The Power of God.

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. –  Matthew 22:23-33 ESV

saducees-and-pharisees

Jesus is facing yet another confrontation with the religious leaders. This time it is the Sadducees. They were the religious liberals of their day who rejected the idea of an afterlife, the doctrine of the resurrection or the reality of angels. For them, this life was the only life and it was to be lived in strict adherence to the written law as found in the Torah. They were elitists who rejected the oral law of the Pharisees, the “traditions of the elders” that contained hundreds of additional laws or addendums to the written law. But while they were not exactly bosom buddies with the Pharisees, they shared one thing in common with them: A hatred for Jesus. So, we see them coming to Jesus posing a question that they intended to use to expose Jesus’ heretical views on the resurrection.

Their question is a lengthy one, in the form of a short story. It’s a fictitious scenario involving what was called the Levirate Law, part of the Law of Moses found in the book of Deuteronomy. This law ruled that when a man died, leaving his wife a widow with no children, one of the deceased man’s brothers was obligated to marry the woman. The intention behind the law was to carry on the deceased man’s name and keep any inheritance he might have had in the family.

The law states, “If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow may not be married to anyone from outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother should marry her and have intercourse with her to fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be considered the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6 NLT).

These Sadducees had purposely created a highly unlikely scenario where the woman ends up marrying seven different brothers, each one dying before they could father a son with her. And their story ends with the woman’s death, seven times a widow and without any children. This complicated and completely contrived tale had a purpose behind it. Matthew makes it clear that the real point behind their question was the resurrection. They were not really interested in Jesus’ interpretation of the law, but in His views on the resurrection. Which is why they ended their story with the pointed question: “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her” (Matthew 22:28 NLT).

They think they have Jesus trapped. Because the Torah did not teach explicitly about the resurrection, they did not believe in it. Their little story was designed to expose the ridiculousness of the whole idea of the resurrection. In their minds, they had shown that the very concept of the resurrection would conflict with the law itself. How could a woman have seven husbands in heaven? But Jesus exposes the flaw in their thinking and the problem in their lives. He simply states, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 NLT).

This would have been like a sucker punch to the stomach. Jesus had caught them off guard and had wiped the smug look of satisfaction off their faces with one simple sentence. They prided themselves on their knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures and here was Jesus accusing them of not knowing the Word of God or the power of God. They were intelligent, but ignorant. In all their study of the Scriptures, they had overlooked God’s power. They had relegated all they know about life to the here-and-now and rejected the idea of a hereafter. So, Jesus rocked their religious sensibilities by informing them that, in the resurrected state, there will be no marriage.

Their whole scenario was pointless and irrelevant. The woman would not be married to any of the brothers, “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30 NLT). This statement by Jesus must have totally surprised the Sadducees, catching them completely off guard. And it may be just as shocking to many reading these words right now. Your concept of heaven has always included marriage. You have assumed that if you are married here on earth, you will be married in heaven. But what would be the purpose of marriage in heaven? As an institution, it was designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. It was intended to be a physical representation of a spiritual reality.

In heaven, the union of Christ and the Church will be complete. There will no longer be a need for a symbol of that union. And while we may find that idea disturbing and possibly disappointing, we have to remember that our condition in our resurrected state will be one of perfection. We will be like Christ and have perfect fellowship with God the Father. Our primary relationship will be with Him. There will no longer be the need for another person to complete or complement us.

But Jesus knows that the real issue behind their question is their view on the resurrection, so He cuts to the chase and takes it head on.

“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead—haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.” – Matthew 22:31-32 NLT

Once again, Jesus questions their knowledge of the Scriptures, letting them know that in spite of all their study, they had missed a key point. When referring to His relationship with the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people, God had spoken in the PRESENT tense. He had said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” These words were spoken long after all three of these men were dead and gone, and yet God refers to His relationship with them in the present tense. Jesus made it clear that this was not a grammatical error, but a theological truth. There is an afterlife and there will be a resurrection. The Sadducees’ problem was that they tended to study the Scriptures with a biased view and a limited understanding of the power of God. The idea of the resurrection was impossible to them. It was inconceivable. So they simply refused to believe in it. In establishing their doctrinal views, they had unknowingly limited the power of God. Because they couldn’t understand something, they simply eliminated it from consideration. But Jesus made it clear that the resurrection was not only possible, it was undeniable and inevitable, because of the power of God.

