Faithful to the End.

The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, said: “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, declares the Lord.

“But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
    to which I have driven you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”Jeremiah 46:25-28 ESV

Fear not. That seems to be a strange statement for God to make after all that He has said concerning the fate of Egypt and all those from Judah who had fled there. But in these closing verses of chapter 46, He says it twice.

“But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity. – Jeremiah 46:27 ESV

Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
    for I am with you. – Jeremiah 46:28 ESV

His words are meant for the nation of Israel, providing them with two messages of encouragement. He would save them and He was with them. This is meant to be a reassurance that God, in spite of Israel’s ongoing disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him, would one day restore them to prominence and to their position as His chosen people. The day would come when He would return them “from the land of their captivity” (vs 27) and promises them that a life filled with “quiet and ease” (vs 27). While this promise is partially fulfilled in the return of the people from captivity in Babylon under the leadership of Ezra and Zerubabbel, it is most likely a reference a the much-more future period of time after Christ has returns to the earth and reestablishes the nation of Israel in the land of Canaan. Jeremiah prophesied about this event earlier in his book.

“For the time is coming,”
    says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
    from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
    ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
    and Israel will live in safety.” – Jeremiah 23:5-6 NLT

Christ will set up His kingdom on earth and establish His throne in the city of Jerusalem. And God will see to it that the people of Israel, spread all over the world at that time, will return to the land of promise, to sit under the rule and reign of Christ. God has a plan for the people of Israel, because He has made a covenant promise with them that He must and will fulfill. He will not break or fail to keep His covenant. In spite of their unfaithfulness, they remain His chosen people and He remains their God. And in that day, God will do for the Israelites what they could never have done for themselves. He will give them clean hearts, remove their sin, and provide them with a new capacity to serve Him faithfully.

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.

“And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior.” – Ezekiel 36:24-29 NLT

But God is also going to restore the nation of Egypt. Unlike the nations of Babylon and Assyria, whom God would ultimately destroy for their treatment of Israel and Judah, God would reestablish Egypt. And this promise too, seems to be a reference to a future restoration that has yet to happen. The prophet, Isaiah, provides us with a glimpse what God is going to do at some future, as-yet-to-be-revealed date.

At that time five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord who commands armies. One will be called the City of the Sun. At that time there will be an altar for the Lord in the middle of the land of Egypt, as well as a sacred pillar dedicated to the Lord at its border. It will become a visual reminder in the land of Egypt of the Lord who commands armies. When they cry out to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a deliverer and defender who will rescue them. The Lord will reveal himself to the Egyptians, and they will acknowledge the Lord’s authority at that time. They will present sacrifices and offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and fulfill them. The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and then healing them. They will turn to the Lord and he will listen to their prayers and heal them. – Isaiah 19:18-22 NLT

Egypt had never been an enemy of Israel. In fact, Egypt had been a place of refuge for the people of Israel for centuries. Abraham himself had fled there to escape a famine in the land. Egypt had become the new home to Joseph after he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. It was there that he became the second-most-highest official in the land. And it was there that his father and brothers went to purchase much-needed food during yet another famine in Canaan. And at Joseph’s invitation, his father and brothers would move their families to Egypt to escape the famine. It was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary fled with the baby Jesus in order to escape the wrath of King Herod. And while the people of Judah in Jeremiah’s day had fled to Egypt for safety, they had done so without God’s consent. They had blatantly violated His command to remain in the land of Judah. And they would suffer the consequences. God makes it quite clear in this passage that He is obligated, because of His justice and holiness, to punish disobedience.

“…I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you, but with justice;
    I cannot let you go unpunished.” – Jeremiah 46:28 NLT

They would suffer because of their sin. The people of the northern kingdom of Israel were in captivity in Assyria. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah had just been taken captives to Babylon. And they would remain there for 70 years, until God miraculously arranged for their return to the land. But that return would be incomplete. Yes, they would rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple, but they would never be able to restore Israel to its former glory. They would have no king. They would still be defenseless and easy prey to the stronger nations around them. Eventually, they would find themselves occupied by the Romans. And that was the state of affairs when Jesus came to earth the first time. But when He returns again, He will restore Jerusalem to its former glory once and for all. He will set up His kingdom on earth.

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom
    and all the nations I have called to be mine.”
The Lord has spoken,
    and he will do these things.

“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
    than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel
    will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God. – Amos 9:11-15 NLT

We serve a faithful God. He is a promise-keeping God who never fails to do all that He has said. When He warns of judgment, it comes. When He promises restoration, it takes place. When He says that His Son will one day return, you can count on it. When He tells the people of Israel that they are His own. He means it.

God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
 – Numbers 23:29 NLT

In a world where nothing is reliable and no one is trustworthy, we have a God who is faithful, just and true. His promises never fall short. His word never fails.

 

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
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I Will Quietly Wait.

