False Help and Hope.

1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20:1-6 ESV

Map-of-Assyrian-Expansion.jpgAs has already been stated, this whole section of the book of Isaiah is designed to expose the futility of Judah placing their hope in other nations. Faced with formidable foes threatening to destroy them, the people of Judah were quick to turn to other nations for assistance. Their first line of defense was to make an alliance with a pagan nation like Egypt or Cush.  They had even considered aligning themselves with the Assyrians. But God wanted them to know that He alone was to be their source of safety and security. They had long ago abandoned Him, turning to the false gods of the nations around them and even when faced with His divine judgment in the form of foreign invaders, they remained obstinate, refusing to repent and turn to Him. They thought they could evade and escape His punishment by placing their fate in the hands of a foreign king.

And yet, they watched as, one by one, other nations and cities fell before the unrelenting power of the Assyrian army, including the city of Ashdod. Ashdod was the northern-most Philistine city, located only 35 miles to the west of Jerusalem and, in 713 BC, its king, Ahimiti, had decided to rebel against the the Assyrians, prompted by the promise of aid from the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Ahimiti was replaced by the Assyrians. When the people of Ashdod continued to rebel, the King Sargon II turned the city into an Assyrian province. And the Egyptians never lifted a finger to help them. In fact, the people of Ashdod had pleaded for help from Judah, Moab and Edom, but none ever materialized.

At the time of the fall of Ashdod, God gave Isaiah a strange assignment. He told him to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet” (Isaiah 20:2 ESV). He was to remove his outer garment as well as his shoes and the text says, “he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” But before we jump to conclusions and assume that Isaiah was being forced by God to expose himself to all those around them, it is important to know that the Hebrews word translated as “naked” is`arowm and can refer to complete or partial nudity. In many cases it was used to refer to someone who had taken off their outer garment, only to reveal their tunic or undergarment. It seems unlikely that God would have required Isaiah to expose himself completely. But, in demanding that Isaiah strip down to his undergarments and walk the streets of Jerusalem, God would have been demonstrating the shame that Judah would soon experience. Isaiah’s condition would provide a visual demonstration of the humiliation and shame coming to all the nations on Judah’s list of potential allies. Like someone stripped of his possessions by thieves, Isaiah would be a walking reminder of the fate of Judah’s false saviors. And he would do this for three long years.

But Isaiah’s three-year-long dramatic display was intended to send a message to the people of Judah. God wanted them to know that their refusal to place their trust in Him would prove to be a poor decision.

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” –  Isaiah 20:3-4 ESV

They Egyptians and Cushites would fall, just as the city of Ashdod did. Their people would be led away, their fine garments and sandals removed, looking more like slaves than the citizens of a once-powerful nation. While Isaiah’s dramatic performance was nothing more than theater in the round, what God describes as happening to the people of Egypt and Cush will be real and not an act.

And God reveals that it will be only then, as their two allies are led away as captives, that people of Judah “shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast” (Isaiah 20:5 ESV). It is going to take the fall of these two nations to bring the people of Judah to the point of brokenness. The two Hebrew words used to describe their emotional state at that time are chathath and buwsh, and they paint a picture of confusion, fear and loss of hope. They will have placed all their hope and trust in these two nations, believing that they would be the ones to protect them from their enemies. But their hopes will be dashed when their allies fall.

Isaiah is told to warn the people that when this prophecy takes place, it will leave them wondering what happened. It will leave them in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?” – Isaiah 20:6 ESV

And in 701 BC, God’s warning came to fruition. The Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekeh, leaving the people of Judah were left without help or hope. Or so they thought. But God was there. He always had been. And God was ready to help them, to provide them with hope in the midst of the darkness and despair surrounding them. But they would have to turn to Him. They would have to place their trust in Him. And later on in this same book, Isaiah describes the goodness and greatness of the God who stood ready to assist those who will call out to Him in their time of need.

He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31 ESV

God possesses power greater than that of any nation. And He offers that power to those who find themselves suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual weakness. But He requires that we wait on Him. That means we must allow Him to operate on His time schedule, not ours. We must not allow our impatience with His seeming delays to tempt us to turn to other forms of help. The key to enjoying the benefits of God’s strength is learning to trust His timing. Notice that those described in this passage are faint, lacking in strength, weary, and exhausted. They can’t take another step. They are on their last legs. In other words, they have come to an end of their own strength. And it is at that very moment, that we tend to start looking for outside sources of strength. But will we turn to God? Will we wait on Him? Will we place all our hope in His ability to provide the very help we need? God calls out to us as He did to the people of Judah.

“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV

He is our help and our hope.

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

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

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

No Match For God.

1 An oracle concerning Moab.

Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
    Moab is undone.
He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
    to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
    Moab wails.
On every head is baldness;
    every beard is shorn;
in the streets they wear sackcloth;
    on the housetops and in the squares
    everyone wails and melts in tears.
Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
    their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
    his soul trembles.
My heart cries out for Moab;
    her fugitives flee to Zoar,
    to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
    they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
    they raise a cry of destruction;
the waters of Nimrim
    are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
    the greenery is no more.
Therefore the abundance they have gained
    and what they have laid up
they carry away
    over the Brook of the Willows.
For a cry has gone
    around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
    her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
    for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
    for the remnant of the land. – Isaiah 15:1-9 ESV

ruth_moabNow, God turns His attention to the land of Moab. Slowly and systematically, God is addressing all the people groups that have had anything to do with Israel and Judah. In the first two oracles, He dealt with Assyrian and Philistia, two nations located outside the borders of Canaan, that would both pose a threat to the people of God. The Moabites, while a relatively small nation, and one that had proven to be particularly hostile to the people of God, would hear from God as well. Located to the east of the Dead Sea, the Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son born to Lot and his oldest daughter. This incestuous relationship is recorded in the book of Genesis and took place immediately after Lot and his family had been rescued from Sodom just before the city’s destruction by God.

When the people of Israel had begun their conquest of the land promised to them by God, the Moabites had become concerned over their sheer numbers and their relatively easy defeat of the neighboring Ammorites.

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. – Numbers 22:2-3 ESV

King Balak ended up sending for a well-known diviner named Balaam, whom he offered a fee if he would curse the Israelites.