For the Sadducees, life had become all about what they could see and explain. Their view was limited and restrictive. They had no room in their theology for an afterlife, because they couldn’t comprehend it. So, they put all their eggs in one basket, concentrating all their efforts on making the most out of this life. In doing so, they had missed the whole concept of the afterlife, of heaven and the resurrected state. For them, this earthly life was the only life. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, there are many who live that way today. Even those who claim to be Christ-followers live as if there is no eternal life, focusing all their attention and energies on making the most of this life. They ignore what they can’t explain or understand. And yet, we are encouraged throughout the Word of God to run the race of life with the end in mind. We are to set our affections on things above, not the things of this earth. We are told to consider ourselves as strangers here, and to remember that this world is not our home, we are simply passing through on our way to somewhere better. There is an afterlife. There is a heaven. This is not all there is. And we should live with that reality in mind.

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

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

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

O Lord, my strength and my stronghold,
    my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
    from the ends of the earth and say:
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
    worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods?
    Such are not gods!”

“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:15-21 ESV

The majority of the nations of the earth reject God. It was true in Jeremiah’s day and it is true in ours. And yet, Jeremiah knew that there was a day coming when all of that would change. He had faith and hope in the ultimate sovereignty of God and believed that one day humanity would wake up to the reality that there is only one true God. He envisioned a day when people would realize the error of their ways.

Nations from around the world
    will come to you and say,
“Our ancestors left us a foolish heritage,
    for they worshiped worthless idols.
Can people make their own gods?
    These are not real gods at all!” – Jeremiah 16:19-20 NLT

And he was right, because God has said it would be so.

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house
    will be the highest of all—
    the most important place on earth.
It will be raised above the other hills,
    and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.
People from many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion;
    his word will go out from Jerusalem.
The Lord will mediate between nations
    and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:1-4 NLT

Ultimately, God is interested in revealing Himself to mankind. He has done so through His creation. Paul makes that point clear in his letter to the believers in Rome.

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 2:19-20 NLT

The Bible is a chronicles of God’s revelation to man. He revealed Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and leading him to the land of Canaan. He revealed Himself to Moses in a burning bush and called him to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. And all throughout the book of Exodus God assures Moses with the words: “You will know that I am the Lord your God.”

“I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!” – Exodus 6:6-8 NLT

The plagues God brought on the Egyptians were intended to show the Israelites that their God, Yahweh, was more powerful than any of the gods of Egypt. He was proving Himself to the Israelites by revealing Himself in power. And God continued to do so throughout the book of Exodus as He freed them from slavery and led them to the land of promise. And by the time God was finished in Egypt, the Israelites would not be the only ones who would know that Yahweh was God. He made that point quite clear.

“When I raise my powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” – Exodus 7:5 NLT

Ten devastating plagues later, and God would have the attention of the Egyptians and the Jews. He would clearly reveal Himself as the one true God. And God lets Jeremiah know that there is a day coming when God’s power and prominence will once again be displayed before the nations, convincing them of His status as the one and only God of the universe.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the Lord to bless us. Let’s worship the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:20-23 NLT

That day has yet to come, but it will. Because God has promised it. And God, speaking through the prophet, Ezekiel, told the people of Israel that one day return them to favor in His eyes. Not because they had done anything to deserve it, but because He had promised it and was going to prove to the nations that His word was trustworthy and His power, unequaled.

Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

But in all this talk of future restoration and the nations recognizing Yahweh as the one true God, there remains the painful reality that Judah was still going to suffer for their sins. God was still bringing judgment on them because they had rebelled against Him. And yet, even His judgment would prove to them that He is God.

“Now I will show them my power;
    now I will show them my might.
At last they will know and understand
    that I am the Lord.” – Jeremiah 16:21 NLT

The painful reality is that God sometimes reveals Himself through judgment. He disciplines His children, because He loves them. He took the son born to David and Bathsheba as a result of their adulterous affair. And as a result, David knew that God was serious about sin. God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), when they lied about their gift of money to the church. And the church knew that God was serious about sin. God struck Miriam, the sister of Moses, with leprosy, because she and Aaron thought they had as much right to be leaders as Moses had (Numbers 12). And when Aaron saw what God had done to his sister, it got his attention. He suddenly feared God and begged Moses to intercede for her.

