ishmael had other plans. He had no interest in what God might be trying to do. He saw an opportunity and he seized it – even if it meant committing murder and violating the will of God to do it.

It is important to note that Ishmael is clearly presented as a descendant of David. He is referred to in the passage as “Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family” (Jeremiah 41:1 ESV). Elishama’s name is found in the list of the sons born to David.

And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. – 2 Samuel 5:13-15 ESV

Why that is important is because it provides a stark contrast between Ishmael and his ancestor, David. If you recall, after David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, hand-picked by God to replace King Saul, he ended up spending several years of his life running from Saul. God had arranged for David to be anointed, but His plan did not include David’s immediate ascension to the throne. Saul remained king. And he greatly feared David and did everything in his power to see that he be eliminated. And on two separate occasions, David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, but he refused. On the first occasion, Saul happened to walk into a cave where David and his men were hiding. When David’s men encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Saul and take his throne, David responded:

“May the Lord keep me far away from doing such a thing to my lord, who is the Lord’s chosen one, by extending my hand against him. After all, he is the Lord’s chosen one.” – 1 Samuel 24:6 ESV

On the second occasion, David and one of his men made their way into the camp of King Saul and his troops as they slept. They were able to make it unnoticed right to the place where the king slept. Abishai, David’s companion, offered to kill Saul on the spot, but David once again responded:

“Don’t kill him! Who can extend his hand against the Lord’s chosen one and remain guiltless?” – 1 Samuel 26:9 NLT

David was unwilling to take Saul’s life because he had not been given permission to do so. He recognized that, until God chose to remove Saul, he would remain the king of Israel, and as a result, David was obligated to honor him as such.

David went on to say, “As the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him down. Either his day will come and he will die, or he will go down into battle and be swept away. But may the Lord prevent me from extending my hand against the Lord’s chosen one! – 1 Samuel 26:10

Now, compare the actions of David with those of his descendant, Ishmael. Gedaliah had been appointed the governor of Judah by the king of Babylon. But the king of Babylon, according to God Himself, was under His direct orders. And yet, Ishmael didn’t seem to care. Unlike his ancestor, Ishmael had no problem raising his hand against the Lord’s anointed. With careful planning and premeditation, he murdered Gedaliah. Not only that, “Ishmael also killed all the Judeans and the Babylonian soldiers who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah” (Jeremiah 41:3 NLT).

We know that Ishmael was operating under the influence and direction of the King of Ammon. He was taking his cues from an enemy of Judah rather than seeking what the Lord would have him do. There is little doubt that Baalis, the Ammonite king, had no love for the Babylonians. In fact, on that occasion when Jeremiah had been commanded by God to make and wear the yoke, he was also commanded to deliver his message to the king of Ammon regarding God’s plan to use Nebuchadnezzar as His tool of punishment.

“Make a yoke out of leather straps and wooden crossbars and put it on your neck. Use it to send messages to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Send them through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to King Zedekiah of Judah. Charge them to give their masters a message from me.” – Jeremiah 27:2-4 NLT

But Baalis and Ishmael didn’t care what God had to say. They didn’t approve of God’s plan and weren’t willing to submit to God’s appointed leader. Perhaps Baalis believed that if he could stir up trouble in Judah by having the Babylonian-appointed governor murdered, it would force Nebuchadnezzar to concentrate all his efforts and resources in Judah and leave the land of Ammon alone. But whatever his motivation, he was clearly violating the will of God. And the murdering rampage of Ishmael would continue, filling a cistern with the bodies of the slain.

Don’t overlook the significance of Ismael’s choice to throw the bodies of the dead into a cistern. Normally designed to provide life-sustaining water for the people of the city, this cistern was re-purposed by Ishmael to hold the lifeless bodies of those he had slain. Their corpses would end up polluting the water, making the cistern a place of death rather than life. This should bring to mind a stinging indictment from God, delivered earlier in the book of Jeremiah.

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” – Jeremiah 2:13 NLT

Opposing God’s will brings death, not life. Refusing to submit to His divine plan for our lives will never result in an improved outcome. Ishmael would learn the hard way that God’s way is always the best way.

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.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Resisting the Will of God.

 

In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. Send word to the king of Edom, the king of Moab, the king of the sons of Ammon, the king of Tyre, and the king of Sidon by the hand of the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah. Give them this charge for their masters: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.

“‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”’”

To Zedekiah king of Judah I spoke in like manner: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. I have not sent them, declares the Lord, but they are prophesying falsely in my name, with the result that I will drive you out and you will perish, you and the prophets who are prophesying to you.”