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
    and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
    rays flashed from his hand;
    and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
    he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
    the everlasting hills sank low.
    His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
    the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
    who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
    rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:1-16 ESV

How many times has your response to hearing from God been to sing? That what Habakkuk did. When the prophet heard that God’s plan included the use of the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah for their sins against Him, but that He would also bring destruction on Babylon, Habakkuk sang. Or at least he wrote words that were later turned into a psalm of praise. Even though Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians were going to be God’s chosen instrument of judgment against the people of Judah, he rejoiced in the fact that God was merciful and had no plans to do away with His people – even though they deserved it.

Habakkuk opens up his prayer with an acknowledgement of God’s greatness. He admits that he has heard about the greatness of God. As a young boy growing up in a Hebrew home, he would have heard the stories of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. He would have known well the story of the Israelites miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and their many God-ordained victories that led to their occupation of the Promised Land. Habakkuk would have been well-verses in the history of the people of Israel and God’s sovereign work among them. So, knowing what he knew about God in the past, he appeals to God to so the same thing in the present.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by.
And in your anger,
    remember your mercy. – Habakkkuk 3:2b NLT

Habakkuk knew that God was angry with the sins of the people of Judah. That was the whole reason He was bringing the Babylonians against them. He was doing to them what He had done to the northern kingdom of Israel. He had punished them for the wickedness and rebellion by bringing the Assyrians against them. Because of their worship of idols and stubborn rejection of Him as their God, He allowed them to fall at the hands of their enemy and be taken into captivity. And now, God had revealed to Habakkuk that He was going to do the same thing to Judah, but this time, using the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment. But Habakkuk pleads for mercy. He knew God was just in what He was going to do, but appealed to His grace and mercy, asking Him to deliver His people, just as He had done in the past.

The next thing Habakkuk does is describe what it must have been like when God delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt. He says, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran” (Habakkuk 3:3 ESV). Teman was located in Edom and Mount Paran was nearby. They were east of Egypt and Habakkuk describes God as having come from that direction as He approached His people in order to deliver them. Habakkuk describes God as having a brightness like light. This is most likely a reference to God’s shekinah glory. This Hebrew word was used to describe God’s visible presence as displayed in a form of light or other natural manifestation. When the people left Egypt, they were led by God, who revealed Himself to them in a tangible form that was to give them confidence and courage.

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:20-22 ESV

Habakkuk also recalls what it must have been like when God descended upon Mount Sinai in order to give His people the law.

When he stops, the earth shakes.
    When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
    and levels the eternal hills.
    He is the Eternal One! – Habakkuk 3:6 NLT

God had revealed Himself to the people of Israel in an unforgettable fashion. His glory had been literally earth-shaking and fear-inducing.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled. Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:16-19 NLT

To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the Lord appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. – Exodus 24:17 NLT

Habakkuk also recalls God’s power as displayed in the ten plagues that He used against the people of Egypt, forcing them to let the people of Israel go.

Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels. – Habakkuk 3:5 ESV

God is all powerful. His majesty and might are incomparable. He controls the heavens and His very presence shakes the earth. Egypt was no match for Him. And Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians would also find themselves unequal to the task of trying to stand against God.

Those nations that witnessed the Israelites’ divinely ordained departure from Egypt would have been amazed at what they witnessed. The Israelites, nothing more than slaves, had somehow defeated one of the world’s greatest powers and walked out of Egypt without firing an arrow or throwing a single spear. It had been a divine deliverance, complete with the parting of the Red Sea. This miraculous event, as well as the God’s of the waters of the Nile into blood, are both referenced here by Habakkuk.

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea? – Habakkuk 3:8 ESV

This rhetorical question was Habakkuk’s way of stating that God’s anger was directed against those two bodies of water, but they were simply instruments or weapons in His hands. He used them to accomplish His will, much like a soldier uses his sword or spear. Habakkuk describes God in all His might and majesty, using metaphors that provide the reader with a sense of God’s awe and power. The mountains shake. The sun and moon stand still. All nature stands in awe of God. The entire created order is nothing compared to the greatness and grandeur of God.

All of this imagery is Habakkuk’s feeble attempt to describe the power and sovereignty of God. And it causes him to fear and tremble. But he says, “I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us” (Habakkuk 3:16 NLT). Habakkuk was putting His faith in the God of the past and trusting Him to be the God of the future. He was placing His faith in God’s consistency of character and proven track record of faithfulness. God had proven Himself powerful enough. God had repeatedly shown Himself more than faithful enough. And that was enough for Habakkuk to place his hope and trust in God.

 

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

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

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

Live By Faith.

I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
 

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
    an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
    and collects as his own all peoples.” Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV

Habakkuk has asked God two primary questions so far: “When?” and “Why?” In responding to Habakkuk’s first question, God simply told the prophet how He was going to deal with the violence and iniquity taking place in Judah: He would send the Babylonians. That news led Habakkuk to question why God would ever consider using a pagan nation to do His bidding, especially to punish His own people. And now, the indignant prophet tells God that he is going to sit and wait for God’s answer, like a guard standing in the watchtower on the battlements of a city wall. And Habakkuk is fully prepared to continue his dialogue with God if the answer if the answer he received is not to his liking. He seems to warn God that his response will be dictated by what God has to say to him.

