The Path to Paradise

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
    but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
    but the path of the upright is a level highway.
20 A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish man despises his mother.
21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
22 Without counsel plans fail,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
    and a word in season, how good it is!
24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
    that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
25 The Lord tears down the house of the proud
    but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,
    but gracious words are pure.
27 Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
    but he who hates bribes will live.
28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
    but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
    and good news refreshes the bones.
31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
    will dwell among the wise.
32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
    but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility comes before honor. 
– Proverbs 15:18-33 ESV

Uncontrolled anger, relational damage, self-inflicted trouble, parental disappointment, greed, godless words, unrighteous behavior, and abandonment by God. These are the sad and inevitable characteristics of the one who chooses to take the path of the fool. It looks so appealing and yet, according to Solomon, it doesn’t end well. The fool is like a car careening down a steep street without a driver. It makes plenty of headway but leaves a wake of destruction in its path as it does so. In the same way, fools tend to wreak havoc wherever they go. Their lifestyle is not only self-destructive, but it ends up doing inestimable damage to so many others along the way. And they don’t seem to care.

foolish children despise their mother. – Proverbs 15:20 NLT

They don’t literally despise their mothers. But their self-destructive actions end up bringing sorrow and hurt to those who love and care about them. A mother who is forced to stand back and watch as her foolish son self-implodes can’t help but feel hurt and saddened by the experience. This is a regular theme in Proverbs.

…a foolish child brings grief to a mother. – Proverbs 10:1 NLT

It is painful to be the parent of a fool – Proverbs 17:21 NLT

Foolish children bring grief to their father
and bitterness to the one who gave them birth. – Proverbs 17:25 NLT

The fool ends up developing so many disabling and self-destructive habits that the path of his life becomes virtually impassable and, getting to where he longs to be, becomes almost impossible.

The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns – Proverbs 15:19 ESV

Because the fool lacks godly wisdom, he ends up trying to navigate life without a map. He has no instructions and, therefore, no way of knowing which path to take. So, he chooses his own destination and ends up determining his own fate.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

A fool is incapable of seeing that his path of choice leads to a dead end. From his perspective, he’s making progress but he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that his final destination is unexpectedly unpleasant.

In contrast, the wise individual finds their life’s journey to be far more pleasant and free from roadblocks.

…the path of the upright is an open highway. – Proverbs 15:19 NLT

Solomon is not suggesting that the wise are guaranteed the promise of a trouble-free life. Walking with God is not always easy. The road of righteousness can also have its potholes and pitfalls. But its final destination is certain. It ultimately leads to a pleasant place that God has prepared for all those who faithfully follow His divine directions. Yet, Solomon points out that a fool lacks the discernment to realize his path is a dead end.

Foolishness brings joy to those with no sense… – Proverbs 15: 21 NLT

They say, “Ignorance is bliss.” There is a certain degree of truth to that maxim. The saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is partially true. Not knowing what lies at the end of the path can be a good thing – for a while. The journey itself can actually be quite enjoyable but eventually, reality will set in. But along the way, the fool can have the time of their life. It can feel like a non-stop party as they make unscheduled stops and take unexpected detours to see all the tempting sights. But Solomon reminds us that “a sensible person stays on the right path” (Proverbs 15:21 NLT).

The fool, never realizing that they’re lost and headed in the wrong direction, refuses to ask for directions.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice… – Proverbs 15:22 NLT

They’re too arrogant and self-assured to seek counsel. Even if they realize they’re lost, they can’t bring themselves to admit it. So, they stubbornly stay on the path they’ve chosen for themselves, refusing the input of others and further ensuring their eventual failure. And Solomon provides a not-so-subtle hint as to the far-from-pleasant outcome of their ways.

The path of life leads upward for the wise;
    they leave the grave behind. – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

The choice is either life or death. It’s as simple as that. And what determines one from the other is wisdom. And wisdom begins with a healthy reverence for God and His ways. What the fool fails to realize, to his own detriment, is that He has God as his enemy.

The Lord tears down the house of the proud… – Proverbs 15:25 NLT

The Lord detests evil plans… – Proverbs 15:26 NLT

The Lord is far from the wicked – Proverbs 15:29 NLT

This is serious business. Foolishness is not some kind of alternative lifestyle that is harmless and free from ramifications. Solomon is not describing some innocent free spirit who is simply trying to live life on his own terms. He is revealing the ultimate outcome of all those who refuse to honor God and live according to His righteous commands. The fool is a synonym for the godless. Solomon’s own father, King David, described the fool this way:

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 14:1 NLT

Fools are actually arrogant and, ultimately, atheistic in their outlook. They live as if God doesn’t even exist. They know His commands but refuse to obey them because they have determined He has no power over them. The psalmist put it this way:

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:4-6 NLT

They live in a state of perpetual denial, dismissing the reality of God and denying the deadly fate that lies at the end of their chosen path.

The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us!
    He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” – Proverbs 10:11 NLT

But oh, how wrong they are. God does see, and He does repay the wicked for their ways. He does mete out justice upon the fool. Those who spurn the Lord may appear to enjoy a modicum of success but their days of fun and games are numbered. One day, they will have to answer for their choices. And Solomon warns that all those who reject the loving discipline of God will come to regret their decision.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
    but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. – Proverbs 15:32 NLT

According to Solomon, “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom…” (Proverbs 15:33 NLT), and wisdom results in a lifestyle that is life-preserving, joy-filled, other-oriented, and God-honoring. The fool is perfectly free to choose his own path, but he cannot determine his own destiny. That is up to God. But the one who chooses the way of the wise finds himself on the highway that leads to godliness and holiness.

The path of life leads upward for the wise – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

That life will have its ups and downs and peaks and valleys, but the trajectory is always upwards. It leads to a final destination that features joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, peace, and an unbroken, never-ending relationship with the God of the universe. And that’s a path only a fool would avoid.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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

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

Well-Rounded Wisdom

1  Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid.
A good man obtains favor from the Lord,
    but a man of evil devices he condemns.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved.
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
    but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
The thoughts of the righteous are just;
    the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.
The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
    but the mouth of the upright delivers them.
The wicked are overthrown and are no more,
    but the house of the righteous will stand.
A man is commended according to his good sense,
    but one of twisted mind is despised.
Better to be lowly and have a servant
    than to play the great man and lack bread.
10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,
    but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
11 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
12 Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers,
    but the root of the righteous bears fruit.
13 An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
14 From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good,
    and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.
15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice.
16 The vexation of a fool is known at once,
    but the prudent ignores an insult.
17 Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit.
18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
19 Truthful lips endure forever,
    but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
20 Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
    but those who plan peace have joy.
21 No ill befalls the righteous,
    but the wicked are filled with trouble.
22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
23 A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
24 The hand of the diligent will rule,
    while the slothful will be put to forced labor.
25 Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
    but a good word makes him glad.
26 One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
    but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
    but the diligent man will get precious wealth.
28 In the path of righteousness is life,
    and in its pathway there is no death.
– Proverbs 12:1-28 ESV

Wisdom isn’t just an intellectual asset that comes in handy when having to make difficult decisions. It is a way of life – the godly life. And it encompasses everything from our inner thoughts and cognitive capabilities to our spoken words and the way we conduct ourselves in daily life. In other words, wisdom influences our thoughts, words, and deeds. And this Proverb makes that point quite clear.