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV

But God would not allow Balaam to do as the king had requested. He was prevented from cursing Israel. So, instead, he came up with an alternative and ingenuous plan to defeat the people of God. He recommended to King Balak that the Moabite women entice the Israelite men into having immoral relationships with them. And his plan worked.

While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT

God ended up sending a plague on the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 deaths. But this oracle makes it clear that God would deal with the Moabites as well. Their role in Israel’s moral and spiritual adultery would be avenged. And the prophet, Zephaniah, reiterates God’s plans for the people of Moab.

“Now, as surely as I live,”
    says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel,
“Moab and Ammon will be destroyed—
    destroyed as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah.
Their land will become a place of stinging nettles,
    salt pits, and eternal desolation.
The remnant of my people will plunder them
    and take their land.” – Zephaniah 2:9 NLT

Isaiah warns of Moab’s pending fall. Its two main cities, Ar and Kir, would end up destroyed, “laid waste in a night.” In other words, their destruction would be quick and complete. Isaiah pictures the people weeping in Dibon, where the temple to Chemosh, the Moabite god was located. But rather than praying to their false god for aid, they are shown crying over the fall of their cities. Chemosh has proven ineffectual and impotent against God Almighty.

As a sign of mourning, everyone has shaved their heads and beards. They are wearing sackcloth and crying out in sorrow over their great loss. Even the soldiers join in the dirge over the loss of their cities, lands, and people. It is a scene of abject destruction and unrelenting sorrow.

It is impossible to know exactly when this prophecy was fulfilled. Some believe it took place in 718 BC when Sargon and the Assyrians moved across the land. Others have speculated that the fall of Moab happened under Tiglath-pilesar 732 BC or even Sennacherib in 701 BC. But the important point is that Moab did fall, just as God said that it would.

One of the important things to remember is that this oracle, like all the others, was aimed at the people of Judah. It was intended to remind them that their God was in complete control. The nations of the earth were under His divine authority, including Assyrian, Philistia, and Moab. They had no reason to fear these nations unless they failed to fear God – which they had. They had no business putting their trust in these nations, rather than trusting God – but they had. The sins of Judah were many. They were guilty of idolatry and immorality. They had placed their hope and trust in false gods and pagan nations. When warned of God’s pending judgment, rather than repent, they had sought aid from others. Faced with news of the coming wrath of God, they always seemed to have one more trick up their sleeve, an alternative source of rescue.

But God wanted them to know that everyone, from the powerful Assyrians and Babylonians to the relatively helpless Moabites, would prove to be no match for Him. And God makes it clear that, even after all the mourning and weeping in Moab, He will not yet be done.

“I will bring upon Dibon even more…” – Isaiah 15:9 ESV

Dibon, the home of the Moabite’s false god, Chemosh, would experience additional destruction. The gods of the nations would prove no match for God Almighty. The armies of the pagan nations would be powerless in the face of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah of the greatness of their God.

The following proverb reminds us that the fear of man is dangerous because it illustrates our lack of faith in God.

Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety. – Proverbs 29:25 NLT

And Jesus Himself provided a much-needed reminder of our need to trust God rather than fearing man

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT

Judah had lost its fear of God. In the face of all the turmoil surrounding them, the people of God had taken their eyes off of Him and had started trusting in human kings and man-made gods to protect them. But as God has made perfectly clear, there is no one or nothing that can provide protection from His judgment. Human kings fail. Mighty nations fall. And man-made idols prove to be false forms of salvation.

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

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

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

Abandoned Hope.

1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Acts 27:1-20 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Back in chapter 19, Luke reported that Paul had been compelled by the Spirit of God to visit Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. Paul was constantly receiving input from the Spirit, providing him with direction and even preventing him from going to certain places. His ministry was motivated by his desire to obey the commission given to him by Jesus, but it was directed by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 16, Luke records just such an occasion.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. – Acts 16:6-7 NLT

And somewhere along the way, Paul had been given what had to have been a Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome. Acts 19:21 reports Paul’s impassioned statement: “I must go on to Rome!” And now, after his hearing before King Agrippa and Festus, he was on his way. But this journey was not going to be an easy one. He was still a prisoner and he was on his way to stand trial before the emperor of Rome, still facing charges that could result in his death. Nothing about this phase of Paul’s life was easy or trouble-free. It seems that with every step he took, the difficulties increased in number and intensity. And yet, he was innocent of any wrong-doing, a fact with which both the governor and the king concurred.

Luke spends a great deal of time chronicling this portion of Paul’s life. He provides a lot of detail, describing each phase of Paul’s journey to Rome with what appears to be keen interest. But why? It seems that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was trying to show that Paul’s desire to go to Rome, while Spirit-inspired, was not a guarantee of a trouble-free journey. God was sovereign and orchestrating each step of Paul’s trip to Rome, but that did not exempt Paul from difficulties or trials along the way. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews in the temple courtyard and eventual arrest by the Romans, had stretched into more than a two-year delay. He had been moved to Caesarea for a hearing before Governor Felix, but had remained in confinement when Felix found himself unable to arrive at a decision as to Paul’s fate. And Paul had remained there for two years, until Felix had been replaced by Festus. It was to Festus that Paul had demanded a trial before Caesar and now, he was on his way.

The beatings, imprisonment, false accusations, threats, and plots against his life had just been the beginning. His trip to Rome was going to prove equally as intense and full of inexplicable trials and tests. But it is essential that we read this account as Luke intended it to be read: With a knowledge that God is in control. None of the events described in this chapter happened outside the sovereign will of God. And no one understood that better than Paul himself. We must give careful consideration to the attitude and actions displayed by Paul throughout this story. There was no sense of panic or fear. At no time does Paul seem to consider the troubles surrounding his life as an indication that he was somehow out of God’s will for his life. From the moment he stepped foot on the ship to the day he arrived in Rome, Paul was content and at peace with the knowledge that his life was in God’s hands.

In verse four, Luke gives a short, but telling glimpse into what was to come: “…the winds were against us.” The entire journey will appear to be marked by a supernatural, spiritual-based conflict. There is little doubt that much of what Luke describes is meant to convey the battle taking place in the heavenly realms, as Paul himself described it. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was being led by God, but being opposed by Satan every step of the way. Luke does not provide us with a step-by-step description or blow-by-blow account of how this battle unfolded. He does not attribute the storm to Satan. He doesn’t even mention him. But his narrative provides us with a foreboding sense of the spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes.