And, as before, God answered Habakkuk. He tells the prophet that he will receive a vision and that he is to put it in writing on tablets. He is to write it clearly and legibly so that whoever reads it can run and tell others what he has seen. The vision will involve future events. In other words, it will be prophetic in nature, but it will all take place. Knowing Habakkuk’s tendency toward impatience, God tells him, “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed” (Habakkuk 2:3 NLT). It’s as good as done. And by having Habakkuk write the details concerning the vision in stone or clay tablets, God emphasizes the permanence and inescapable nature of what is to come.

The author of the book of Hebrews quotes from this verse in an attempt to encourage the believers in his day to remain faithful to the end and trust God for what He has promised to do.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” – Hebrews 10:35-37 ESV

God is always faithful to keep His word. What He says He will do, He will do. He keeps His promises. And the author of Hebrews goes on to say, quoting from verses four of Habakkuk chapter two: “but my righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV).

God now gives the prophet His vision of what is to come. He speaks of the unrighteous and the righteous, the faithful and the unfaithful – those who trust in themselves and those who place their trust in God.

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT

The apostle Paul will also quote this verse on two different occasions, emphasizing the “righteous”.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” – Galatians 3:11-12 ESV

Paul used the words of God given to Habakkuk the prophet to emphasize and promote the key to righteousness before God. It is based on faith in God and faithfulness to God. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah had not been faithful to God. They had turned from Him time and time again. They, like their northern neighbors in Israel, had worshiped false gods and proven themselves to be unfaithful to the God who had chosen them and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. They had turned their back on the one who had given them the great king, David. The land in which they lived had been the result of God’s gracious provision for them. And yet, they had filled it with idols.

And, to provide Habakkuk with a symbol of unrighteousness run rampant, God tells him to look at Babylon. They are the epitome of arrogance and pride. They are puffed up by their military success and their many conquests. They trust more in themselves than they do in God. In fact, they don’t trust in Yahweh at all. They have their own gods whom they worship and give credit for their many victories in battle. And they use their growing wealth as proof of their gods’ divine blessings. The word in verse five should probably be “wealth” and not ”wine”. Most of the more reliable manuscripts contain “wealth” and it would make more sense given the context. The New Living Translation renders verse five this way:

Wealth is treacherous,
    and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
    and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples.

The greed of the Babylonians was insatiable. They couldn’t get enough. They were never satisfied with their conquests or the plunder they provided. They were the ultimate consumers, swallowing up everyone and everything in their path. They lived by what they could see, take, and enjoy. They lived by sight and immediate gratification. But God tells Habakkuk that the righteous are to live by faith. Faith in what? In God. The people of Judah were to put their hope and confidence in the God of their ancestors. He had proven Himself faithful time and time again, and He would do so again. The righteous are those who place their faith in God, not money, military might, false gods, other nations, or any other earthly resource. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). The people of Judah would live through what was coming, but they would have to trust God with the results. They would survive the coming of the Babylonians and their deportment as slaves. The righteous would be those who kept trusting in the faithfulness of God – in spite of the circumstances that surrounded them.

Too often, our faith and our faithfulness is based on our circumstances, not on God and His faithfulness. We take a look at what is happening around us and to us, and begin to doubt our God. We question His faithfulness because we don’t like what is happening to us. We doubt His love because we can’t fathom how a loving God would allow us to experience what we are going through. But God would have us remember that the righteous live by faith. And Paul would have us remember that the righteous are those who endure because they know their God can be trusted.

God is trying to remind Habakkuk that his hope is to be in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to trust in the God of David – the covenant keeping God who never fails to keep His promises and fulfill His commitment to His people. Just because the Babylonians were coming did not mean that God was done with Judah or turning His back on them. The book of Numbers gives us some powerful words of reminder concerning our God.

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

God can be trusted. So, as His people, we are to put our trust in Him. The righteous belong to Him and rely upon Him. They do not circumstances dictate or determine their trust. They don’t let the presence of bad times diminish the goodness of their God. They accept the good and the bad as having come from the hand of a loving, faithful God who knows what He is doing and whose plan for them can always be trusted. Like Job, we need to be able to say, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT). God was going to do something great for the people of Judah. But first, they would have to experience something painful and inexplicable. Yet, they were to keep their faith in God. He was not done yet.

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

His Way Is Perfect.

“He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to my cleanness in his sight.

