Faith in the Face of Uncertainty

20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. – Hebrews 11:20 ESV

Isaac, the son of Abraham, would live a long life and father two twin sons, Jacob and Esau. He would also inherit the same promise from God given to his father, Abraham.

“Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” – Genesis 26:3-4 ESV

When Isaac realized that his days on earth were coming to a close, he determined to bless his sons, beginning with Esau, the first-born of the two.

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” – Genesis 27:1-4 ESV

Of course, little did Isaac know that his wife, Rebekah, had overheard his instructions to Esau. She immediately conspired with Jacob, her personal favorite of the two sons, to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for Esau. In her defense, Rebekah thought she was doing the right thing.

Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah had been barren and unable to have children. But God came to her and promised to give her twin boys. He told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). She believed that the blessing of Isaac was the key to God’s promise being fulfilled, so she concocted a plan to make sure Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn. And Jacob went along with it because, technically, the birthright was his. Esau had unwisely and impulsively sold it to him for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Driven by his hunger, Esau had flippantly forfeited his right to the blessing

So, when Rebekah approached Jacob with her plan to deceive Isaac, he was reluctant but eventually agreed to carry it out. And their deception worked. Unknowingly, Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob that had been intended for Esau.

“May God give you of the dew of heaven
    and of the fatness of the earth
    and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
    and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
    and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” – Genesis 27:28-29 ESV

But what is interesting about this story is what the author of Hebrews says about Isaac. He writes, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.

But wait a minute! He was deceived. He didn’t knowingly bless Jacob. He did so because he was tricked. How can this be an example of faith? Well, first of all, we have to realize that the blessing he gave, fully believing he was giving it to Esau, was an example of faith. It was based on things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen. In simply invoking the blessing he was trusting God to bring it all about. Isaac could speak the words, but God would have to bring them to fruition. That is an act of faith.

Yet even when Isaac discovered that he had been deceived by his wife and youngest son, he was angry but remained faithful.

Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” – Genesis 27:33 ESV

Despite the subterfuge of Rebekah, Isaac had faith that God would fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham and had passed on to him.

And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV

Things had not turned out quite like he had planned, but he was willing to trust God with the future outcome. In a display of acceptance of God’s sovereign will in the matter, Isaac pronounced a second blessing on Jacob before he moved to Paran in order to escape the wrath of his disgruntled brother.

“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” – Genesis 28:3-4 ESV

Notice what Isaac did. He went back to the promise of God. Despite all that had happened, he kept his focus on what God had said. He didn’t grasp the full implications of all that had transpired; he didn’t even like it, but he was willing to trust God with it. He had no idea what was going to happen in the years ahead. He was blind to all that God was going to do with and to Jacob. But he believed that God had meant it when He had said, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:3-4 ESV).

And years later, when Jacob had returned from his self-imposed exile and his father Isaac was near death, God visited him and reconfirmed His covenant commitment.

And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV

It is interesting to note that God changed Jacob’s name. In Hebrew, his name meant “he takes by the heel or he cheats.” This was a result of what happened at the time of Jacob and Esau’s births. Esau came out first, but the text tells us, “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (Genesis 25:26 ESV).

But now, years later, God would change Jacob’s name. In Hebrew, the name change from Ya`aqob to Yisra’el was subtle but highly significant. Israel means, “God prevails.” In spite of all the trickery, deceit, human flaws, misplaced blessings, and convoluted circumstances surrounding Jacob’s life, God was in charge. His will was being done. His promise was being fulfilled. And it was in this fact that Isaac had placed his hope and conviction. He had faith that God would do what He said He would do. So by faith, he invoked future blessings on his two sons, trusting God to take care of the rest. Isaac believed his God to be faithful, trustworthy, and fully capable of fulfilling His promises – despite the well-intentioned but highly deceitful actions of Rebekah and Jacob. God was in charge and Isaac placed his faith in that foundational fact.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Future-Focused Faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. – Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV

The first four words of this section of Hebrews 11 are critical: “By faith Abraham obeyed.” It would be easy to put the emphasis on the latter half of the statement, making Abraham’s obedience the main point. But the author is simply attempting to provide further proof for the opening line of this chapter: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Abraham’s obedience, while important, is meant to take a back seat to his faith. It is a byproduct of his faith. As the author said in verse six, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

We have to go back to the Old Testament book of Genesis to see the complete story of Abraham’s call and his subsequent obedience to that call. He was living in Haran with his father and the rest of his family. They had moved there from Ur. And it was while he was living in Haran that God came to Abram (his original name), and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV).

What’s important to notice is that, according to the text, God had not given him the exact location of his final destination. Even the passage in Hebrews says that Abram “went out, not knowing where he was going.” This is an important part of the story. The extent of Abram’s knowledge was limited. He knew that God had called him and had promised to give him land and to produce from him a great nation. While these promises were substantial in scope, they were also a bit vague. Anyone would naturally want to know where and how. Where is this land you are giving me and how do you intend to produce a great nation from a man with a barren wife?

Abram would have had questions and concerns, yet he still obeyed God and did exactly as he was told. But the author’s emphasis is the faith that fueled Abram’s obedience. 

by faith Abraham obeyed. – Hebrews 11:8 ESV

He had no idea where he was going or how God was going to pull off what He had promised. Genesis tells us that Abram headed out, under the direction of God, and before long he found himself in the land of Canaan, a land occupied by none other than the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah.