We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. – Acts 27:7 NLT

Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens… – Acts 27:8 NLT

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous – Acts 27:9 NLT

Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” – Acts 27:9-10 NLT

…soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. – Acts 27:14 NLT

we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat – Acts 27:16 NLT

fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. – Acts 27:17 NLT

Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. – Acts 27:18 NLT

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. – Acts 27:20 NLT

All hope was abandoned. Or was it? There was at least one man on the boat who seemed to know that there was still hope, because there was still a God who had all things in His hands and under His control. Nowhere does Paul express fear that he had been abandoned by God. He did not view the storm as a sign that God was punishing him or somehow preventing him from arriving in Rome. His Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome had not diminished. And as we will see in the next section of verses, God will provide Paul with clear confirmation that he will make it to his final destination without the loss of a single life. The storm was going to prove no match for God. And Julius, the Augustan Cohort in charge of delivering Paul to Rome; Aristarchus, the Macedonian traveling with Paul; and all the sailors on the ship, were going to get a first-hand display of the power of God. They may have lost hope, but Paul hadn’t. They may have feared for their lives, but Paul had an assurance from God that not a single life would be lost. Paul was headed to Rome. The winds would blow, the waves would crash, the boat would sink, the sailors would panic, but Paul would rest in the sovereign hand of God. His faith was in his God. His eyes were on the One who had called and commissioned him, not on the storms of life. And this story brings to mind a similar scene from the life of Jesus, when He and His disciples encountered a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 NLT

Paul experienced the same storm the sailors did, but without fear. Paul had faith. He trusted God. And it seems that Luke is silently asking us whether we will do the same.

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

Let the Will of the Lord be Done.

1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for one day. On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. Acts 21:1-16 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

 

In his gospel account, Luke records the following statement regarding Jesus: “Now when the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 NLT). Jesus had begun to reveal to His disciples the fate that awaited Him in Jerusalem. He told them, “Take these words to heart, for the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44 NLT). As time went on and the day of His betrayal and death drew closer, He became more specific regarding the details surrounding what awaited Him in Jerusalem.

31 Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; he will be mocked, mistreated, and spat on. 33 They will flog him severely and kill him. Yet on the third day he will rise again.” 34 But the twelve understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what Jesus meant. – Luke 18:31-33 NLT

Jesus had been resolute and steadfast in His commitment to carry out the assignment given to Him by God the Father. He knew why He had come to earth and His work would not be complete until He had finished what He had been sent to do. And, at one point, He spoke the following statement in the hearing of His disciples and to those who had claimed to be His followers, but who had been distracted by worldly concerns: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 NLT).

Here in Luke’s retelling of the history of the church, he seems to be comparing the determination and dedication of Jesus to that of Paul. We see in this passage, some striking similarities between the two men, as Paul, making his way to Jerusalem, displays a strong sense of calling and commitment to complete the journey, even in spite of the warnings of those who loved him. Paul had no idea what awaited him in Jerusalem, but he knew from experience that the potential for death was a reality everywhere he went.

22 And now, behold, j, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:22-24 ESV

Paul wanted to finish well. He wanted to be faithful to the assignment given to him by Jesus. And his attitude was that, as long as the Lord allowed him to live, he would share the gospel faithfully and boldly. His goal in life was to please the Lord, whether in life or in death.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ESV

And Luke, using geographic locations as a sort of measurement device, tells of Paul’s unwavering commitment to return to Jerusalem as the Spirit had directed him. Luke describes their journey from Miletus to Cos, then to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. Their next stop was Phoenicia and from there they sailed to Tyre, passing by the island of Rhodes on the way. There are not stops mentioned. At no point does he describe Paul taking time to minister along the way. This was not normal behavior for Paul. You can sense in Luke’s description of this leg of their journey that there was a certain determination on the part of Paul. Like Jesus, he had set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem.

It was only when he had arrived in Tyre that Paul took time to meet with the disciples there. He stayed for seven days, but this was only because he was forced to wait for this ship’s cargo to be unloaded. During the delay, Paul was once again bombarded with dire warnings from those who cared deeply for him. Luke records that the brothers and sisters, under the influence of the Spirit of God, “were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). This begs a question: If these believers, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, why did he do so anyway? Was he being disobedient to the Spirit? Does this just display a stubbornness on Paul’s part? It is important to remember that Paul had also received word from the Spirit of God. In fact, he had made that plain when he had said, “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22 ESV). It would seem that some of the disciples in Tyre had been given a divine insight into Paul’s fate, provided to them by the Holy Spirit. Upon hearing the news, their natural conclusion had been that the Spirit was telling them these things so they could warn Paul and keep him from going. But it much more likely that the Spirit was simply confirming what He had already told Paul. Out of their love for Paul, they were trying to prevent any harm from coming to him, but what awaited Paul in Jerusalem was the sovereign will of God. What what we seen happening here is the very same thing that happened when Jesus had informed the disciples about the fate awaiting Him in Jerusalem.

21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” – Matthew 16:21-22 NLT

Peter had meant well. He loved Jesus and was simply trying to protect him from what he believed to be an undeserved and unnecessary death. He didn’t understand what was going on, but was seeing things from his limited human perspective. And what Jesus said to him provides us with a telling and sobering warning.

23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” – Matthew 16:23 NLT

The disciples in Tyre were guilty of the same thing. They were setting their minds on their own interests, rather than those of God. They couldn’t bear the thought of losing Paul. It made no sense to them that God would allow anything to happen to someone so vital to the well-being of the church. But that kind of attitude was dangerous. Jesus described Peter as acting like Satan, attempting to stand in the way of God divine will for the redemption of mankind. And the disciples in Tyre, while trying to keep Paul from having to suffer, were unwittingly doing the same thing. They had no idea what God had planned for Paul and what was going to happen as a result. They could not see into the future. All they knew was that something dire was waiting for Paul in Jerusalem and they wanted to prevent it from happening.