The people of Judah were going to experience the consequences of their sinful behavior. And they would learn a great deal about their God in the process. It’s sad to admit that, for many of us, we tend to learn better through difficulties. Our faith grows stronger during times of adversity and trials. But we must always remember that God is constantly revealing Himself to us, even in the difficult times. He wants us to know that He takes sin seriously. He wants us to recognize His power and to learn to rely upon it. He wants us to understand that He considers our call to holiness non-negotiable. He demands that we be holy, as He is holy. He requires obedience and faithfulness from His people. But sometimes, we doubt that He really means it. So, He reveals Himself through discipline. He manifests His displeasure by allowing us to suffer for our sinful habits. But the bottom line is that God is always there and is always revealing Himself to us. He is always proving His power to us and convincing us of His holiness and righteousness. Because His greatest desire is that we know and understand that He is the Lord.

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

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

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

Mourning Comes Before Morning.

But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”

While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father’s servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king’s house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok’s son, and Jonathan, Abiathar’s son, and by them you shall send to me everything you hear.” So Hushai, David’s friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem. – 2 Samuel 15:13-37 ESV

As David made his way out of the city of David, he did so in a state of mourning. He headed east toward the Mount of Olives, barefoot and with his head covered. He led a sizeable retinue of household servants, personal body guards, members of his royal administration, and armed soldiers. It is interesting to contrast this scene with the one in which David led the way as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the gates of Jerusalem. At that point, David had been headed in the opposite direction and was in a significantly different mood. He was dancing and leaping, joyfully leading the procession that contained the Ark of God. Now, years later, the Ark was in Jerusalem, but David was on his way out. There was no music, no dancing, and no joy on this occasion. David was on his way out, abandoning his capital and abdicating his throne to his son, Absalom. David, and all those with him, were weeping as they went. And then, to make matters even worse, David received the disappointing news that one of his own counselors, Ahithophel,  had chosen to remain behind and serve Absalom. Not only that, Ahithophel is described as a co-conspirator with Absalom. He was not just switching sides at the end, he had played a role in the entire enterprise, providing Absalom with counsel and advice along the way.

David’s response was simple and it came in the form of a prayer: “O Lord, let Ahithophel give Absalom foolish advice!” (2 Samuel 15:31 NLT). He didn’t rant, rave or hurl invectives against Ahithophel. He simply asked God to turn the wisdom of Ahithophel into foolishness. Then, David did what he could to counter the betrayal of Ahithophel. He asked his good friend, Hushai, to return to the city and act as his eyes and ears, and to serve as an inside source, providing Absalom with advice that directly opposed that of Ahithophel.
“Return to Jerusalem and tell Absalom, ‘I will now be your adviser, O king, just as I was your father’s adviser in the past.’ Then you can frustrate and counter Ahithophel’s advice.” – 2 Samuel 15:34 NLT

 

David was down, but not out. He was in mourning, but he was not giving up. He was setting up his own network of spies to provide him with inside information regarding Absalom’s plans. He had evidently prearranged with Abiathar and Zadok, the priests, to use their sons as messengers, providing David with much-needed intel about all that went on in the kingdom while he was in exile. As bleak and bad as things looked, David still had friends. There were still those who were willing to stand beside him at one of the darkest moments in his life. And while David’s actions and demeanor portray a man who has all but given up, it would appear that he is just being realistic. He knows that, for the time being, he has lost his kingdom to his son. He does not know why. He is not yet sure if this is a permanent situation or simply another detour in God’s plan for his life. Rather than risk a pitched battle with Absalom and subject the city of Jerusalem to destruction and its inhabitants to death, David had left of his own free will. He was sad, but still expectant. He was in mourning, but remained hopeful. He put in place measures that would provide him with vital intelligence and allow him to influence the actions of Absalom from the inside.

The days ahead were going to be difficult for David and, at times, very dark. The worst had not yet come. There was going to be more devastating news and difficult circumstances in David’s future. He would be ridiculed, reviled, and rejected as king. He would find himself living in exile from his own kingdom. And yet, in the back of his mind, he would always have to wrestle with the seeming incongruity of his anointing by God to be king and the lightning-fast loss of his kingship. What was God doing? Why was all of this happening? Was it because of his sins? Was it the punishment of God for all he had done concerning Bathsheba and Uriah?