Abram was a descendant of Shem, another son of Noah. So once he arrived at his final destination, Abram found the land already occupied by some distant family members. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Hebrews 11:9 ESV). Abram found himself living in a land that belonged to others, and its residents lived in well-furnished houses while his small family was relegated to the transient lifestyle of nomads, living in tents and constantly moving from one location to another.

They were little more than squatters and vagabonds who enjoyed no sense of stability or ownership, and this state of affairs would last for generations, spanning the lives of Isaac and Jacob. Abram had received a promise of land but he spent his entire life living like a stranger rather than an occupant. He never owned a home or lived within the secure walls of a city. In fact, the author of Hebrews states that during his entire tenure in Canaan, “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).

The Greek word the author uses is ekdechomai and it means “to look for, expect, wait for, await” (Greek Lexicon :: G1551 (KJV). Blue Letter Bible. Web. 4 Feb, 2016. < Abram was waiting for, expecting, and anticipating something that had not yet come. He was eagerly and hopefully waiting for God to make his residence a permanent one. His understanding of the promise was that it would include a city made up of bricks and mortar, with walls, ceilings, and floors. Abram was eagerly anticipating the end of his nomadic existence spent living in tents.

But he had to wait, and along with having to deal with the existence of Canaanites, he had to endure the devastating impact of a debilitating drought. When he first arrived in the “promised land,” things were so bad that he was forced to take an unplanned detour to Egypt to seek food for his family. This was not what he had expected when he obeyed the call of God back in Ur. But through a series of unexpected but divinely ordained events, Abram arrived back in Canaan a wealthy man with an abundance of livestock. In fact, his flocks were so large that he and his nephew Lot had to part ways in order to keep from running into conflicts over pasturing rights. And when he gave Lot the first choice of land, his nephew chose the very best, leaving Abram with the less attractive portion. But Abram continued to trust God. He placed his hope and convictions in the promises of God. Even after Abram gave Lot the choice of the best land, God reconfirmed His promise to him.

Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you. – Genesis 13:14-17 ESV

According to God, the land was as good as his – all of it. Every square acre of it, including all of the land occupied by the Canaanites and by Lot belonged to Abram. He had yet to take possession of a single square inch of the land of Canaan but, according to God’s promise, it was all going to belong to his descendants. Abram placed his faith and hope in God and His word. The fact that he did not possess a permanent home or the deed to a piece of property did not diminish his belief that God was going to follow through on His promise. Abram lived with the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Yet, the author states that Abram and all the others listed in chapter 11 “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Theirs was a future-focused faith. It was based on a promise, and that promise was assured because the promise-maker was trustworthy. Abram knew that the promise of God was far greater and encompassed far more than just his individual blessing. God’s promise involved future generations and had far-reaching implications. Abram would never live to see the complete fulfillment of God’s promise. He would be long gone by the time his descendants faced another famine in Canaan and returned to Egypt. He would never live to see them multiply and grow to such a degree that Pharaoh would become fearful of them and decree a pogrom designed to exterminate them. He would not experience the joy of watching God set his descendants free from their captivity in Egypt and lead them back to the promised land. He would not enjoy the thrill of seeing them conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. He would never see the rise of King David or view the splendor of Solomon’s grand kingdom. And he would never live to see the coming of the Messiah, the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

But Abram believed. He had faith. He obeyed. He worshiped. He waited. And he left the future in God’s hands. He had future faith because he believed in an eternal God who never fails to keep His word or fulfill His commitments. And the apostle Paul would have us live by faith as Abram did.

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

A New Chapter Begins

1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen. Genesis 25:1-18 ESV

The 25th chapter marks the midway point in the book of Genesis. And while the chapter designations came long after the book was written, the details recorded in this section of Moses’ chronicle serve as a turning point in the narrative. For the last 14 chapters, Abraham has served as the story’s central character. Since the moment God called him out of Haran and disclosed the terms of the covenant, Abraham has been the protagonist and the promised progenitor of God’s grand plan. It would be through Abraham that God would fulfill His covenant promise to establish a great nation. And yet, here at the midway point of the Genesis account, Abraham is old and quite wealthy, but he has only one son. It would be a gross understatement to say that Abraham’s quiver was full. And even that one son is 37-year-old, newly married, and currently childless. Where is this great nation that God had promised?

But 24 chapters remain, and God is far from done. It is as if God is turning a page in the storyline and beginning something new. Isaac has found and married his bride – with the help of God. Sarah has died and, as these verses reveal, Abraham is not long for this world. He has reached the ripe old age of 175 and yet, Moses describes him in terms that belie his elderly status. He may not be a spring chicken, but he is far from a doddering old man. When Sarah had died, Abraham had been 137 years old. And while he mourned the loss of his wife, he eventually married a woman named Keturah. Up to this point in the story, Abraham had fathered only two children, Ishmael and Isaac. But his marriage to Keturah would result in the births of six additional children.

This insight into Abraham’s procreative capabilities seems intended to underscore the unique nature of Isaac’s birth. Abraham had always been capable of fathering children. He had no trouble in impregnating his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. And even as he neared the latter days of his life, he proved to be fully capable of producing descendants. But the text makes it clear that children were not to be heirs of the promise. After providing the identities of Abraham’s latest offspring, Moses states:

All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. – Genesis 25:5 ESV

These children were not destined to be part of the “great nation” that God had promised to produce from Abraham and Sarah. God had even told Abraham that Ishmael, the son born to him by Hagar, was not to be an heir of the covenant.