But Paul remained determined. He departed from Tyre and made his way to Ptolemais and then on to Caesarea, where he and his traveling companions stayed in the home of Philip the Evangelist. While there, Paul was once again confronted and warned about the fate that awaited him in Jerusalem. This time, it came from the lips of a prophet named Agabus, who had come all the way from Judea. Using a visual illustration, he revealed to Paul that he would arrested by the Jews, bound up and delivered to the Gentiles. It is obvious that Agabus had also received a word from the Lord. And the text does not indicate that Agabus tried to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. He simply presented the facts as given to him by God. It was the disciples in Philip’s house who heard this news and attempted to persuade Paul to change his plans. And Luke, out of love for his brother, Paul, included himself among those who tried to change Paul’s mind. “When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12 ESV). 

What they failed to realize was that their passionate pleas for Paul to refrain from going to Jerusalem were actually making things more difficult for Paul. He responded: “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). What Paul needed were words of encouragement to stay the course, not emotion-filled pleas to disobey the will of God for his life. His friends meant well, but they were operating out of a sense of selfishness. They were not seeing the bigger picture. For Paul, the plans of God far outweighed any personal aspirations he might have. He was much more interested in seeing the sovereign will of God accomplished than doing whatever he could to keep his life as trouble-free as possible.

Luke, along with all the others who had tried to dissuade Paul from his seemingly ill-fated plans to go to Jerusalem, resigned himself to the inevitable. He simply stated, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14 ESV). There is a certain sense of failure in Luke’s words. He doesn’t sound convincing. He even admitted that “since he would not be persuaded, we ceased” (Acts 21:14 ESV). They had tried, but had failed. So, they were forced to accept what happened as the will of God. But is that the way we should face the future? Does God want us to simply give up hope and face what may happen with a sense of resignation? What a contrast we see between the words of Luke and those of Paul. “I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). The will of God didn’t intimidate Paul. It didn’t depress him. He didn’t feel compelled to resign himself to it. He willing and eagerly embraced it as preferable to any other alternative, because he was fully convinced that God knew best. Paul lived his life in keeping with the words of Peter: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 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 Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Have No Fear. God is Near.

The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” Jeremiah 45:1-5 ESV

This chapter appears to be a bit out of place, at least chronologically. But God had Jeremiah place it here in the narrative for a reason. If we go back to chapter 36, we find the first mention of Baruch in the book of Jeremiah, and it seems that chapter 45 is intended to provide further insight into the events surrounding this man’s life and his reaction to the role he was required to play. If you recall. Jeremiah had been told by God to put in writing all the words of prophecy that he had spoken to the people of Judah. To do so, Jeremiah called in Baruch to write the words in a scroll while he dictated them.  When this process was done, Jeremiah told Baruch to take the scroll and head to the temple, where he was to read in the hearing of all the people, the words written on it.

Then Jeremiah said to Baruch, “I am a prisoner here and unable to go to the Temple. So you go to the Temple on the next day of fasting, and read the messages from the Lord that I have had you write on this scroll. Read them so the people who are there from all over Judah will hear them. Perhaps even yet they will turn from their evil ways and ask the Lord’s forgiveness before it is too late. For the Lord has threatened them with his terrible anger.” – Jeremiah 36:5-7 NLT

Jeremiah had been banned from going to the temple. So, the job of relaying all the previous prophecies to the people was left up to Baruch. And all chapter 36 tells us is, “Baruch did as Jeremiah told him and read these messages from the Lord to the people at the Temple” (Jeremiah 36:8 NLT). Fairly matter-of-fact statement. We are given no indication that Baruch had a problem with this command. He doesn’t seem to display any reservations or put up any argument about having to play the role of the prophet. He would have been well-acquainted with the kinds of reactions Jeremiah typically received from the people when he spoke on behalf of God, but there seems to be no apprehension on Baruch’s part. Until we get to chapter 45. It clearly states that Jeremiah gave this message to Baruch, “after Baruch had written down everything Jeremiah had dictated to him” (Jeremiah 45:1 NLT). And what Jeremiah had to say to Baruch reveals that God knew what was going on in Baruch’s heart. He may not have said anything or even showed any signs of resistance when told what he was going to have to do, but God revealed to Jeremiah was Baruch was really thinking.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You have said, ‘I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.’” – Jeremiah 45:2-3 NLT

Whether or not Baruch ever stated these words out loud where anyone could hear them is not clear. But God knew his thoughts. And it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Baruch is being a little over-dramatic. After all, how difficult was it to write down some words on a scroll and then read them out loud? But we have to remember that Baruch’s little adventure as Jeremiah’s prophetic stand-in hadn’t stopped at the temple. Word about the events taking place at the temple made its way to the palace and officials of the king were dispatched to get to the bottom of the matter. So Baruch found himself being interrogated and had the scroll confiscated. And the last thing Baruch was told was, “You and Jeremiah should both hide. Don’t tell anyone where you are!” (Jeremiah 36:19 NLT). Not exactly comforting words.

The king, Jehoaikim, ended up cutting up and burning the scroll in anger. Then he had sent guards to have Jeremiah and Baruch arrested. “But the Lord had hidden them” (Jeremiah 36:26 NLT). But God was not done with them. He commanded Jeremiah to take another scroll and to have Baruch copy down the words of prophecy yet again, and this time He would add a special warning the King Jehoiakim.

“So Jeremiah took another scroll and dictated again to his secretary, Baruch. He wrote everything that had been on the scroll King Jehoiakim had burned in the fire. Only this time he added much more!” – Jeremiah 36:32 NLT

And it was most likely at this point that Baruch had expressed his reservations at the events surrounding his life. Whether he put his thoughts into actual words where Jeremiah could hear them or just kept them to himself, it didn’t matter, because God knew. And God gave Baruch a message. This poor man was distraught. He had been placed in a very uncomfortable position by Jeremiah. He was not a prophet. He had not received a call from God to be His spokesman. He had received no assurances from God that he would protected. He was essentially a secretary. He was obviously an educated man, but he was not wired to be a prophet. And all the events surrounding the last few days of his life had left him in a state of despair. He thought, “I am overwhelmed with trouble!” He knew the king was out to have him arrested. His association with Jeremiah had got him into hot water. He had a bounty on his head and the outcome was not going to be good. It was keeping him awake at night. He asks, “Haven’t I had enough pain already?” He had done what Jeremiah had asked, not once, but twice. He had risked his life. He had experienced what it was like to have the people glare at him in anger and indignation when he read the prophecies of God written on the scroll. He had seen the concern on the faces of the court officials when they interviewed him. And he had sensed their soberness and seriousness when they had warned him to hide. Then, he had received news that the king had burned the scroll and was seeking to have him arrested. And his reaction was, “And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.” Baruch had reached the end of his rope. He was at his wit’s end.