There will be days in the life of every believer that seem to make no sense. We will each find ourselves battling the dark days of the soul that make us question what we have done to offend God. And sometimes, God is slow in giving us answers to our questions or explanations to the seemingly confusing events surrounding our lives. At times, we will find ourselves suffering the ramifications of our own poor decision making. Other times, the consequences of past sins will catch up with us, leaving us confused and conflicted as to what God is doing and why. The days ahead for David were going to be dark and difficult. He would have more questions than answers. And all along the way he would be tempted to either give up in despair or lash out in anger. He would find himself struggling to balance waiting on God with working things out on his own. Should he fight or flee? Should he give up or faithfully wait for God to show up? It is in the trials of life that we find our faith in God tested and our understanding of who He really is exposed as flawed and one-dimensional. David’s circumstances had changed dramatically, but God had not. David’s power had diminished significantly, but not God’s. David was no longer on his throne, but God was. From David’s perspective, it would have been easy to see all as bleak, but God had a different view on things, and He was not yet done with David. Absalom loomed large in David’s life, but he was insignificant to God. Our darkest days can provide the perfect backdrop for the light of God’s goodness, love, power and deliverance to shine.

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

Temporary Insanity.

And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?”

And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” – 1 Samuel 21:10-15 ESV

The question that should immediately come into your mind when reading these verses is, “What was David thinking?” There seems to be nothing rational or logical in his behavior. Why in the world would David, the very man who killed Goliath, who was from Gath, choose to seek refuge in Gath, and while carrying the sword that once belonged to Goliath? What kind of flawed logic did David use to think that he would be welcomed with open arms? After all, it was David who, in an act of over-achievement, killed 200 Philistines in order to obtain the 100 foreskins Saul had demanded as a dowry for his daughter, Michal. It was David who had served as a commander in Saul’s forces and had won great victories over the Philistines. So what would possess him to think they would provide him with refuge? From what we know of David’s faithfulness to God and his hatred of the enemies of God, it seems quite unlikely that David had gone to Gath to offer his services as a warrior to king Achish. In other words, David was not considering switching sides and fighting for the Philistines against his own people. So why did he go? The text does not tell us. We can only conjecture that David was desperate to get away from Saul and any troops that may be out to seek him. He knew that the last place Saul would look for him was in the land of the Philistines. But David didn’t think his strategy through all the way. He made a rash decision, under duress, and now found himself in a very dangerous spot.

The Philistines immediately recognized David. It’s interesting to note that they referred to David as “the king of the land” (1 Samuel 21:11 ESV). They had heard about the songs sung about David, that celebrated his military exploits and lauded him as greater than Saul. It is doubtful that they had heard about David’s anointing, but they most likely viewed David as the true leader of the Israelites. At the affair in the Valley of Elah, Goliath had challenged Saul and his men to send a champion to face him in hand-to-hand combat, but no one would step forward. Day after day he taunted them, but Saul remained in the background, afraid to take up the challenge and take on Goliath. At that moment, the Philistines most likely lost all respect for Saul as a king, and when David ended up slaying Goliath, they saw him as the true king of Israel. But whatever the case, they knew that the man standing before them was an enemy and a threat.

The text rather of matter-of-factly states, “And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath” (1 Samuel 21:12 ESV). It was as if David woke up from a bad dream and realized the gravity of his situation. The stupidity of his decision to go to Gath suddenly dawned on him and he was “much afraid.” He was petrified, terrified, and mortified that he had ever come up with this doomed plan in the first place. So, finding himself in a jam, David resorted to deceit. Here was the man who had killed Goliath, defeated hundreds of Philistines in battle, slaughtered 200 Philistines just to pay the dowry for his wife, and who was carrying the sword of his Goliath in his hand, and yet he chose to feign madness rather than trust God and fight his enemies. David somehow forgot all about his anointing and the fact that God had been by his side during all the conflicts of his life. The young man who once shouted, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:27 ESV), and then took the life of Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone, was now so fearful in the face of his enemies, that he resorted to acting like a madman. The Message paraphrases verse 13 this way: “So right there, while they were looking at him, he pretended to go crazy, pounding his head on the city gate and foaming at the mouth, spit dripping from his beard.”