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” – Genesis 17:20-21 ESV

It is important to remember that Sarah always resented the presence of Ishmael. Even though his very existence had been the result of her bright idea to have Hagar bear a son for Abraham, Sarah despised this son of a slave woman (Galatians 4:22-23). And the day had come, after the birth of Isaac, that she demanded that Ishmael be disinherited.

“Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” – Genesis 21:10 ESV

While Abraham found his wife’s anger to be unjust and disturbing, God encouraged him to give in to her demands.

“Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” – Genesis 21:12-13 ESV

And, just like always, God kept His word. Moses records that Abraham sent away each of the sons born to his concubine, Keturah. He provided them with gifts, but they would not share in the inheritance of Isaac. They suffered the same fate as that of Ishmael. They were cast out but they were far from forgotten by God. Notice how Moses records the children born to Ishmael. Why would he bother to add that seemingly unimportant detail?

These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. – Genesis 25:12-15 ESV

These names mean nothing to us. And yet, their very mention is designed to prove the integrity of God’s word. Remember what God had said to Sarah: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20 ESV).

Now, look closely at the list of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names recorded in verses 12-15 of Genesis 25. There were twelves sons born to Ishmael. In spite of Sarah’s ill-treatment of this young man, God had chosen to keep His word and bless him. He would make of Ishmael a great nation. The whole point seems to be that Abraham had always been fully capable of procreating and producing a long line of descendants. Ishmael had been prolific and produced 12 sons. In the same way, the six sons born to Keturah would go on to produce many offspring. But only the descendants of Isaac would become the nation through whom the other nations of the earth would be blessed. Only the line of Isaac would produce a chosen people, set apart by God, and destined to become the conduit through which He would pour out His divine blessing on humanity.

God fulfilled His promise and made Ishmael the father of “12 princes.” It is interesting to note the correlation between these 12 “tribes” and the 12 tribes that would eventually come through the line of Isaac. Moses indicates that Ishmael’s descendants “settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen” (Genesis 25:18 ESV). The Ishmaelites eventually settled in the region of Arabia, southeast of Canaan, and would have a less-than-ideal relationship with their distant relatives, the Israelites. But God had kept His word. He had faithfully fulfilled His promise.

And with the fate of Ishmael’s descendants established, Moses records that, at the age of 175, “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8 ESV). The life of Abraham came to an end. But the fulfillment of God’s promises had only just begun. The story is far from over. And verse 19 will begin a new chapter in God’s grand redemptive plan as Moses records the births of Esau and Jacob. But this story will contain many familiar features and themes. Yet another woman will find herself cursed by barrenness. There will be seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between siblings. Glaring examples of jealousy, anger, deceit, and disobedience will fill the storyline. But through it all, God will be operating behind the scenes, orchestrating His sovereign plan to fulfill the covenant he made with Abraham. Yahweh is fully committed to His promise to bless the nations. 

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. All rights reserved.

The Wonderful Ways of God

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. Genesis 24:1-11 ESV

With the death of Sarah, Abraham found himself an elderly widower attempting to raise his 37-year-old unmarried son. At least 137-years-old himself, Abraham would have recognized that he faced yet another challenge in his long and storied life. While God had given him a son through whom all the divine promises would be fulfilled, there was still a need for Isaac to find a mate. God’s promise to produce a great nation through Abraham would come to a screeching halt if Isaac failed to marry and bear the next generation of descendants.

Sarah’s death marked the end of Abraham’s role in producing that great nation. He would father no more sons. But he knew that God was far from finished when it came to fulfilling His promises, and he remembered the words God spoke concerning Isaac more than 37 years earlier.

“Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:19 NLT

So, he prepared to pass the mantle of leadership and responsibility to Isaac. And because Abraham viewed himself as an alien and a stranger in the land of Canaan, he determined to find a bride for his son from among his own people living back in Mesopotamia. But, unlike so many other episodes from the life of Abraham, this one is not an example of Abraham operating solo and trying to make things happen on his own. He is simply playing the role of the loving father and attempting to ensure that his son finds the right kind of wife. Yet, in all his decisions concerning the matter, one can sense that Abraham recognized the sovereign will of God. After 137 years of life, he had come to trust that God would providentially operate behind the scenes and ensure that Isaac found just the woman through whom all His promises would be fulfilled.

Chapter 24 is the longest of all the chapters in the book of Genesis, and it is a love story. But it is less about the love that develops between Isaac and Rebekah than it is about the love of God for Abraham and his descendants. Moses opens the chapter by stating that “the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24:1 ESV). He had given Abraham a faithful and loving wife. He had showered him with great riches and abundant flocks and herds. For more than 60 years, God had protected and provided for Abraham as he wandered through the countryside of Canaan. And now, He would guide the steps of Abraham’s servant as he made the long journey back to Mesopotamia. This entire chapter is meant to remind Abraham’s future descendants, the people of Israel, of God’s love for them. The details contained in this story provide insights into their very existence. Had these events not taken place, just as God ordained them, there would be no nation of Israel.

But it all began with Abraham’s decision to send his servant back to his homeland of Mesopotamia. And Abraham forced his servant to swear a binding oath.

“…swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” – Genesis 24:3-4 ESV

As part of the oath, the servant was required to place his hand under Abraham’s thigh. This rather strange gesture was probably meant to signify that the oath was all about the continuation of Abraham’s line. But placing his hand near Abraham’s genitals, the servant would be making an intimate and binding commitment to the future of his master’s house.