But God had a word for Baruch. And He revealed some insight into Baruch’s thinking that was influencing his reaction. God said, “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” (Jeremiah 45:5 NLT). Baruch was well-connected and, evidently, well off. His brother would end up being an official on King Zedekiah’s staff. His grandfather had been the governor of Jerusalem during Josiah’s reign. It may have been that Baruch saw himself as a potential candidate for a place in the king’s administration, but now, that hope had been blown. He was a fugitive. Any hopes he had of moving up the corporate ladder had been dashed by his role in the temple affair. But God wanted Baruch to let go of his dreams and to place his trust in Him. God told him, “I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go” (Jeremiah 45:5 NLT). God was promising Baruch with lifelong protection. Because of his willingness to do what Jeremiah had requested of him, Baruch would find himself covered by the best insurance policy imaginable: God Himself. Nothing would happen to him. No harm would come to him. While the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem would fall, Baruch would stand firm. God would give him his life as a reward for his faithfulness. He had obeyed and now God would repay him for his obedience.

Yes, Baruch’s dreams of success were a thing of the past. He was going to have let go of his aspirations to be a part of the administration. But God was actually protecting him by keeping him away from Jehoaikim and any other king that might come to power in Judah. Because God was going to bring about the fall of the house of David. He was going to bring an end to this charade and all the officials of Zedekiah’s court, including Baruch’s brother, would eventually be taken captive and transported to Babylon when the city of Jerusalem fell. But Baruch would live. He would have his freedom. He would enjoy God’s good pleasure and lifelong protection of his life. Yes, Baruch’s efforts on behalf of God had cost him. But God would repay him in full. While everyone around him was dying during the fall of the city, Baruch would be spared. While all his well-heeled friends were being hauled off in chains to Babylon, Baruch would be spared. His faithfulness to God was going to result in God’s faithfulness to him.

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

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

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

What We Really Need Is God.

Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.

“‘But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’” – Jeremiah 17:19-27 ESV

When God created Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden, He gave him one prohibition. There were trees of all kinds from which he could eat and enjoy their fruit. But there was one tree he was to avoid at all costs.

But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden —  except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT

And we know what happened. He and Eve, tempted by Satan, ate of the one tree that God had declared off limits, and the rest, as they say, is history. And here, in this little vignette recorded in the book of Jeremiah, we have yet another case of God issuing a command: Keep the Sabbath holy, and the people refusing to obey. One day. that’s all God had asked of them.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 NLT

They had six other days to work and play. All God asked was that they dedicate one day to Him. It was to be a holy day, set apart for remembering God and resting in His provision. Ceasing from labor on that one day was to be a sign of their commitment to Him and their dependence upon Him. He would meet all their needs.

Adam and Eve didn’t think all the trees in the garden would be enough, so they disobeyed God and ate of the one tree He had prohibited. They didn’t trust God. And when the people of Judah refused to obey God’s command to rest on the Sabbath, they too were exhibiting a lack of trust in God. We see this illustrated all the way back in the story of the Exodus. When God had delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt and led them into the wilderness, the people began to complain about the lack of food.

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:1-3 NLT

One month. That’s all the time it had been. And they were already complaining and whining. In spite of all God had done to deliver them from Egypt, they didn’t trust Him. So, God told Moses what He was going to do.

“Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” – Exodus 16:4-5 NLT

God told them,“‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12 NLT). The people were instructed to gather a specific amount per person in their tent; no more, not less. And when they did, all had enough. No one went without. And they were told:

“Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. – Exodus 16:19-20 NLT

Day after day, God provided them with quail in the evening and manna in the mornings. But there was one stipulation: On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as usual. And when the people questioned Moses about this, he responded:

“This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” – Exodus 16:23 NLT

It’s important to note that God had not yet given them His commandments. There was no Sabbath day to keep at this point. And yet, God was telling them to observe a Sabbath day set apart to Him. On that one day, there would be no quail or manna. They would have to trust God. And Moses told the people:

“Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.” – Exodus 16:26 NLT

But you can probably guess what happened next.

Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. – Exodus 16:27 NLT

They had gathered enough for two days. God had provided for all their needs. But they didn’t trust Him. So, they went out anyway, looking for more quail and manna. And God asked Moses a question to which He already knew the answer.

“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.” – Exodus 16:28-29 NLT

The Sabbath was God’s gift to them. No work. No gathering. Just rest. And a day designed to remind them of God’s provision for them. He was to be their focus, not the quail and manna. They were to concentrate on the Giver, not the gift. They were to put their hope in the invisible God, not the visible food that fell out of heaven.

But back to Jeremiah. God told him to stand at the gate of Jerusalem and declare to every single person, rich and poor, young and old, king and peasant:

“Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors, but they did not listen or obey. They stubbornly refused to pay attention or accept my discipline.” – Jeremiah 17:21-23 NLT

One day was all God had asked of them. Set aside a single 24-hour period in which no work would be done. During that time they were to rest in God, trusting Him for all their needs. But like their ancestors, they refused to obey. They were doing business on the Sabbath, treating it just like any other day. They were buying and selling, trading and bartering. They were treating the Sabbath, God’s gift to them, with disrespect. They were putting their trust in material things instead of the God of the universe. And God reminds them what will happen as a result of their failure to obey Him.

“…if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates. The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.” – Jeremiah 17:27 NLT

So, what’s the point of all this? Why did God have Jeremiah focus his attention and message around the fourth of the Ten Commandments? What was it about the Sabbath that God felt it was necessary to emphasize. Go back to the garden. God put one tree off limits: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And yet, this became the one tree that Adam and Eve coveted more than all the others. Why? Because Satan told them that God was holding out on them. When God had told them that death would be the outcome of eating the fruit of that one true, Satan countered:

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis3:4-5 NLT

They would be like God. Self-autonomy and self-rule. That was the real temptation. Rather than obeying God, they could run their own lives. Instead of having to trust God, they would have the knowledge to manage the affairs of life on their own. And what about the Sabbath? That one day was to be reserved for resting in God. It was to be a weekly reminder of their dependence upon Him. But self-preservation is a powerful force in the life of every human being. We want to be our own god. We want to run our own lives. God’s emphasis on the Sabbath and their refusal to observe it was an indictment of their failure to trust Him. Rather than seeing the Sabbath as a gift from God, they saw it as nothing more than a prohibition. Adam and Eve had thousands of trees to enjoy, but they couldn’t take their eyes off the one God had denied them. And yet, His denial of that one tree had actually been a gift to them. He would be their source of all knowledge. He would care for them and provide them with all the wisdom they would need for life. But somehow, we end up thinking that what God has prohibited is the one thing we have to have. When what we really need is Him.

