No Right to Mourn

15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” 20 Then I said to them, “The word of the Lord came to me: 21 ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul, and your sons and your daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. 22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your shoes on your feet; you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. 24 Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do. When this comes, then you will know that I am the Lord God.’

25 “As for you, son of man, surely on the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and glory, the delight of their eyes and their soul’s desire, and also their sons and daughters, 26 on that day a fugitive will come to you to report to you the news. 27 On that day your mouth will be opened to the fugitive, and you shall speak and be no longer mute. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:15-27 ESV

After providing Ezekiel with the parable of the boiling pot, God informs His faithful prophet of a pending personal tragedy that will become another powerful illustration to His rebellious people. With everything else going on in his life, the last thing Ezekiel expected to hear was a divine pronouncement of his wife’s imminent death. Up to this point in the narrative, there has been no mention of Ezekiel’s family, so the sudden mention of his wife’s death is unexpected. And this tragic news must have hit Ezekiel with the emotional impact of a freight train.

But the gut-wrenching news of her death was accompanied by an equally difficult command from God. Not only is Ezekiel told that his wife, his “dearest treasure,” is going to die suddenly, but he is forbidden by God to mourn or weep for her publicly.

“Son of man, realize that I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a jolt, but you must not mourn or weep or shed tears.” – Ezekiel 24:16 NET

Ezekiel will not be allowed to show any outward signs of mourning. The normal rituals and rites associated with the loss of a loved one will be off-limits to him. Even when well-meaning friends heard the tragic news and brought him meals, he was not allowed to eat with them. God expected Ezekiel to act as if nothing happened, putting his turban on his head, his sandals on his feet, and going about his prophetic responsibilities as usual. And Ezekiel was given little time to prepare himself for this devastating event. Within 24 hours, his wife was dead.

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.  – Ezekiel 24:18 ESV

When Ezekiel’s fellow exiles saw that he showed no signs of mourning over his wife’s sudden passing, they were confused and confronted him about it.

“Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting thus?” – Ezekiel 24:19 ESV

From their past experience with Ezekiel, they knew that something was up. He did nothing without a reason and seldom spoke without having a message to convey from God. So, they suspected that there was something behind his bizarre behavior, and they were right.

Ezekiel informed them that his response to his wife’s unexpected death was meant to be an example for them to follow. When the Babylonian siege ended and the city of Jerusalem fell, God was going to bring about the destruction of the temple. For the people of Judah, the temple was the symbol of their relationship with Yahweh and a constant reminder of their status as His chosen people. God describes it as “the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes, and the yearning of your soul” (Ezekiel 24:21 ESV). They took great pride in the temple. It was a majestic structure that dominated the city’s skyline from its vantage point on Mount Moriah. It was beautiful and built to last for generations. Yet, God was about to reduce it to a pile of rubble and, when He did, they were not to mourn over its loss. They were to follow Ezekiel’s example.

“…you will do as Ezekiel has done. You will not mourn in public or console yourselves by eating the food brought by friends. Your heads will remain covered, and your sandals will not be taken off. You will not mourn or weep, but you will waste away because of your sins. You will groan among yourselves for all the evil you have done.” – Ezekiel 24:22-23 NLT

But the temple would not be the only loss they suffered. God informs them that when Jerusalem falls, many of them will suffer the loss of family members who remained behind in Judah.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened.” – Ezekiel 24:25-26 NLT

The exiles would not escape the devastating impact of the siege and subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Like Ezekiel, they would soon receive the unexpected and unwanted news of personal tragedy and loss, and God expected them to keep their mourning to themselves. God’s prohibition against any public displays of sorrow was meant to accentuate their guilt and prevent them from portraying their loss as somehow undeserved.

“Ezekiel had a right to mourn his undeserved personal loss but did not. The Israelites had no right to mourn for their well-deserved national loss and could not . . .” – Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel

God was going to use Ezekiel’s timely personal tragedy as a vivid illustration for the people of Judah living in captivity. Their glorious temple was about to be destroyed. It was the source of their security and pride. It held a special place in their hearts and lives, even from 1600 miles away in Babylon. As long as the temple stood, they had hope because it represented the presence of God. But God was going to allow His house to be destroyed and the exiles living in Babylon, who had been taken captive years earlier, were to mourn its loss in silence.

But what are we to do we do with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the tragic death of Ezekiel’s innocent wife? Did God cause it? Did He deliberately take this woman’s life just to make a point? To answer these uncomfortable questions one must first consider the complete character of God as unveiled in the Scriptures. Attempting to put God on trial based on a single Old Testament story is risky business. So, it is necessary to consider the full scope of God’s divine attributes when confronted with a disturbing and somewhat confusing passage like this one.

There is no doubt that God was in control of the situation. He was sovereign over every event that happened, including the death of Ezekiel’s wife. But whether God caused her death or simply allowed it is difficult to know for sure. Based on what the rest of Scripture reveals about the character of God, it seems to make the most sense that God allowed Ezekiel’s wife to die at this particular time. Due to His omniscience and foreknowledge, God was fully aware of the timing surrounding her death. He knew in advance what was already going to happen.

Had she been sick? The passage doesn’t say. Was her condition the result of disease or plague? There is no way to know. But her death was timely. It came at just the right moment and was used by God as a power and memorable illustration to His rebellious people.

It is essential that we interpret this event based on other revelations of God’s character found in the Word. The question is not whether God could have caused her death, but whether He would kill an innocent woman just to illustrate a point. Would that be consistent with His character? In his Notes on Ezekiel, Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The text does not say that God put her to death as an object lesson. She could have been ill for some time before she died. Another similar situation involved God allowing the death of His innocent Son to occur at precisely the time God intended as another expression of His love and judgment.”

In reading the Old Testament, we must be careful to interpret what it seems to reveal about God’s character by comparing what we read with other passages and revelations about God. Otherwise, we can easily build a case that God is callous, hard, vindictive, and heartless. But even in this very difficult book, we see that God is ultimately loving, kind, patient, and forgiving. While He punishes, He also restores. While He brings well-deserved judgment, He also brings undeserved mercy and grace. He is not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted and complex. And He is always righteous and just in all His actions.

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.

The Fallacy of False Hope

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord God. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, 11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’ 13 Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 13:1-16 ESV

The citizens of Judah wrongly assumed that nothing bad was going to happen to their great city of Jerusalem. After all, as far as they could tell, none of God’s prophecies had come to fruition, so they had nothing to worry about. He had warned of destruction but the walls still stood and the temple was fully intact. And, even if God’s judgments were to come, the common opinion was that they would happen any time soon. Any destruction that God might bring upon Judah and its capital city was reserved for some future generation. As far as they could tell, there were safe and sound.