It all begins on the inside, in the heart and mind of the one who desires the wisdom that God offers. Wise living can only come from one who has gained the capacity for wise thinking. It’s interesting to note that when God made the fateful decision to destroy mankind through a devastating flood, it was based on the following assessment:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5 ESV

Yes, their behavior had become abhorrent to God, but it had all begun in their hearts. Ever since the fall, mankind had been on a trajectory away from God. After disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve had been ejected from the Garden. They eventually settled to the east of Eden. And their future descendants would continue to move increasingly further from God’s presence, both physically and spiritually. Their migration away from Eden left them increasingly alienated from and ignorant of God. In fact, in one of his psalms, Solomon’s father, David describes the plight of all those who lose touch with God and find themselves displaying the characteristics of the fool.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Solomon states, “The thoughts of the righteous are just…” (Proverbs 12:5 ESV). It all begins in the heart and mind. And this idea is consistent with Solomon’s earlier admonition:

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. – Proverbs 4:23 NLT

And Jesus Himself warned that the heart was the repository of all man’s thoughts and actions.

“But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.” – Matthew 15:18-20 NLT

Notice how many times Solomon refers to the importance of our inner thoughts.

A man is commended according to his good sense,
    but one of twisted mind is despised. – Proverbs 12:8 ESV

Fools think their own way is right,
    but the wise listen to others. – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

Deceit fills hearts that are plotting evil;
    joy fills hearts that are planning peace! – Proverbs 12:20 NLT

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down – Proverbs 12:25 ESV

God’s brand of wisdom is meant to influence man’s heart because a heart devoid of God will result in a life devoid of godliness. The individual who has lost touch with God will display a lifestyle that is out of step with His will and in violation of His commands.

Near the end of the book of Judges, God provides an assessment of the spiritual state of His chosen people, the nation of Israel.

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 25:21 ESV

Throughout the book of Judges, the Israelites are shown to have a stubborn propensity for turning their backs on God. Their real problem was not that they lacked a human king, but that they refused to honor God as their sovereign Lord. In Judges 2, we are given a synopsis of the problem that plagued the Israelites.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. – Judges 2:10-12 ESV

And before long, the Israelites began to act like fools, displaying behavior that was out of character for God’s chosen people and out of touch with His revealed will for them. So, God was forced to discipline them for their sinful behavior. They were destined to suffer the consequences of their unwise choices and learn the painful lessons that disobedience brings. And Solomon points out man’s need to love the discipline of God.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid. – Proverbs 12:1 ESV

When we step out of line with God, He lovingly reproves and corrects us. His discipline is never arbitrary or unwarranted, but it is always lovingly and justly administered. Solomon pointed out in an earlier proverb, “My son, do not despise the Lord‘s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV).

Ultimately, God’s discipline is intended to produce godly behavior. And that seems to be the point of Solomon’s proverb. God wants to pour out His favor upon His people. He longs to bless them by rewarding their obedience to His will.

A good man obtains favor from the Lord,
    but a man of evil devices he condemns. – Proverbs 12:2 ESV

And as God redeems and restores an individual’s heart, that inner transformation begins to show up in their words.

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
    but the mouth of the upright delivers them. – Proverbs 12:6 ESV

The wicked are trapped by their own words,
    but the godly escape such trouble. – Proverbs 12:13 NLT

Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence,
    but a false witness utters deceit. – Proverbs 12:17 ESV

Truthful words stand the test of time,
    but lies are soon exposed. – Proverbs 12:19 NLT

But God’s reformation of the heart also produces transformed actions.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. – Proverbs 12:11 ESV

the work of a man’s hand comes back to him. – Proverbs 12:14 ESV

Work hard and become a leader;
    be lazy and become a slave. – Proverbs 12:24 NLT

Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch,
    but the diligent make use of everything they find. – Proverbs 12:27 NLT

The godly tend to be well-rounded people whose lives display an inner strength that flows out in both words and deeds. Their hearts and minds produce attitudes and actions that convey their reverence for God. They are not duplicitous or hypocritical. God does not say of them what He said about the people of Israel.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

But instead, God recognizes their desire to obey His will and rewards them accordingly.

The way of the godly leads to life;
    that path does not lead to death. – Proverbs 12:28 NLT

It is interesting to note than when Jesus was asked by the Jewish religious leaders which was the greatest of all of God’s commandments, He stated:

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ – Mark 12:29-30 NLT

Heart, soul, mind, and strength. God’s intention is to transform man from the inside out, and it is His desire that every area of a man’s life is renewed and radically altered to reflect his identity as a child of God.

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

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

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

 

The Right Man for the Task

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. Genesis 6:9-22 ESV

Despite the seemingly detailed genealogy found in chapter five, it is impossible to know exactly how much time had elapsed before God made the determination to destroy mankind. At least six generations had transpired, leaving a legacy of moral corruption and spiritual degradation. God’s assessment of mankind’s condition was not flattering or hopeful.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5 ESV

The problem was pervasive and it permeated to the very core of man’s existence. Far more than just a behavioral problem, the wickedness of humanity emanated from the heart. This was not a case of good people occasionally doing bad things. It was a pandemic of wickedness that flowed directly from the rebellious hearts of those whom God had created. And the prophet Jeremiah provides God’s further assessment of the fallen state of the human heart.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

As God surveyed the state of affairs on earth, He discovered one man whose life found favor in His eyes. But this revelation did not come as a shock to God. He was not surprised or relieved by Noah’s seemingly inexplicable existence. In the midst of all decadence, immorality, and unrestrained evil, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). And God had sovereignly ordained Noah’s existence. From before the foundation of the world, God had a plan in place that included Noah’s birth, his faithful life, and his role as the future “savior” of mankind. Even Lamech, Noah’s father, had somehow understood that his infant son was destined to be some kind of deliverer who would rescue humanity from the curse. At his son’s birth, Lamech offered up a prayer of hopeful anticipation.

“May he bring us relief from our work and the painful labor of farming this ground that the Lord has cursed.” – Genesis 5:29 NLT

Noah was an anomaly. He was an alien and stranger who stood out from the rest of humanity. In reality, he was the sole image-bearer of God. In fact, Moses compared Noah to another godly man when he declared that “Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). Noah was cut from the same cloth as Enoch (Genesis 5:22). In Enoch’s case, he had lived his life in faithful obedience to God and, as a reward for a life well-lived, God graciously transported him from earth to heaven.

Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him. – Genesis 5:23-24 NLT

But God had other plans for Noah. This righteous and blameless man had a divine assignment to fulfill. Because of His justice and holiness, God was obligated to punish wickedness. But because of His infinite love and mercy, God had a plan in place that would allow Him to redeem and rescue a remnant of humanity.

In some sense, Noah was an aberration, a departure from the norm. But in reality, he was a reflection of what God had always intended for mankind. Despite Moses’ description of him as “blameless,” Noah was not a sinless or perfect man. He too suffered from the effects of the fall. Like every other human being, Noah had inherited a sinful nature from Adam.

just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – Romans 5:12 ESV

Noah’s blamelessness refers to his wholeness. The Hebrew word is תָּמִים (tāmîm) and it means “complete, whole, entire, sound.” It has to do with integrity. Noah was not duplicitous or deceitful. He refused to live a compartmentalized life, attempting to hide things from God or displaying a false outer piety that camouflaged an impure heart.

Yes, because Noah was a descendant of Adam, he was a sinner just like all his peers. But despite his sinful disposition, Noah was able to maintain a vibrant relationship with God. He lived His life in keeping with the will of God, refusing to follow the example of his friends and neighbors. While “everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT), Noah’s mind and heart were fixed on God. According to Moses, Noah was “the only blameless person living on earth at the time” (Genesis 6:9 NLT). And it will become increasingly clear just how willing Noah was to obey God – at any cost.

The situation was dire. The moral state of mankind had reached an all-time low. And their sinfulness had infected the entire creative order.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. – Genesis 6:11-12 ESV

God assessed His creation as having been ruined by mankind’s sinfulness. The Hebrew word, שָׁחַת (šāḥaṯ), can mean “spoiled, ruined, corrupted, or rotted.” The pervasive presence of wickedness, particularly in the form of “violence,” had permanently damaged what God had made. Mankind had un-made God’s beautiful creation. This Hebrew word is the same one used by the prophet Jeremiah when referring to a loincloth that God had commanded him to bury then later retrieve. He writes:

Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled (šāḥaṯ); it was good for nothing. – Jeremiah 13:7 ESV

That is exactly how God viewed the earth. It had been ruined or spoiled by the damaging effects of sin. Humanity had been given the divine mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). But rather than steward and care for God’s creation, mankind had contaminated and condemned it. To the point that it was “good for nothing.”

So, God divulged His plan to Noah.

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” – Genesis 6:13 ESV

But God followed up this less-than-happy news with the rest of His plan. He let Noah in on the role he would play in the redemption of creation. And this information must have left Noah’s head spinning. He was given very detailed instructions by God for the construction of an ark or large boat. And Noah is informed that first-of-its-kind vessel will become the key to God’s redemption of creation. And as if that wasn’t enough pressure for Noah to bear, God sealed the entire agreement with a legal contract.

“I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you.” – Genesis 6:18-19 ESV

But this covenant was not the terms of an agreement between God and Noah. God was not obligating Noah to uphold his end of the contract. This was a divine statement of promise, whereby God was guaranteeing to deliver Noah, his family, and all flesh from judgment. They would be graciously and miraculously spared.

All Noah had to do was believe and obey. His part was to build the ark and then to fill it with “two of every sort.” Not an easy task to be sure. But Noah’s construction of the ark was an act of faith, not a form of works. He didn’t earn his salvation. He received it as a gift from God. And the author of Hebrews makes this point quite clear.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. – Hebrews 11:7 NLT

And Moses confirms that Noah obeyed God.

So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. – Genesis 6:22 NLT

God had promised salvation, and Noah believed Him. And Noah proved his belief through faithful adherence to God’s command. Despite the formidable nature of the assignment and the countless questions that must have filled his head, Noah did exactly what he was told to do. And in doing so, he proved himself to be the right man for the task. The man of God’s own choosing.

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

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

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

A Divine Intervention

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:1-8 ESV

Once again, Moses reveals that mankind was keeping the divine mandate to “multiply and fill the earth.” They were doing what God had commanded them to do. But the problem was that, because of the fall, mankind was no longer able to bear God’s image as He had intended. They had become damaged goods. Like a dirty mirror, their ability to accurately reflect His divine glory had been marred. Yet, according to chapter five, there was a still remnant of individuals who still chose to worship God. The ungodly line of Cain was balanced out by the more faithful line of Seth, illustrated in the life of Enoch, a man who “walked with God” (Genesis 5:21 ESV).

The genealogy of Adam, recorded in chapter five, provides an explanatory backdrop upon which to view the dark and depressing events of chapter six. Moses ends the genealogy with an introduction to Noah, who will play a major role in the next phase of God’s pre-ordained plan for mankind. Noah is not just one more name in a long list of Adam’s descendants. He is the whole point of the genealogy. Moses wants us to know that God planned for the coming of this one who would play the role of “savior,” bringing rest to those who had grown weary living under the curse that God had imposed because of Adam’s sin. Even Noah’s father somehow recognized that his infant son would play the role of a deliverer.

“Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” – Genesis 5:29

When pronounced in Hebrew, Noah’s name sounded like the Hebrew word for “rest” or “comfort.” Lamech believed that his son would bring some form of relief from the constant struggle of attempting to eke out a living from the ground that God had cursed. He and his fellow inhabitants of the earth were looking for some form of salvation from the divine condemnation under which they suffered.

But even under the curse, mankind seemed to flourish. They continued to procreate and produce more of their kind. Moses declares that “man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them” (Genesis 6:1 ESV). Due to the extended life spans experienced prior to the flood, the reproduction cycle of humanity was greatly extended. As a result, they were able to “fill the earth” in a relatively short period of time. The lines of Cain and Seth both expanded rapidly, creating a perfect storm. These two divergent branches of Adam’s family tree would soon find themselves interacting with one another. The godly and the godless would inevitably end up crossing paths and even intermarrying with one another.

The next section of chapter six has developed a controversial reputation. In it, Moses states that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Genesis 6:2 ESV). There are those who interpret this verse to mean that fallen angels procreated with the daughters of men. They arrive at this conclusion because every other time the phrase, “sons of God,” is used in the Old Testament, it refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). Proponents of this view also claim that the New Testament books of 2 Peter and Jude provide support for their assertion.

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly… – 2 Peter 2:4-6 ESV

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. – Jude 6-7 ESV

But it would appear that these two passages refer to the original fall of Satan and the angels who joined him in his failed coup attempt against God. There is no other reference in the Genesis passage to angels. In fact, the very next verse reflects God’s anger with mankind, not angelic beings.

