The Law, Love, and Justice

1 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
    but the righteous are bold as a lion.
When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
    but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
    its stability will long continue.
A poor man who oppresses the poor
    is a beating rain that leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
    but those who keep the law strive against them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding,
    but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit
    gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
    even his prayer is an abomination.
10 Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way
    will fall into his own pit,
    but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.
11 A rich man is wise in his own eyes,
    but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
    but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.
13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
– Proverbs 28:1-14 ESV

This Proverb, while a collection of independent wise sayings, does have somewhat of a theme. Most of the verses can be tied right back to the Ten Commandments, the original Law of God given on Mount Sinai to Moses during the days of the Exodus. Here they are:

  1. You must not have any other god but me.
  2. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens of on the earth or in the sea.
  3. You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. Honor your father and mother.
  6. You must not murder.
  7. You must not commit adultery.
  8. You must not steal.
  9. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
  10. You must not covet.

If you notice, the first four regulate our relationship with God, while the last six deal with our human relationships. Now if you go back to Proverbs 28, you will see that most, if not all, of these verses have to do with our outlook on the law of God and its impact on our relationships with others.

Throughout this Proverb, virtually every verse contrasts the wicked and the righteous. One group rejects the law of God while the other embraces and obeys it. But verse nine contains a sobering warning.

God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law. – Proverbs 28:9 NLT

This wisdom saying should grab our attention and make us question what it means to ignore the law. But what law is he talking about, and what does it mean to ignore it? You and I certainly don’t want to find ourselves in the position where God detests our prayers. We don’t want to find ourselves crying out to God only to have Him refuse to hear or answer our prayers because of the fact that we have ignored His law.

To reject the law is to praise the wicked;
    to obey the law is to fight them. – Proverbs 28:4 NLT

God’s law is the standard for all life on this planet. The rules that govern how we are relate to Him and how we should treat one another are contained in the law. It gives us the basis for all our interactions. Without a standard, everyone does what is in their own best interests and according to their own set of self-centered rules. It leads to corruption, graft, greed, abuse, neglect of the poor, and justification of all kinds of harmful actions.

We are warned, “Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe” (Proverbs 28:26 NLT). To walk in wisdom is to live your life according to God’s terms, in obedience to His law or standards for life. God cares deeply about our human relationships. He wants us to treat one another with care, concern, respect, dignity, love, and honor – because all mankind is made in His image. But when we reject God’s law and disrespect our parents, murder out of hatred or for personal gain, take another man’s wife, steal what belongs to someone else, discredit another human being, or desire what they have more than we desire a relationship with them, we are fools. We lack wisdom because we are rejecting the conditions for life given to us by God Himself. It results in “moral rot” as described in verse 2. It leads to abuse and oppression. It becomes contagious, leading even good people to do bad things. It causes men to justify their actions and reject accountability for the wrongs they commit.

The Ten Commandments begin with four statements about honoring God. We are to treat Him with respect, dignity, and honor at all times. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning” (Proverbs 1:7 MSG).

Our relationships with men are all based on and dependent upon our relationship with God. Wise rulers are those who know God and honor Him with their lives. They live according to His law and don’t rule based on their own set of subjective standards. Wise parents are those whose households are God-honoring, where He is lifted up and held as the standard for life. Wise young people obey the law because they love God. Wise vendors don’t try to take advantage of their customers in order to make a buck, because they love God and know that dishonesty is dishonoring to Him.

The wise commit sins, but immediately confess them to God because they know He sees all and they value their relationship with Him more than any pleasure their sin may provide.

Loving the law is simply loving God. It is obeying His Word because you trust Him. It is doing what He says because You recognize that He knows best. And when you love God and keep His law, you end up doing what is just and right.

Evil people don’t understand justice,
    but those who follow the Lord understand completely.
Proverbs 28:5 NLT

The opening line of the United State’s pledge of allegiance contains the four simple words: “And justice for all.” Many of us remember reciting them each day in the classroom. But what do they mean? What would justice for all look like and does it ever really happen? Verse give tells us that justice is understood only by those who follow the Lord. Those who are wicked or simply choose to reject the way of the Lord have no concept of godly justice. They tend to see it from their own perspective and define it for their own good. But according to the NET Study Bible, the Hebrew word for justice used in this verse (mishpat) refers to the legal rights of people, to decisions that are equitable in the community. It has a communal aspect to it.

Justice is not just about MY rights, but the rights of all. And those who follow the Lord will understand justice from that perspective because God is concerned about justice for all. He is concerned for the rights and welfare of the poor, needy, disenfranchised, neglected, abused, and all those who lack representation and protection. God cares about the alien and foreigner, the widow and the orphan, the slave and the servant, the falsely accused, and the unfairly treated.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus simply said, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT).

Love God. Love others. There it is. We are just as obligated to love others as we are to love God because to fail to express love to those made in the likeness and image of God is a slap to the face of their creator.

One of the most effective ways of expressing love to others is by assuring that they receive justice. It is making sure that their rights are protected and their status as one of God’s creatures is maintained. Justice is not just an arbitrary requirement placed on man by God. It is part of His very nature, His character. God is just and righteous and always does what is right – every time, all the time. So, God expects His people to love justice just as much as He does. He requires them, as His representatives, to make sure that all men receive justice. One way we do this is by ensuring that just and righteous men and women are elected to high offices in our nation. Otherwise, we will experience exactly what Proverbs 28 warns us about.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear. – Proverbs 28:15 NLT

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:16 NLT

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding. – Proverbs 28:12 NLT

Justice is an expression of God’s character, while injustice is anti-God. Ignoring the needs, rights, and concerns of others is selfish and, ultimately, sinful. It is ungodly, unrighteous, unloving, un-Christlike, and unacceptable in the life of a believer. To love others as we love ourselves is to do whatever we can to protect them, provide for them, and speak up for them when necessary.

Injustice is all around us because sin and Satan thrive on it. The enemy preys on the weak, pitting the strong against them. His objective is to divide and conquer. He strives to create disunity rather than community. He breeds selfishness and self-centeredness. He thrives in an atmosphere filled with narcissism and self-gratification. He lulls mankind into a self-centered stupor that becomes insensitive and, eventually, oblivious to the injustice taking place all around us.

But God calls for justice. He demands love expressed in actions. He calls us to love others as much as we love Him, as an expression of our love for Him. That’s quite a calling. And it’s one we have ignored for far too long.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

But Now…

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11-22 ESV

Paul was addressing a congregation that was likely comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts to Christianity but, because of its location in Ephesus, there was likely a much higher percentage of non-Jews in the fellowship. And at this point in his letter, Paul focuses his attention on those whom he calls “Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11 ESV). He is not using the term “flesh” (sarx) to refer to their sinful natures but as a designation of the physical characteristics that differentiate them from Jews. Not only did Jews and Gentiles have distinctively different physical characteristics, but Gentile men were uncircumcised. Paul even points out that Jews, who bore the sign of circumcision that had been ordained for them by God, derogatorily referred to all Gentiles as “the uncircumcision.”

Among the Jews, the rite of circumcision had been faithfully practiced ever since the day God had prescribed it to their forefather Abraham.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 ESV

For the Jews of Paul’s day, circumcision had become a point of pride because it “marked” them as God’s chosen people. They viewed circumcision as a badge of honor that separated them from the rest of the nations of the world. It was a physical “sign” of their unique status as those who had been set apart by God as His prized possession.