But where did the people get their over-confident and somewhat complacent view of God’s judgment? How did they come up with these faulty conclusions concerning the prophecies that God had pronounced? Well, God provides the answers to those questions by calling out the men who were responsible for the nation’s continued disobedience.

“Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. – Ezekiel 13:2 NLT

God accused these self-proclaimed prophets of “following their own imaginations” (Ezekiel 13:3 NLT) but claimed to be speaking on behalf of God. Yet, God had neither commissioned them nor given them any message to deliver. They were freelancers, operating in the name of God but without His permission or blessing. And the messages they were sharing were doing far more damage than good.

“They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions.” – Ezekiel 13:5-6 NLT

Judah was in trouble. They were about to experience the righteous wrath of God because of the centuries-worth of rebellion and apostasy that characterized them as a nation. They had a track record of disobedience and had displayed a stubborn resistance to the calls of God’s prophets that they repent and return to Him in humility and brokenness.

And one of the key factors behind their long history of disobedience was the presence of false prophets, and this was not a new problem. For as long as God had been appointing men to speak on His behalf, there had been another group of individuals who claimed membership in that elite group. But they were charlatans and pretenders. God had neither sent them nor spoken to them. And yet…

“They say, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ even though the Lord never sent them. And yet they expect him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, ‘This message is from the Lord,’ when I have not even spoken to you?” – Ezekiel 13:6-7 NLT

What made these men so popular with the people was that their messages were more palatable and acceptable than the ones given by God’s true prophets. While men like Ezekiel were declaring the pending judgment of God, these individuals were promoting a contrary narrative that provided the people with false hope. In a sense, they were telling the people what they wanted to hear. “Everything’s going to be okay,” they claimed. “You’ve got nothing to worry about,” they confidently boasted. And, the citizens of Judah must have found these claims to be like music to their ears when compared with Ezekiel’s messages of doom and gloom.

The apostle Paul warned his young protégé, Timothy, that people will always have a partiality for those who tell them what they want to hear.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

While Ezekiel was busy telling the people the truth of God – there were plenty of false prophets happy to provide the people with reassuring words and comforting, yet contradictory messages of hope. These men blatantly repudiated Ezekiel’s prophecies, declaring them to be nothing but lies but God had a different opinion.

“They were lying prophets who claimed peace would come to Jerusalem when there was no peace.” – Ezekiel 13:16 NLT

They were deceiving the people by promoting a false sense of calm and assurance when calamity was right around the corner. They were putting words in God’s mouth when they hadn’t heard from God at all. Rather than call the people to repentance, they promoted a lifestyle of continuing decadence, immorality, and idolatry.

But God’s indictment of them was severe. He was no longer going to tolerate their deceitful masquerade as His messengers. These self-proclaimed prophets of God were going to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

“Because what you say is false and your visions are a lie, I will stand against you, says the Sovereign Lord. I will raise my fist against all the prophets who see false visions and make lying predictions, and they will be banished from the community of Israel. I will blot their names from Israel’s record books, and they will never again set foot in their own land.” – Ezekiel 13:9-10 NLT

They would pay dearly for their penchant for popularity and fame. While the people loved to listen to what they had to say, God had heard enough. Their false claims of peace and safety were highly appealing and caused the people to reject Ezekiel’s less-attractive message of pending judgment.

The people had manufactured unstable walls of security based on wishful thinking, and these pseudo-prophets had validated those false hopes with pleasant-sounding words of affirmation. They concealed the lies with white-washed words of false assurance, like pouring white paint on a poorly constructed wall, in the hopes that it would appear more stable and secure. But in the end, they would find their wall of lies destroyed and their 15 minutes of fame brought to an ignominious end.

“At last my anger against the wall and those who covered it with whitewash will be satisfied. Then I will say to you: ‘The wall and those who whitewashed it are both gone.’” – Ezekiel 13:15 NLT

God’s Word can be difficult to understand and even harder to obey. It’s not always easy to comprehend how a loving God can come across as demanding and judgmental. We struggle to deal with the stories in the Old Testament that seem to reveal a God who is quick to anger and not afraid to destroy those who don’t measure up to His high standards. Concepts like hell and judgment seem uncharacteristically unloving and therefore, unacceptable to us. So we try to come up with ways to reject or replace them.

We create our own versions of God’s message. We dumb it down, soften it up, make it more palatable, and in the end, spread a false message that is easy on the ears, but destructive to the soul.

Yes, God is love. But His love does not diminish His holiness. He cannot overlook sin or leave it unpunished. That is why He sent His Son to offer His life as payment for the sins of mankind. But if men ignore God’s call to righteousness and reject the reality of His coming judgment on all mankind, they will miss out on His offer of salvation through faith in Christ. Men who see no need for salvation because there is no judgment will see no need for a savior.

In Ezekiel’s day, there were plenty of false prophets proclaiming that “all is peaceful.” Today, there are those who prefer to claim that “God is love,” while ignoring the truth of His holiness and His hatred for sin. May we never stop speaking the truth of God so that others might receive the grace of God through the free gift of salvation provided by the Son of God.

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.

The Righteous Wrath of God

The word of the Lord came to me: “And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord God to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

“Thus says the Lord God: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.

10 “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. 11 Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. 12 The time has come; the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn, for wrath is upon all their multitude. 13 For the seller shall not return to what he has sold, while they live. For the vision concerns all their multitude; it shall not turn back; and because of his iniquity, none can maintain his life.” Ezekiel 7:1-13 ESV

Despite all the judgments God had already brought upon them, the people of Judah remained stubbornly persistent in their spiritual infidelity. King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had left a wake of destruction throughout the land but it had done little to convince the Israelites that reconsider their pattern of unfaithfulness. As God made clear in His last message, the land of Judah was still filled with altars, pagan shrines, and places of worship for their many false gods. Nothing had changed, including the condition of their hearts. Even after having seen their besieged capital city fall to Nebuchdezzar’s forces and tens of thousands of their fellow citizens transported as captives to Babylon, they continued to live as they did before.

But God gave Ezekiel a message intended to communicate that His patience had run out. He would no longer tolerate their impudence and their blatant displays of spiritual adultery.