What a scene. What a sad situation for the future king of Israel to find himself in. This is the same David who would later write:

Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me. – Psalm 144:1-2 ESV

He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
– Psalm 18:34 ESV

This ill-timed, poorly conceived plan of David would be used by God to teach His young king-in-waiting an invaluable lesson in faith. David would learn, in the future, to place his trust in God rather than his own rash plans and flawed attempts at self-preservation. David would escape with his life, if not his dignity. He would not forget that day. In fact, he ended up penning the words of Psalm 34 as a result of this encounter with King Achish.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
    He freed me from all my fears.
– Psalm 34:4 NLT

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
    he saved me from all my troubles.Psalm 34:6 NLT

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles. – Psalm 34:17 NLT

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
    not one of them is broken! – Psalm 34:19-20 NLT

It is interesting to read these statements in light of what actually happened that day. There is no indication that God intervened. David didn’t take the sword of Goliath and slaughter King Achish and all his soldiers. There was no lightning bolt from heaven that struck down the Philistines and allowed David to walk away safe and secure. There is no mention of any miraculous intervention on God’s part. What really happened was that David resorted to acting like a madman, complete with drool dripping from his beard. Faced with the prospect of death, David had taken matters into his own hands and escaped with his life because he was willing to throw away any sense of pride or dignity he had. And yet, when looking back on that day, David saw his rescue as having come from God. In spite of his actions, God had rescued him. While he had run from the land of God to the land of the enemies of God had remained with him. Even at one of his worst moments, God had not abandoned him. Regardless of how badly David’s poor attempt at self-preservation had turned out, God is the one who rescued David from himself. And that is what God does for His own. God had said David would be the next king of Israel, and he would be. Even David, at his worst moment, couldn’t screw up God’s plan. He could make things harder on himself, but nothing he did would make it too hard for God to fulfill His divine plan for him. Even our bouts of temporary insanity cannot prevent the future fulfillment of God’s plans for us.

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

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

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

Spiritual Warfare.

Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him, that he might kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, told him, “If you do not escape with your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped. Michal took an image and laid it on the bed and put a pillow of goats’ hair at its head and covered it with the clothes. And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” Then Saul sent the messengers to see David, saying, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” And when the messengers came in, behold, the image was in the bed, with the pillow of goats’ hair at its head. Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me thus and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” And Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go. Why should I kill you?’”

Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” – 1 Samuel 19:11-24 ESV

Saul’s fear of and subsequent hatred for David continued to intensify. To a certain degree, Saul could not seem to help himself. Throughout the story, we will see that Saul had an underlying, deep-seated love for David. All the way back in chapter 16, when David first came into Saul’s employment, we are told, “And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer” (1 Samuel 16:21 ESV). But Saul had to deal with a “harmful spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV) which tormented him on a regular basis. This spirit, more than likely demonic in nature, would possess Saul and cause him to lose all control. It was while under the control of this spirit that Saul attempted on three different occasions to kill David with a spear. While the text describes this tormenting spirit as coming from God, that does not mean God was the cause of Saul’s possession. This would be contrary to the character of God. The apostle James cautions us: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). By removing the Holy Spirit from Saul, God knowingly and willingly made Saul susceptible to demonic possession. He removed the protective power of the Holy Spirit and left Saul vulnerable to the influence of Satan. This was all part of His divine plan.

Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right. – Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.

Saul’s obsession with David’s death was most likely the result of his own possession by a demonic spirit. This reveals that the conflict between Saul and David was really a spiritual one. Satan was using Saul in an attempt to thwart the plan of God for David. David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. David was a man after God’s own heart. Unlike Saul, David was obedient to God and lived his life in an effort to please and honor God. Obviously, Satan preferred Saul over David. And Satan’s real objective was the destruction of the people of Israel. From the first moment when God placed His curse on the serpent in the garden and pronounced his pending doom, Satan had been out do destroy the offspring of Eve.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.” – Genesis 3:15 ESV

When God later chose Abraham and revealed that He would make of him a great nation and through him all the nations of the world would be blessed.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

God would go on to clarify His promise to Abraham…

“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And 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. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:6-8 ESV

And the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would give a further, more detailed understanding of what this promise of God really entailed.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Satan had it out for David because David represented the faithful people of God. He had been anointed by God for a reason and Satan realized that this young man presented a threat to his rule and reign over the world and mankind. All throughout the Bible we see a cosmic conflict taking place between Satan and God, as Satan continually attempts to thwart the will and divine plan of God to bring into existence the “offspring” of Abraham, Jesus Christ the Messiah. And this conflict would intensify all the way into the New Testament and reach its apex at the cross, where Satan through he had defeated the plan of God once and for all.