Prior to the coming of Jesus, the focus of God’s favor seemed to have remained upon the Jewish people. They were still considered the apple of His eye and the designated recipients of His covenant blessings. But for generations, they had lived in open rebellion to His will and in violation of His law. Even Jesus said of His fellow Jews, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT). Yet, despite their disobedience, God remained committed to keeping the promises He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. – Genesis 17:7 ESV

But with the coming of Jesus, God began to do a new thing. Jesus was born a Jew and began His public ministry by proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom to His own people. But as the apostle John records, the reception Jesus received from His fellow Jews was less than enthusiastic.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

From the moment Jesus was born, He had been ordained by His Heavenly Father to be the “offspring” of Abraham who would fulfill God’s promise to bless the nations. Jesus had been sent to the Jews, but His message of repentance and reconciliation had always been intended for all mankind. At one point, He revealed to His Jewish disciples that His coming death would be for the benefit of all men, not just those of the circumcision.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 NLT

And Paul wanted the Gentiles in his audience to grasp the significance of their former status as uncircumcised outsiders. They had not been part of God’s chosen family. Paul reminds them that they had been “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Their pre-salvation condition had been dire and hopeless. As Gentiles, they were separated from Christ, the Messiah of Israel. They were not beneficiaries of the covenant promises. They were considered unclean and unholy outsiders who were unworthy of the blessings that God had promised to the seed of Abraham. 

Yet, with two simple words, Paul reminds them of the marvelous transformation that had taken place in their lives.

But now…

Something incredible had taken place. They were no longer separated, alienated, estranged, hopeless, and godless. The great chasm that had once existed between them and God had been removed. They had “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). Even though uncircumcised, they had been welcomed into the presence of God because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, had become the Redeemer and Savior of all men. Not only had Jesus made it possible for sinful humanity to be restored to a right relationship with God, but He had arranged a way for Jews and Gentiles to live as brothers and sisters within the family of God.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. – Ephesians 2:14-15 NLT

For Paul, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus had eliminated the former burden of trying to keep the law as a means of attaining a right standing with God. He had come to understand that the law had never been intended by God to produce righteousness in men. In fact, in his letter to the Romans, Paul asserted that “no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). 

Paul knew that, like circumcision, the law had become a point of pride among his fellow Jews. They viewed themselves as more righteous because they had been given the Mosaic Law as a guide to living. But what good was the law if it was not obeyed? What good was the rite of circumcision if it didn’t result in a set-apart life? That’s why Paul asserted that ethnicity, physical markers, and outward observance of religious rules were not the signs of righteousness. It was a changed heart.

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:25-29 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles to God and to one another.

Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. – Ephesians 2:16 NLT

Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, God created “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 NLT). There was no longer any distinction between Jews and Gentiles. There were only those who were saved and those who were lost. The Gentiles in Paul’s audience could rejoice in the fact that they had been brought near to God through faith in Christ. And the Jews in his audience could rest in the fact that they no longer had to try and earn their right standing with God. It had been accomplished for them by Christ. And Paul sums it all up with the good news that “all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:17 NLT).

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Subtle Allure of Self-Made Religion

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-23 ESV

Far too often, well-meaning but misguided individuals attempt to turn faith in Christ into a lengthy list of dos and don’ts intended to regulate behavior. They take James’ simple premise that faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:17) and twist it into a legalistic and guilt-inducing set of rules and regulations designed to determine righteousness. Unable or unwilling to accept that a believer’s right standing with God is based on grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, these purveyors of self-righteousness attempt to earn favor with God through rituals, rites, and fervent religious rule-keeping.

Entire denominations have been formed based on a doctrine that teaches that righteousness must be achieved the old-fashioned way: Through hard work and merit. Essentially, their teaching is based on the old maxim: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Some seem to have founded their works-based concept of salvation on the oft-quoted but non-biblical statement: God helps those who help themselves.

Humanity’s pervasive pride problem lies at the core of this brand of false teaching, and it has been around since the fall. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, mankind has been attempting to assuage its guilt and amend its broken relationship with God through human effort. Over the centuries, countless religions have sprung up, each promoting its own unique set of rules and rituals for keeping its particular deity pleased and in a generous mood. While diverse in their doctrines and dogma, each of these religions shares one thing in common: A works-based form of righteousness. The adherents to these religions live under the repressive pressure of a performance-based system that demands constant and unwavering compliance to a set of rigid and unrelenting standards.

Paul and his fellow apostles had to constantly deal with the problem of legalism infiltrating the churches to whom they ministered. It was only natural for those who had converted to Christianity from pagan religions to carry the baggage of their former faith system into their relationship with Christ. They were used to practicing a religion that was based on rule-keeping and rife with prohibitions of all kinds. So, they were naturally attracted to any form of teaching that provided them with a list of rules to follow and activities to avoid. This made them particularly susceptible to the teachings of a group that later became known as the Judaizers.

The word, Judaizer, first appeared in Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia. Paul describes an encounter he had with his fellow apostle, Peter. It seems that Peter had been freely associating with Gentile believers in Antioch until a group of Jewish believers from Jerusalem showed up. Paul states that “when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12 ESV). The presence of these Jewish Christians from Jerusalem caused Peter to avoid the Gentile converts because they were uncircumcised and, therefore, ceremonially unclean. The Jewish Christians were demanding that all converts to Christianity must submit to all the requirements of the Mosaic Law, including circumcision. Essentially, they were teaching that the Gentiles were not truly saved because they were living in violation of the law. But Paul, a Jew, and a former Pharisee would have none of it.

“…when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:14 ESV

The Greek word is ioudaikōs, and it means “after the manner of the Jews.” Paul was appalled that Peter was demanding that Gentile Christians be required to “Judaize” or live according to Jewish commands and customs. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). The Jews who had shown up in Antioch were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1 ESV). And this forced Paul and Barnabas to travel all the way back to Jerusalem to appear before the apostles and the elders. The matter for discussion was the teaching of the Judaizers, and Paul pulled no punches in confronting this dangerous heresy.

“Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” – Acts 15:7-11 NLT

According to verse 16 of Colossians 2, this was the very same teaching that had infiltrated the church in Colossae. Paul lists a variety of different topics that have a decidedly Jewish feel to them: Teachings concerning the consumption of food and drink, rules concerning feasts and new moon celebrations, and the keeping of the sabbath. Someone had obviously been teaching the Gentile members of the local congregation that there was more to their newfound faith in Christ than just belief. They were going to have to alter their behavior to accommodate a whole host of religious rules and rituals.

But Paul strongly refuted the idea of adding anything to their faith Christ alone.

“…these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.” – Colossians 2:17 NLT

As a Jew, Paul knew that these things had been designed by God to serve a vital but temporary purpose. Paul assured the believers in Galatia that the law had been given by God but that it had fulfilled its primary purpose. Now that Jesus had come, adherence to the law was no longer required to attain a right standing with God.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. – Galatians 3:23-25 NLT

And Paul wanted the believers in Colossae to understand that they were not subject to anyone’s teaching regarding additional requirements or rules concerning salvation.

Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. – Colossians 2:18 NLT

Their right standing with God was not based on what they did or didn’t do. It was based on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Upon placing their faith in Christ, they had been imputed His righteousness. What was true for Paul was true for them.

I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. – Philippians 3:9 NLT

Paul was a staunch defender of the faith, who was willing to hold all those who taught a different gospel or a different Jesus accountable for their actions. And he declared that those who were attempting to mislead the believers in Colossae of being “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Colossians 2:18 ESV). 

Not only that, Paul insists that their errant teaching separated them from Christ and His church. Their false doctrines concerning salvation actually made them an enemy of the gospel. They were doing more harm than good, and diminishing the unity of the body that Christ’s death had made possible.

Paul reminded his brothers and sisters in Christ, “You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world?” (Colossians 2:20 NLT). They were becoming distracted by rules that declared, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” (Colossians 2:21 NLT). But these kinds of prohibitions were man-made and destined to fail. Laws can regulate human behavior but are incapable of changing the heart.

These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:23 NLT

Paul revealed the true purpose of the law to the believers in Galatia.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

And Paul went on to point out that the law was never meant to provide salvation. It declared the kind of righteousness God required and revealed mankind’s incapacity to live up to God’s holy standards. And Paul makes it painfully clear that rule-keeping had never been the means by which man could be saved.

If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. – Galatians 3:21-22 NLT

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

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

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Leadership Is a Privilege, Not a Right

1 “And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.” – Malachi 2:1-9 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been given the special privilege of serving God with the responsibility of overseeing the tabernacle and everything associated with it.

Then the Lord said to Aaron: “You, your sons, and your relatives from the tribe of Levi will be held responsible for any offenses related to the sanctuary. But you and your sons alone will be held responsible for violations connected with the priesthood.

“Bring your relatives of the tribe of Levi—your ancestral tribe—to assist you and your sons as you perform the sacred duties in front of the Tabernacle of the Covenant.

“You yourselves must perform the sacred duties inside the sanctuary and at the altar. If you follow these instructions, the Lord’s anger will never again blaze against the people of Israel. I myself have chosen your fellow Levites from among the Israelites to be your special assistants. They are a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord for service in the Tabernacle.” – Numbers 18:1-2, 5-6 NLT

But at the time Malachi penned his prophetic pronouncement, the Levitical priesthood was guilty of neglecting its duties and treating its priestly responsibilities as a burden and not a blessing. The men given the responsibility of caring for God’s house found their duties to be a drudgery, not a delight. They even claimed, “It’s too hard to serve the Lord” (Malachi 1:13 NLT) and rejected God’s commands as too difficult and burdensome. In a real sense, their hearts were not in their work, and that is exactly what God has to say about their behavior.

“If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” – Malachi 2:2 ESV

God expected heartfelt obedience to His commands, and His emphasis on the condition of their hearts was meant to reveal the true nature of their problem. This wasn’t a case of simple neglect or poor planning. Their failure to follow through on their commitment wasn’t due to overwork or lack of resources. They simply didn’t have the heart for it because their hearts were far from God.

“The word ‘heart’ (leb/lebab) denotes in Hebrew what may be called the command center of a person’s life, where knowledge is collected and considered and where decisions and plans are made that determine the direction of one’s life.” – Footnote 173: H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, p. 40.

These men were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but instead, they were setting a dangerous precedent for those under their care. If the restored remnant of Israel was going to survive their return to Judah and enjoy the blessings God had in store for them, it would only happen if the priests faithfully fulfilled their God-given responsibilities. But God’s priests were guilty of the very same sin that had led to Israel’s banishment from Judah in the first place.

“These people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is but rules taught by men. – Isaiah 29:13 BSB

God holds spiritual leaders to a higher standard because, as His shepherds, they are responsible for the care of His flock. They serve as His undershepherds and must give an account for the way they have nurtured those under their care. And as for the Levitical priests, they were also responsible for the sacrificial system God had decreed.

“Tell Aaron and his sons to be very careful with the sacred gifts that the Israelites set apart for me, so they do not bring shame on my holy name. I am the Lord.

“The priests must follow my instructions carefully. Otherwise they will be punished for their sin and will die for violating my instructions. I am the Lord who makes them holy. – Leviticus 22:2, 9 NLT

Malachi delivers God’s stinging rebuke to these heartless and faithless priests, warning them that they were about to be cursed for their infidelity.

“I will punish your descendants and splatter your faces with the manure from your festival sacrifices, and I will throw you on the manure pile.” – Malachi 2:3 NLT

“The disgusting picture is of God taking the internal waste of the sacrificial animals and smearing it on the priests’ faces. Consequently both sacrifices and priests would have to be taken outside for disposal. This play on words communicates a double curse.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Malachi

God was threatening to use their defiled sacrifices to defile them. He would no longer allow them to defame His name by their failure to execute their priestly responsibilities with integrity and honor. In a sense, God was warning that He was about to clean house. He remained committed to His covenant with the tribe of Levi.

“They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.” – Deuteronomy 33:10 ESV

But these particular men had forfeited their right to serve as God’s priests. And when God’s curse fell on them, they would finally understand the gravity of their sin and the sacredness of the priestly role they had once held. And God provides them with a much-needed reminder of how their forefathers had faithfully lived up to their job description, bringing God’s blessings upon the people.

“The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin. – Malachi 2:5-6 NLT

God had kept His word and restored a remnant of His disobedient people to the land of Judah. Seventy years after Judah had fallen to the Babylonians, God had sovereignly arranged for King Cyrus to issue a decree that allowed a small band of exiled to make the long journey home and begin the restoration of Jerusalem. Under the leadership of such men as Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the walls had been rebuilt, the gates rehung, and the temple had risen majestically from the rubble. And the priests had been given the opportunity to renew their role as the spiritual leaders of Israel, providing instruction in the law and overseeing the recently reinstituted sacrificial system. Yet, despite all the blessings God had poured out on the nation of Israel, the priests had dropped the ball.

“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites…” – Malachi 2:8 NLT

It’s essential to understand the serious nature of their sin. These men had not just led poorly, they had purposefully misled and misguided the people. Their teaching of the law had been inaccurate and confusing. They were guilty of misinterpreting and misrepresenting God’s commands, causing the people to unknowingly violate the will of God. Their propensity to offer unacceptable sacrifices meant that the peoples’ sins were never really atoned for. Unlike their forefathers, these men were liars and cheats, living unrighteous lives and causing the people to follow their example. And God was unwilling to allow their devastating actions to continue any longer.

“So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” – Malachi 2:9 NLT

According to Numbers 18:32, their penalty should have been death, but God had chosen to punish them by diminishing their stature in the eyes of the people. Their fall from God’s good grace would be painful and swift. They had been set apart by God and given the responsibility of leading and feeding His flock. But they had ended up treating both their position and God’s flock with disdain. After 70 years in exile, the people of God desperately needed solid biblical instruction, godly leadership, and a sacrificial system that provided true atonement from sin. But these men provided none of the above. They twisted God’s words, misled His flock, and defiled the very sacrifices that should have brought atonement to God’s people.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

I Once Was Lost…

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10 ESV

Jesus continues to reveal the true nature of the Pharisees, scribes, and their fellow religious leaders. This entire scene had been instigated by their verbal complaint that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus launched into a parabolic monologue designed to expose these men as frauds and fakes. While they took great pride in their religious zeal and wholehearted commitment to the Mosaic Law, they showed no signs of compassion for the materially and spiritually less fortunate. These self-righteous men looked down their noses at the common people, deeming them to be uneducated illiterates whose lives were marked by constant disobedience to God’s commands. And the religious leaders of Israel held a special contempt for all those who were outside the household of Abraham. In other words, they despised any and all Gentiles, especially the Romans who served as their taskmasters and overlords.