“My Spirit shall not abide in man forever…” – Genesis 6:3 ESV

It seems much more likely that “the sons of God” and “daughters of men” are intended as references to the godly line of Seth and the ungodly line of Cain. These two branches of Adam’s family tree had begun to merge through intermarriage, and the result was a further degradation of the spiritual seed of Seth. The appearance of men like Enoch became increasingly rarer. And God’s anger with mankind is reflected in His decision to dramatically shorten the average lifespan. The reference to 120 years, found in verse 3, is most likely a warning concerning the pending judgment of God. It refers to the length of time before God would destroy the earth with a flood. And as a result of this cataclysmic event, human lifespans will begin to drop precipitously.  No longer would humans live for seven to eight centuries. These protracted periods of existence had produced many children, but few faithful followers of God.

And it seems that with the longer lifespans, humans had enjoyed prolonged growing periods. Each stage of life, including adolescence, lasted longer in those days. As a result, men not only lived longer but grew larger. That seems to be the best explanation for Moses’ reference to the Nephilim. These were so-called “giants” who intermarried with the daughters of men and became “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (Genesis 6:4 ESV). There is only one other reference to the Nephilim in the Bible and it is found in Numbers 13:33. While some assert that the Nephilim were the offspring of angels who procreated with humans, this seems unlikely, since the Scriptures seem to teach that angels do not marry or reproduce (Matthew 22:30).

The entire focus of this passage is on humanity and not on fallen angels or some antediluvian super-species. Verse 5 clearly states the problem.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. – Genesis 6:5 ESV

This isn’t about disreputable angels performing despicable acts with human beings. It’s not about a race of superhuman X-Men polluting the DNA of humanity. The problem is wickedness – pure and simple. The wickedness of man was great in the earth. And this wickedness included attitudes as well as actions. In fact, “everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5 NLT).

And what follows is one of the saddest statements found in Scripture.

And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. – Genesis 6:6 ESV

With this emotionally charged statement, Moses attempts to describe God’s sorrow over the state of His creation. Humanity’s downward spiritual spiral has come to the point of no return. God is not second-guessing Himself. He is not questioning the goodness of His original creation of man. At that time, He had declared all that He had made as “very good” (Genesis 1:31), including Adam and Eve. But their rebellion had brought death into the world. It had permanently marred their relationship with God and damaged the entire creative order. And the longer man lived and the more of his own kind he created, the worse the situation became. Until God intervened.

“I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” – Genesis 6:7 ESV

The one who had created it all would choose to destroy it all and start over. God would begin again. The Creator would re-create. The life-giver would choose to destroy all life and then reanimate and rejuvenate His creation once again. But His destruction would not be complete. He would graciously spare some. God would preserve a remnant of His creation in order to fulfill the plan of redemption He had developed long before He pierced the pre-creation darkness with the light of His glory. God would use a man named Noah to act as His agent of redemption and recreation. In the midst of all the moral darkness and spiritual apathy of his age, this one man found favor in the eyes of the Lord. He would become the vessel through whom God was spare a remnant of fallen humanity and carry out His grand plan of redemption.

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

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

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

The Inevitable and Inescapable Judgment of God

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV

Peter has made it clear that those who heretical doctrines and lead God’s people astray will not go unpunished. God’s track record of disciplining the rebellious, ungodly and immoral is well established and the false teachers will suffer a similar fate.

God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

To prove his point, Peter reached back into history and brought forward three significant examples of rebellion against God that each ended poorly for all those involved. And he presented the various scenarios by utilizing a conditional statement, each sentence beginning with the word, “if.”

if God did not spare angels when they sinned – vs 4

if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah… – vs 5

if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction – vs 6

In Greek, these sentences are in the first class condition, which assumes for the sake of argument, that what Peter has written is true. You could replace each “if” with the word, “since.” Peter is not questioning whether these events happened. Instead, he is claiming that they did and, as a result, they provide proof of how God deals with the rebellious and unrighteous.

Peter begins with a case that involved angels, heavenly beings created by God who determined to rebel against His authority. Some scholars believe that Peter was referencing the same event described in the book of Jude.

…the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day… – Jude 6 ESV

And many of the same scholars believe this brief verse was an allusion to the fall of Satan from his place of glory and prominence in heaven, as described in the book of Ezekiel.

On the day that you were created
    they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
    I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
    in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created,
    till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
    you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
    and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
    from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
    you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
    I exposed you before kings,
    to feast their eyes on you. – Ezekiel 28:13-17 ESV

In the book of Isaiah, there is another reference to this angelic rebellion against God, led by someone designated as “Day Star, son of Dawn” (Isaiah 14:12 ESV).

“How you are fallen from heaven,
    O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
    you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
    ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
    I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
    in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.’” – Isaiah 14:12-14 ESV

Peter appears to be picking up on this story of Satan’s fall from grace, prompted by his ill-fated decision to make himself like the Most High. Evidently, Satan convinced a host of angelic beings to join him in his rebellion against God and, as Peter points out, God punished them all. And Peter’s inference is quite clear. Since God did not refrain from judging angels who bought into the lie of Satan and attempted to overthrow Him, He most certainly would not spare human beings who chose to follow the lies of the false teachers and reject the truth of His Word.

The second conditional statement involves the destruction of “the ancient world” at the time of the great flood. Peter is clearly referring to the story found in the book of Genesis.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 ESV

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the state of affairs on earth had degraded to the point where God was no longer willing to put up with mankind’s sinful disregard for His glory. They had completely abandoned their God-ordained mandate to be His image-bearers. And, once again, Peter points out that God did not spare them. Their rebellion against God resulted in their destruction at His hands, and His divine judgment took the form of a worldwide flood that destroyed all humanity – except for Noah and his family.

Peter brightens the dark news with a reminder that God spared Noah because he was “a herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5 ESV). Through his faithful fulfillment of God’s command to build the ark, Noah proclaimed the righteousness of God to his unbelieving neighbors. By obediently constructing the massive boat that God had ordained, Noah was “preaching the gospel” to those facing God’s wrath. Noah’s actions display his faith in the undeserved and unmerited salvation that God had ordained and, as a result, he and his family were spared. It seems evident that Peter was reminding his readers that they too had been spared from God’s judgment by placing their faith in the unmerited salvation provided by God through Jesus Christ. He had become their ark of sanctuary and salvation. But just as Noah’s unbelieving neighbors had ridiculed his ark, the false teachers of Peter’s day were attempting to downplay the judgment of God and minimize the saving nature of Jesus Christ.

The third conditional statement involved the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that suffered the righteous judgment of God for their blatant and egregious immorality. Peter reminded his readers that God refused to spare these two cities, choosing instead to turn them both into a heap of ashes. And Peter doesn’t hide the point of this story.

He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people – 2 Peter 2:6 NLT

The people who lived in those two cities got what they deserved. But, once again, Peter points out that God spared one man and his family.