But back to the story of David. An earlier attempt by Saul to eliminate David by using his son, Jonathan, had failed. Now he would be foiled by his own daughter. She would betray her father by protecting David, warning him of Saul’s plot and helping him escape. She would even lie to Saul, risking his anger and possible revenge. It is interesting to note that Michal would use a household idol, a false god, to thwart the plans of Satan, the god of this world. A lifeless image of a non-existent god would be used to spare the life of the man whom God had chosen to lead his people. What an amazing picture of the sovereign power of God Almighty. And when Saul sent men to capture David, God would intervene again, turning David’s pursuers into prophets – “the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy” (1 Samuel 19:21 NLT). This would happen three separate times to three different groups of troops. Finally, Saul would get fed up and go after David himself. But he would suffer a similar fate.

…the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth! He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, “What? Is even Saul a prophet?” – 1 Samuel 19:23-24 NLT

Men who were set on capturing the servant of God ended up prophesying on behalf of God. The enemies of God became the tools of God. The plan of Satan was radically altered by the sovereign will and power of God. This was a spiritual battle being waged behind the scenes and by powers far beyond the comprehension of Saul and his minions. The war going on here is not between Saul and David, but between God and the forces of Satan. And that has always been the case. The apostle Paul reminds us that it will always be the case, until Jesus Christ returns and completes God’s redemptive plan.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

So in the meantime, we must be strong in the Lord. We must rely on His power and stand firm in the knowledge that the battle is His. David would have to do the same thing. He was going to learn that this battle was far more than one man’s personal vendetta against him. This was the forces of wickedness waging war against the sovereign reign of God.

 

Learning to Lean.

Then Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”

While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared. So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. – Esther 6:12-7:1 ESV

It is fascinating to note the reactions of the two men in this story. After having been dressed in the king’s royal robes and paraded through the city streets on a royal steed, Mordecai returned to his place at the king’s gate, continuing his state of mourning over the fate of the Jews. He did not let his temporary flirtation with fame and good fortune distract him from his mission to mourn and fast for the salvation of his people. There were more important things for Mordecai to consider than his own prominence or personal well-being.

As for Haman, he went from bragging about his wealth, power and position to a state of mourning. The man who once held his head high in pride and arrogance made his way home with his head covered in shame. And when he arrived home, rather than receiving comfort and encouragement from his wife and friends, he was told that his case against Mordecai was hopeless. He would be the one to fall. Even Haman’s wife, Zeresh, gave him the bad news that if Mordecai was a Jew, then Haman would be the one to fall.

Even within the realm of King Xerxes, in the nation of Persia, within the capital of Susa, the Hebrew people had a reputation. Their stories were well-known. The tales of their God’s power and miracles were well-known. And while the Jews were in Persia because they had been defeated by the Babylonians, it must be remembered that both Cyrus and Artaxerses, predecessors to King Xerxes, had passed edicts to allow the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple. These two kings had even funded the return and the restoration projects out of the royal treasury. For Haman to attempt to stand against Mordecai would be ill-advised and ill-fated. It was as if Zeresh sensed that there were greater forces at work here than Haman or anyone else could see. The events of the last 24 hours were not a case of bad luck. They were the result of the intentional intervention of the Hebrew god.

But Haman would have little time to consider that thoughts of his wife and friends. Before he knew it, the king’s eunuchs arrived to accompany Haman to the second feast being thrown in his honor by Queen Esther. Haman had to uncover his head, hide his sorrow and put on a happy face before he walked into the presence of the king. But his head was spinning. His emotional world was in turmoil. He had just been forced to honor the man he had intended to execute. And when the king caught wind of the fact that the edict he had been coerced to sign by Haman was going to result in the death of Mordecai, the man he had just rewarded, his reaction to Haman would probably be less than ideal.