“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:

“The end is here!
    Wherever you look—
east, west, north, or south—
    your land is finished.
No hope remains,
    for I will unleash my anger against you.
I will call you to account
    for all your detestable sins.
I will turn my eyes away and show no pity.
    I will repay you for all your detestable sins.
Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 7:2-4 NLT

Once again, God informs His rebellious people that they will come to know Him as Lord, one way or the other. For generations, they had enjoyed the benefit of His power and presence. Under King David, they had grown to be a mighty nation that was a force to be reckoned with in that part of the world. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity. God had even allowed Solomon to construct a magnificent temple in His honor and, at its dedication, God delivered a message to the king.

“I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart.” – 1 Kings 9:3 NLT

God promised to inhabit the house Solomon had built for Him, but He demanded that Solomon remain faithful and obedient to His commands. As long as Solomon followed his father’s example, leading the people with integrity and godliness, then God promised to extend the Davidic dynasty for generations. But there was a caveat.

“But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will gasp in horror. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ – 1 Kings 9:6-8 NLT

And history records that, while Solomon started out well, his reign ended poorly. He was a wise king who made many foolish decisions that ultimately led to the fall of his kingdom. He violated many of God’s commands, but one that led to his downfall was his many marriages to foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines, and he adopted many of their gods as his own.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:4-6 NLT

As a result, God determined to divide his kingdom, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and leaving Solomon’s successor to rule over the southern kingdom of Judah. From that point forward, the two rival kingdoms seemed to vie for the reputation of which was the most apostate. King after king came to the thrones of both nations, leading their people to forsake the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by pursuing the false gods of the Canaanites.

Eventually, in 791 BC, God sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel. And while the southern kingdom witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they refused to alter their behavior. They believed that they were invincible because their capital city contained the temple of God. But they had not been faithful to the One for whose name and honor the temple had been dedicated.

Jeremiah, another prophet of God and a contemporary of Ezekiel, had the responsibility of ministering to the people living in Jerusalem. And God gave him a stern warning for all those who believed that they were immune from disaster because they were protected by the temple’s presence.

“Go to the entrance of the LORD’s Temple, and give this message to the people: ‘O Judah, listen to this message from the LORD! Listen to it, all of you who worship here! This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says:

“‘Even now, if you quit your evil ways, I will let you stay in your own land. But don’t be fooled by those who promise you safety simply because the LORD’s Temple is here. They chant, “The LORD’s Temple is here! The LORD’s Temple is here!” But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the LORD, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:2-11 NLT

The temple would not save them. In fact, centuries earlier, God had warned Solomon the temple would be completely destroyed if the people of Israel failed to remain faithful to Him alone. Now, the time had come for God to fulfill His promise, so He gave Ezekiel a message to deliver to all those living in exile in Babylon.

“O people of Israel, the day of your destruction is dawning.
    The time has come; the day of trouble is near.” – Ezekiel 7:7 NLT

Those to whom Ezekiel spoke had long dreamed of returning to their homeland. As long as Jerusalem remained and the temple stood, they believed there was hope that their fortunes would be restored. But they failed to understand the gravity of their sin and God’s hatred for their persistent unfaithfulness.

They had placed all their hope in a place, having turned the temple into little more than an idol. All their dreams of future deliverance were housed within the walls of that man-made structure. It was there, in the Holy of Holies, that they believed the Shekinah glory of God dwelled. But God cannot be confined to a building. He does not reside in and cannot be restricted to a particular place. As He declared through the prophet, Isaiah: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place?” (Isaish 66:1 NLT).

From their desolate and desperate vantage point as exiles in the land of Babylon, Ezekiel’s audience must have been shocked to hear the finality of the prophet’s words.

The end is here! Wherever you look—east, west, north, or south—your land is finished.” – Ezekiel 7:2 NLT

The end has come. It has finally arrived. Your final doom is waiting!” – Ezekiel 7:6 NLT

The day of judgment is here; your destruction awaits! – Ezekiel 7:10 NLT

“Yes, the time has come; the day is here!” – Ezekiel 7:12 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was imminent. The destruction of the temple was impending. And the punishment of God’s people was inevitable and inescapable.

“For what God has said applies to everyone—
    it will not be changed!
Not one person whose life is twisted by sin
    will ever recover.” – Ezekiel 7:13 NLT

The people would pay dearly for their mistaken priorities and misplaced hope. They had turned their backs on God and now He was preparing to pour out His wrath on them. He had endured their rebellion long enough. They had been warned. He had pleaded with them to repent. But they had refused. So, now it was time to pay the piper.

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.

 

Trust and Obey

“And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer, and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it. 10 And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. 11 And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. 12 And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.” 13 And the Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread unclean, among the nations where I will drive them.” 14 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I have never defiled myself. From my youth up till now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has tainted meat come into my mouth.” 15 Then he said to me, “See, I assign to you cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” 16 Moreover, he said to me, “Son of man, behold, I will break the supply of bread in Jerusalem. They shall eat bread by weight and with anxiety, and they shall drink water by measure and in dismay. 17 I will do this that they may lack bread and water, and look at one another in dismay, and rot away because of their punishment. – Ezekiel 4:9-17 ESV

During the first 390 days of Ezekiel’s one-man theater production, he was limited to a diet of water and bread made from a strange blend of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and emmer. This unappealing and nutritionally insufficient food regimen was intended to illustrate the conditions the people would suffer in the actual siege of Jerusalem. It would be long in duration and result in the inhabitants of the city living off a subsistence diet made from whatever grains they could find. God restricted Ezekiel’s food intake to a meager eight ounces of bread and just over a liter of water per day. Subsisting for more than a year on this nutritionally deficient diet would have left Ezekiel emaciated and weak. And because he was commanded to act out this parabolic lesson in full display of the people, they would have witnessed the startling and discomfiting transformation in Ezekiel’s physical state.

All of this was intended to provide a vivid illustration of the horrific conditions within the walls of the city of Jerusalem when the Babylonians conducted their final siege of the city. And Moses had warned of this day centuries before.

“The siege and terrible distress of the enemy’s attack will be so severe that you will eat the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you. The most tenderhearted man among you will have no compassion for his own brother, his beloved wife, and his surviving children. He will refuse to share with them the flesh he is devouring—the flesh of one of his own children—because he has nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns. The most tender and delicate woman among you—so delicate she would not so much as touch the ground with her foot—will be selfish toward the husband she loves and toward her own son or daughter. She will hide from them the afterbirth and the new baby she has borne, so that she herself can secretly eat them. She will have nothing else to eat during the siege and terrible distress that your enemy will inflict on all your towns.” – Deuteronomy 28:53-57 NLT

But for Ezekiel, the most startling part of God’s command was the requirement to bake his bread over a fire made with dried human dung. Of all the strange things God had asked him to do, this was the part that got Ezekiel’s attention. He was appalled at the thought of doing such a thing because he knew it would render him ceremonially impure. God had intended this unsavory action to remind the exiles of the spiritually impure state of their current conditions.