Then I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the Lord: Do not listen to the words of your prophets who are prophesying to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord‘s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon,’ for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon and live. Why should this city become a desolation? If they are prophets, and if the word of the Lord is with them, then let them intercede with the Lord of hosts, that the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon. For thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the pillars, the sea, the stands, and the rest of the vessels that are left in this city, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon did not take away, when he took into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem— thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, concerning the vessels that are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem: They shall be carried to Babylon and remain there until the day when I visit them, declares the Lord. Then I will bring them back and restore them to this place.” Jeremiah 27 ESV

It’s difficult not to feel a bit of sympathy for Jeremiah when you stop and reflect on all that he had to put up with as God’s messenger. It was one thing to have to deliver God’s prophetic word concerning Judah’s destruction day after day. But on top of that, God required Jeremiah to do a number of bizarre acts designed to be living illustrations or lessons for the people of Judah. Back in chapter 13, God had commanded Jeremiah to buy linen undergarments, wear them for a period of time, then bury them. Many days later, Jeremiah returned to find the linen shorts ruined and no longer good for anything. They were intended to symbolize how Judah had gone from having an intimate relationship with God to being marred by sin and worthy of being discarded as worthless. In chapter 16, we saw that God denied Jeremiah the right to have a wife and children. In a culture where marriage and family were primary symbols of God’s blessing, this would have been very difficult for the prophet to accept. Later on, we will see Jeremiah instructed by God to buy a field. What made this particularly difficult was that Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians and the entire nation was enduring famine and a financial crisis. The prophet was investing in property that would soon belong to the Babylonians. But once again, this was meant to be an illustration or visible proof that God would one day return the people of Judah to the land.

In today’s chapter, we see God commanding Jeremiah to make a yoke, like that used with oxen in order to plow fields. But this yoke was to be sized to fit Jeremiah’s neck. And he was commanded by God to wear this yoke as a visual aid to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Their ambassadors had come to see King Zedekiah in Jerusalem and Jeremiah was to deliver to them a message from God.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up. Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon. So you must submit to Babylon’s king and serve him; put your neck under Babylon’s yoke! I will punish any nation that refuses to be his slave, says the Lord. I will send war, famine, and disease upon that nation until Babylon has conquered it. – Jeremiah 27:4-8 NLT

These nations, just like Judah, were expected by God to submit to His will for them. He had ordained that Babylon would conquer not only Judah, but also the surrounding nations. Each of the ambassadors represented a nation which had lengthy ties to Israel as either a vassal-state or ally, dating all the way back to King David. At one point, they had all been enemies of Israel. And now, God was warning them that they too would be subject to His will. But as the yoke around Jeremiah’s neck suggested, they would have to submit to God’s will for them. If they chose to reject God’s will, they would suffer greatly, just as Judah would. God warns these men to return home and deliver His message to their respective kings, and to refrain from listening to the false words of their sorcerers, wise men, magicians and fortune-tellers who would try to contradict God’s word. Jeremiah delivered God’s ultimatum to them:

“But the people of any nation that submits to the king of Babylon will be allowed to stay in their own country to farm the land as usual. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 27:11 NLT

Submit and survive. The will of God was going to be done. You could either come under it or be devastated by it. The will of God is not just for the people of God, but for all mankind. He rules over all. He has plans that include all men and women of all nations. And while anyone is free to resist the divine will of God, they can never prevent His will from taking place. The entire promised land and everyone who lived in it, including the Edomites, Moabites, Amonites, as well as the residents of Tyre and Sidon, would find themselves subject to God’s will. They would all feel the wrath of God as exhibited through the might of the Babylonians. And they could submit to God’s will by subjecting themselves to the Babylonian’s rule and remain in the land, or they could resist and suffer the consequences.

And Jeremiah reminds the people of Judah that they too will need to submit. Years earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Judah and conquered the city of Jerusalem. He had not destroyed it at that time, but had plundered the city and taken many of its residents captive.

Nebuchadnezzar took from there all the riches in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He removed all the gold items which King Solomon of Israel had made for the Lord’s temple, just as the Lord had warned. He deported all the residents of Jerusalem, including all the officials and all the soldiers (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen and those who worked with metal. No one was left except for the poorest among the people of the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

Now, Jeremiah warns King Zedekiah and the people of Judah that they must subject themselves to the reign of Nebuchadnezzar or face complete destruction for their resistance to the will of God. If they will willingly place themselves under the yoke of God, they will survive and one day see the return of the captives to the land, along with all the treasures of the temple that had been taken by the Babylonians. The yoke of God appears difficult to bear, but in the long-run His will is always best.

Jesus used the imagery of the yoke when speaking to the people of Israel in His day. He told them:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Submission to the will of God appears difficult, but always proves the right choice. It is interesting that Jesus promises relief from burdens by offering a yoke, an instrument designed for bearing burdens. A yoke was an instrument of work, designed for the oxen to accomplish the will of the farmer. But if they would submit to the yoke, they would find their work was much easier. Fighting the yoke would only make the burden more difficult and the work, more painful. God’s will is always best.

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