Glorified in You

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has just commended the Thessalonian believers for their steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution, which was evidenced by their ability to endure the suffering well. Their faith under fire was something Paul admired because he knew first-hand what it was like to live for Christ in a fallen world. He too had suffered persecution and been forced to endure all kinds of affliction and pain for the cause of Christ.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

And Paul wants them to know that their suffering for Christ, while far from enjoyable, did have a purpose. He tells them that it is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). Now, it’s important that we keep this statement within the context of Paul’s entire thought. He is not suggesting that their suffering is the result of God’s judgment of them. He is trying to get them to view their current suffering in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. With the phrase, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” Paul is directing their attention to the second coming of Christ. While the suffering they had to endure made little sense to them now, it would be on that day. Paul pointed the believers in Rome to this future event as well.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 ESV

It is when the Lord returns that He will rectify the injustices that have taken place in the world. He will make all things right. And Paul assures them that Jesus will “repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). The day is coming when the tables will be turned, and the victims will become the victors. With His return to earth at the end of the period of Tribulation, Jesus will judge the nations of the earth, including Babylon, the kingdom of the Antichrist. In his book of Revelation, John records God’s pronouncement of judgment against this end-times capital of wickedness.

…for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. – Revelation 18:5-6 ESV

The very fact that Christians suffer in this life is proof or evidence of the injustice caused by the presence of sin. The wicked attack the righteous.

The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming. – Psalm 37:12-13 ESV

But Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that their present suffering is not in vain. The day is coming when God will reward the righteous and repay the wicked.

When the wicked see this, they will worry;
they will grind their teeth in frustration and melt away;
the desire of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 112:10 NLT

And Paul assures them that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (2 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The reality of their future glorification was what they were to focus on. Present suffering pales in comparison to future glory. And the apostle Peter points out that suffering brings us into communion with Christ. He suffered in His earthly life, and so do His followers. And because He was raised to new life, every one of His followers will be as well.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

The key to understanding suffering is perspective. This life is not all there is. Present pain is a poor indicator of God’s mercy and grace. Persecution that results in affliction can cause us to question God’s goodness or to doubt His power. But Paul would have us focus on the future “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). It is easy to wonder whether God is just when immersed in seemingly unjust circumstances. But God operates on a different timeline than we do. And any delay in His judgment or unwelcome pause in the meting out of His vengeance is not to be viewed as inability on His part. He will act.

The point Paul is trying to make is that the suffering of the Thessalonian believers is temporal. But the suffering of the wicked will be eternal. They may appear to be on the winning side at the moment, but the day is coming when they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They will find themselves enduring an eternity of separation from God’s glory, goodness, mercy, and grace. But when Jesus returns, He will “be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). Their future reward far outweighs their present suffering.

So, in the meantime, while they were having to endure suffering and enduring in this life, Paul encourages them to keep on keeping on. He wants them to remain committed to their faith in Christ. And that was his constant prayer concerning them, that God would make them worthy of His calling of them. In other words, that their present lives would reflect the reality of their future hope in Christ. Rather than sitting around waiting for the Lord to return, they were to make it their goal to live for Him in this life, that His name might be glorified through them.

They had the ability to glorify Jesus Christ because they had the Spirit of Christ living within them. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead was present in them and able to empower them to not only survive but thrive in this life.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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A False Sense of Security

1 Come down and sit in the dust,
    O virgin daughter of Babylon;
sit on the ground without a throne,
    O daughter of the Chaldeans!
For you shall no more be called
    tender and delicate.
Take the millstones and grind flour,
    put off your veil,
strip off your robe, uncover your legs,
    pass through the rivers.
Your nakedness shall be uncovered,
    and your disgrace shall be seen.
I will take vengeance,
    and I will spare no one.
Our Redeemer—the Lord of hosts is his name—
    is the Holy One of Israel.

Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
    O daughter of the Chaldeans;
for you shall no more be called
    the mistress of kingdoms.
I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.
You said, “I shall be mistress forever,”
    so that you did not lay these things to heart
    or remember their end.

Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures,
    who sit securely,
who say in your heart,
    “I am, and there is no one besides me;
I shall not sit as a widow
    or know the loss of children”:
These two things shall come to you
    in a moment, in one day;
the loss of children and widowhood
    shall come upon you in full measure,
in spite of your many sorceries
    and the great power of your enchantments.

10 You felt secure in your wickedness;
    you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
    “I am, and there is no one besides me.”
11 But evil shall come upon you,
    which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
    for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
    of which you know nothing.