“This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!” – Ezekiel 4:13 NLT

Without the sacrificial system, the people of God living in Babylon had no way of receiving atonement and cleansing for their sins. As a result, they remained in a perpetual state of spiritual impurity and separation from God. Their very presence in a foreign land living among pagans left them defiled and unworthy of coming into God’s presence.

But while Ezekiel was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do, this part was too much for him, so he appealed to God.

“O Sovereign Lord, must I be defiled by using human dung? For I have never been defiled before. From the time I was a child until now I have never eaten any animal that died of sickness or was killed by other animals. I have never eaten any meat forbidden by the law.” – Ezekiel 4:14 NLT

Even while in exile, Ezekiel had labored to remain faithful to the Mosaic Law. The thought of defiling himself in such a way was unacceptable to him. So, God graciously allowed him to use cow dung instead. Amazingly, this was the only part of God’s plan at which Ezekiel balked. He was willing to do everything God had commanded him to do – without question – even though it all appeared strange and senseless, and would probably result in his own humiliation in the eyes of the people.

The remarkable thing about this story is not the mysterious symbolism of the brick, the number of days involved, or the content of Ezekiel’s diet. It is the faithful obedience of Ezekiel in the face of a very strange request from God. None of this made sense. Ezekiel was being asked to do something patently absurd that would result in him making a fool of himself. And he knew that nothing he did or said was going to make an impact on the people. God had already told him that they would not listen or repent.

But Ezekiel obeyed anyway. He did what God asked him to do. And this will be the pattern portrayed throughout the pages of this book. Over and over again, Ezekiel will respond obediently to the commands of God. He will do what he is told to do, regardless of its difficulty or credibility. He will consistently and persistently obey – time and time again.

But what about us? How do we respond to the Word of God in our lives? Do we obey or do we rationalize, argue, debate, or simply disobey? Does it all have to make sense before we do what God is asking us to do? If it requires us to humble ourselves or get out of our comfort zone, do we balk and bail?

God is looking for men and women who will faithfully obey and do what He is calling them to do – no questions asked. It may not make sense, but it will make a difference because God is behind it all. He has a plan. He knows what is best. There is always a method to His seeming madness. We just need to trust and obey.

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 Glimpse of God

1 In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there. – Ezekiel 1:1-3 ESV

The book of Ezekiel was written by the man for whom it is named. He was a Jewish priest who found himself exiled to the land of Babylon along with many of his fellow countrymen. And with their capture and deportment to Babylon, they joined the ranks of the other exiled Israelites who had arrived years earlier.

But how did Ezekiel end up in this predicament? What events transpired that resulted in this 30-year-old priest from the southern kingdom of Judah becoming just another captive in the land of Babylon?

It’s a long story that extends back to 605 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon ascended to the throne of his father. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was defeat the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish that same year. Having defeated these two superpowers, Nebuchadnezzar assumed control of their vassal states, including the southern kingdom of Judah. He began a siege of the city of Jerusalem in 605 BC that ended in its surrender and the capture of thousands of its leading citizens, who were promptly deported to Babylon. This would have included a young man named Daniel, who would become a prophet and a contemporary of Ezekiel.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. – Daniel 1:1-6 ESV

Daniel ended up being a prophet in the land of Babylon, but it would not be long before Ezekiel joined him there. That initial deportation would not be the last because the people of Israel would remain unrepentant and unwilling to give up their idolatrous ways. As a result of their stubborn refusal to repent, God would send Nebuchadnezzar again, this time with orders to destroy the capital city of Jerusalem. In 598 BC, the Babylonians would lay siege to the city once again, eventually breaking through the walls the destroying everything in sight, including the temple of God.

This devastating event had been foretold by the prophets of God. They had repeatedly warned God’s people that, unless they repented and returned to Him, they would suffer defeat at the hands of a foreign power.

“Behold, I am bringing against you
    a nation from afar, O house of Israel,
declares the Lord.
It is an enduring nation;
    it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know,
    nor can you understand what they say.
Their quiver is like an open tomb;
    they are all mighty warriors.
They shall eat up your harvest and your food;
    they shall eat up your sons and your daughters;
they shall eat up your flocks and your herds;
    they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees;
your fortified cities in which you trust
    they shall beat down with the sword.”  – Jeremiah 5:15-17 ESV

Over the years, God had patiently and persistently called His people to repentance but they had refused to heed the warnings of the prophets. Despite all that God had done for them, they had proven to be unfaithful and disloyal to Him, repeatedly worshiping false gods and regularly violating His commands. It was because of their spiritual infidelity and moral impurity that God determined to bring judgment upon them in the form of the Babylonians.

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down;
    a wolf from the desert shall devastate them.
A leopard is watching their cities;
    everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces,
because their transgressions are many,
    their apostasies are great.

“How can I pardon you?
    Your children have forsaken me
    and have sworn by those who are no gods.
When I fed them to the full,
    they committed adultery
    and trooped to the houses of whores.
They were well-fed, lusty stallions,
    each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.
Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the Lord;
    and shall I not avenge myself
    on a nation such as this? – Jeremiah 5:6-9 SV

Jeremiah was a prophet whose ministry took place in the capital city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. He began his prophetic ministry sometime around 627 BC, about four years before Ezekiel was born. It is likely that Ezekiel was familiar with Jeremiah’s ministry and had heard his messages concerning God’s pending judgment. Ezekiel would have been a young man when the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem. He would have witnessed the second wave of deportations, as the brightest and the best of Judah were taken captive to Babylon.

Jerusalem fell in 597 BC, but the final deportation did not take place until the next year. It was at that time that Ezekiel became another victim of the Babylonian empire’s aggressive expansion efforts.  He soon found himself living in a refugee camp along with the other exiles from Judah on the banks of the Kebar River in Babylon.

But in that remote and far-from-idyllic setting, God came to meet with Ezekiel. While He had brought destruction on the people of Judah for their sin and rebellion, He had not abandoned them. He would not leave them completely isolated and alone. God would call on Ezekiel to be His spokesperson to the exiles in Babylon. There on the banks of the Kebar River, God appeared to Ezekiel. This young prophet received a remarkable vision of God in the midst of the doom and gloom of Babylonian captivity. When things seemed to be at their worst, God showed up. He displayed His glory to Ezekiel and gave him a message for the people of Judah. And that vision, while somewhat fantastical and difficult to understand, illustrated God’s power and majestic presence. It accentuated His holiness and stressed His otherness.