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

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

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

An Epic Fail.

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days. – 1 Samuel 31:8-13 ESV

What Saul feared in life, actually took place in death. Right before he took his own life, he had begged his armor bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me” (1 Samuel 31:4 ESV). He feared being mocked and ridiculed by the Philistines. The Hebrew word he used is `alal and it can mean “to act severely, deal with severely, make a fool of someone” (“H5953 – `alal – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 12 Feb, 2017). It carries the idea of mocking, as well as defilement. And that is exactly what happened. Saul’s death did not stop the inevitable. They stripped his body of its armor, then cut off his head; and the book of Chronicles says, “they put his armor in the temple of their gods and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon” (1 Chronicles 10:10 ESV). The book of Chronicles goes on to provide important insight into the cause behind Saul’s death:

So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. – 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 ESV

This had not been the only time Saul had failed to keep faith with God. He had personally offered sacrifices to God in direct violation of the law of God (1 Samuel 13). He had also failed to wipe out the Amalekites and to destroy all the spoil from battle, disobeying a direct order from God (1 Samuel 15). And Saul had continually ignored God’s clear announcement that he was going to be replaced as king by a better man. In fact, he had actually tried to stop it from happening by seeking to take the life of the very man God had chosen as his replacement: David.

So there were many reasons for Saul’s abandonment by God. In many ways, he is the one who had left God. He had chosen to live his life and rule his kingdom according to his own standards and based on his own wisdom. He had been rash, impulsive, prone to placing blame and reticent to repent, even when proven guilty. He was prideful, arrogant, self-absorbed and unwilling to humble himself before God. His eventual humiliation at the hands of the Philistines was his own doing. He had brought this on himself. And as his world came to a crashing end on the field of battle, he found himself severely wounded, his sons dead, his army fleeing and the Philistine troops closing in for the kill.

Saul’s decapitated body was hung on the walls of the city of Beth-shan. His head was hung in the temple of Dagon. His armor was put in the temple of Ashtaroth. All as a public display of his defeat and in an effort to humiliate not only Saul, but the God of the people of Israel. It was all very similar to when the Philistines placed the captured Ark of the Covenant in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5). The Ark, a representation of the God of the Israelites, was to the Philistines like an idol, so they placed it at the feet of their god in order to honor his superiority over Yahweh. So, in the same way, by placing Saul’s head in the temple of Dagon was a way to show that their god was greater than the God of Israel. In their minds, Dagon had prevailed over Yahweh. They had won. Saul and the Israelites had lost.

But the story doesn’t end there. When the residents of Jabesh-gilead heard what had been done to Saul and his sons, they had to do something about it. So, at great risk to their own lives, they planned a nighttime raid and took the bodies of Saul and his sons from the walls of Beth-shan and gave them a proper burial. We’re not given a reason for why their bodies were burned. Perhaps it was because they had been so mutilated by the Philistines that they were beyond recognition. Or it could have simply been an attempt to prevent the spread of disease. But whatever the case, their bones were buried and a fast was held for seven days. There would be no great monument erected to Saul. It is interesting to note the difference between the death of Saul and that of a king like Asa.

And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. They buried him in the tomb that he had cut for himself in the city of David. They laid him on a bier that had been filled with various kinds of spices prepared by the perfumer’s art, and they made a very great fire in his honor. – 2 Chronicles 16:13-14 ESV

It would become customary for the deceased kings of Israel to have elaborate burials and expensive tombs built in their honor. Such was not the case for Saul. He and his sons were buried under a tree in a non-disclosed spot. No pomp. No elaborate ceremony. No monument to mark their memory. Just like that, Saul was gone, his memory wiped from the minds of his people, but his legacy of faithlessness and disobedience left behind in the captured cities of Israel, the lost lives of hundreds of soldiers, and the demoralized remnants of the Jews who no longer had a king. But God was not done. This was not an end, but a new beginning. While all looked lost and the future looked dim, God had things right where He wanted them. The Israelites would not be without a king for long, and this time, they would find themselves with a king who was a man after God’s own heart.

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

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

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

Saved By the Bell.

Now the Philistines had gathered all their forces at Aphek. And the Israelites were encamped by the spring that is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul, king of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years, and since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him. And the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, that he may return to the place to which you have assigned him. He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is not this David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,

‘Saul has struck down his thousands,
    and David his ten thousands’?”

Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” And David said to Achish, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” And Achish answered David and said, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” So David set out with his men early in the morning to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel. – 1 Samuel 29:1-11 ESV

While Saul was busy consulting with a witch, David was consorting with the enemy. According to 1 Samuel 27:7, David had been living in the land of Philistia for 16 months. And he had pulled it off by living a lie. He had deceived King Achish into believing that he had turned his back on Israel and had chosen to join forces with the Philistines. And he had been convincing. If there had been an Academy Awards that year, David would have won an Oscar for best actor in a drama. He had completely fooled Achish into believing that he was a faithful friend and ally. Just look at what Achish had to say about him:

“This is David, the servant of King Saul of Israel. He’s been with me for years, and I’ve never found a single fault in him from the day he arrived until today.” – 1 Samuel 29:3 NLT

“I swear by the Lord that you have been a trustworthy ally. I think you should go with me into battle, for I’ve never found a single flaw in you from the day you arrived until today” – 1 Samuel 29:6 NLT

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re as perfect as an angel of God.” – 1 Samuel 29:9 NLT

But David’s performance, while convincing, had also costly. The longer he stayed in Philistia, and the more he kept up his ruse, the more dangerous his predicament would become. It was only a matter of time before David found himself in the awkward and inevitable spot of having to display his true colors. He couldn’t keep up this charade forever. In time, the nations of israel and Philistia would find themselves at war and David would be caught in the middle. And that is exactly the event recorded for us in chapter 29.