So, in this series of parables, Jesus uses a variety of analogies that are designed to expose these men as uncaring legalists who have placed their religion and their lengthy list of man-made rules ahead of the spiritual needs of the people. Matthew records a particularly harsh indictment that Jesus leveled against these men for their missionary-like, but misguided zeal for making converts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matthew 23:15 ESV

They were adept at propagating their particular style of religious ritualism, marked by rule-keeping and motivated by pride and self-reliance. But all the while, they remained blind to the true spiritual need in their midst. They rejected Jesus’ call to repentance because they didn’t believe it applied to them. And they showed no concern for the “sinners” in their midst because they believed these people were only getting what they deserved for their failure to keep the law. They were poor because they lacked piety. Those who suffered from blindness were being punished for their unrighteousness. The lame, infirmed, and diseased were reaping the consequences of their immoral lifestyles. So, rather than dine with these kinds of people, the Pharisees avoided them like the plague. But not Jesus. And that is the point of these parables.

In the second parable, Jesus describes a woman who finds that one of her silver coins is missing. Jesus’ Jewish audience would have understood this coin to be a Greek drachma, which was equivalent to a Roman denarius. And they would have immediately recognized the extreme nature of this woman’s loss because that one silver coin was worth a day’s wage. So, they would not have been surprised to hear that the woman in the story began a feverish search to find the object of great worth.

And, as in the first parable, Jesus presents his story in the form of a rhetorical question.

Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? – Luke 15:8 NLT

It’s not hard to visualize the people in the crowd shaking their heads in affirmation. That’s exactly what they would do if they were in the woman’s place because they each understood the extent of her loss and the degree of her determination to find the missing coin.

This parable is very similar to an actual event that occurred at a later date while Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem. Luke records that Jesus was “passing along between Samaria and Galilee” (Luke 17:11 ESV). The context is important because it reveals that Jesus has ventured back to the north. Luke provides no reason for Jesus making this rather lengthy detour, but it provides the backdrop for what takes place.

As Jesus entered a village, He was accosted by the shouts of ten men who suffered from the devastating disease of leprosy. When they saw Jesus, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13 NLT). Luke indicates that these men, while desperate to receive healing from Jesus, remained at a distance, in keeping with the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Their condition rendered them unclean and severely restricted their movements. As long as they suffered from leprosy, they were unwelcome in the local synagogue and were denied access to the temple in Jerusalem. Everywhere these men went they were persona non grata.

What Jesus did next is significant. Rather than reaching out and healing the men, He gave them a command.

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Luke 17:14 ESV

Usually, this process would have come after healing had taken place. It was the priest’s duty to affirm that someone had recovered from the disease before they could be accepted back into the open arms of the community. But Jesus sent these men to the priest while they were still suffering from leprosy. And as they made their way, they were miraculously healed.

And as they went they were cleansed. – Luke 17:14 ESV

For each of these men, the journey to see the priest required tremendous faith. They had no way of knowing what was going to happen when they arrived but it is safe to assume that they expected the priest to reject them as unclean, just like always. But as they walked, they were healed. And when they arrived, they were pronounced clean by the priest. The disease was gone. Their days of isolation and loneliness were over. The curse of a slow and painful death from leprosy had been replaced with new hope and new life.

But Luke reports that only one of the men returned to thank Jesus for what He had done, and he just happened to be a Samaritan. So, not only had he suffered the indignity of having a dreaded disease that made him a social pariah, he had endured the added pressure of being a lowly and despised Samaritan. The Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, the descendants of the remnant who had been left in the land of Canaan after the Babylonian exile. These people had committed the unpardonable sin of intermarrying with Gentiles. On top of that, they had created their own syncretistic religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with pagan idols. They had even established their own priesthood and holy site. They were considered by the Jews to be little more than dogs, unwanted, unclean, and unworthy of any sympathy or association.

Yet Luke records that it was this man who took the time to return and thank Jesus for what He had done.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. – Luke 17:15-16 NLT

What happens next is significant and provides an important link to the parable of the woman and the ten coins. Notice what Jesus said when the Samaritan had returned and expressed his deep appreciation.

Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. – Luke 17:17-19 NLT

Ten coins. Ten men. One coin was missing and found. One man was healed and returned. It’s almost as if the second event had been preordained and intended to bring the parable to life. Everything Jesus said and did had a purpose behind it. He was always teaching, instructing, revealing, and preparing His disciples. No moment was wasted.

It seems clear that in both cases, Jesus’ intention was to subtly expose the Pharisees. In the parable, they were the nine coins that remained un-lost. They required no search to be found because they had never strayed away. They were the “faithful” ones. But Jesus emphasized that the woman went out of her way to find the one coin that had gone missing. And it’s important to note that each coin had the same value in the eyes of the woman. No one drachma was of greater worth than the other. Regardless of which coin was lost, she would have searched just a diligently and relentlessly.

And the ten lepers all suffered from the same abysmal fate. They had not caused it and could do nothing to alleviate it. They were helpless and hopeless, which is why they cried out to Jesus for help. And what is important to realize about this scene is that nine of the men were Jews, while only one was a Samaritan or “foreigner.” But their national identity had done nothing to prevent them from succumbing to the ravages of this deadly disease. They were all equally infected and facing the same unavoidable fate.

And when Jesus commanded that they go and present themselves to the priest, they all obeyed. In a sense, this portrays the law-keeping tendencies of the Pharisees. They were all about “doing” and took great pride in their ability to keep the commands of God. So, the nine Jews did exactly what they were told to do. They went to the priest and on the way, they received healing. But what was their response to this life-changing moment? They went on their way. They joyfully returned to their former way of life, free from leprosy and no longer considered unclean and unwelcome by their community. Luke makes no commentary about the nine, leaving the reader to assess the nature of their reaction. The best way to understand what was going on in their hearts is to look at the response of the Samaritan. He praised God and “fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:16 NLT).

The Samaritan recognized that his healing had been the work of God. And He realized that Jesus had been the means by which God had brought about this life-changing miracle. To a certain degree, this man’s return was an act of repentance. He came back to the source – to the one who had given him back his life. He knew he had nothing to do with his healing. It had all been the work of God.

But what about the nine Jews who went on their way? Why did they not respond with the same degree of gratitude and humble praise? It is likely that they took some responsibility for their own healing. After all, they had been the ones to cry out for mercy. And when Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, they had been quick to do so. The fact that they were healed as they faithfully obeyed Jesus’ command was proof that they had somehow earned their miraculous transformation. This mindset was prevalent among the Jews, especially among the religious leaders. We see it in another encounter Jesus had with one of them.

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” – Luke 18:18 NLT

And Jesus responded by reciting five of the Ten Commandments.

“‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’” – Luke 18:20 NLT

To which the man proudly replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” (Luke 18:21 NLT). He viewed himself as a faithful adherent to the Mosaic Law. But Jesus exposed a flaw in his self-righteous assessment when He added one thing that the man had overlooked.