God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. – 2 Peter 2:7 NLT

Lot was the nephew of Abraham. And while he had made some poor decisions in his life, Peter makes it clear that Lot was “a righteous man” who was grieved over the immorality and decadence of his neighbors in Sodom. Yet, against his better judgment, he had chosen to remain within the walls of the city. He had compromised his convictions and, as the story recorded in Genesis makes clear, he exposed his daughters to the effects of Sodom’s immoral culture. But Peter wanted his readers to know that God still spared Lot. He rescued this righteous, yet flawed man, providing him with a way of escape and sparing him from the judgment to come. And that is the hope of every follower of Christ. While the world in which we live faces the coming judgment of God, we have been exempted from that inevitable fate because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, false teachers would have us believe that a loving God would not destroy mankind. Instead, they would refute the reality of sin and reject any need for a Savior.

But Peter’s whole point in retelling these three stories was to remind his brothers and sisters in Christ that God cannot and will not spare the unrighteous and ungodly. The rebellious, ungodly, and immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But God will rescue those who remain faithful to Him.

…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… – 2 Peter 2:9 ESV

God spared all those angels who refused to join in Satan’s rebellion. God rescued Noah and his family from the deadly effects of the flood. And He graciously removed Lot and his two daughters from the city of Sodom before His righteous wrath was poured out on its immoral inhabitants.

Peter has in mind two groups of people: Believers and unbelievers. And his primary point seems to be that there are two kinds of suffering. The temporal suffering of God’s children as they experience the trials associated with life in a fallen world, and the eternal suffering of all those who reject Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation and the means of reconciliation with a holy God. Peter points out that the unrighteous will be kept “under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV). In other words, they will remain under God’s holy and righteous wrath until the final judgment comes. This doesn’t mean that all unbelievers always get their just desserts in this life. Many of them seem to prosper while God’s children suffer. But while they may appear to be living the good life now, they remain under God’s pending and inescapable judgment to come.

One day, their temporal joys will be replaced by eternal suffering. And Peter adds that God’s judgment lies “especially hard on those who follow their own twisted sexual desire, and who despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10 NLT). This appears to be a direct attack on the false teachers who Peter will go on to describe in highly unflattering terms:

They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. – 2 Peter 2:14 NLT

These people were immoral, ungodly, and rebellious. Like Satan and the angels who follow him, they despised the authority of God. Like the people of Noah’s day, their wickedness was great. And like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, their love of immorality was insatiable and incorrigible. Yet while the wicked may appear to live charmed lives, they will all one day face the righteous judgment of God. But, as Peter points out, the Lord will rescue the godly.

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

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

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

Preying on the Weak

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.  2 Timothy 3:6-9 ESV

After assuring Timothy that the spiritual condition of the world was going to get worse before it got better and providing him with a detailed description of the moral state of its inhabitants, Paul warned him, “Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 2:5 NLT). They may appear to be religious. They may even claim to be followers of Christ and faithful members of the local church, but everything about their behavior will reveal that they actually love pleasure more than God. They will be worldly, controlled by their sin natures, and driven by their passions, rather than living under the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the believers in Galatian, Paul provided yet another list of characteristics that would mark such people.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

While Paul’s words apply to any church in any age, he had someone specific in mind when writing to Timothy. There was a group of false teachers exhibiting the characteristics found in verses 2-5 who were having a negative influence on the church in Ephesus. These self-loving, pleasure-seeking, ego-driven individuals were preying on the weak and vulnerable in the church.

They are the kind who work their way into people’s homes and win the confidence of vulnerable women who are burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires. – 2 Timothy 3:6 NLT

What Paul describes is a predatory mindset that seeks out the spiritually and emotionally immature. These godly-sounding individuals were actually self-proclaimed purveyors of doctrinal error who purposefully targeted the weaker brothers and sisters in the congregation. And Paul emphasizes their particular emphasis on “weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” (2 Timothy 3:6 ESV).

It is important to remember that the early church was made up of converts from all walks of life, including men, women, slaves, freemen, Gentiles, and Jews. The church was a melting pot containing the rich and the poor, ad the educated as well as the illiterate. There were people coming to faith in Christ whose spouses remained unsaved. Paul makes that point clear in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. – 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 NLT

Just a few verses earlier in the same letter, Paul had commanded anyone who had become a believer to remain married to their unbelieving spouse.

But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband…And the husband must not leave his wife. – 1 Corinthians 7:11, 12 NLT

For believing women who had lost husbands, they were particularly vulnerable. They lacked a spiritual partner in their quest for godliness. They could not expect their husband to provide any spiritual leadership or support. And due to the prevailing cultural constraints of that day, many of these women would have been uneducated and ill-equipped to see through the doctrinal error being promoted by these false teachers.

Paul uses an interesting Greek word to describe these women: gynaikarion. It is used no other place in the New Testament and it a non-flattering term that actually means “little women.” Various Bible translations use different English words to convey the original meaning of the term: Vulnerable, weak, gullible, silly, foolish, and idle.

But it seems that Paul viewed these women as spiritually immature and still “burdened with the guilt of sin and controlled by various desires” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT). These false teachers were taking advantage of the situation, targeting the less spiritually informed among the congregation, in order to sway opinion and recruit converts to their way of thinking.

Paul is essentially describing these women as “little” or childish in their faith. They are immature and lack the wisdom to see through the deception of the false teachers. In Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth, he warned them about unknowingly doing damage to the weaker brothers and sisters among them. In their case, the situation involved the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols. The more mature believers understood that the meat, available for purchase at the local market, was of high quality and completely harmless. But the less mature believers, most of whom had been idol worshipers before coming to faith in Christ, viewed the meat as tainted and unholy. So, when the saw their fellow believers eating or serving this meat at their meals, they were appalled and confused. Which led Paul to write: “take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9 NLT).

The weaker or less mature believer will always be more susceptible to false teaching. They lack biblical knowledge to help them discern the difference between falsehood and truth. Their understanding of basic Bible doctrine is formative and easily manipulated by others. Paul describes these women as being spiritually hungry but lacking in discernment.

Such women are forever following new teachings, but they are never able to understand the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7 NLT).

What Paul describes is a timeless problem that was not relegated to the first century. A new believer’s hunger for spiritual truth is a good thing but it can become dangerous when there is no one to provide wisdom and discernment. A young child will satisfy their physical hunger with whatever appeals to them, with no regard for any nutritional value it may offer. In the same way, immature Christians can find themselves feeding their spiritual appetite with sermons, books, podcasts, and teachings that do more harm than good. They can fill up on spiritual “junk food” that appeals to their senses but leaves them in a weakened state because it is devoid of truth.

And Paul accuses the false teachers of feeding these child-like women a steady diet of falsehood that was leaving them spiritually malnourished and starving. Paul compares these false teachers to the Egyptian magicians who tried to counter the miraculous plagues of Moses with their own brand of supernatural conjuring. Paul uses the names of two individuals who are not mentioned in the Old Testament but were preserved through the oral traditions of the Jews. Jannes means “the rebel” while Jambres means “the opponent.” Like the court magicians who stood opposed to the efforts of Moses, the false teachers were conjuring up their own spin on the truth. But Paul pulls no punches in exposing them for what they really were: “corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith” (2 Timothy 3:8 ESV).