Haman was probably thinking things couldn’t get any worse. But he was in for a rude surprise. His selfish, pride-filled plan was running headlong into God’s sovereign will. He would prove no match for God. He thought his beef was with Mordecai, a common, nondescript Jew. But he was about to discover that he was doing battle with God Almighty. He would learn the truth behind the statement made by the prophet Balaam hundreds of years before:

No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    “What wonders God has done for Israel!” – Numbers 23:23 NLT

Haman was no match for God. His wisdom was nothing compared to God’s. His wealth paled in comparison to the vast resources at God’s disposal. His influence over the king was insignificant when contrasted with God’s sovereign control over the entire universe, including kings and kingdoms. If he found any comfort in the fact that the king’s edict was irreversible, he was in for a rude surprise.

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. – Proverbs 21:1 ESV

For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. – Psalm 135:5-6 ESV

…his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” – Daniel 4:34-35 ESV

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. – 2 Chronicles 20:6 ESV

From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. – Isaiah 43:13 NLT

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. – Luke 1:51-53 ESV

Back in 1887, Elisha Hoffman penned the words to the great old hymn, Leaning On The Everlasting Arms. They certainly apply to the story found in the book of Esther.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

There comes a time when we must learn to lean on the everlasting, all-powerful arms of God. Just when we think all is lost and the enemy is winning the battle, we must remember that our God is on His throne and His might has not diminished, His will has not weakened, His love has not faded and His sovereign plan has not been derailed or deterred in any way. Even when all looks lost, we must continue to lean on God. What we can see with our eyes is never a reliable barometer of what God is doing behind the scenes. God replaced Mordecai’s sackcloth with royal robes, just a glimpse of what was to come. God took Haman’s pride and arrogance, and replaced it with humiliation. And that would be just the beginning of Haman’s fall from grace. God was not done yet.

Will The Real King Stand Up?

And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus. – Esther 1:5-9 ESV

After a non-stop, no-holds-barred feast that lasted 180 days, King Xerxes was far from finished. He threw another feast lasting seven days for all the people living in Susa, the capital. It was held in the court of the garden outside the king’s palace. By this time, everyone would heard about the king’s 180-day soiree. The rumors about his opulent, invitation-only party would have become legendary. Now he was opening up the gates of the palace to invite anyone and everyone to join in the celebration. And it was another, no-expense-spared spectacle. Rather than showing signs of exhaustion from his 180-day long binge of drinking, eating and over-indulging in all kinds of ways, the king upped his game. The description provided for the decorations alone reveal that this was not a scaled-down, low-budget party for the common people. This was a setting designed to create awe in the eyes of the beholder. It was intended to drop jaws, catch the breath, widen the eyes, and elicit emotional responses of amazement, awe, and even envy.

There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. – Esther 1:6 ESV

Imagine the impact this all had on the common people of Susa. They would have never experienced anything like this before. And as amazing as the surroundings were, they were allowed to drink the king’s finest wine from golden goblets. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it was all a show. We are not told why the king was celebrating or what prompted him to throw these extravagant and expensive parties. The reason for the parties is not the important point of the story. We are being given a glimpse into the power, pride and wealth of a king who knows no bounds, answers to no one and enjoy unprecedented authority and has access to seemingly limitless resources. He is a man at the top of his game who rules over a nation that is at the top of the food chain. Xerxes is a force to be reckoned with. He is all-powerful. He knows no limits. He has no equal.

We are being set up. The author wants us to read the opening lines of his story and see King Xerxes as the central figure in the narrative. His power and possessions are proof of his importance. He is the king after all. He is in control. But all of that is about to change. A series of events is about to take place. Unbeknownst to the king, things are about to get really interesting. His sovereignty is about to get challenged and in ways he never could have imagined or foreseen. This is a man used to getting his own way. He is addicted to power and control. He has the wealth to do whatever he wants. He has an army that allows him to conquer whoever he wills. And while his power and possessions may amaze and astound his people, there is someone who is not in awe of Xerxes: God Almighty

God was not blown away by King Xerxes’ party. He didn’t look down from heaven with slack-jawed amazement at the wealth of this king or the staggering breadth of his kingdom. Xerxes might sit on a throne in his palace in Susa, but God ruled from His throne in heaven. God didn’t need to throw a party to prove his worth. He didn’t need to put on a show to prove His power. In fact, God will operate behind the scenes throughout this story, without recognition and seemingly invisible to the eye. His name will not be mentioned, but His presence will be felt. He will not appear, but His hand will be seen orchestrating events in such a way that His power will be indisputable.