The vision that Ezekiel saw left no doubt about just how great and powerful God was. He got a glimpse of God in the midst of his darkest moments. And when Ezekiel saw Him, he fell down and worshiped.

Above this surface was something that looked like a throne made of blue lapis lazuli. And on this throne high above was a figure whose appearance resembled a man. From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendor. All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the Lord looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me. – Ezekiel 1:26-28 NLT

Even in our darkest days, God is there. Regardless of what is going on around us, He never ceases to be God. He does not change. His status does not diminish. His power does not decrease or wain. He remains holy, powerful, distinct, and worthy of our worship. God wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him for who He is. He wants us to get our focus off of our circumstances and back on Him. He is our help and hope. He is constantly reminding us of His presence and power.

There on the banks of the Kebar River, living with the dejected and devastated exiles from Judah, Ezekiel needed a vision of God. He needed a reminder that His God was great and was still on His throne, reigning in power. He had not forgotten Ezekiel or the people of Judah. Could you use a vision of God today? Look for Him in His Word. You’ll find Him.

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.

 

Busy But Blessed

11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

Grace be with you. – 1 Timothy 6:11-21 ESV

Flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. Paul’s final words to Timothy contain a lengthy list of infinitive verbs that are meant to solicit action and encourage godly behavior. He wants his young associate to take his role seriously and to use his position to influence the faithfulness of the Ephesian believers.

He calls him to live a distinctively different life as distinctive, set apart from all those around him, including those who craved money or had wandered from the faith. Unlike the false teachers for whom godliness was merely a way to become wealthy, Timothy was to run from that kind of attitude and make true godliness his sole goal, along with ever-increasing faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.

Paul tells him to “pursue” godliness. The Greek word Paul used is diōkō (διώκω), which means “to run swiftly in order to catch.” It can also refer to one “who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal.” Money, materialism, popularity, power, pleasure, significance, comfort – none of these things were to be the focus of Timothy’s life. And while Paul is addressing this last section of his letter to Timothy, it is really a call to all believers of every age. Paul had made it clear to Timothy that he was to “Teach these things … and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life” (1 Timothy 6:2-3 NLT).

Everything Paul had shared in his letter was intended to be practiced and promoted among the people of God. As a leader, Timothy was to be an example of godly living to all those under his care, despite his young age.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. – 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

As believers, our lives are always on display. Despite what we may think, others are watching. Our behavior and conduct are constantly being witnessed by God Himself, our fellow believers, and the countless lost who surround us. That’s Paul encouraged Timothy to live a life marked by consistency and outward purity. He portrayed the Christian life as a battle for good.

…fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you. – 1 Timothy 6:12 NLT

For Paul, perseverance and consistency of faith were essential. He wanted Timothy to finish well. He wanted him to keep his eyes on the goal, which was the return of Christ. The reality of that event was to never be far from Timothy’s heart and mind so that he would live his life in such a way that no one could find fault with his character or conduct. There would certainly be those who disliked and disparaged his life because he lived it for God, just as Paul had experienced. Suffering for the sake of Christ was always to be expected. But Paul didn’t want Timothy to do anything that would harm his reputation as a believer or bring dishonor to God.

Paul gives Timothy one last message concerning those who are rich in the things of this world.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. – 1 Timothy 6:17 NLT

He doesn’t condemn them, but simply warns them not to put their trust in their money because it will prove to be unreliable and unable to save them. Money makes a lousy god. It promises the world but can’t save the soul. It can’t even bring true happiness or contentment.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:9-10 NLT

Instead, the rich were to put their trust in God, who is the ultimate provider of their needs. Those who had been blessed with money were to see it as a divinely ordained resource to be used for the care of others and to further the cause of the Kingdom of God. They were to be “rich” in good works and generous to those in need. They had been wealthy when God had called them, so He must have had a purpose for placing them in the body of Christ in that condition. By focusing their attention on obedience to God and service to others, they would learn to view their wealth as a tool in the hands of God, not a treasure to be hoarded and held onto.

Some of Paul’s last words to Timothy were, “guard what God has entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20 NLT). He was to see his own salvation and the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as invaluable and worthy of his constant protection.

Leadership in the body of Christ was a dangerous calling and it came with great responsibilities. Timothy had been entrusted with the message of the gospel and the care of the flock of Jesus Christ. He had an obligation to put the needs of the congregation ahead of his own. And yet, he was also to guard himself – constantly watching over his character and conduct. The same message applied to Timothy that Paul shared with the elders in Ephesus.

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. – Acts 20:28 NLT

The goal for all spiritual leaders should be godliness – not only for themselves but for all those under their care. But godliness without God’s grace is impossible. The journey of faith to which we have been called is only possible through an ever-increasing dependence upon God. We need His Word to teach and guide us. We need His Spirit to empower us. We need His grace and mercy to miraculously meet us where we are along the way and constantly remind us that godliness is our one and only calling.

But the pursuit of godliness demands action, not apathy. It requires consistency, not complacency. It is a life filled with verbs like flee, pursue, fight, take hold, keep, guard, and avoid. But it also offers the promise of rest, contentment, hope, peace, unity, confidence, and joy. The life of godliness is busy but also blessed.

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.

Family Matters

1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. – 1 Timothy 5:1-16 ESV

In the closing part of chapter 4, Paul gave Timothy three essential tasks to master if he wanted to be successful as a man of God. He must teach others, train himself to live a godly life, and he must use his life to typify what it means to love and serve God. Now Paul gets even more practical, giving Timothy concrete examples of how to apply what he is learning to everyday life within the body of Christ.

While Paul encouraged Timothy to never “let anyone think less of you because you are young” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT), he also wanted his young protégé to refrain from arrogantly flaunting his position as a shepherd of God or treating those under his care with disrespect. He was to give special attention to his relationships with older men and women in the church, honoring them as he would his own father and mother by giving them the respect they were due. And Timothy was to look on the younger members of the church as his brothers and sisters in Christ, treating the younger men with dignity and interacting with the younger women in purity.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that being a minister of the gospel wasn’t just about disseminating information and doling out discipline to the unruly and unfaithful. Everything hinged on relationships. The church was a family, a God-ordained collection of individuals from all walks of life divinely joined together and commanded to care for, love, and support one another. Personality conflicts, disagreements, and each individual’s residual sin natures would tend to cause conflict within the local body of Christ. So, Timothy needed to know how to handle the practical side of ministry; that or people and the personal problems they bring to the table.