The Egyptian magicians could only produce counterfeit miracles that simulated the work of God. And the false teachers could only offer up spiritual-sounding platitudes that lacked substance and led to spiritual starvation. Eventually, their deception will be exposed and the error of their teaching will lose its grip on the weak and vulnerable.

But they won’t get away with this for long. Someday everyone will recognize what fools they are, just as with Jannes and Jambres. – 2 Timothy 3:9 NLT

A steady diet of junk food may sound appealing, but it will eventually lead to poor health. And the immature believer who fills their spiritual tank with the latest faith-fad and quick-fix religious trend will find themselves suffering from malnutrition and in need of something of substance. The weak and immature are to grow up. The spiritual infant is expected to make steady progress toward maturity. Spiritual growth is a normal part of the Christian life, a point made clear by Paul and the author of the book of Hebrews.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. – Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT

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

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

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

Our Righteously Wrathful God

39 Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!
40 Now I raise my hand to heaven
    and declare, “As surely as I live,
41 when I sharpen my flashing sword
    and begin to carry out justice,
I will take revenge on my enemies
    and repay those who reject me.
 
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41 NLT

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.John 3:36 ESV

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

The wrath of God seems to be a forbidden topic among many Christians. We’re almost embarrassed to bring it up in polite conversation. We treat it as if it’s some kind of flaw in the character of God that no one wants to admit or talk about. Like that drinking problem that your favorite uncle has struggled with for years. Everybody knows about it, but it’s just easier to treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

But it’s difficult to ignore the wrath of God. It’s an unpleasant yet unavoidable reality that shows up throughout the Scriptures. And it’s can’t be relegated to the pages of the Old Testament.  Many believe that the God described in the gospels is far more loving, gracious, and kind than the God who commanded Abraham to sacrifice His Son, told the Israelites to massacre entire communities, and decreed the stoning of rebellious sons . And yet, Jesus Himself said, “anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment” (John 3:36 NLT).

The prophet Nahum provided a stark warning regarding the pagan people of Nineveh:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. – Nahum 1:2 ESV

Ezekiel delivered God’s warning regarding the Philistines, the enemies of Israel:

I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”Ezekiel 25:17 ESV

Isaiah prophesied of a future day when God’s wrath would come on all mankind:

Look! The Lord is coming from heaven to punish the people of the earth for their sins. – Isaiah 26:21 ESV

And if you fast-forward all the way to the end of the final book of the Canon of Scripture, you find the wrath of God revealed yet again.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

So, what are we supposed to do with this uncomfortable aspect of God’s nature? Do we simply ignore it, rationalize it away, or reject it out of hand? A. W. Pink provides us with a powerful response to those questions.

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

At some point, we have to ask the question: What is the source of God’s anger or wrath? We inherently know that God does not have an anger “problem.” He’s not an angry individual who lacks self-control and is unable to manage His emotions. It is far too easy to view God through a lens that is heavily distorted by our own human flaws and frailties. We struggle with anger, so we assume that God’s anger manifests itself in the same way. In our minds, anger is a liability, not an asset. It is negative, not positive. But because we are talking about the holy, righteous, perfectly sinless God of the universe, we can’t attribute His anger to some flaw in His character. His anger, like every other one of His character qualities, is fully justified and holy.

So, why would anger be an attribute of God? It is because He is holy. The apostle John wrote, “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” (1 John 1:5 NLT). Darkness is a metaphor for evil or wickedness. It stands in stark contrast to the “light” or righteousness of God. That’s why Paul wrote, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). What truth? The truth of God’s existence as revealed in His creation.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

But Paul goes on to point out that, despite God’s revelation of Himself in creation, mankind “became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV). And “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25 ESV). As a result, God’s wrath was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

But what is the nature of God’s wrath? Is it some kind of out-of-control, vengeance-laced tirade against those who don’t agree with Him? Is God some petty tyrant who uses His power to punish those who refuse to do what He wants? To understand God’s wrath, we have to see things from His perspective, not ours. Again, A. W. Pink provides some helpful insights into this matter.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

To add further clarity to this topic, J. I. Packer gives us a much-needed word study on the meaning behind “wrath” and “anger.”

“Wrath” is an old English word defined in my dictionary as “deep, intense anger and indignation.” “Anger” is defined as “stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult;” “indignation” as “righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.” Such is wrath. And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God. – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

A sense of injury or insult. About what? Deep, intense anger and indignation. Against what? Against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Or to put it in more simplistic terms, against sin. Sin is an affront to a holy, righteous God. Mankind was created by God. Mankind exists because of God. And when men reject Him as their God or rebel against His divine sovereignty as their creator, provider, and sustainer, God is rightfully offended.

Robert L. Deffinbaugh describes divine wrath as “God’s righteous anger and punishment, provoked by sin.” It is never arbitrary or unwarranted. God’s wrath is never unjustified or undeserved.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which he passes upon evildoers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. – A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God

The God of the universe is the ultimate master of the domain which He created and over which He rules. And He will vindicate His sovereign rule, but He will never do so vindictively.

One of the things we overlook when discussing the wrath of God is how it demonstrates God’s hatred for sin. We tend to tolerate sin and view it as little more than a flaw in the human character. But God sees sin as rebellion. It is a rejection of His Word, His ways, and His divine will for mankind. That is why Paul describes it as ungodliness and unrighteousness. Sin is ultimately anti-God and anti-righteousness. It is the anthesis of all things having to do with God. It stands in direct opposition to the very essence of God.

Paul paints a bleak picture of man’s rebellious condition, revealing that sin has serious consequences.

…since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:28-32 ESV

Notice those three simple words in the middle of the preceding paragraph: Haters of God. Ultimately, sin is an expression of hate for the Almighty. And that hatred results in godless actions and attitudes, each of which is a proof of man’s rejection of God. These outward displays are God-directed, but also self-destructive. Sin does irreparable damage to the individual, a family, a community, the nation, and the world. And that is not something a holy God can or will tolerate. But more on this in tomorrow’s post.

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

Children of Light

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. – Ephesians 4:1-10 ESVNotagain!2018

So, in the last post, we looked at whether God finds satisfaction with the degree of our sanctification. And, to some of our shock and amazement, we discovered that God does not require more from us. Our sanctification, like our justification, was made complete through the finished work of Christ on the cross. He blood cleansed us from all unrighteousness and established us as holy in the eyes of God. If I died today, I would find myself in His presence. There would be no further sanctification required of me. I would not be damaged goods in need of further purification or requiring additional proof of my holiness. My right standing with God is based on the righteousness of Christ, which was imputed to me – in full – when I placed my faith in Him as my Savior.