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
For you are my lamp, O Lord,
    and my God lightens my darkness.
For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”  – 2 Samuel 22:17-31 ESV

 

This section of David’s psalm contains an interesting contrast. In it we will see David continue to exalt His God, while at the same time, seemingly praising himself for his own blamelessness, guiltlessness and righteousness. At first blush, it would appear that David is bragging about something he has no right to claim. Even if this psalm was written in the early days of his reign, immediately after the fall of Saul, David was far from a sinless man. And yet he claims, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right; he restored me because of my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:21 NLT). But wait, there’s more. “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not turned from my God to follow evil” (2 Samuel 22:22 NLT). And then he audaciously claims, “I am blameless before God; I have kept myself from sin” (2 Samuel 22:24 NLT). What is going on here? Is David delusional or simply suffering from an overactive sense of self-worth? One of the things we have to remember is that this passage is virtually identical to Psalm 22, written in the early days of David’s reign. This chapter opened with the descriptor: “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” So this is very early on in his career as king. So context is critical to understanding what David is either saying or claiming. When we read the word, “blameless,” we tend to interpret it as meaning sinless. But it is a word that speaks of integrity of heart or wholeness of character. David was simply saying that he was rescued by God because he had done nothing to deserve God’s displeasure or punishment. David’s suffering under the hand of Saul had not been due to his own sinfulness. He had been the innocent victim of Saul’s anger and jealousy against him. When this psalm had originally been written, David had been coming off years of life as a fugitive, under constant threat of losing his life because of Saul’s hatred for him. And when David writes, “The Lord rewarded me for doing right. He has seen my innocence” (2 Samuel 22:25 NLT), he is simply acknowledging that he had done nothing to deserve his suffering. He had been given two opportunities to take Saul’s life and had refused to do so, out of respect for the Lord’s anointed. He had feared God more than he he despised his own circumstances. David had a clear conscience before God.

But this psalm is less about David than it is about God. It is an acknowledgement that God was all-knowing and fully aware of the circumstances surrounding David’s life. David’s suffering had not been the result of his own sin, but the divine will of a sovereign, all-powerful God. He had seen David’s plight and heard his cries, and He had responded. He had rescued. He had shown Himself faithful to David because David had remained faithful to Him. He had responded to David with integrity because David had shown himself to be a man of integrity. Not all the time. Not every moment of his life. But within the particular context in which this psalm was originally written.

What makes this psalm so interesting is its placement at the close of Second Samuel and at the end of David’s life. It had been written early on in his life, but reappears here when David’s reign in coming to an end. It reflects a reality that David had experienced in his life, but that had not been true every moment of his life. We know of his sin with Bathsheba. We are well aware of the murder of Uriah. We have read about his many faults and failings. David was not always a man of integrity. He didn’t always do the right thing or react in the proper manner. He didn’t always seek God or rely on Him for help. Sometimes he took matters into his own hands. But David did know that, in principle, God rescues the humble, rewards the righteous, and restores the innocent.

But David’s point in all of this is to exalt God, not himself. He is simply trying to state an indisputable reality when it comes to God’s relationship with men. He doesn’t reward the wicked. He doesn’t smile down on the prideful. He refuses to forgive the sins of the wicked, as long as they remain unrepentant and self-reliant. David states, “God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection” That had been David’s experience. He had seen it proven true in his own life. At no point along the way, could David point his finger at God and accuse of Him of dealing falsely or faithlessly with him. God’s way is perfect, even when David’s way was not. God had always dealt faithfully with David. And we have seen that to be the case all along the way as his life’s story has unfolded before us. Even when David had sinned, God had dealt with him lovingly and faithfully. God had repeatedly rescued and restored him. Yes, David had suffered for his sins. He had been forced to endure the consequences of his disobedience to God. But nowhere along the way had God proven unfaithful, unloving or unwilling to keep His promises to David. His ways are perfect. All His promises prove true. He is there when we seek for Him. But He is also there when we fail to recognize or rely upon Him. David may have left God on occasion, but God had not left David.

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

Divine Detours and Delays.

Then Jacob set out from Beersheba. The sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt.

Now these are the names of the descendants of Israel, who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and the sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman. The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. The sons of Issachar: Tola, Puvah, Yob, and Shimron. The sons of Zebulun: Sered, Elon, and Jahleel. These are the sons of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, together with his daughter Dinah; altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three.

The sons of Gad: Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli. The sons of Asher: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, with Serah their sister. And the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. These are the sons of Zilpah, whom Laban gave to Leah his daughter; and these she bore to Jacob—sixteen persons.

The sons of Rachel, Jacob’s wife: Joseph and Benjamin. And to Joseph in the land of Egypt were born Manasseh and Ephraim, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, bore to him. And the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim, and Ard. These are the sons of Rachel, who were born to Jacob—fourteen persons in all.

The son of Dan: Hushim. The sons of Naphtali: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah, whom Laban gave to Rachel his daughter, and these she bore to Jacob—seven persons in all.

All the persons belonging to Jacob who came into Egypt, who were his own descendants, not including Jacob’s sons’ wives, were sixty-six persons in all. And the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt, were two. All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy. Genesis 46:5-27

Beersheba was a place of significance for Jacob and his family. Years earlier, his grandfather, Abraham had planted a tree there and worshipped Yahweh.

Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, the Eternal God. – Genesis 21:23 NLT

Jacob’s father, Issac, would also meet with God at Beersheba. It was there he dug a well and built an altar to Yahweh.