“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22 NLT

Jesus had subtly revealed the man’s real problem: His love affair with materialism. He was wealthy and the thought of selling all he had and following Jesus was more than he was willing to sacrifice. He had come hoping that Jesus would validate his works ethic by affirming that he had done enough to earn eternal life. But no one can earn salvation. And on one articulated this essential doctrine of the faith more readily and succinctly than the apostle Paul.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

A coin that was lost, then found. A man that was leprous, then healed. Both are evidence of the value that God has placed on all those He has made. And He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). The coin couldn’t find itself. The leper couldn’t heal himself. But their hopeless and helpless state was not insurmountable. It simply required the loving, compassionate care of a gracious and merciful God. Salvation is impossible, but as Jesus later said, “with God everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26 NLT).

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

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

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

Lord of the Sabbath

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. Luke 6:1-11 ESV

Repressive and restrictive rules and regulations had become the mainstay of the prevailing religious system of the Jews, and its gatekeepers were the scribes and Pharisees who were closely evaluating the actions of Jesus. To these men, Jesus was a loose cannon, a renegade Rabbi from the small town of Nazareth who was teaching heresy and guilty of blasphemy. They couldn’t deny the fact that Jesus was a miracle worker but they were slowly gathering evidence that would prove His blatant disregard for their laws and His unacceptable association with moral reprobates and social outcasts. In their minds, Jesus was a troublemaker who refused to follow the rules and was leading the common people astray with His blasphemous offers of forgiveness for sins and the tantalizing promise of a coming kingdom.

The religious leaders had already confronted Jesus about His choice of dinner companions.

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” – Luke 5:30 ESV

They deemed Jesus as a poor judge of character. He willingly associated with the dregs of society, the very sinners who the religious leaders believed were preventing Israel from experiencing the full blessings of God. And His disciples were no better. These men were, for the most part, nothing but uneducated Galilean fishermen who were gluttonous and ignorant of the laws concerning prayer and fasting. And they had been more than willing to point out this apparent flaw in Jesus’ followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

But what these men failed to realize was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not subject to their manmade laws and decrees. As the Creator-God, He had authority over all things. The apostle John described the basis for Jesus’ exemption from the Pharisees’ repressive rules.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. – John 1:1-3 ESV

And the apostle Paul would go on to explain the overarching nature of Jesus’ divine authority over everyone and everything.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

But as Jesus walked the earth, He appeared to these religious leaders as nothing more than a man who was violating their precious precepts and encouraging the uneducated peasants to do the same. He was threatening their way of life by diminishing their control over the people. Without rules, society would devolve into anarchy and chaos. These men had made a god out of the Mosaic Law. The righteous rules and regulations prescribed by God and handed down by Moses had become more important than the Law-Giver. Their strict adherence to the law had replaced their affection for God. And Jesus would later declare these very same men to be nothing more than pious-looking pretenders whose religious zeal was misplaced and whose love for God had been replaced by their lust for power and control.

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

At the heart of their monolithic legal system was the Sabbath and the seemingly endless list of rules they had developed to regulate its observance. So, it was not long before Jesus found Himself at odds with the religious leaders over His lack of protocol concerning this holy day. Luke records that Jesus and His disciples were making their way through a field of grain on the Sabbath. As they did so, “his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands” (Luke 6:1 ESV). According to Deuteronomy 23:25, the Mosaic Law provided a waiver that allowed anyone to pluck grain by hand.

If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand… – Deuteronomy 23:25 ESV

But as Luke reveals, the disciples were being watched by the Pharisees, who immediately deemed their actions as a violation of their laws concerning the Sabbath. According to their strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, the disciples were guilty of harvesting, reaping, and meal preparation, which were all prohibited on the Sabbath. With legalistic zeal, they immediately confronted Jesus and His disciples, pointing out their seeming disregard for the Law.

“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” – Luke 6:3 ESV

Rather than explain the actions of His disciples, Jesus took these men to the Scriptures. He reminded them of a story involving the great king, David. The book of 1st Samuel records an incident in which David ate bread that had been dedicated to the Lord. David was the anointed king of Israel, but he and his men were on the run from the current occupant of the throne: King Saul. When they arrived at Nob, David convinced the priest to give his men the bread of the Presence, holy bread that was unlawful for them to eat. In doing so, David violated the ceremonial law but because he was the Lord’s anointed, his actions did not violate God’s moral law. Human need took precedence over the ceremonial law. Jesus would later use this same logic to justify His healing of a man on the Sabbath. He would ask the Pharisees, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” (Luke 14:5 NLT).

The Pharisees refused to answer Jesus’ question because to do so would have shot a hole in the logic behind their entire legal system. They cared more for their rules than they did for the people for whom they were responsible to God. And Jesus was not about to follow their lead.

According to Jesus, what David did was acceptable to God and, therefore, the behavior of His disciples was as well. Then He added a statement that must have left the Pharisees apoplectic with rage.

“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Luke 6:5 ESV

Jesus was clearly stating His divinity and authority. He was declaring His divine right to authorize the behavior of His disciples –even if it violated the Sabbath law – which it did not. As God, Jesus was the author of the Law, and He had not come to abolish or violate the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Luke follows up this story with a second occasion in which the Pharisees confront Jesus for His violation of Sabbath law. This time it involves Jesus’ decision to heal on the Sabbath, thereby doing “work” and willingly breaking the law. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on the Sabbath and in the local synagogue. And Jesus was fully aware that the entire scene was a setup, knowing that the Pharisees were waiting “to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him” (Luke 6:7 ESV). And He did not disappoint them. Jesus purposefully called forward a man who had a withered hand and had him stand in front of the congregation gathered in the synagogue. In a sense, this man became a prop in Jesus’ lesson on the Sabbath law. With the man standing in front of Him, Jesus directed a question at the Pharisees and scribes:

“I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” – Luke 6:9 ESV

There was no response. The religious leaders knew that they were caught between a rock and a hard place. If they said it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath, they would come across as uncaring and unloving. If they answered in the affirmative, they would be validating the behavior of Jesus. So, they remained silent.

Luke records that Jesus looked at each of them, waiting for a response. This delay must have felt like an eternity to these men, as all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on them. But Jesus finally broke the silence by turning His attention to the man with the withered hand and stating, “Stretch out your hand” (Luke 6:10 ESV). And as soon as the man complied, his hand was immediately and miraculously restored.

But rather than responding with awe and amazement at Jesus’ supernatural display of power, the religious leaders became incensed. Luke reports that they “were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11 ESV). They had just witnessed living proof that Jesus was indeed Lord of the Sabbath, but they were furious because Jesus had made them look like fools. He had made a mockery of their ceremonial laws and further enhanced His reputation among the people – and all at their expense.

Jesus had displayed His power and authority over disease, demons, and even the Sabbath. But the religious leaders were convinced that He was a menace to society who showed them no respect and had no regard for their sacred traditions. By the time they made their way back to Jerusalem with the latest reports of Jesus’ exploits, their superiors would have already made their decision to eliminate this growing threat to the nation.