But, as we saw in yesterday’s post, my status as a sanctified saint, made righteous and acceptable to God by the blood of Christ, does not mean there is nothing left us to do. Paul clearly demands that we “pursue…the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NASB). He told Timothy to “pursue righteousness” (1 Timothy 6:11 ESV) and the Ephesian church to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (2 Timothy 2:22 ESV).

So, it is clear that God still expects His chosen ones, who have set apart by Him, to live lives that reflect their status as His children. They are to behave differently. Their righteous standing is to show up in practical, visible ways. But it is essential that we understand that the pursuit of righteousness of which Paul speaks is not a call to increase our righteousness. He is not suggesting that we are deficient or lacking in righteousness. No, he is calling us to live out or exhibit our new nature, provided for us by Christ and made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

It is not about earning, but about expressing. It is not about adding to but about living out.  Look at the passage from Ephesians 4. It starts out with a call to imitate God. That sounds impossible and implausible, doesn’t it? But notice how Paul qualifies that statement: “As beloved children.” As followers of Christ, we have been united with Him and have become sons and daughters of God, adopted into His family and made joint-heirs with Christ.

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. – Romans 8:16-17 NLT

As God’s children, we have been given new natures and have the capacity to reflect His glory through our lives. When we live in submission to the Spirit and in obedience to the will of God, we bring Him glory. And that is what Paul is trying to tell the Ephesian believers and, by extension, us.

Paul tells them to “walk in love,” emulating the very same love that Jesus expressed to them. God showed His love for them by sending His Son to die for them. Jesus showed His love by sacrificing His life for them. And Paul was calling them to love in the same way, imitating both the Father and the Son.

The in verses 3-8, Paul takes a negative turn, expressing all the things the Ephesians were to avoid if they wanted to imitate God. Notice that all these things are illustrations of unholiness. They are the actions of the unsanctified, those who have not been set apart by God and who are still slaves to sin and unrighteousness. The list is dark and depressing, including such things as sexual immorality, all impurity, and covetousness. But then Paul adds a few seemingly innocuous things such as filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Filthiness has to do with that which is obscene or shameful. Foolish talk is a reference to morally flippant conversation that has no regard for God. It is the talk of fools. Psalm 14:1 states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” The fool’s conversation flows from his heart, where God has been dethroned and self reigns supreme. Crude joking refers to those clever-sounding things that make others laugh, but that are actually vulgar and lacking any moral boundaries.

Paul associates these seemingly innocent actions with the sexually immoral, the impure, and the coveteousness. They are the unrighteous fruit of the ungodly and the unsanctified. Then Paul drops the bombshell:

…everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. – Ephesians 5:5 ESV

Those who are unsanctified, having refused to accept the gift of salvation made possible by the death of God’s Son, remain separated from Him. They are still dead in their trespasses and sins, lacking the indwelling presence of the Spirit, and are devoid of the righteousness of Christ. And, as a result, they have no place in the kingdom of Christ and God. They have no access into the presence of God. They face the wrath of God because they are the sons of disobedience. They are the descendants of Adam and have inherited his sin nature and the penalty of death that sin deserves.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

And Paul clarifies that the sons of disobedience, those people who remain separated from God because of their sin, are people of the earth. They have not been made new. Their natures remain unredeemed and their status before God remains unsanctified.

Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. – 1 Corinthians 15:47-48 NLT

And Paul warns the Ephesians believers to “not become partners” with these people. Remember, Paul opened this chapter with the words “imitate God.” And God cannot and will not associate with ungodliness. The unholy and unrighteous have no place in the presence of God. Now, Paul is not telling the Ephesians to refuse contact with unbelievers. He is calling them to live as those who have been set apart. Their lives were not to emulate or mimic the lost. Paul clarifies his point in his letter to the church in Corinth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. – 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 ESV

Paul was demanding godly behavior from the godly. He was expecting those who had been sanctified to live as what they were. Paul makes it clear that something had changed in their lives. At one time, the Ephesian believers had been living in darkness, separated from God because of their sin. Paul reminds them, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). Don’t miss that little phrase, “but now you are.” It is essential to understand what Paul is saying. He does not say, “but by now you should be.” He doesn’t tell them “you should be becoming.” No, he states, “but now you are.” And what are they? Children of light. And their lives should reflect their new identity and their Spirit-enabled capacity to live in the light.

And Paul reveals that “the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9 ESV). Living as children of light requires that our lives exhibit the fruit of light: that which consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth. And it is possible because we possess the light of Christ. The apostle John reminds us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). And he goes on to say, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV). Children of light walk in the light of God, casting His shadow on the world around them. Their lives reflect the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of the light. And their lives not only please God, but they also bring glory to God, because He is the sole reason they can produce what is good, right, and true.

And it was his knowledge of that wonderful truth that led Paul to express this heart-felt prayer on behalf of the believers in Colossae.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. – Colossians 1:9-14 ESV

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

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

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

 

Well-Deserved Judgment.

10 Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.
11 Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him,
    for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him.
12 My people—infants are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your guides mislead you
    and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.

13 The Lord has taken his place to contend;
    he stands to judge peoples.
14 The Lord will enter into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor?”
declares the Lord God of hosts.

16 The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
    and walk with outstretched necks,
    glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
    tinkling with their feet,
17 therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
    the heads of the daughters of Zion,
    and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

18 In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19 the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20 the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21 the signet rings and nose rings; 22 the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23 the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.

24 Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
    and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
    and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
    and branding instead of beauty.
25 Your men shall fall by the sword
    and your mighty men in battle.
26 And her gates shall lament and mourn;
    empty, she shall sit on the ground. – Isaiah 3:10-26 ESV

The people of Judah were guilty of misplaced trust. Rather than placing their hope in God and relying upon His goodness and grace, they had chosen to depend upon false gods, faithless leaders and faulty substitutes for God. And God warned that the day would come when their unfaithfulness to Him would be rewarded in full. Isaiah flatly states, “the wicked are doomed, for they will get exactly what they deserve” (Isaiah 3:11 ESV). But the righteous, those who do good, while in the minority, will be rewarded for their faithfulness. “…all will be well for them. They will enjoy the rich reward they have earned!“ (Isaiah 3:10 ESV).

God’s assessment of Judah’s leadership is far from flattering. He compares them children, lacking in wisdom and incapable of making wise decisions for those under their care. They are “momma‘s boys” who can‘t think for themselves, but must rely on their mothers for help. And, as a result, they end up misleading God’s people, guiding them down paths He never intended for them to take.

And like a magistrate or judge, God stands in the docket of the divine court, prepared to mete out His sentence upon these faithless and foolish leaders. And God pulls no punches in delivering His condemnation of them.

“It is you who have devoured the vineyard,
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor?” – Isaiah 3:14-15 ESV

Ultimately, their sin was against God. They had mislead and mistreated His people. Judah was His possession. And God took special delight in the poor, needy, and defenseless. The entire nation had suffered as a result of the self-centered and self-serving leadership of its kings and princes, but God‘s heart always reached out to those who had no representation and no means of defending themselves.