There are always constant needs within the church. In Paul’s day, widows were a significant concern because, in that culture, they tended to be overlooked and neglected. Women were often considered second-class citizens with few rights and privileges. Marriage was their safety net. Being a wife and mother was a necessity for most women, providing a roof over their heads, a source of respect within the community, and a means of making ends meet in a culture where jobs for women were few and far between. That’s why widows were especially vulnerable. They were viewed as having little value and were neglected by the culture at large. But Paul encouraged Timothy to care for those widows who had become part of the family of God.

He was to see to it that they were cared for, knowing that these women were looking to God as their help and source of hope. The church was to be the hands and feet of Christ, ministering to these women, and ensuring that their families were caring for them properly. When there was no family to meet their needs, Timothy was to make sure that the family of God stepped in and cared for them properly.

As usual, these cases are never cut-and-dried. There are always underlying circumstances that must be considered and dealt with. It would be much easier if we could just say, “Take care of the widows in the church,” but there are always insinuating circumstances that make our decisions a bit more difficult and a shade more grey than black-and-white.

Timothy was to consider all circumstances regarding widows. He had to factor in their age, existing family relationships, and most importantly, their character. Not every woman who was a widow was to be the church’s responsibility. Careful consideration was to be taken when investigating the needs of these women. In some cases, their families were to be confronted and held accountable for having refused to step in and care for their own. Obviously, there were cases where sons and daughters had chosen to neglect the needs of their own mothers. This was unacceptable and the church was not obligated to take on the responsibility.

Younger widows were not added to the “list” of those who received regular support from the church. It was still possible for them to remarry, have their own families, and access to a reliable means of support. It would appear from Paul’s statements that he expected the older widows who received care from the church to willingly dedicate their lives and service to the body of Christ in return for financial support. They evidently vowed to not remarry, instead dedicating themselves to the service of God and the church. Younger women, if added to this list, and then presented with the opportunity to remarry, would find it hard to live out that kind of commitment.

These verses deal with a very specific issue that was a real problem in the church in Ephesus. It is more descriptive than prescriptive. In other words, Paul is not establishing a binding rule or law for the church. These 16 verses should not be interpreted as the non-negotiable biblical requirements for caring for widows in the local church. But they do provide an insightful glimpse into the kind of careful consideration that must be applied by shepherds when caring for their flock.

The bottom line is that the church is to be all about relationships. It can be messy and, at times, difficult. There are always variables and certain circumstances that make decision-making anything but easy. There are many things to consider when dealing with people and relationships. We must often apply a careful combination of biblical wisdom and common sense.  We must do our homework, considering carefully and prayerfully what God would have us do, always striving to treat everyone with dignity, respect, and honor.

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.

Hold Fast to Faith

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

The law was never intended as a means of achieving righteousness. Paul made that point quite clear when he wrote to the believers in Galatia.

…no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. – Galatians 3:11 NLT

And Paul went on to tell them that the law was given “to show people their sins” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). God provided the Israelites with the law so that they might “see how terrible sin really is” (Romans 7:13 NLT). And Paul confessed that the law had proven to be effective at revealing sin in his own life.

…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” – Romans 7:7 NLT

The command prohibiting coveteousness actually caused Paul to covet. His sinful nature rebelled against the law and aroused all kinds of covetous desires within him (Romans 7:8). If there had been no law against coveting, Paul’s battle with covetousness would not have existed. But that doesn’t mean he would have been free from sin. The presence of the law simply exposed the sinful nature within him.

But Paul never reached the conclusion that the law was somehow flawed or responsible for his sin. No, he confidently asserted “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). And this was the point he was trying to make with Timothy. The self-professed teachers of the law who had infiltrated the church in Ephesus were promoting the law as a tool for measuring righteousness. They were demanding adherence to the law as a litmus test for determining saving faith, and Paul demanded that Timothy deal decisively with this error.

…the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners. – 1 Timothy 1:9 ESV

He was not suggesting that the just are exempt from living according to God’s holy standards. He was simply stating that the law was not a requirement for achieving righteousness. The law had played no part in the conversion of the Ephesian believers. What was true for the believers in Galatia was true for them.

Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? – Galatians 3:2-3 NLT

As Paul reminded Timothy, the law was intended “for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners” (1 Timothy 1:9 NLT). And he provided Timothy with a virtual rogue’s gallery of lawless behaviors, including murderers, the unholy and profane, the sexually immoral, homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and even those who fail to honor their fathers and mothers. It is those kinds of people for whom the law was given, not the righteous. They live their lives in opposition to sound doctrine. And Paul was concerned that the teachers of the law were promoting false doctrine concerning the law that was confusing the Christians in Ephesus. They were turning the freedom found in Christ into just another form of legalism and religious rule-keeping. 

Paul was well aware of his dark past and referred to it regularly. He used to be among “the ungodly and sinners.” He even told Timothy, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). But Paul rejoiced in the amazing grace shown to him by God.

I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

Paul had not been saved by keeping the law. And now that he was in Christ, he would not remain saved by keeping the law. Paul was a free man. He had been released from his slavery to the law and he wanted every believer to experience that same feeling of joyous liberation.

…because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:2-4 NLT

As Timothy’s mentor, Paul had been careful to share all of these truths with his young protégé. It is likely that Timothy had read every letter that Paul had written to the various congregations under his care. He was well-schooled in Paul’s views on the law and the gospel, so he was probably not surprised when he read Paul’s words: “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them!” (1 Timothy 1:15 NT). He was familiar with Paul’s backstory. He had heard about Paul’s miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. And even though Timothy looked up to Paul as an icon of the faith, he also knew that his mentor had a humble and self-effacing view of himself. So, when Paul described himself as the worst of all sinners, Timothy was not surprised. And Paul’s explanation of his divine calling was not a new revelation to Timothy.

…here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul gave all the glory to God because his salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. He had played no role in his own redemption story. That is why Paul inserts a short but powerful doxology into the middle of his letter.

Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

God deserves all the credit. No one can claim responsibility for their own salvation. That is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Ephesus in an earlier letter.