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

I Am Doing a New Thing

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinåners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:27-38 ESV

Jesus’ healing of the paralytic amazed all those who witnessed it. Even the scribes and Pharisees who had come to Capernaum to investigate this trouble-making Rabbi were amazed at what they saw. But they were also infuriated by Jesus’ blatant display of blasphemy. By claiming to have the power and authority to forgive sins, Jesus was clearly placing Himself on equal standing with Jehovah. And despite His miraculous healing of the paralyzed man, the religious leaders found Jesus’ actions unconvincing and His words, unacceptable.

And it wasn’t long before these men had more evidence of Jesus’ unorthodox and unacceptable behavior. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the house where He had healed the paralytic and made His way to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where He began to teach the people who had gathered to hear Him. When finished, He made His way back into town but made an unexpected stop at the business of a man named Levi (Matthew), who was a tax collector or publican. Levi would have been a prominent member of Capernaum society but would have been despised by his fellow townspeople. He was essentially an employee of the Roman government, who received a commission for collecting taxes from his own people. And it was not uncommon for publicans to use their position and the threat of Roman force to exact surcharges that they used to line their own pockets. As a result, these men were viewed as traitors by their own people and treated as the worst of sinners. He would have been considered a social outcast in Capernaum. So, when Jesus made an unscheduled stop at Levi’s booth, the people would have found His actions shocking. To make matters worse, Jesus invited this man to become one of His disciples, and to the peoples’ surprise, Levi accepted.

To celebrate his inclusion in Jesus’ company, Levi threw a party at his house. And Luke records that “there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them” (Luke 5:29 ESV). Matthew and Mark are much more specific, describing the “others” as sinners. And right in the middle of this collection of disreputable and despised moral outcasts were Jesus and His disciples. Because of His popularity, it was virtually impossible for Jesus to do anything without being seen, and this particular incident did not escape the notice of the ever-present crowd. Everywhere Jesus went, a throng of people gathered to see and hear Him, and this occasion was no different. And among those who stood outside Levi’s home were the scribes and Pharisees, who looked on with self-righteous indignation as Jesus and His disciples ate with “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10 NLT).

Somehow these men were able to get word to Jesus’ disciples, asking them, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30 ESV). This question was meant to shame the followers of Jesus, raising doubts about their spiritual discernment. As good Jews, they should have known better than to associate with people of such low moral standing. To the religious leaders, Levi and his guests were considered ceremonially unclean and, as a Rabbi, Jesus should have known that He risked moral contamination just by associating with them.

But when Jesus heard the question raised by the religious leaders, He responded with a proverbial statement that must have left them scratching their heads in confusion.

Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” – Luke 5:31-32 NLT

Jesus was reclining at a table in the house of a notorious tax collector, sharing a meal with people who were considered the worst of sinners. But to Jesus, they were no different than the self-righteous religious leaders who were displaying their unwarranted pride and hate-fueled prejudice. Both groups were made up of sinners in need of a Savior. But the scribes and Pharisees refused to acknowledge their own insufficiencies. They deemed themselves as spiritually superior and morally pure because they were strict adherents to the Mosaic Law. But as Matthew records, Jesus saw through their facade of religious legalism and rule-keeping. Quoting from the prophet Hosea, Jesus challenged them to display the true fruit of righteousness.

“Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Matthew 9:13 NLT

Jesus was echoing the words of John the Baptist, spoken to the scribes and Pharisees who had come to the wilderness to watch him baptize.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:7-10 NLT

These men were convinced that their status as God’s chosen people was secure because they were good Jews and law-abiding members of the religious elite of Israel. But both John the Baptist and Jesus pointed out that their rule-keeping was not enough. They were going to have to acknowledge their sinfulness and recognize their need for a Savior. And later on in his gospel, Luke records another encounter between Jesus and another tax collector, a man named Zacheus. Jesus would issue a call to Zacheus as well and share a meal in his home. Then He would pronounce the miracle behind Zacheus’ life-altering transformation.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10 NLT

But the religious leaders remained unconvinced and unconvicted by Jesus’ comments. In fact, they simply change the subject, accusing He and His disciples of failing to live up to the standard set by John the Baptist and his followers.

“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” – Luke 5:33 ESV

Their emphasis is on religious rule-keeping. There was only one official day of fasting required by the Mosaic Law and that was on the Day of Atonement. But over the years, the religious leaders of Israel had expanded the number of fast days, creating another layer of religious observance that allowed them to publicly display their righteousness before men. Jesus exposed this self-righteous hypocrisy in His sermon on the mount.

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus don’t follow their example by keeping the prescribed fast days. But Jesus responds by using a series of analogies to illustrate the absurdity of their point. The guests at a wedding feast would not be expected to fast at the celebration of a wedding feast. That would be unacceptable behavior and considered offensive by the bridegroom and his family. There was a proper time for fasting and feasting. But these men failed to recognize the difference. Next, Jesus compares their methodology to using a new piece of cloth to patch a tear in an old garment. When washed, the new cloth will shrink, causing even more damage to the garment. And no one would ever consider putting new, unfermented wine in an old wineskin because as the fermentation process took place, the rapidly expanding gases would burst the old skin and waste the wine.

These men were addicted to the old ways. They were living in the past and attempting to gain favor with God by keeping the law. But Jesus had come to offer something new. As the apostle Paul would later point out, God had a different plan for redeeming sinful mankind.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of placing their hope in human effort. They were convinced that their self-righteous acts would gain them favor with God. But Jesus wanted them to know that they were sinners in need of a Savior. They were sick and desperately in need of a physician. But these men considered their way to be the preferred way. The old was better than the new. In Jesus, they saw a threat to their accepted way of life. He was throwing a wrench into the carefully crafted machinery of Judaism that they had come to know and love. In a sense, Jesus was fulfilling the words of God recorded by the prophet Isaiah.

“Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV

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

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

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

Love God. Love Others.

Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod
    and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt,
and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,
    and see the great tumults within her,
    and the oppressed in her midst.”
10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
    “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”

11 Therefore thus says the Lord God:

“An adversary shall surround the land
    and bring down your defenses from you,
    and your strongholds shall be plundered.”

12 Thus says the Lord: “As the shepherd rescues from the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear, so shall the people of Israel who dwell in Samaria be rescued, with the corner of a couch and part of a bed.

13 “Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,”
    declares the Lord God, the God of hosts,
14 “that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions,
    I will punish the altars of Bethel,
and the horns of the altar shall be cut off
    and fall to the ground.
15 I will strike the winter house along with the summer house,
    and the houses of ivory shall perish,
and the great houses shall come to an end,”
declares the Lord. – Amos 3:9-15 ESV

God calls on two of the foreign nations that surrounded Israel to act as witnesses to against her. He sends out an invitation to Philistia and Egypt, inviting them to gather on the hills surrounding Samaria and observe all the injustice and violence taking place within the walls of the capital city of Israel. God declares that the people of Israel no longer know how to do what is right. In Hebrew, the word that is translated as “right” is nᵊḵōḥâ, and it has to do with uprightness, integrity, or doing the right thing. Interestingly enough, it derives from another Hebrew word, nēḵaḥ, which means, “in the sight of” or “in front of.” In other words, the kind of “right” behavior they had forgotten how to do was to have been on display before others but, more importantly, before God. They had forgotten how to do what was right in God’s eyes.