12 Stand fast in your enchantments
    and your many sorceries,
    with which you have labored from your youth;
perhaps you may be able to succeed;
    perhaps you may inspire terror.
13 You are wearied with your many counsels;
    let them stand forth and save you,
those who divide the heavens,
    who gaze at the stars,
who at the new moons make known
    what shall come upon you.

14 Behold, they are like stubble;
    the fire consumes them;
they cannot deliver themselves
    from the power of the flame.
No coal for warming oneself is this,
    no fire to sit before!
15 Such to you are those with whom you have labored,
    who have done business with you from your youth;
they wander about, each in his own direction;
    there is no one to save you. – Isaiah 47:1-15 ESV

Now, God turns His attention to the Babylonians, referring to them repeatedly in this passage as the “daughter of the Chaldeans.” The Chaldeans were a nomadic people group who occupied the southern portion of Babylon, now known as southern Iraq. While the two names are sometimes used interchangeably, it seems interesting that God would choose to use the term, Chaldeans, in this passage. But chapter 47 lies in the middle of a section of Isaiah in which God is reassuring the people of Judah of not only His unique status as the one true God, but as their eventual redeemer. He has promised to judge them, by allowing Babylon to defeat and deport them. But He has also pledged to rescue and restore them one day. 

And their eventual return from the land of the Chaldeans bears important significance. If we go all the way back to the book of Genesis and God’s call of Abram, we discover that Abram was a Chaldean.

“Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan.” – Genesis 11:31 ESV

Abram, whom God would later rename Abraham, was not a Jew. He was a Chaldean. And just a few chapters later in the book of Genesis, God confirms the fact that Abram was from the land of the Chaldeans.

“I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” – Genesis 15:7 ESV

God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation. And even though Abram and his wife Sarah were both advanced in years and she was barren, God had told him:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God had promised to give Abram and Sarah a child, and from that child would come many offspring, too numerous to count. And God also promised to provide Abram and his many descendants with a land of their own, the land of Canaan.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God. – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

And here in the book of Isaiah, God is once again reaffirming His commitment to redeem and restore His people. He will once again bring them out of the land of the Chaldeans and return them to the land He had given them. Only a remnant, a relatively small portion of the Jews would return from Babylon. But just as He had done with Abram, God would make of that remnant a great nation. He would bless them in spite of them.

And God would also avenge them. That is what this chapter is all about. God addresses the Babylonians and warns them of His coming judgment agains them. Yes, He will use them as His rod of discipline against the people of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar will act as God’s chosen instrument, performing the sovereign will of God. The prophet Jeremiah recorded this stinging indictment of God against His chosen people.

“Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.” – Jeremiah 25:8-9 ESV

But while Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians would end up doing the will of God, they would take advantage of the opportunity. Because He is all-knowing, God uses the past tense, addressing the Babylonians as if these events have already taken place.

“For I was angry with my chosen people
    and punished them by letting them fall into your hands.
But you, Babylon, showed them no mercy.
    You oppressed even the elderly.” – Isaiah 47:6 NLT

God knew, well in advance, what the Babylonians were going to do. He didn’t need to wait until the people of Judah got to Babylon to know that their captors would abuse and oppress them. And so, God already had His plans for retribution in place, even before King Nebuchadnezzar ever sent his first troops into the land of Judah.

And God reveals the root behind Babylon’s future actions: Their pride and arrogance. Their success would go to their head. They would end up seeing themselves as unequalled in power and indestructable. As if looking into the future and reading their minds, God reveals the heart behind their haughtiness.

“I will reign forever as queen of the world!” – Isaiah 47:7 NLT

I am the only one, and there is no other.
    I will never be a widow or lose my children.”
– Isaiah 47:9 ESV

No one sees me.” – Isaiah 47:10 NLT

You can sense the aura of self-adulation and self-sufficiency that permeates these statements. And the second one carries particular significance. Listen to what they say: “I am the only one, and there is no other.” That should have an eerily familiar ring to it. Back in chapter 46, we heard God make a very similar statement.

“I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9 ESV

The Babylonians, who would only be doing the will of God as the instruments of God, would wrongly assume that they were like God. They would end up seeing themselves as all-powerful, invincible, and the sovereign rulers over the world. But they were in for a rude awakening. Their false sense of security would come face to face with the one true God. He describes them as lovers of pleasure who were secure in their wickedness. They would end up living their lives as if God was oblivious to them. And because they would fail to reflect on the consequences of their actions, God would bring His judgment against them.