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. – Psalm 82:3 ESV

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. – Psalm 68:5 ESV

God had warned His people long ago:

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. – Exodus 22:22-24 ESV

But along with comparing Judah’s lousy leaders to immature children, God describes its people as haughty and materialistic women who are obsessed with their outward appearance and easily distracted by treasures and trinkets of all kinds. They are vacuous and vain, devoid of spiritual depth and moral discretion. And God warns that He will destroy their outer beauty and expose their true moral character. They will be seen for what they really are: Empty and immoral people who care more about appearances than they do about the true condition of their hearts.

Virtually every detail of God’s description of them paints them as nothing more than well-dressed prostitutes, who cover their immoral behavior with find clothes, expensive jewelry and sweet-smelling perfume. It‘s all meant to disguise their immoral and unfaithful character.

On that day of judgment
    the Lord will strip away everything that makes her beautiful:
ornaments, headbands, crescent necklaces,
     earrings, bracelets, and veils;
     scarves, ankle bracelets, sashes,
    perfumes, and charms;
     rings, jewels,
     party clothes, gowns, capes, and purses;
     mirrors, fine linen garments,
    head ornaments, and shawls. – Isaiah 3:18-23 ESV

Their outward display of beauty and wealth may fool others, but it would not fool God. He would replace their perfume with rottenness, their expensive belts with ropes, their carefully crafted hair with baldness, and their fine robes with sackcloth. God was going to bring humiliation and destruction, in the form of the Babylonians. The once-proud and haughty people of Judah would be brought low. Their mighty men in whom they trusted for protection would fall by the sword. The gates of the city, where the prostitutes sold their services, would be destroyed. There would no longer be any customers.

The picture is one of abject humiliation and devastation as God brings His judgment upon the stubborn and rebellious people of Judah. They would be brought low by the wrath of God Almighty. The one they should have loved unconditionally would become the source of their despair and defeat. The lover of their souls would become the destroyer of their souls. Rather than trust God, they had placed their hope in godless leaders and their own vanity-fueled sense of self-worth. The words of the hymn penned by Charles Wesley in 1740 reveal the repentant heart for which God longed.

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

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 Fool On the Hill.

Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. – 1 Samuel 26:1-12 ESV

Chapter 25 provided us with a brief respite from the ongoing conflict between Saul and David. But chapter 26 picks up where chapter 24 left off. When we last left Saul, he was headed home after his near-death encounter with David. He had unknowingly walked right into an ambush, choosing to relieve himself in a cave where David and his men had been hiding. But David had spared Saul’s life, choosing instead to confront him face-to-face and assure Saul that he posed no threat to his kingdom. He was not going to lift his hand against Saul. And we’re told that “Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Samuel 24:22 ESV).

Chapter 25 introduced us to a new character, Nabal, who displayed all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool and whose unwise actions almost caused the unnecessary deaths of everyone associated with him. But Abigail, his wife, had intervened and prevented David from doing something he would long regret. Nabal’s rashness and ungodliness were going to be the death of him – literally. This fool would die a fool’s death. But while David had been able to walk away from Nabal with his integrity intact, he would soon discover that there another fool in his life who had not gone anywhere. Saul may have gone home, but he wouldn’t stay there for long. While he had shown signs of remorse in his last encounter with David, he had not given up his quest to see David put to death. And when the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul a second time (1 Samuel 23:19), informing Saul of his whereabouts, he mustered 3,000 soldiers to hunt him down.

Verse three tells us, “Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon.” Saul’s stubborn refusal to give up the hunt is truly remarkable. His remorse-filled words, spoken to David during their conversation outside the cave had sounded so sincere.

“You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil.  Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule.” – 1 Samuel 24:17-20 NLT

But Saul was a fool. It’s interesting to note that the name of the fool in the last chapter, Nabal, actually meant “fool”. It refers to a particular type of fool, one who is overly self-confident and particularly close-minded. He tends to act as his own god and freely gratifies his own sin nature. This type of fool is the worst kind and can only be reproved by God Himself. The prophet Isaiah describes this type of fool (nabal):

For fools speak foolishness
    and make evil plans.
They practice ungodliness
    and spread false teachings about the Lord.
They deprive the hungry of food
    and give no water to the thirsty. – Isaiah 32:6 NLT

This kind of fool is typically godless in nature. It is not that they don’t believe in God, but that they act as if God does not exist. This was Saul’s problem. He kept pursuing David in spite of the fact that God had clearly ordained him to be Saul’s replacement. Saul refused to accept God’s will and was willing to risk anything and everything in his attempt to circumvent God’s divine authority. He was so busy chasing David, that he had no time to meet the needs of his nation or its citizens. David had become much more than a distraction, he was an obsession.

So, Saul and his troops set up camp on the hill of Hachilah. He foolishly thought he was in the right. He foolishly considered himself safe, falling asleep that night, surrounded by his 3,000 well-trained soldiers. But David and Abishai, his nephew, snuck into the camp that night and crept right up to Saul as he and his crack troops lay fast asleep. Samuel goes on to qualify that their heavy sleep was God’s doing: “a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them” (1 Samuel 26:12 ESV). Once again, David found himself in a tempting situation where his arch-enemy was seemingly handed to him on a silver platter. Even Abishai recognized a golden opportunity when he saw one, begging for permission to put Saul to death right then and there. But David’s response was firm and and crystal clear:

“No!” David said. “Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one? Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle. The Lord forbid that I should kill the one he has anointed! But take his spear and that jug of water beside his head, and then let’s get out of here!” – 1 Samuel 26:9-11 NLT

David had learned a lot from his encounter with Nabal and Abigail. While the timing seemed perfect and his justification for killing Saul seemed plausible, he knew that he had been given no green light from God to take the life of the king. If vengeance was necessary, that was up to God. If Saul was meant to die an untimely death, that too was up to God. David refused to make evil plans or practice ungodliness. In other words, he refused to act like a fool. He wasn’t going to lower himself to the same level as Nabal or Saul. He chose to do the godly thing. He determined to leave his own destiny and the fate of his enemies in God’s hands. We find in the Proverbs a number of verses that provide apt descriptions of David’s actions:

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
    but a fool is reckless and careless. – Proverbs 14:16 ESV

The anger of the king is a deadly threat;
    the wise will try to appease it. – Proverbs 16:14 NLT

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. – Proverbs 3:7 NLT

But the Scriptures also provide us with insights into the nature of Saul’s perplexing behavior.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 26:12 ESV

Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark. – Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 NLT

Two men stood on a hill. One was a fool, the other was wise. Both knew God. Both had been appointed and anointed by God. But one was living his life as if God didn’t exist, the quintessential trademark of a fool. As this chapter unfolds, we will continue to see a stark contrast between these two men. Their lives were inseparably linked, but the outcome of their lives would prove to be radically divergent. Wisdom and folly. Two ways of life that lead to two very different outcomes.

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