But before taking this solemn oath, Abraham’s servant expressed his reservations. He questioned what he was to do if the woman he found refused to return with him to Canaan. This was a legitimate concern because most residents of Mesopotamia would have viewed Canaan as an unsophisticated backwater occupied by unruly and unfriendly nations. Abraham had tasked this man with a formidable task and he wanted to know what he was supposed to do when the women he approached turned him down. Was there an option involving the return of Isaac to Mesopotamia? But Abraham flatly rejected any notion of Isaac leaving Canaan.

See to it that you do not take my son back there. – Genesis 24:6 ESV

Abraham understood that this trip and the task of finding a bride for Isaac could take a very long time, and there was a high likelihood that he would not live long enough to attend his son’s wedding or see the birth of his first grandson. So, Abraham made sure his servant knew the terms of his assignment and the reason for its uncompromising rigidity.

For the Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and my native land, solemnly promised to give this land to my descendants. He will send his angel ahead of you, and he will see to it that you find a wife there for my son. If she is unwilling to come back with you, then you are free from this oath of mine. But under no circumstances are you to take my son there.” – Genesis 24:7-8 NLT

This statement reveals Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise. He recalled the day that God commanded him to leave Mesopotamia and relocate his family to Canaan. If God had done it once, He could do it again. And Abraham assured his servant that Yahweh would prepare the path before him. He even declared that God would guide the servant to just the right woman. And, if that God-ordained woman should refuse to accompany the servant to Canaan, the binding nature of the oath would be automatically rescinded.

Abraham was letting his servant know that this trip was going to have God’s hands all over it. Yes, his task appeared daunting and even dangerous. It’s likely that this servant was a foreigner, just like Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Perhaps he was too was an Egyptian. And he was being asked to make a long journey through hostile territory and somehow convince a Mesopotamian father to give the hand of his daughter to a man he had never met – who just happened to live in Canaan. But Abraham was assuring his reluctant servant that God was in full control. So, the servant swore the oath and prepared to make the journey to Mesopotamia.

Moses provides no timeline for the trip. One minute, the servant is standing in the presence of Abraham somewhere near Hebron, and then he suddenly appears by a well outside of Nahor. The journey itself, while obviously long and arduous, was unimportant. It was the destination that mattered. Abraham had sent his servant to the region of Haran, the place where he had been living when God had called him. These names are significant because they reflect the family members of Abraham.

Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. – Genesis 11:27-29 ESV

This area of Mesopotamia had become the home of Abraham’s extended family. His brothers, Haran and Nahor, had settled and raised their families there. Of course, Haran had died, forcing Abraham to take on Haran’s son, Lot, as his ward. But Nahor had remained in Mesopotamia where he eventually married his late brother’s daughter, Milcah. And she would bear Nahor a son named Bethuel, who would father a daughter named Rebekah. So, all the while Abraham had been living in the land of Canaan, God had been working behind the scenes to prepare the woman who would become the future bride of the long-awaited son of the promise.

Little did Abraham’s servant know that his path had been sovereignly directed to the very well where he would meet the very woman whose very life God had ordained years earlier.

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. All rights reserved.

In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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 12:1-3 ESV

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

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

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 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

Jacob’s Redeemer

1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
    Israel whom I have chosen!
Thus says the Lord who made you,
    who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
    Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel.”

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
    and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.[
    Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
    Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God
besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any
.” Isaiah 44:1-8 ESV

Just as He had at the beginning of chapter 43, here God addresses His people by the two names of the son of Isaac: Jacob and Israel. Jacob had been his original name, given to him at birth, and it meant, “holder of the heel, supplanter, or layer of snares.” This name had to do with the circumstances surrounding the births of he and his brother.

And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. – Genesis 25:24-26 NLT

That was how Jacob came by his somewhat strange, but highly descriptive name. And this rather bizarre birth narrative reflects a message that God had given to Rebekah even before the boys were born. She had been barren and unable to give Isaac any children, so he had “pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife” (Genesis 25:21 NLT). And God heard his prayer and enabled Rebekah to become pregnant with twins.

But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:22-23 NLT

Jacob, though technically not the first-born, was going to end up having dominion over his brother. And later on in the story, Esau. in an act of impulsiveness, driven by physical desires, would trade his birthright for a bowl of stew. And not long after that, when their father, Isaac, was on his deathbed, Jacob and his mother would trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for the firstborn. Jacob was a deceiver. And his actions brought the wrath of his brother down him, forcing him to run for his life and live in exile in Paddan-aram. But God eventually arranged for Jacob’s return, and that event was accompanied by a God-ordained name change

Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel. – Genesis 35:10 NLT

So, why is any of this important? Because God opens this passage by using both names of this man as a designation for the people of God. The first name, Jacob, is an apt description of the people of God. They were deceivers and supplanters, having replaced the one-true God with false gods. But the name Israel means “God prevails.” It describes the undeniable reality that God was going to use the people of Israel, in spite of the people of Israel.

His will for them would prevail, not because of them, but because He was a faithful God. All throughout his life, Jacob had tried to fulfill the will of God by using trickery, deceit, and his own human efforts. God had already told Rebekah that the older son would serve the younger, but she and Jacob were both guilty of trying to accomplish God’s will through human means. But in Isaiah 44, God seems to be reminding the people of Judah that it is He who will bring about their preferred destiny. He is the one who had made and chosen them. They had nothing to do with it.

And almost as if He is addressing Jacob himself, God assures him, “Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen!” (Isaiah 44:2 NLT). God was going to do all that He had promised to do.