The Philistines had gathered all their troops in order to do battle with the Israelites. King Achish and his men arrived at the Aphek, on Philistia’s northern border with Israel. Bringing up the rear of his column was none other than David and his 600 men. Don’t let the significance of this moment escape you. Here was David, the God-appointed, Spirit-anointed future king of Israel, riding among the forces of the Philistines, one of the greatest enemies of the people of God. This was no longer one of David’s cleverly disguised raids against Israelite enemies that he could cover up (see 1 Samuel 27:8-12). This was going to be an all-out war between the Israelites and the Philistines and David was going to have to make a decision. Would he fight with the Philistines, and risk the wrath of God? Would he go into battle and then turn against the Philistines, revealing to Achish and his men his true colors? If he did, he would find himself facing two foes: Achish and Saul. For the last 16 months, Saul had given up his hunt for David, but he had not given up his hatred for him. He most likely saw David as a turncoat, having switched alliances to the Philistines. Most likely, Saul believed David had allied himself with the Philistines in order to defeat him and take the crown from him. So, if Saul met David on the battle field, he would see him as an enemy, no matter which side he chose to fight for.

David was in a predicament. His little plan to escape Saul’s wrath by living among the Philistines had seemed the right thing to do at the time, but he had made his decision without input from God. There is no indication that God had directed David’s actions or commanded his escape into Philistine territory. And now, David was faced with the inevitable consequences of his God-less decision. But while David had left God out of his planning, God had not left David. The Almighty may not have approved of David’s strategy, but He had His hands on David. He knew David’s heart. David had been trying to do the right thing. He was still a faithful servant and all the while he had lived in Philistia, he had continued to fight against the enemies of Israel. But his self-inspired attempt at self-preservation had left him in a very bad spot. And it was going to take the sovereign hand of God to rescue him.

As David and his men arrived at the Philistine camp at Aphek, the other Philistine lords were furious with King Achish at having brought this former Israeli commander and his men into battle with them. What was he thinking? How stupid could he be? This was the same David who had killed the Philistine champion, Goliath, and who had songs written about his military exploits.

“Send him back to the town you’ve given him!” they demanded. “He can’t go into the battle with us. What if he turns against us in battle and becomes our adversary? Is there any better way for him to reconcile himself with his master than by handing our heads over to him? – 1 Samuel 29:4 NLT

They saw David as a threat and Achish as a fool. To them, everything about this scenario was wrong. David had to go. And their anger convinced Achish to reluctantly give in to their demands. And always the actor, David feigned surprise, doing everything in his power to appear hurt and a bit offended at the news.

“What have I done to deserve this treatment?” David demanded. “What have you ever found in your servant, that I can’t go and fight the enemies of my lord the king?” – 1 Samuel 29:8 NLT

But in reality, this was the best thing that could have happened to David and his men. God had intervened and spared them from having to go into battle. At the very last minute, God stepped in and providentially protected David from the mess he had created. But as we will see in the very next chapter, God protected David, but would still allow him to reap the results of his determination to plan his life apart from the input of God. David would escape having to go into battle with the Philistines, but he would not escape the discipline of God.

God had plans for David. He had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. And part of those plans included the years that David spent hiding and wandering in the wilderness. God could have put David on the throne the very day Samuel anointed him, but David was not yet ready to be king. He had to be prepared for the role. He had to learn the lessons God had for him. And a big part of God’s preparation for David would be found in his failure to trust God. His tendency to make decisions without God’s input would teach him the danger of autonomy in the life of the servant of God. Decisions made apart from God will never result in the blessings of God. Trying to do God’s will our way will never produce God’s results. This phase of David’s life would provide yet another valuable lesson in learning to trust God, rather than himself.

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

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

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

The Strange Ways of God.

The sons of Israel did so: and Joseph gave them wagons, according to the command of Pharaoh, and gave them provisions for the journey. To each and all of them he gave a change of clothes, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five changes of clothes. To his father he sent as follows: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers away, and as they departed, he said to them, “Do not quarrel on the way.”

So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. And Israel said, “It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”

So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.” – Genesis 45:21-46:4 ESV

Upon their return to Canaan, the brothers found their father a bit hard to convince. He didn’t exactly find the news of Joseph being alive believable. After all the years that had passed, it was far from being too good to be true, it was impossible. But he finally came around when he heard the whole story and saw the wagons and goods that Joseph had sent. He became convinced that his son was alive and that he should go and see him while he still had time.

But as amazing as the news of Joseph’s “resurrection” was to Jacob, the most fascinating part of this story is the way in which God chose to fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Decades earlier, God had called Abraham out of Ur and sent him to Canaan, promising to give him the land as his possession and to make of him a great nation.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

But Abraham never owned any land in Canaan, and he only had two sons when he died. Yet years later, God would reconfirm the promise to Isaac, Abraham’s son. This is where it gets interesting.

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” – Genesis 26:1-5 ESV

Two things jump out. The mention of a famine and the reference to the land of Egypt. On this occasion, God commands Isaac to NOT go down to Egypt to escape the famine. Instead, he was to remain in the land. What makes this so fascinating is that his father, Abraham, had faced a similar situation years earlier, not long after God he had arrived in the land of Canaan.

At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner. – Genesis 12:10 ESV

Abraham traveled to the land of Canaan, just as God had told him to do, and found it suffering from a severe famine. His decision was to go to Egypt. It was there that Abraham came up with the ridiculous idea for Sarah, his wife, to lie and say that she was his sister. This was because she was beautiful and Abraham feared that someone would have him murdered just to get their hands on her. Abraham’s worst fear came true when Pharaoh himself found Sarah attractive and took her into his harem. It took a divine intervention from God to save her and return her to Abraham. God even blessed Abraham, allowing him to walk out of Egypt with great wealth.

But in all three cases, with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God chose to utilize a famine and a foreign country to accomplish His divine plan. Egypt looms large in each of the stories. For Abraham, it was a place of escape. He had been called to Canaan, but found it not as he had expected. The famine in the land caused him to run to the Nile valley where he knew he could find food for he and his wife. There is no indication that God sent him there. For Isaac, the presence of yet another famine had caused him to consider going to Egypt, just as his father had done. But God commanded him not to go. He was to stay in the land that God would show him. And yet, in the case of Jacob, God would visit him in a dream and tell him, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4 ESV).