From there Isaac moved to Beersheba, where the Lord appeared to him on the night of his arrival. “I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.” Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. He set up his camp at that place, and his servants dug another well. – Genesis 26:23-25 NLT

So when Jacob begins his journey to Egypt, he does so by going first to Beersheba, which was in the southern part of the land of Canaan. “So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1 ESV). And while he was there, Jacob was visited by God.

God spoke to Israel in a vision during the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” He replied, “Here I am!” He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there. Joseph will close your eyes.” – Genesis 46:2-4 NLT

It is likely that part of Jacob’s reticence about going to Egypt stemmed from his awareness of a part of God’s promise to Abraham that we rarely talk about. Yes, God had promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan and to make of him a great nation, but there was a second part to the promise that rarely gets discussed. But Jacob would have been aware of it and couldn’t help but fear that his move to Egypt was the beginning of this part of the promise being fulfilled.

Then the Lord said to Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

That is why God told Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” God was going to go with them. He was still going to make of them a great nation. And four generations later, He would bring them back to the land of Canaan. At just the right time. This was all part of God’s plan. It had always been a part of God’s plan. And it is why Abraham’s attempt to escape famine and flee to Egypt had been premature and not ordained by God. It is why God commanded Isaac not to go to Egypt when he faced yet another famine. God had a perfect timing to His plan. The land of Egypt was going to play a significant role in the salvation and establishment of the nation of Israel. It would be in this foreign land that God would bless Israel and multiply them. The book of Exodus opens with the following words:

These are the names of the sons of Israel (that is, Jacob) who moved to Egypt with their father, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. In all, Jacob had seventy descendants in Egypt, including Joseph, who was already there. In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land. – Exodus 1:1-7 NLT

The estimates are, that by the end of their 400-year stay in Egypt, the Israelites numbered in the millions. They had multiplied significantly. God had blessed them dramatically. But it had all begun with one young man’s betrayal and sale into slavery. It had taken the highly unlikely rise of this young man to the second-most powerful position in the land of Egypt. It had involved a seven-year long famine and the relocation of an entire family from Canaan to Egypt. But God had accomplished it all, exactly as He had planned.

Too often, we mistakenly focus on the outcome of God’s promises, while neglecting to understand that God is free to fulfill His promises in any way He sees fit. Jacob was not excited about the prospect of moving his entire family to Egypt. He was not looking forward to the prospect of 400 years of slavery for his descendants. But to receive the blessings of God sometimes requires that we endure the trials and sufferings that come along the way. Joseph had to be sold into slavery. He had to suffer a false accusation of rape and endure unjustified imprisonment. He had to go through two years in prison while waiting for God’s timing to free him. But when all was said and done, Joseph found himself in the unique and privileged position of being the God-ordained means for saving the people of Israel.

The fulfillment of God’s promises sometimes require what appear to be unnecessary detours and delays. God has promised us eternal life and a permanent place in His Kingdom. But in the meantime, we find ourselves going through our own journeys into Egypt, long periods of seeming enslavement and difficulty, and the painful experience of trials that appear to have no point to them. But God is faithful. His promises are true. His methods are always right. And His presence is guaranteed, whether we are in Canaan or Egypt. “I will go down with you to Egypt and I myself will certainly bring you back from there” (Genesis 46:4 NLT).

What God Is About To Do.

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:25-36 ESV

If you were going to have to interpret the dreams of the most powerful man in the world, wouldn’t you prefer that you have something positive to share? Nobody likes to hear bad news, especially someone like Pharaoh, who was probably used to having everyone around him tell him what he wanted to hear. But Joseph gave Pharaoh the truth, telling him, “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:28 ESV). According to God’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s two dreams, there was only one meaning. There was going to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine. The seven years of agricultural bounty would be completely consumed when the famine came. And as if that news was not bad enough, Joseph tells Pharaoh, “the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32 ESV).

This is going to be a divine act. Which brings us back to the issue of God’s timing. Why had Joseph had to stay in prison for two years? Why had God waited all that time before causing Pharaoh to have his dreams? It was all part of His divine plan and according to His perfect timing. At just the right time, Pharaoh had his dreams. At just the right time, the cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him in the prison. At just the right time, Joseph was brought from the prison to the palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. And it would prove perfect timing, not only for Joseph but for the land of Egypt. The events foretold in Pharaoh’s dreams were about to take place. And Joseph gives him some very sound counsel:

“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.” – Genesis 41:33-36 NLT

The passage doesn’t say this, but it seems clear that Joseph’s counsel to Pharaoh had been given to him by God. This was not some off-the-cuff advice that Joseph threw in for free. It was part of the interpretation. God had shown Pharaoh what He was about to do. Now He was telling Pharaoh what he should do to prepare for the inevitable. Honestly, I doubt that Joseph had any idea that the words coming out of his mouth were in reference to himself. That kind of grandstanding doesn’t fit the kind of character he has displayed throughout the story so far. Joseph wasn’t trying to audition for a job. We know that he was a hard worker, a good manager of the affairs of others, and had a track record of having God’s hand of blessing on his life. But there is no indication that Joseph was trying to get out of jail by jockeying for a role in the royal cabinet. He was simply sharing the words of God. The remarkable advice he gave Pharaoh was divinely inspired, not the result of human discernment. God was giving ample warning about the events to come and the steps to prepare for them. The famine had a divine purpose behind it. So did the seven years of plenty. But only those who heeded the Lord’s counsel and followed His prescribed steps of preparation would survive. And survival was at the heart of God’s message. This famine would be widespread and have an impact far beyond the borders of Egypt. And God was preparing the land of Egypt to be His divine resource for rescuing the descendants of Abraham and fulfilling His promises to them.