This is a story about sovereignty – God’s sovereignty versus man’s. It is about providence, “the foreseeing care and guidance of God” (dictionary.com). The author wants us to see God in the everyday affairs of life, even though He is not visible to our eyes. He wants us to realize that God’s seeming lack of presence does not mean He is not there. God does not have to put on a show to prove He is powerful. He doesn’t require a burning bush or a pillar of fire to prove His existence. Just when we think He is no where to be found, He shows up. About the time we conclude God is absent from our midst, we realize He has been there all along. God is always at work. He never sleeps or slumbers. He is never out of control, out of touch or out of reach.

Xerxes was the king. But he was about to find out who was really in control.

A Divine Calling.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV

Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship in order to validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. There were those who were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. More than likely they had heard it story before, but Paul probably provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached was not given to him by any man. He hadn’t learned it from any human teacher. He had not been led to faith by anybody, but had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.

The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus in order to arrest any Christians he found there, and then some days later, after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues.

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV

Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God. Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle. He had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus. And then he had spent three years in Arabia. We are not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He had appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV

Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James. But he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV).

Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but a new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul’s conversion was God’s doing. His change of heart had been the work of God. And what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.

It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. His radically altered life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message. It seems that far too often, what we proclaim about the gospel is not present in our own lives. We tell others of its transformational power, and yet our lives reveal little of that power at work. We talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but our knowledge of Him has grown little since the day we first met Him. We can easily tell others about the day we came to faith in Christ, but we have a hard time telling them how we are living by faith on a day by day basis. Paul’s strongest proof for the authenticity of his message was his personal story of life change. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in my life should be the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity.

Faith Is Not A Commodity.

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

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

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

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

Glory To God.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. – Romans 16:25-27 ESV

Paul wraps up his letter with a doxology – a statement of praise to God. This entire letter has been a treatise on the praiseworthiness of God for His power, grace, mercy, patience, power, sovereignty, love and the greatest expression of that love: the sacrifice of His Son as the payment for mankind’s sins. Paul wanted his readers to know that the very same God who made salvation possible and who, in His mercy, chose them to receive redemption, was fully capable of strengthening them and keeping them “according to his gospel.” Notice that Paul personalizes the gospel, calling it his own. In the early stages of his letter he referred to it as the gospel of God (Romans 1:1) and the gospel of His Son (Romans 1:9). In chapter 15 he called it the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19). But here he makes it his own. It is the gospel of God because He is the one who made it possible. It is the gospel of Christ, the Son, because He is the one whose sinless sacrifice fulfilled the demands of the Father. But it was Paul’s gospel because he had been commissioned by Christ Himself to share the good news of salvation for the Gentiles. This is the mystery Paul refers to: “according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all the nations” (Romans 16:25-26 ESV). Paul referred to this mystery in his letter to the Colossian believers.

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:24-27 NLT

The gospel was at one time a mystery, hidden from the eyes of men. It was clearly revealed in the Old Testament, as Paul has so strongly proven, but the Old Testament saints were not able to see all the aspects concerning God’s plan of salvation for all the nations. Even the disciples of Jesus saw Him as a Messiah for the Jewish people. They had no concept of Gentiles being included in Christ’s Kingdom. They were shocked when they found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well. They were more than likely confused by the conversation had with the Gentile woman concerning her sick daughter.

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Gentilee woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”

But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”

Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”

Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. – Matthew 16:21-28 NLT

When Jesus said to the woman, “It isn’t right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs,” He was simply expressing what the disciples were thinking. Jews would not mix with Gentiles. They were considered inferior. But Jesus came to change all that. His death would not be just for the Jews, but for all mankind, and Paul’s God-ordained commission was to make the mystery known to any and all who would listen, in order “to bring about the obedience of faith.”

The gospel, this incredible mystery, is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV). The gospel was made possible by the love, mercy and grace of God. It was made possible by the gracious gift of His Son. It was made possible by His Son’s death, and confirmed by His resurrection, accomplished by the power of the Spirit of God. Everything about the gospel was God’s doing. Even Paul’s miraculous conversion and divine commissioning. So to Him alone belongs “glory forevemore through Jesus Christ” (Romans 16:27 ESV). The words of the great old hymn, To God Be The Glory, by Fanny Crosby, sum it up perfectly.

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.