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

But now, in Paul’s absence, others were proclaiming a contradictory message. They were encouraging legalism and promoting self-effort. And Paul was placing the mantle of pastoral responsibility on Timothy, assigning him the vital task of affirming and defending the integrity of the gospel message. Paul wanted Timothy to remain committed to the simplicity of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But it was going to be a fight and would require diligence and determination.

To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith. – 1 Timothy 1:19 NLT

Timothy would need to keep himself grounded in the faith of the gospel. Otherwise, he might succumb to the lies of the enemy and find himself adopting and promoting a modified version of the gospel that was not only false but destructive. And Paul reminded Timothy that there were two individuals who had already taken that path.

Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:20 NLT

Paul provides little explanation concerning the actions of these two men. So it would seem that Timothy was very familiar with what they had done and why Paul “handed them over to Satan.” This phrase most likely means that Paul had removed them from leadership and from fellowship in the local congregation until they repented. In other words, he de-fellowshipped them, effectively placing them outside the local body of Christ and at the mercy of the enemy. Paul’s ultimate goal was their repentance and restoration, but he had cast them from the fellowship to prevent them from having any further impact on the rest of the community.

According to 2 Timothy 2:16-16, Hymenaeus had been guilty of promoting godless behavior through “worthless, foolish talk.” Paul compared his actions to an infectious disease that had spread throughout the local congregation. It seems that Alexander had decided to stand up to Paul and publically contradict his teachings. Paul declared that “ Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” and “he fought against everything we said” (2 Timothy 4:14, 15 NLT).

These men had done great damage to the cause of Christ and Paul wanted Timothy to learn from their mistakes. Anyone was capable of veering from the path of truth and wandering into the high weeds of false doctrine. That is why Paul urged Timothy to “hold firmly to faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT). The key to his survival and success would be an unwavering commitment to the gospel message and his own faith in it.

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.

Faithfulness: The Key to Preventing Spiritual Failure

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. – 1 Timothy 1:12-20 ESV

Paul was a man who was comfortable in his own skin. He was well aware of his past and not afraid to confess it or to come face to face with it. He regularly revisited the life he lived before coming to faith in Christ and recognized that his past was a vital part of his present identity. He unabashedly admits to Timothy, “I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT). 

There was a dark side to Paul’s past that he was more than willing to admit. He didn’t attempt to hide or gloss over it. In fact, it was his honest recognition of his past that made his present state of grace in Christ that much more amazing. It wasn’t that Paul had lived a life of moral degeneracy and spiritual bankruptcy. No, he had been a faithful adherent to the Hebrew religion and a committed member of one of the most strict religious sects of his day.

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT

It had been his zeal for his religious faith that had led him to attack the followers of Jesus. Like most Jews of his day, Paul had viewed the disciples of Jesus as members of a dangerous religious sect that were falsely proclaiming that the Jewish Messiah had come. And Paul saw this rapidly growing religious movement as a threat to his Jewish faith. That led him to wage a one-man crusade against the followers of “the way.”

I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT

Paul was brutally honest about his past, fully admitting the role he had played in trying to exterminate any and all Christians from the fact of the earth.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13 NLT

But Paul’s sordid past had not proved to be a problem for God Almighty. In fact, God had redeemed Paul in spite of his former way of life.

He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him – 1 Timothy 1:12 NLT

It was not Paul’s zeal that earned him a right standing with God. His well-intentioned but misguided efforts to purge the world of all Christians had failed miserably, because God had other plans for this hard-driving, high-energy crusader.

Paul regularly shared the story of how God transformed his life from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the good news of Jesus Christ (Acts 9). While on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison Christ-followers, Paul had an unexpected encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ that changed the entire trajectory of his life. Paul would later be discipled by a man named Ananias, who revealed to him his new God-ordained life’s mission.

“The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak. For you are to be his witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord.’ – Acts 22:14-16 NLT

And Paul freely admitted to Timothy that his salvation had been the gracious work of God, who had sent His Son into the world to save sinners just like him.

This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. – 1 Timothy 1:15 NLT

Paul was still blown away by God’s unmerited favor and immeasurable grace.

God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 1:13-14 NLT

As far as Paul was concerned, his life was meant to be an example to others of just how gracious and forgiven God could be.

God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1:16 NLT

Paul wanted Timothy to understand the magnitude of God’s power and undeserved goodness. It was essential that Timothy fully embrace the one-of-a-kind nature of God Almighty.

He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. – 1 Timothy 1:17 NLT

All of this was meant to be an introduction or preface to the primary point behind Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul knew that Timothy was in a difficult spot. He was a young man attempting to minister to a small congregation of believers living in the hostile environment of Ephesus. They were surrounded by pagan unbelievers and a vocal and sometimes violent contingent of local Jews who had targeted them as enemies.

So, Paul was desperate to prepare and encourage Timothy for the battle ahead. This young pastor was facing strong opposition from a zealous and determined foe. And Paul fully understood what it was like to have a strong opinion about something. He also knew that passion and zeal did not make someone right. The individuals who were negatively influencing the believers in Ephesus and causing problems for Timothy were all convinced that they were right. Paul describes them as wanting “to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently” (1 Timothy 1:7 NLT).

At one time, Paul had been much like them. He had been an expert in the law and a Pharisee. He described himself as “a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today” (Acts 26:3 NLT).

During that period of his life. Paul had done everything in a misguided attempt to honor God. He did what he did with confidence and a clear conscience, including blaspheming the name of Christ and persecuting the people of God. But as Paul looked back on his life, he recognized that it all had been done “in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13 NLT).

Paul wanted Timothy to know that even those individuals who were causing confusion and conflict within the church in Ephesus were not hopeless cases. They were not lost causes. If God could extend mercy and grace to Paul, He could certainly do the same with those who “have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions” (1 Timothy 1:6 NLT). It seems that Paul was attempting to encourage Timothy to trust in the grace and mercy of God in the midst of all that he was facing. God had been able to take a man like Paul and miraculously change his heart and his life through an encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ.

God had mercy. God extended grace. Paul’s life had not been beyond the reach of God. His life had not been too far gone for Jesus to transform. He had not been irredeemable. Paul’s life had become “a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:16b NLT).

Paul reminded Timothy to never lose sight of the fact that, despite all the opposition, confusion, setbacks, false teachers, uncommitted congregants, limited converts, and trying circumstances. He gave Timothy one simple directive: “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear” (1 Timothy 1:19 NLT).