So often, the ways of God make no sense to us. His methods appear to be convoluted and confusing. We wonder why He does things the way He does. We question His reasoning and complain about His timing. Whether we intend to or not, when we doubt the ways of God, we are really questioning the wisdom of God. And He has some fairly strong words for those who raise questions about His wisdom.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” – Job 36:2-3 NLT

This statement was addressed to Job, who had been through a great deal of suffering and loss. He had some legitimate questions about all that had happened to him. He was confused by all the pain and persecution he had endured. And his confusion caused him to lash out at God, questioning His ways and raising doubts about His wisdom. So God had a few questions of His own for Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” – Job 36:4 NLT

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?” – Job 36:12 NLT

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths?” – Job 36:16 NLT

“Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct?” – Job 36:34-35 NLT

God’s questions to Job are numerous and come in relentless waves. Then He adds one last question: “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2 NLT).

We may not understand God’s ways, but we have no right to question His wisdom. He is God Almighty. He is the creator of all things. He is the God of the universe. His wisdom is beyond our comprehension. His methods are too much for our minds to grasp. But we can know this. He is all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving. He knows what He is doing and what He does is always right.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT

 

Faith Is Not A Commodity.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV

The line, “even when she was past the age” is a bit of an understatement. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was way past the age of being able to conceive. She was close to her nineties and, on top of that, she was barren. We read in Genesis 18, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Genesis 18:11 ESV). And when they were given the news from God that they were going to have a son, both Sarah and Abraham expressed doubt. When God had told Abraham that he would make the father of a great nation, Abraham’s response was, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 ESV). The only solution Abraham could see was using one of his household servants as an heir. Sarah’s solution was to give Abraham her Egyptian household servant to impregnate. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). And, of course, Abraham took her up on her offer. But God had other plans and informed Abraham once again what He intended to do. “I will bless her [Sarah], and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:6 ESV). Abraham’s response? He laughed. And he said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). But God confirmed His promise and assured Abraham that the impossible would happen. Some time later, when God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, God gave him exciting news. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). And Sarah, eavesdropping at the door to the tent, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 17:12 ESV). She had doubts, reservations, and a bit of a hard time seeing how any of this was going to happen. The circumstances surrounding her life seemed to strongly contradict what God was saying.

And yet, Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.” This seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news of God’s plan. Both came up with alternative options, plan B’s, to help God out. And yet it says that Sarah had faith. I think the problem is that we tend to put the emphasis on Sarah’s faith, rather than the object of her faith. It says that by faith she received the power to conceive. All Sarah could do was trust the power. Her faith did not bring the power into existence or make the results of that power come about. She had to stop trying to do things on her own and simply rest in the power of God’s promise. She had to take her eyes off the circumstances, her old age and barren condition, and trust God. It was by faith that Sarah had to wait for the miracle of conception and the fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember how this chapter started out. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Genesis 11:1 ESV). Sarah had longed and hoped for a child for decades. She had desperately desired to have a baby, but had been forced to give up on that dream because of her condition. But when God promised to give she and Abraham a child, she had one recourse: to take what God said by faith. She was forced to trust God. He was going to do what He had promised to do and He was not going to accept any alternative solution, no matter how well-intentioned. Eleazar and Ishmael would not suffice. Adoption was not an option. Sarah was going to have to trust God. And so it says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.”

Sarah had to come to grips with the fact that God was faithful and that He was powerful. He had the character and the power to back up what He said. And it says she “considered him faithful who had promised.” After all her conniving, doubting, whining and self-sufficient planning, Sarah determined to trust God. She decided to put her faith in the one who had promised. And in God’s perfect timing, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2 ESV). She placed her faith in God and He came through. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:6-7 ESV). Sarah’s faith did not make any of this happen. Her faith was simply a confidence and conviction that the one who promised it would happen had the power to make it happen. She put her hopes in His hands. She put her fears and doubts on His shoulders. She quit worrying and started believing. She stopped trying to take matters into her own hands and  left them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God. Our problem is not that we don’t believe what God has promised, it is that we somehow think He needs our help in bringing it about. Faith is about giving up and resting on God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. It is about reliance upon His power, instead of our own. It involves putting our hope in God rather than allowing the circumstances surrounding us to suck the hope out of us. Faith is less a commodity than it is a state of being. It is a place to which we come when we are ready to take God at His word and rest in the reality of His power to do what He has promised. “Therefore from one man [and woman], and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

An Anchor For the Soul.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrew 6:13-20 ESV