This time, God was clearly sending His people to Egypt and confirming that, in Egypt, He would make them into a great nation. Three men, three famines and three occasions to turn to Egypt for help. But only in the last case did God command that Egypt was to be the place of refuge for His people and the means by which He would fulfill His promise. It is fascinating to consider why God chose to send Joseph to Egypt and then have Jacob and his entire family end up living there. Why did He not simply leave them in the land He had promised to them? What was His reasoning for sending them to Egypt where they would remain for 400 years, many of those years as slaves? God doesn’t give us answers. But we are simply asked to trust in His plan and the timing of that plan. God dealt differently with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His promise to them was the same, but the particular plan He had for each of them was distinctly different. Abraham went to Egypt but hadn’t been told to. Isaac considered going to Egypt, but was commanded not to. Jacob was reticent to go to Egypt, but God assured him to do so. The time was right. What had been wrong for Abraham and Isaac was now right for Jacob. God was going to make of Jacob a great nation, but He was going to do so while Jacob and his family lived in Egypt. The opening lines of the book of Exodus provide us with a snapshot of what God did to fulfill His promise to Jacob.

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:1-7 ESV

Why did God choose to do it this way? We don’t know. But we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was the way He chose and all His ways “are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT).

 

Déjà Vu All Over Again.

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack, and put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.

As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. They had gone only a short distance from the city. Now Joseph said to his steward, “Up, follow after the men, and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid evil for good? Is it not from this that my lord drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”

When he overtook them, he spoke to them these words. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants to do such a thing! Behold, the money that we found in the mouths of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants.” He said, “Let it be as you say: he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent.” Then each man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. – Genesis 44:1-13 ESV

Just when things seemed to be going so well, everything went south for the brothers. After their wonderful meal with the governor, they were sent away with their sacks filled with grain, their brother, Simeon, freed from prison, and Benjamin safely in tow. Their destination was Canaan. But they didn’t get far. Once again, Joseph had instructed that the money they bought to pay for the grain be secretly returned to their sacks. Not only that, he had an expensive goblet placed in the sack of the youngest brother, Benjamin. Then he sent his steward, most likely with an armed party, to catch up to his brothers’ caravan and expose their “treachery.”

This story has an eerie sense of déjà vu about it. Many years earlier, when Jacob was attempting to secretly get away from his uncle, Laban, and return to Canaan, his caravan was overtaken by Laban and his kinsmen. Not only had Jacob snuck away without telling Laban or giving him a chance to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren, someone in his party had stolen Laban’s household gods. Jacob explained that he had failed to tell Laban because he feared he would take his daughters back by force. As far as the stolen idols went, he claimed to know nothing about them, telling Laban:

Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live. In the presence of our kinsmen point out what I have that is yours, and take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them. – Genesis 31:32 ESV

Laban searched and searched, but did not find the idols because Rachel, his daughter had hidden them in her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Eventually, Laban allowed Jacob and his entourage to leave, having been warned by God in a dream not to do any harm to Jacob. Jacob had been fortunate. He had made a rash vow to kill anyone who had stolen the idols. Little had he known that his own wife was the guilty culprit.

Like father, like sons. When Joseph’s steward caught up with them, they too quickly denied the allegations, saying, “Far be it from your servants to do such a thing!” (Genesis 44:7 ESV). Sounding eerily similar to their father, Jacob, one of the sons rashly blurted out, “Whichever of your servants is found with it shall die, and we also will be my lord’s servants” (Genesis 44:9 ESV). They were offended by the accusation. They knew they were innocent, but they have also known better. This was not the first time they had been wrongly accused of being thieves. But their short-term memory loss seems to have prevented them from remembering how that had all turned out. The money had been in their sacks, just as had been claimed. And now, the claims of stealing proved true again. Not only was the money in their sacks, so was the governor’s prized goblet. The steward gives the goblet special value by saying it is the one the governor uses to practice the art of divination. This does not necessarily mean that Joseph, a worshiper of Yahweh, was guilty of doing divination, it was likely meant to prove to the brothers that the cup had special value and that the governor had secret powers.

Once again, Joseph was giving his brothers a test to determine their loyalty and honesty. When the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, the steward gave Joseph’s pronouncement: “he who is found with it shall be my servant, and the rest of you shall be innocent” (Genesis 44:10 ESV). Would they take advantage of the situation, saving their own lives by abandoning their younger brother to a life of slavery. As Joseph knew all too well, it would not have been the first time for them to do such a thing. Would they be willing to leave Benjamin behind, cutting their losses, and returning with their grain and their money in tow?

The brothers were devastated. “Then they tore their clothes, and every man loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city” (Genesis 44:13 ESV). They couldn’t believe this was happening to them again. Was this all the punishment of God for their former treatment of Joseph? Was it some form of divine payback? Were they suffering under God’s curse and doomed to spend the rest of their lives making restitution for their former sins?

How easy it is to see the inexplicable and unpleasant experiences of life as a form of God’s punishment or displeasure. How quickly we assume that difficulties are signs of God’s anger for something we have done or, possibly, should have done. Perhaps God is simply testing us, revealing the true state of our heart and the condition of our faith. Rather than automatically assuming the worst, are we willing to let God reveal to us what He is trying to show us, about ourselves or about Him? Could He be trying to show us our pride and self-sufficiency? Might He be trying to prove to us our weakness and His strength?

Joseph’s brothers didn’t understand their God. They didn’t fully trust Him. Unlike King David, they didn’t realize just how much God loved them and cared for them. He had great plans for them.

O Lord, you have examined my heart  and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! – Psalm 139:1-6 NLT

It was David’s intimate understanding of God’s love that allowed him to say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT). He knew God loved him and was willing to let God expose anything about him that needed to be changed. What if Joseph’s brothers had looked at their lives with that perspective? What if they had been willing to say, “Lord, what are you trying to tell us? What are you trying to reveal about us?”

Like David, we all need to see the trials of life as opportunities to let God reveal the hidden sins and unseen weaknesses in our life. Trials tend to expose faults. They can bring out the worst and the best in us. Which is why David said: “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin” (Psalm 19:12-13 NLT).