Faith in what? Faith in Christ. Jesus Christ was the one who made it possible for men to be made right with God. He was the one who provided redemption and restoration with the Father. It was through Him that all men gain access to God’s incredible mercy, grace, power, presence, and provision. Paul wanted Timothy to remain faithful to Christ and faithfully fulfill his work as God’s minister of the Gospel. Some had failed to do so, and Paul used them as an example and a warning.  

Hymenaeus and Alexander, evidently believers and members of the local fellowship there in Ephesus, had not remained faithful to Christ. They had violated their consciences, somehow disobeying what they knew to be true and right, and, as a result, they had shipwrecked their faith. Their lives were spiritually “on the rocks,” out of commission, and under God’s discipline.

Faithfulness is the key to preventing spiritual failure. God was going to use Timothy in a powerful way, but Timothy would need to remain faithful to Christ and focused on God’s power to extend grace and mercy to all, even the worst of sinners. Timothy’s God was still on His throne.

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.

Living With the Future In Mind

1 The heads of the fathers’ houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses, 11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father’s brothers. 12 They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

13 These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. Numbers 36:1-13 ESV

The book of Numbers ends on a rather strange and anticlimactic note. As the people prepare to enter Canaan and begin their long-awaited conquest of the land and its inhabitants, Moses is forced to reconsider a problem he has already addressed. Back in chapter 27, Moses recounted the story of the three daughters of Zelophehad, a member of the tribe of Manasseh. These three unmarried women approached Moses with a dilemma; their father had died without any sons to inherit his portion of the land. As unmarried women, they were prohibited from serving as heirs to their father’s estate, which meant that they would receive no land allotment in Canaan. So, they had taken their problem to Moses for recourse.

Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.” – Numbers 27:4 NLT

Moses had determined their request to be legitimate and decided in their favor.

“The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.” – Numbers 27:7 NLT

But the problem was not over. As the day fast approached when Israel would enter the land and begin its conquest, the rest of the members of the tribe of Manasseh raised a concern about Moses’ previous decision.

“Sir, the Lord instructed you to divide the land by sacred lot among the people of Israel. You were told by the Lord to give the grant of land owned by our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. But if they marry men from another tribe, their grants of land will go with them to the tribe into which they marry. In this way, the total area of our tribal land will be reduced.” – Numbers 36:2-3 NLT

They had spotted a flaw in Moses’ plan. According to custom, if any of these women were to end up marrying a man outside the tribe of Manasseh, their land allotment would automatically become the possession of her new husband. Married women were not allowed to retain land ownership rights. And to make matters worse, in the year of Jubilee, the land would become the permanent possession of the husband’s tribe.

“…when the Year of Jubilee comes, their portion of land will be added to that of the new tribe, causing it to be lost forever to our ancestral tribe.” – Numbers 36:4 NLT

God had already given the people of Israel His commands concerning the Year of Jubilee.

“…you must count off seven Sabbath years, seven sets of seven years, adding up to forty-nine years in all. Then on the Day of Atonement in the fiftieth year, blow the ram’s horn loud and long throughout the land. Set this year apart as holy, a time to proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live there. It will be a jubilee year for you, when each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors and return to your own clan. – Leviticus 25:8-10 NLT

Every 50 years, the Israelites were commanded to conduct a year-long celebration of redemption. All prisoners and captives were to be set free, all slaves released, all debts forgiven, and all property returned to its original owners.

“In the jubilee year, the land must be returned to the original owners so they can return to their family land.” – Leviticus 25:28 NLT

But the tribe of Manasseh brought up a potential problem to Moses. Since these women were going to inherit the land of their father upon his death, what would prevent them from marrying a man from another tribe and then the land transferring ownership from one tribe to another? In other words, what would happen if the heiress to her father’s property married someone from a different tribe? In that case, the land of their father would become the property of another tribe, and the tribal allotments would become intermixed and confused. Not only that, one tribe’s land allotment would decrease while another tribe’s property expanded. This would set dangerous precedence, leading tribes to marry outside their clans in order to gain additional land rights.

God had a solution to this problem. But this chapter raises another interesting question: Why did God have Moses end the book of Numbers with this story? Why does the entire book conclude with a story about the daughters of Zelophehad? I think it has to do with a couple of things. First of all, the book of Numbers is about the future. From its very outset, it has been a history of the people of Israel and their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, but the real focus was not on the past or the present. The theme of the book is Israel’s future.

As the book closes, the concern behind the question raised by the tribe of Manasseh is about the future. They seem to understand that this problem has long-term implications. The land they are all inheriting is not just for those who are living at that time, but for future generations. There is a future aspect to this matter that causes them to be concerned and speak up.

The other issue is that this is not about the individual. While it was wonderful news that the daughters of Zelophehad would be able to inherit the land of their father, ultimately, it wasn’t about them. It wasn’t even about their tribe. It was about the people of God. And God’s concern was for the corporate well-being of His people. If these women had been allowed to marry whomever they wanted to, the divinely ordained land allotment could have been permanently altered with dramatic consequences for the future. One tribe could have ended up with a greater share of the land, resulting in bitter jealousy and fighting between the tribes. So God came up with a plan by which the daughters were free to marry but within certain constraints. They had to marry someone from within their own tribe. And this held true for all cases.

In our world of independence and self-centered philosophy, this concern for the corporate good is foreign to us. We tend to make it all about ourselves. We are wired to do what is best for the individual. The thought of sacrificing for the team is unheard of these days. Everyone is out for their own good. Even famous athletes model a lifestyle of self-promotion and self-preservation. Business owners display little concern for the needs of their employees or customers. Marriages tend to be contractual agreements between two parties that are driven by self-interest and a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude.

But in the story found in chapter 36 of Numbers, God reminds us that it isn’t all about us. It’s about the family of God. And while we are to live in the moment, we are to keep our eyes focused on the future. If not, we will develop a live-for-the-moment mentality that sacrifices the future for the pleasures of today. The daughters of Zelophehad weren’t willing to do that. They did just as Moses directed them. They obeyed. They understood that God had their best interests and the interests of the people of God in mind. And they lived with their eyes on the future. Which is what each of us is called to do as children of God. It isn’t all about me and my happiness. It’s all about the people of God and the future God has prepared for us. Any sacrifice God calls me to make is for the good of the team.

The book of Numbers ends with the statement: “These are the commands and regulations that the Lord gave to the people of Israel through Moses while they were camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho” (Numbers 36:13 NLT).

The emphasis is on the future. The people of God are on the wrong side of the river and their inheritance lies on the other side. But before they crossed over and began their conquest of the land, God had given them all the instructions they would need to guarantee success and assure them of a bright and blessed future.

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.