Living as a believer in this fallen world requires hope. Hope in something far greater to come. Hope in the reality of heaven and hope in God’s promise to His children that He will one day make our eternity a reality. To emphasize the faithfulness of God and the reliability of His promise, the author used Abraham as a case in point. He reminds his readers that Abraham had been give a promise by God to bless and multiply him. But Abraham had to wait a long time for that promise to be fulfilled. It would be 25 years before Isaac was born, and all during that time, Abraham had to deal with the very real fact that he and his wife were not getting any younger and she was no less barren than when the promise was made. When the promise of God was finally fulfilled and Isaac was born, Abraham rejoiced in the faithfulness of God. He had come through for them. He had done the impossible and given Abraham and Sarah a son and heir, in spite of their old age and her barrenness. But not too many years later, God commanded Abraham to take his son, the very one he had so long waited for, and offer him up as a sacrifice. And Abraham obeyed. How? Why? Because he had faith in God. When Isaac asked his father, “where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7 NLT), Abraham was able to confidently answer, “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8 NLT). His answer did not necessarily mean he believed God was going to provide a replacement or stand-in for his son, but that he trusted God fully and completely in what He was asking him to do. Later on in this same letter, in chapter 11, the Great Hall of Faith, the author will explain more fully what was going on in Abraham’s mind at that moment.

It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. – Hebrews 11:17-19 NLT

Abraham trusted in the character of God. He knew he could trust God and that even if he had to go through with the sacrifice of Isaac, God was powerful enough to raise his son from the dead. God was going to fulfill His promise and Isaac was key to that happening. When Abraham had shown God that he was willing to obey His command fully, God intervened. He sent an angel to stop Abraham from killing Isaac and provided a ram as a substitute sacrifice. Then God said to Abraham, “Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18 NLT). In swearing by His own name, God was emphasizing that His promises were based on His very nature or character. He is trustworthy, faithful, unchanging, powerful, and loving. He can be trusted. “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.
” (2 Timothy 2:13 NLT). 

God had made a promise and an oath. These two unchangeable things were the basis of Abraham’s hope. He kept waiting and relying upon the promise of God that had been sealed with the oath of God. He knew His God could be trusted to fulfill all that He had promised. And that is the author’s message to us. Because it is impossible for God to lie, “we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. ” (Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT). We have been promised eternal life through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. We have placed our hope and faith in Him as the means by which we can inherit eternal life. But we must maintain our confidence even in times of testing. We must keep hoping in the promise made to us by God through His Son. Periods of spiritual barrenness should not defeat us. Delays as to His return should not demoralize us. God has promised and He can be trusted, because He does not lie. We have a firm anchor for our souls, even in the storms of life. Jesus, our high priest, has gone on ahead of us and He intercedes for us with God the Father on a daily basis. He is the anchor to which our souls must hold firm, no matter what happens around us. He not only saved us, He is sanctifying us, and one day He will return to redeem and glorify us.

This passage always brings to mind the words of an old hymn. It sums up well the message found in this passage.

In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the One;
This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

Our Faithful God.

 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. – Romans 11:16-24 ESV

Dough. Firstfruits. Olive trees. Roots. Broken branches. What is Paul’s point in all of this? What is he trying to tell us? We must remember that he has been talking about the current and future fate of Israel. God had chosen them as His special possession. But they had rejected Jesus as their Messiah. As a result, they were passed over by God and His message of salvation was taken to the Gentiles. And yet, God had chosen for some Jews to believe in Jesus as their Messiah and form a remnant, a sort of firstfruits or offering that would consecrate or make holy the rest of the nation. Paul was using a reference to the command of God given to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the land of promise. He told them, “When you arrive in the land where I am taking you, and you eat the crops that grow there, you must set some aside as a sacred offering to the Lord. Present a cake from the first of the flour you grind, and set it aside as a sacred offering, as you do with the first grain from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come, you are to present a sacred offering to the Lord each year from the first of your ground flour” (Numbers 15:18-21 NLT). In his commentary on Romans, Donald Grey Barnhouse explains:

In order to understand this we must first realize that throughout the Old Testament the word “holy” has a special meaning. In the Old Testament “holy” means “separated from profane uses, consecrated to God.” In the use of the allusion as found in our text, Paul is saying that if the whole nation of Israel was originally set apart for God by the call of Abraham and the giving of the covenant promises to him, then the individuals of the race of Abraham also have a special relationship to God. This does not mean that they are personally holy, for some of them are even accursed; but it does mean that the members of the ancient race have been chosen by God and they will be brought to fulfill His purposes. – Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans

The nation of Israel was holy to God. He had set them apart, not because of anything they had done or deserved, but simply out of His sovereign will. Moses had made this perfectly clear to them. “For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT). And in Paul’s day, because God was bringing some Jews to faith, they were evidence of God’s continuing favor upon the nation of Israel. He had not completely abandoned them. In fact, Paul goes on to stress the non-debatable necessity of the nation of Israel in the grand scheme of God.