When Jacob had been forced to flee the land of Canaan in order to escape the vindictive wrath of his brother, God had visited him in a dream and made a covenant promise to him.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT

And here is Isaiah 44, God is reaffirming that promise to the people of Judah, the descendants of Jacob. He uses another name by which to refer to them: Jeshurun. It means “upright one” and seems to be used to describe the ideal character God expected of His chosen people. And this is not the first time God used this particular name for Israel.

“But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
– Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

They had abandoned God, the one who gave the birth. They had gotten fat and happy, content with their lifestyle, and turned their backs on the one who had made them what they were.

And yet, here is God promising to bless them.

“For I will pour water on the parched ground
and cause streams to flow on the dry land.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring
and my blessing on your children.”
– Isaiah 44:3 NLT

God describes a future day when His people will once again take pride in being His children. Rather than boasting in their false gods, or taking pride in their wealth and material possessions, they will declare their job at being God’s chosen possession.

“One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord,’
and another will use the name ‘Jacob.’
One will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and use the name ‘Israel.’”
– Isaiah 44:5 NLT

And just to ensure that the people of Judah understand just who it is that is going to bless them, God refers to Himself as “the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 44:6 NLT). He is the Lord, Jehovah, “the existing one.” He is their King and sovereign. He is their Redeemer, actually their ga’al or kinsman-redeemer, who will ransom them out of slavery to sin. And He is the Lord of hosts, the commanders of the armies of heaven. With these four designations, God sets Himself apart from all other gods.

“I am the first and I am the last,
there is no God but me.
Who is like me? Let him make his claim!”
– Isaiah 44:6-7 NLT

It’s a rhetorical question that requires only one answer: No one. But just to make sure they understand the answer, God expands on it.

“Don’t panic! Don’t be afraid!
Did I not tell you beforehand and decree it?
You are my witnesses! Is there any God but me?
There is no other sheltering rock; I know of none.”
– Isaiah 44:8 NLT

They have nothing to fear because they are the people of God. Their future is in His hands and not tied to their own ability to live up to His exacting standards. They had already proven their incapacity to remain faithful. They had repeatedly shown their propensity to rebel against Him. They were deceivers and tricksters, always ready, willing and able to supplant the one true God with a wide array of false gods. But God assures them that He remains Jacob’s Redeemer. Just as He restored Jacob from exile, He will restore the people of Judah from exile. And He has even greater plans in store for them when His Son returns again.

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 King Will Reign in Righteousness

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
    and princes will rule in justice.
Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
    a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
    like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
    and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
    and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
The fool will no more be called noble,
    nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.
For the fool speaks folly,
    and his heart is busy with iniquity,
to practice ungodliness,
    to utter error concerning the Lord,
to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied,
    and to deprive the thirsty of drink.
As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil;
    he plans wicked schemes
to ruin the poor with lying words,
    even when the plea of the needy is right.
But he who is noble plans noble things,
    and on noble things he stands. – Isaiah 32:1-8 ESV

In the future time period, predicted by Isaiah in the preceding chapter, there will be a time of great victory over the enemies of God’s people, foreshadowed by the soon-to-take-place defeat of the Assyrians. The miraculous nature of their fall, with an angel God destroying 185,000 of their soldiers in the middle of the night, is meant to be a precursor to an even greater victory in the end times: The Battle of Armageddon.

When Christ returns at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation, He will win a decisive victory over the combined armies of the world, which will be led by the Antichrist. The apostle John describes this epic battle in the book of Revelation. With the pouring out of the sixth bowl judgment, John saw:

…demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. – Revelation 16:14-16 ESV

The word “Armageddon” is derived from the Hebrew word Har-Magedone, which means “Mount Megiddo.” The Hebrew word Har can also refer to a “hill,” and since there is no mountain known as Mount Megiddo, it is thought that this is likely a reference to the hill country that surrounds the plain of Meggido, some sixty miles north of Jerusalem Megiddo. It is in this massive plain that the armies of the world will assemble to wage war against the people of God, which will include the Jewish people and all those who will have come to faith in Christ during the days of the Tribulation. But John was given a further glimpse of this epic battle. He saw a vision of Jesus, arrayed in a white robe dipped in blood and riding a white horse. He was leading “the armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress” (Revelation 19:14-15 NLT).

And John goes on to describe how Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, totally destroys the combined armies of the world, bringing an end to the rule of the Antichrist and terminating the seven years of the Tribulation.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the world and their armies gathered together to fight against the one sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. Their entire army was killed by the sharp sword that came from the mouth of the one riding the white horse. And the vultures all gorged themselves on the dead bodies. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

And when Isaiah describes a king who will reign in righteousness and princes who will rule alongside him justice, he is speaking prophetically of this future period in history. The book of Revelation provides us with further insight into this end-times event. As a result of their defeat at the battle of Armageddon, Antichrist and his associate, the false prophet, will be cast into hell. This will be followed by the binding of Satan. John describes him as being captured by an angel of God and thrown “into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward, he must be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3 NLT). With Satan imprisoned and His influence removed from the earth, the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin, free from Satanic opposition. And John was given a vision of what happens next.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

This literal one-thousand-year period of time will be like nothing mankind has ever seen of experience. And Isaiah attempts to give us some insight into its uniqueness. For the first time in a long time, those with eyes will actually see the truth of God. Those with hears will hear it. The imagery Isaiah uses is meant to provide a picture of spiritual transformation taking place in the hearts and minds of the people on earth at the time. The truth of God, so often marred by the stammering tongues and deceitful half-truths of men will be clearly understood. People will no longer listen to the words of fools and elevate these kinds of people to places of honor. The days of godless leaders misguiding the people will be over. In a world where injustice and unrighteousness have become the norm, God will usher in a one-thousand-year period of peace, righteousness and spiritual prosperity, made possible by the reign on His Son on the throne of David.