Unlike the Philistines and Egyptians, who did not have the law of God, the Israelites had conveniently forgotten all that God had commanded them to do. Through the Mosaic Law, He had provided them with a very clear description of what upright behavior should look like. So, they had no excuse.

Amos mentions the acts of oppression, violence, and robbery taking place inside the walls of Samaria. These are the people of God acting in ways that are in direct violation of the law of God. Later on in his book, Amos will go into great detail describing the many acts of oppression and injustice committed by God’s chosen people – against one another.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent. – Amos 5:11 NLT

You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:12 NLT

Listen to this, you who rob the poor
    and trample down the needy!
You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over
    and the religious festivals to end
    so you can get back to cheating the helpless.
You measure out grain with dishonest measures
    and cheat the buyer with dishonest scales.
And you mix the grain you sell
    with chaff swept from the floor.
Then you enslave poor people
    for one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. – Amos 8:4-6 NLT

The people of Israel had become callous and hard-hearted. They were driven by their base desires and more interested in comfort and convenience than showing compassion to one another. The rich preyed off the poor. The haves took advantage of the have-nots. Dishonesty and deception were the order of the day. And even the Philistines and Egyptians would be appalled at the unrighteous behavior of the Israelites. Even by pagan standards, the Israelites were immoral and wicked people.

Somehow, they had forgotten the words of God: “love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18 NLT). And centuries later, when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to name the greatest commandment given by God, He had responded:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

According to Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor were equal and inseparable commands. You can’t have one without the other. And the apostle John would pick up on this theme in his first epistle he wrote to believers living in the first century.

But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:11 ESV

…whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. – 1 John 3:10 ESV

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? – 1 John 3:17 NLT

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8 NLT

To both Jesus and John, love of others was a non-negotiable requirement for those who claimed to be children of God. To declare your love for God while denying love to your brothers and sisters was not only unacceptable but illogical. And John makes that point painfully clear: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT).

Yet the people of Israel were guilty of doing just that. And, as a result, God declared that He was going to judge them for their disobedience to His law. By failing to love one another, they were declaring their lack of love for Him. Their idolatry had transformed them into lovers of self rather than lovers of God.

The behavior of the Israelites was unacceptable to God. It violated every one of His commands concerning the righteous conduct that should have identified them as His chosen people. And centuries later, the apostle Paul would warn his young protégé, Timothy, about self-professing God followers who display this same hypocritical behavior.

…people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

God will not tolerate this kind of behavior among those who claim to be His children. So, He warned the Israelites that their actions would have consequences.

Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:11 NLT

Those who were practicing injustice would suffer the just and righteous judgment of God. Those who had enriched themselves by plundering the poor would find themselves being plundered and left to live in abject poverty. Their failure to love God and love one another was going to cost them dearly. And Amos paints a rather bleak picture of the aftermath of God’s coming destruction.

“A shepherd who tries to rescue a sheep from a lion’s mouth
    will recover only two legs or a piece of an ear.
So it will be for the Israelites in Samaria lying on luxurious beds,
    and for the people of Damascus reclining on couches.” – Amos 3:12 NLT

By the time God is done with them, there won’t be much left. Yahweh, the “roaring lion” of verse 4, will decimate the people of Israel, leaving only a small ragtag remnant living in the land. The rest will end up as captives in Assyria. The wealthy and well-to-do of Israel would find that the tables had turned.  The oppressors would become the oppressed. The privileged would end up as prisoners. The fat and happy would find themselves facing starvation and deep despondency.

And God makes a direct connection between their future suffering and their present sin. The fate they are about to endure will be the direct consequences of their idolatry, apostasy, and unfaithfulness. He warns them, “I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy—their winter mansions and their summer houses, too—all their palaces filled with ivory” (Amos 3:15 NLT). But He makes sure they understand that their loss will be the result of their ungodly behavior, and it all ties back to their decision to forsake Him as the one true God.

“On the very day I punish Israel for its sins,
    I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel.
The horns of the altar will be cut off
    and fall to the ground…” – Amos 3:14 NLT

God takes them back to the days when the northern kingdom of Israel began. After Solomon had ended his long reign by abandoning Yahweh for the false gods of his many foreign wives, God split his kingdom in two. The ten northern tribes became the kingdom of Israel, ruled over by Jeroboam. And this first king of the northern tribes began his reign by erecting golden calves in the cities of Dan and Bethel, then telling his people, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 ESV). Those altars to Jeroboam’s false gods remained in Israel for generations. And the spirit of idolatry and apostasy that Jeroboam introduced into Israel had plagued the nation for hundreds of years. Now, God was going to do what the kings of Israel should have done years earlier. He would destroy the pagan altars and eliminate the false gods that had turned the hearts of the people away from Him.

In essence, God was going to make sure that all the idols were removed in Israel. That’s why he mentions the altars at Bethel, but also the “houses of ivory.” The people of Israel were guilty of worshiping their false gods, but they were also guilty of worshiping materialism, ease, comfort, and success. They had made gods out of their possessions. They had found comfort and significance in their social standing and all their status symbols of success. But all that was about to change.

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

Chosen But Not Immune from Judgment

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
    whose height was like the height of the cedars
    and who was as strong as the oaks;
I destroyed his fruit above
    and his roots beneath.
10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
    and led you forty years in the wilderness,
    to possess the land of the Amorite.
11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets,
    and some of your young men for Nazirites.
    Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?”
declares the Lord.

12 “But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
    and commanded the prophets,
    saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’

13 “Behold, I will press you down in your place,
    as a cart full of sheaves presses down.
14 Flight shall perish from the swift,
    and the strong shall not retain his strength,
    nor shall the mighty save his life;
15 he who handles the bow shall not stand,
    and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself,
    nor shall he who rides the horse save his life;
16 and he who is stout of heart among the mighty
    shall flee away naked in that day,”
declares the Lord. Amos 2:9-16 ESV

In the face of Israel’s ongoing unfaithfulness to Him, God reminds them that He had been constantly faithful from the very day He called them out of captivity in Egypt. Israel, the very name by which the ten northern tribes were known, was the name God had given to their patriarch, Jacob.

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men, and you have prevailed.” – Genesis 32:28 BSB

And just like their namesake, generations of Israelites had “struggled with God and with men.” But whereas Jacob had dared to wrestle with God in order to obtain a blessing from Him, the nation of Israel had chosen to go to oppose God by rejecting His divine will for them. And rather than a blessing, they would receive His judgment.

God takes the Israelites all the way back to the day that Moses sent the 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan.

Moses gave the men these instructions as he sent them out to explore the land: “Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.). – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

And when the spies returned, they gave Moses and the people a mixed report:

“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.” – Numbers 13:27-29 NLT

The land was fruitful, just as God had promised. But it was also filled with formidable enemies whose size and strength made the land unconquerable and its fruit unattainable. And the people listened to the report of the spies and refused to enter the land. Rather than trust God, they succumbed to their fears and listened to the hyperbole-filled report of the spies.

“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” – Numbers 13:32-33 NLT

Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, provided a very different assessment of the situation, encouraging the people of Israel to rely on the faithfulness and power of Yahweh.

“The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:7-9 NLT

The people respond by threatening to stone Caleb and Joshua. They want nothing to do with the land, its fruit, or the so-called giants who lived there. They would rather return to Egypt than risk certain death by entering the land of Canaan. And God was infuriated with their stubborn refusal to trust Him.