He switches analogies and begins to talk about trees, root and branches. He specifically refers to the olive tree, which was representative of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Hosea 14:4-6; Jeremiah 11:16-17). The root to which Paul refers most likely represents Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. He had been hand-picked by God and ordained to be the father of the nation of Israel and the means by which God would bless the nations of the world. From Abraham, the root, came the trunk and the branches of Israel. And because Abraham was holy and set apart for God, so was the rest of the tree. But some of the branches of that tree had been broken off by God. And the branches from “wild” or uncultivated olive trees were grafted in. Gentiles were made a part of the family of God, not because they deserved it, but out of the mercy and kindness of God. And Paul reminds the Gentiles, “remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18 ESV). Our faith as believing Gentiles is dependent upon the promises of God made to Abraham. We are not better or superior than the Jews. And we are not to look down our noses in pride at unbelieving Jews. In fact, Paul would have us see our position as one with them. He told the believers in Ephesus, “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family” (Ephesians 2:19 NLT).

God is not done with Israel. He has not abandoned them. If He can graft in to the root of Abraham branches from “wild” olive trees, He can certainly graft back in those branches that have broken off. In fact, Paul states, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23 ESV). God’s promises to Israel still stand and He will fulfill them all – in His time and according to His perfect will. God’s unwavering faithfulness to Israel should encourage us. It is a reminder of just how loving, faithful and trustworthy our God really is. What He says, He will do. What He promises, He will ensure takes place. His decision to take the gospel to the Gentiles was not a plan B. It was not done because the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. It was all part of God’s overall, sovereign and perfect plan A. Everything is working according to that plan. He is blessing all the nations of the earth through the offspring of Abraham, and one day He is going to bless the nation of Israel by sending His Son again and setting up His Kingdom on earth in Jerusalem and reestablishing His chosen people to their rightful place.

God’s Amazing Grace.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. – Romans 11:1-6 ESV

Is God done with Israel? Has their rejection of His Son as their Messiah put them on His permanent “naughty” list and denied them of any opportunity to be restored to a right relationship with Him? Paul would say confidently and emphatically, “No!” And he used himself as living proof. If God was done with Israel, Paul would never have come to know Christ as His Savior. And Paul goes on to argue that he and the other believing Jews in his audience were not the last of their kind. He used the story of the prophet, Elijah to drive home his point. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and, as a result, come under the wrath of the wicked queen, Jezebel. She put a bounty on his head and Elijah was forced to run for his life. When God confronted Elijah and asked him what he was doing, Elijah responded: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10 ESV). Two times in the narrative, Elijah and God had this conversation. Then God informed him, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18 ESV). In other words, God knew something Elijah didn’t know. He was not the last man standing. He was not alone. There were others who, like Elijah, had refused to abandon God.  

And Paul’s conclusion was, “So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (Romans 11:5 ESV). While the majority of Israel had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, there were some who had chosen to not only recognize Him, but accept Him as their Savior. And Paul couldn’t help but reemphasize that their salvation was the result of grace, not works. The very existence of this faithful remnant in Paul’s day was proof that God had not abandoned His people. He was not done with them yet. And Paul will go on in this chapter to explain what God has planned for His people in the future. Chapters 9-11 go hand in hand. In chapter nine, Paul revealed God’s past grace in dealing with Israel by His sovereign selection of them as His people. In chapter ten, Paul dealt with the present reality of Israel’s refusal to respond to God’s provision of grace as revealed through His Son’s death. And finally, in chapter eleven, Paul outlined God’s future plans for Israel.

The picture Paul paints is one of God’s grace. While the people of Israel never deserved God’s favor, He showered them with it nonetheless. Over the centuries, they proved to be unfaithful and disobedient time and time again, but God never fully abandoned them. Even after sending them into exile for their rebellion, He graciously and mercifully restored them to the land. He kept a remnant alive and placed them back in Jerusalem so that He might one day fulfill His promise to bring forth a descendant of David and place Him on the throne of Israel. There are future plans concerning Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. At the present time, they are experiencing a temporary state of rejection or by God. But as Paul will explain later in this same chapter, that will one day change. Their rejection of Christ as their Messiah opened up the door for the gospel to be shared with non-Jews, “those who are not a nation” (Romans 10:19 ESV). God made the good news regarding salvation in Jesus available to “those who did not seek me” (Romans 10:20 ESV).

And those of us who have discovered the grace of God made possible through the death of Christ have much to be grateful for. We were totally undeserving of God’s favor, and yet He provided a way for us to be made right with Him. Paul emphasized this incredible reality to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT).

Paul told the believers in the city of Colossae, “you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT). As Gentiles or non-Jews, we have much to be grateful for. And we must never forget that if God had not chosen Abraham and given him Isaac as his son, if He had not chosen Jacob over Esau, if He had not chosen David over Saul, and if He had not chosen to send His Son through the nation of Israel – we would not be here. God is good and God is gracious. He is sovereign over all. He knows what He is doing and He is not yet done with Israel. Their rejection of Him has not caused Him to reject them, because He is faithful, loving and true. He will accomplish all that He has promised for them. In His time and according to His plan.