The prophet, Daniel, was also given a vision of this future scene.

As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. – Daniel 7:13-14 NLT

The end of the age culminates with the righteous rule of Christ on earth. And Isaiah, later on in his book, provides us with further details concerning how the Tribulation will come to an end and the millennial kingdom of Christ will begin.

He put on righteousness as his body armor
    and placed the helmet of salvation on his head.
He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.
He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds.
    His fury will fall on his foes.
    He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth.
In the west, people will respect the name of the Lord;
    in the east, they will glorify him.
For he will come like a raging flood tide
    driven by the breath of the Lord.

“The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem
    to buy back those in Israel
who have turned from their sins,”
    says the Lord. – Isaiah 59:17-20 NLT

And Isaiah clearly indicates that the actions of Jesus will be to fulfill the covenant God had made with the people of Israel generations earlier.

“And this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Isaiah 59:21 NLT

What we have here is a remarkable reminder of God’s faithfulness. He keeps His commitments and fulfills His promises. It may not always appear as if God is holding up His end of the bargain, but there has never been a case where God has failed to come through on what He has said He will do.

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

As Paul reminded Timothy:

If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. – 2 Timothy 2:13 NLT

In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend Him, God will remain faithful to them. He will accomplish each and every promise He has made to them. When God told the people of Judah that a day was coming when “a king will reign in righteousness,” He meant it. And while the time waiting for the fulfillment of this promise has been long, the delay doesn’t in any way negate the reality of its future fulfillment. He has promised, and He will fulfill that promise, down to the very last detail.

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

The Wondrous Ways of God.

And Stephen said:

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect—that his offspring would be sojourners in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and afflict them four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day, and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

“And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 15 And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16 and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” – Acts 7:2-16 ESV

What is Stephen doing? Why in the world would this Hellenistic Jew take so much time explaining the history of Israel to the high priest and other religious leaders of Israel? Doesn’t it appear a bit condescending on Stephen’s part? It is essential that we keep in mind the accusation that was leveled against Stephen. He is responding to the charge of blasphemy – against God and Moses. This was a serious charge that could easily result in his death, so it was important that he explain himself and prove that he was innocent of any and all charges against him. What appears to be an unnecessary lecture on Israelite history was actually Stephen’s rebuttal. He is showing that, even as a Hellenistic Jew, he was fully steeped in the history of Israel but, more importantly, he was intimately familiar with the God of Israel.

Stephen begins his defense by describing God as the “God of glory” – a direct reference to Psalm 29:2.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Seven times in this very short Psalm, King David refers to “the voice of the Lord.” He states that the voice of the Lord is powerful, full of majesty, flashes forth flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, and causes the wild animals to give birth. For Stephen, the issue is the glory of God as revealed through the voice of God. He speaks. He calls. He commands. And Stephen reminds his listeners about God’s call of Abraham. He appeared to Abraham and said, “Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you” (Acts 7:3 ESV). God had spoken and given very specific directions to their great patriarch. He had directed Abraham to leave Ur and to relocate his family to the land of promise – the land of Canaan. This land would become the Holy Land, the homeland of the Israelites and a possession that brought them great pride. But Stephen reminds them that Abraham, the one to whom the land was promised, never owned an inch of it during his lifetime. Instead, the promise was to be fulfilled to his descendants. 

“But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. – Acts 7:5 NLT

But before that could happen, the descendants of Abraham would be forced to live “in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years” (Acts 7:6 NLT). It’s vital that we understand what Stephen is doing here. He is portraying the God of Israel as one who speaks, and when He does speak, His words are often difficult to understand and His ways are beyond our ability to comprehend. Why would God have commanded Abraham to leave Ur, promised him land, but never have given him possession of the land? Why would He have chosen Abraham to be the father of a great nation, when God knew full well that Abraham’s wife was barren? And when Sarah finally did conceive and the descendants of Abraham began to increase, why did God ordain their slavery in the land of Egypt for 400 years? And why had God sealed His covenant with Abraham by requiring the circumcision of every male member of his household? As we will see, this was a sign of the promise. It was a permanent reminder that God would do what He had said He would do. The sign of circumcision was a mark of ownership. Abraham’s descendants belonged to God.

In this speech, Stephen touches on some of the most critical junctures in Israelite history, pointing out the difficult to comprehend ways of God. Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his own brothers. But God had a purpose behind those actions. It was Joseph who would rise to power, becoming the second highest official in the land of Egypt. He would be placed by God in a position of power and prominence, fully prepared to respond to the needs of his family when they arrived in Egypt looking to escape the famine in the land of promise. And when Jacob, his remaining sons, and their families arrived in Egypt, they were only 75 in number. Not exactly a great multitude. And Stephen points out that Jacob died and was buried in the land of Egypt. He had left his homeland in a state of devastation, due to a famine. He had given up his possession in the promised land to live in a foreign land. But it had all been part of God’s grand plan for the people of Israel. And Stephen points out that Jacob’s bones eventually made it back to Canaan, and were buried in a tomb that had been originally purchased by Abraham, many years earlier – the only plot of land he ever owned in Canaan.