“How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? – Numbers 14:11 NLT

They had conveniently forgotten about the 12 plagues that God had poured out on the Egyptians. Their memory of His parting of the Red Sea had long ago faded. God had proven His power and faithfulness time and time again but, when they found themselves facing another new and seemingly insurmountable obstacle, they suddenly lost their ability to trust Him. And, as a result of their unwillingness to obey God and enter the land, He condemned that entire generation of Israelites.

You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me…You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you… – Numbers 14:29, 30 NLT

Four decades later, the next generation of Israelites did as God commanded and entered the land of Canaan. And Amos records that God gave them victory over the Amorites, even though “they were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks.” (Amos 2:9 NLT). During the 40 years their mothers and fathers had spent wandering through the wilderness, God was preparing this generation to take possession of their rightful inheritance. And God reminds them that He raised up godly leaders from among them, in the form of prophets and Nazirites. The prophets spoke on behalf of God and the Nazirites modeled lives that were totally dedicated to God.

But the Israelites had ended up rejecting the messages of the prophets. And they had caused the Nazirites to violate their vows of abstinence from wine. In other words, they didn’t want to hear godly words or were unwilling to tolerate godly behavior. The entire nation was guilty of compromise, complacency, and complete disregard for the call of God to live set-apart lives.

And God warned them that the burden of judgment would be so great that they would grown under the weight. The punishment that God would bring against them would be unbearable and inescapable. They could run but they wouldn’t get far. Even the strongest and bravest warriors among them would be overcome with fear, abandoning their posts and running for their lives.

“On that day the most courageous of your fighting men
    will drop their weapons and run for their lives,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 2:16 NLT

And the book of 2 Kings tells us exactly how God fulfilled this prophecy. In 722 B.C., King Shalmaneser of Assyria invaded Israel “and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria” (2 Kings 17:5-6 NLT). The fall of Israel was complete, and the author of 2 Kings explains why this devastating event took place.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:7-8 NLT

The persistent and pervasive disobedience of the people of Israel would eventually catch up with them. Their rejection of His prophets and refusal to repent from their blatant and widespread apostasy brought God’s righteous and just judgment upon them. Yes, they had been set apart by God. They enjoyed the distinction of being His chosen people. But their unique status as His prized possession required that they live in obedience to His commands. Yet, they had failed to do so and now God was letting them know that their disobedience would have dire and deadly consequences.

 

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 Call to Commitment

54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven. 55 And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 57 The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.” 

62 Then the king, and all Israel with him, offered sacrifice before the Lord. 63 Solomon offered as peace offerings to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. 64 The same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, for there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings, because the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to receive the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat pieces of the peace offerings.

65 So Solomon held the feast at that time, and all Israel with him, a great assembly, from Lebo-hamath to the Brook of Egypt, before the Lord our God, seven days. 66 On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David his servant and to Israel his people. 1 Kings 8:54-66 ESV

After Solomon had finished his prayer of dedication for the temple, he turned to address the crowd of spectators who had gathered to witness this auspicious occasion. But it’s interesting to note what the author of 1 Kings leaves out of his description of this event. For some strange reason, he chose to ignore what appears to be a rather significant meteorological phenomenon. Evidently, the close of Solomon’s prayer was accompanied by an extremely powerful sign from heaven that would have been hard to miss or misinterpret. And, fortunately, the book of 2 Chronicles fills in the gaps, providing a detailed description of exactly what happened.

When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple…– 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 NLT

Solomon had been kneeling before the bronze altar that stood in the courtyard, outside the entrance to the temple. Hiram had constructed. On it, there had been placed the bodies of the sacrificial animals which had been dedicated to God. When Solomon closed his prayer,  fire came down from heaven and completely consumed the carcasses of the animals. At the same time, the glory of the Lord filled the temple, most likely in the form of a dark cloud. God had heard the prayer of Solomon and signaled His answer in a powerful and demonstrative way. By consuming the sacrifices, God deemed them to be acceptable. By filling the Holy of Holies with His Shekinah glory, He placed His seal of approval on the temple itself. And this unexpected display of power made a powerful impression on the people.

…they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying,

“He is good!
    His faithful love endures forever!” – 2 Chronicles 7:3 NLT

They were blown away by what they witnessed. And their amazement turned to shouts of praise as they reflected on God’s goodness and unfailing love. He had graciously deemed to accept their sacrifices and to grace the temple with His presence. And they were overjoyed at being able to witness this mind-blowing demonstration of HIs covenant commitment to them. Solomon put into words what the people were thinking.

“Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. – 1 Kings 8:56 NLT

Their very presence in the land was evidence of God’s faithfulness. Hundreds of years earlier, He had made a promise to Moses that He would give the people of Israel the land of Canaan as their inheritance. And that promise had been a reiteration of the one He had made to Abraham centuries before that.

Speaking to the audience gathered before him, Solomon expressed his hope that God would show Himself just as faithful to them as He had been to their ancestors. But he also declared his understanding that, besides God’s abiding presence, they would need His divine assistance to remain faithful themselves. He knew that, without God’s help, they were powerless to live in obedience to commands outlined in the Mosaic Law.

“May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us. May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:57-58 NLT

As a people, they were completely dependent upon God for all their needs. He was to be their provider, sustainer, and protector. And, as illustrated by the content of his prayer, Solomon was well aware that the people of Israel would falter and fail. Their hearts would wander. Their commitment to God would wain. There would be moments marked by disobedience and rebellion. So, he expressed his hope that God would not forget the content of his prayer.

“may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs.” – 1 Kings 8:59 NLT

He was asking that God faithfully fulfill His covenant commitment to them – in spite of them. And Solomon called the people to strongly assess their commitment to God as well.

“may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.” – 1 Kings 8:61 NLT

After the amazing display they had just witnessed, there was no reason they should ever doubt the faithfulness of God. And the proper response to such a powerful reminder would be a heartfelt commitment to remain obedient to the One who had already done so much for them. And their determination to live in faithful obedience to their good and gracious God would become a witness to the nations around them.

“Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other.” – 1 Kings 8:60 NLT

That was the bottom line. While the temple would serve as a physical manifestation of God’s glory, their lives were meant to be a visible demonstration of how sinful men could have a relationship with a holy God. They were to be witnesses to the world of God’s gracious love and, through their adherence to His commands, they were to illustrate their submission to and faith in His divine will.

Solomon’s address to the people was followed by the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep, and goats. Gallons upon gallons of blood were spilled. Countless unblemished animals were sacrificed one after the other as offerings to Yahweh. They also offered up burnt offerings, grain offerings, and the fat of peace offerings. And this went on for days – “fourteen days in all—seven days for the dedication of the altar and seven days for the Festival of Shelters” (1 Kings 8:65 NLT).

And when the festivities finally came to an end, “They blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad because the Lord had been good to his servant David and to his people Israel” (1 Kings 8:66 NLT)

This was a high point in the history of the Hebrew people. They had a king, just as they had always hoped for, and he was wise, powerful, and wealthy. They were living in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And now, their seven-year effort to complete the temple had culminated with God’s divine seal of approval. He had graciously renewed His covenant commitment to them, and now, all they had to do was remain faithful in return.

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