Even for the Israelites in Stephen’s audience, who would have known this story well, it was a reminder of just how remarkable their nation’s legacy really was. It would have been easy for them to forget how they had arrived at where they were. Their establishment as a nation had not been easy. And had it not been for the sovereign hand of God, they would not have existed at all. From the call of Abraham to the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, it had all been part of God’s plan for the people of Israel. And there was more to come. God had not been done. They were not to remain in Egypt. God had plans to get them back to the land of promise. And Stephen will next retell the story of the deliverance of Israel at the hands of Moses – another man, chosen by God, to play a part in the establishment of the nation of Israel, the people of God.

And perhaps you can begin to see where Stephen is going with all this. On the one hand, he is clearly proving His love and respect for God. He is anything, but blasphemous. But even more importantly, Stephen is pointing out that Yahweh was and still is a promise-making, promise-keeping God. Yes, they were now in the land of Canaan, and the Jews took great pride in their promised possession of that land. But for Stephen, there was more. There was an ever greater portion of the promise that they were missing. The land was an inheritance, but not the inheritance. God had something far greater in store for them than just a portion in the land of promise. He had Jesus, the promised Messiah and Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 200z

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 Long-Term Investment.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah. For Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him, saying, “Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am giving this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall capture it; Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye. And he shall take Zedekiah to Babylon, and there he shall remain until I visit him, declares the Lord. Though you fight against the Chaldeans, you shall not succeed’?”

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle will come to you and say, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.’ Then Hanamel my cousin came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, ‘Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

“And I bought the field at Anathoth from Hanamel my cousin, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions and the open copy. And I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. I charged Baruch in their presence, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware vessel, that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.’ Jeremiah 32:1-15 ESV

The year is 587 B.C.. The fall of Jerusalem is less than a year away and Jeremiah has persistently and consistently been delivering his prophetic warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem for a long time. But he has also been telling the people that God is going to restore them one day. Yes, they would spend 70 years in captivity in Babylon, but then God would miraculously restore a remnant of them to the land. And while Jeremiah has proven to be faithful to speak the words of God, it seems that he harbored some personal doubts as to whether all he prophesied was going to come true. So, God provides Jeremiah with a small test. He instructs Jeremiah to buy a plot of land in Judah. Now, it’s important to note that when Jeremiah receives these instructions from God, he is sitting in jail, having been imprisoned by Zedekiah. His crime? He had been telling the king that Jerusalem was going to fall to the Babylonians and that Zedekiah himself would be taken captive. This was probably viewed by the king as an act of treason. Jeremiah was seen as seditious, stirring up unrest in the city during a time of national crisis. So, he was imprisoned to keep him from causing panic among the people. So, it is while he was locked up in the court of the guard that Jeremiah received his instructions from God.

“Your cousin Hanamel son of Shallum will come and say to you, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth. By law you have the right to buy it before it is offered to anyone else.’” – Jeremiah 32:7 NLT

God tells Jeremiah that his cousin is going to come and offer him the opportunity to buy a piece of land in Anathoth, his hometown. Land was extremely valuable in the Hebrew economy and it was important to keep land within the family. So, Hanamel was going to offer Jeremiah, as a family member, the first rights to buy the land. But think about the absurdity of this. Anathoth is just a few miles northeast of Jerusalem. For years now, Jeremiah has been prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and Judah. He has been warning about the coming of the Babylonians and even now, they are outside the walls of Jerusalem, laying siege to the city. It’s just a matter of time before the words of God come true and the destruction of the nation of Judah is fulfilled. And remember, Jeremiah is sitting in jail because he has been warning the people, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am about to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he will take it’” (Jeremiah 32:7 NLT). 

Now God wants him to invest in land. It sounds absurd. The property values had to be at an all-time low. But in less than a year, they were going to be even worse. God was commanding Jeremiah to invest in the future. God was telling the prophet to make a long-term investment based on nothing more than His word. The day would come when the land would once again increase in value. Not only that, the people who returned to the land under Ezra and Zerubbabel would naturally head to their former cities and villages, in order to rebuild and start over. The book of Ezra describes exactly what happened 70 years later:

Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. – Ezra 2:1-2 ESV

It goes on to say that 128 men of Anathoth returned from captivity. And where would they head as soon as they returned to Judah? Their hometown. The very place where Jeremiah was instructed to buy land. And Ezra describes how God miraculously provided for the financial needs of the returning remnant as King Cyrus decreed that all those who chose to remain behind in Babylon were to provide the capital necessary to fund their trip and the rebuilding process.

“Anyone who survives in any of those places where he is a resident foreigner must be helped by his neighbors with silver, gold, equipment, and animals, along with voluntary offerings for the temple of God which is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:4 NLT

So those 128 men who returned to Anathoth with their families would have resources available to buy land should Jeremiah choose to sell. But Jeremiah would also have written proof that he owned land in Anathoth because he had instructed Baruch to place the deeds of sale in earthenware jars to protect them from the elements.

This entire episode was designed to be a test of Jeremiah’s faith. By the time Hanamel came to Jeremiah with the offer to purchase the plot of land, Anathoth was already under Babylonian control. In essence, Jeremiah was being made an offer to buy land that no longer belonged to Hanamel. It was the property of the conquering king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. But this fact, combined with Jeremiah’s imprisonment, made the whole affair even more unthinkable and absurd for the prophet. But that was God’s point. None of it made sense. He was asking Jeremiah to do the ridiculous: Invest in land that had no value. Buy a piece of property that really wasn’t Hanamel’s to sell. And all on the future hope that God’s word would come true and the land would one day be returned to the people of Judah.

And Jeremiah did exactly what the Lord commanded him to do. He bought the land. And Hanamel and the witnesses to the transaction must have smiled to themselves, laughing at the stupidity of Jeremiah for agreeing to such a bad deal. But Jeremiah’s actions were based on faith in God. He may have appeared ridiculous to those around him, but he was stepping out in faith, trusting that what God was telling him to do was wise and would be well worth it in the long run. The author of Hebrews describes faith as “the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Jeremiah was putting his confidence in God, not his surrounding circumstances. He was in jail. He had just spent money on land that belonged to the Babylonians. He knew the entire land of Judah was soon to be under the control of King Nebuchadnezzar and would stay that way for 70 long years. But God was forcing Jeremiah to put his money where his mouth was. It was one thing to preach about future restoration. It was another thing to invest in it. Now, Jeremiah had some skin in the game. He had stepped out in faith and personally staked his hope of the promises of God. And that is the essence of faith. Abram had been promised a land by God, but he had to get up and move his family out of Ur. Noah had been promised salvation from the coming flood, but first he had to build an ark and suffer the ridicule of his neighbors. Sarah had to believe the promise of God that she would bear a son and become the mother of a multitude of nations, even though she was barren. David had to believe that his anointing as the next king of Israel was real, even though he had to suffer death threats and persecution at the hands of King Saul before it would ever happen. Faith requires hope. It demands patience. It takes a willingness to risk all by investing all in nothing more than the promises of God. Believing that He is faithful to do what He has said He will do.

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

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

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

Good News. Bad News.

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.

“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the Lord, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.” – Jeremiah 16:14-18 ESV

God is reliable. He can be counted on to do what He says. His character is unchanging and while His ways are difficult to understand at times, He is consistently faithful in all that He does. God had warned the people of Israel that if they failed to remain faithful to Him, He would bring curses upon them. They failed and He was going to faithfully keep His word. He was going to do exactly what He said He would do. He hadn’t been lying. He had meant what He said. And they were about to learn the trustworthiness of God the hard way. They were going to go into exile. And God compares their pending judgment to fish being caught by a fishermen or prey being stalked by a hunter. The prophet Ezekiel used this same kind of terminology when he described the pending fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the king, Zedekiah.

“And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.” – Ezekiel 12:13 NLT

Later on in his book, Jeremiah will chronicle the actual capture of Zedekiah after he attempted to escape from the city as King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians invaded.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and caught him on the plains of Jericho. They took him to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who was at Riblah in the land of Hamath. There the king of Babylon pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. He made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons and all the nobles of Judah. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – Jeremiah 39:3-7 NLT

Exactly what God had said would happen took place. Zedekiah was taken captive to Babylon, but never saw it, because his eyes had been gouged out.

The prophet Habakkuk, like Jeremiah, had a hard time understanding why God was going to allow the Babylonians to take His people captive. And he uses the same imagery of fishermen catching fish to convey his concern.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?
Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:14-16 NLT

Judah was going to fall. They would be as helpless as fish caught in a net. Any attempt to escape their fate would prove useless because God had ordained it. It was going to happen just as He said it would. But that should also be a comfort to them. While it was difficult for them to see the good news in the midst of all the bad, God informed Jeremiah that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was not a train. It was the goodness and graciousness of God. He reminded His prophet that He had long-term plans for the people of Judah.

“As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the people of Israel back to their own land from the land of the north and from all the countries to which he had exiled them.’ For I will bring them back to this land that I gave their ancestors.” – Jeremiah 16:15 NLT

Yes, they would go into exile. Because God had said they would. But they would also return from exile, because said they would. Both events would occur, because God said they would. He could be trusted to keep His word. And when we read these passages that contain examples of God’s judgment upon His people, rather than question the ways of God, we should be reminded of the faithfulness of God. He doesn’t lie. He never fails to follow through on what He has said. And when He tells the people of Judah that they will one day return to the land of promise, He means it. His word means something. His threats are never idle. His words are never cheap. His promises never prove false. Even before the people of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, promised to them by God, He had told them that if they failed to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would suffer the consequences of their disobedience and experience capture and exile. But He had also promised to restore them.

Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again. The Lord your God will return you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will possess that land again. Then he will make you even more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors!

“The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” – Deuteronomy 30:4-6 NLT

This prophecy has been fulfilled in part. The people of Judah were restored to the land of Canaan. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah record exactly how God kept His word. But there is a part of God’s promise that has yet to be fulfilled. He has not yet changed the hearts of the people of Israel so that they might love him will all their heart and soul. That part of His promise has yet to take place. The prophet Ezekiel provides us with further insight into what God has in store for the nation of Israel some time in the future.

For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

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

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

That has not yet happened. But we can be certain that it will. Why? Because God has promised it. Jeremiah could rest on the certainty that God would one day return the people of Judah back to Jerusalem. Because He had promised it. And one day, God is going to give the people of Israel new hearts. He is going remove their stubborn hearts and replace them with tender, responsive hearts. He is going to put His Spirit within them so that they will love and serve Him faithfully. And the truly amazing thing is that God is going to do all this, not because they deserve it, but because He has promised it.

“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.’” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

“But remember, says the Sovereign Lord, I am not doing this because you deserve it. O my people of Israel, you should be utterly ashamed of all you have done!” – Ezekiel 36:32 NLT

But how can we know that this is going to happen? How can we be so sure that God is going to do what He has promised? He answers those questions for us.

“For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say.” – Ezekiel 36:36 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