“So disaster will overtake you,
    and you won’t be able to charm it away.
Calamity will fall upon you,
    and you won’t be able to buy your way out.
A catastrophe will strike you suddenly,
    one for which you are not prepared.” – Isaiah 47:11 NLT

Remember, this is all speaking of future events. God is predicting the eventual fate of the people of Babylon, long before they invaded Judah and defeated the city of Jerusalem. And this prophetic pronouncement was intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was the one and only God. There were no other gods. And the pride and arrogance of the Babylonians would stand no chance against the justice and righteous judgment of God. 

The false gods of the Babylonians would prove useless in the face of God’s vengeance. Their magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers would find themselves at a loss to explain what was happening and incapable of doing anything about it. And any nations the Babylonians might turn to for help in their time of need would end up ignoring them.

This entire passage is about the sovereignty of God. It is intended to remind the people of God that He is in control. The nations of the world are nothing more than instruments in His hands. Their power comes from Him. Their 15-minutes of fame is orchestrated and controlled by Him. They had no reason to become self-confident and secure in their ways. But neither did the people of Judah. And yet, they had become comfortable and complacent in their rebellion against God. They had become fat and happy, thinking that they could get away with anything because they were God’s chosen people. But, like the Babylonians, their false sense of security would eventually be exposed.

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

Give, Rather Than Get Even.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:38-42 ESV

Now Jesus shifts His focus to what was known as the “law of retaliation” or lex talionis in Latin. This was a very common practice in the ancient Near East. And the Mosaic law had made provision for it. Exodus 21:23-25 reads: “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” The book of Leviticus provides further insight into how this law was to be applied:

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 24:17-22 ESV

This was a corporate law, to be applied and overseen by the ruling authorities. It was not to be applied by individuals against individuals. But the Jews had lifted this law out of its context and extended its intended meaning. They had turned it into an excuse for personal retribution, with no jurisdiction by any legal authority. The problem with that interpretation was that it had no end. It would lead to an escalating form of violence as each offended party attempted to out-do the other in terms of payback. Yet, this law had actually been intended to legislate and therefore limit vengeance. It was prescriptive and restrictive, and was meant to defend against vigilante-style justice. The last thing any society needs is its citizens taking matters into their own hands when it comes to retribution for harm done.

But the Jews had a distorted understanding of this law. They were actually using it as justification for enacting revenge on those who did them harm. In their minds, lex talionis made payback a viable option in any and all cases. In other words, they believed it taught that retribution was permitted by God and, therefore, was justifiable. But Jesus was out to confront their perception with reality.  He was going to teach them that God preferred that they pay back evil with good. They were to seek reconciliation, not retribution. Jesus provides them with a list of requirements that directly contradicted their understanding of  lex talionis.

“Do not resist the one who is evil”
“Turn the other cheek”
“Give your cloak as well”
“Go the extra mile”
“Give to the one who begs”
“Don’t refuse the one who would borrow from you”

What is Jesus saying? He is refuting their distorted, self-focused view and teaching against a spirit of retaliation and retribution. He is NOT denying the right to self-defense. He is NOT promoting pacifism. He is teaching a change of heart that allows us to respond in love, not anger. It was the very life that Jesus lived and modeled while He was on this earth. The prophet, Isaiah, had predicted that the Messiah, when He came, would suffer oppression and harsh treatment. But He would not retaliate.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. – Isaiah 53:7-8 ESV

On the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He assured His disciples that this was all part of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Him. He could have retaliated, but He chose not to.

Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” – Matthew 26:50-54 NLT

When Jesus was brought before the high priest after His arrest, He did not lash out, but instead, He fulfilled the very words of Isaiah.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus provides His listeners with five practical illustrations of what this life of self-sacrifice might look like.

Turn the other cheek – be willing to suffer shame for the sake of the Kingdom and the salvation of the lost

Let him have your cloak as well – be willing to suffer loss for the sake of the Kingdom and the salvation of the lost

Go with him two miles – be willing suffer inconvenience for the sake of the Kingdom and the salvation of the lost

Give to the one who begs from you – be willing to suffer being taken advantage of for the sake of the Kingdom and the salvation of the lost

Do not refuse the one who would borrow from you – be willing to suffer financial loss for the sake of the Kingdom and the salvation of the lost

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul sums up what Jesus is saying:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. – Romans 12:17-21 NLT

Do you see how radical and revolutionary all of this would have been to Jesus’ listeners? Jesus was contrasting the law of retaliation with the law of love. He was calling people to a life of self-sacrifice and a ministry of reconciliation, not revenge. He was telling them that the blessed or those who were approved by God would be the ones who understood their calling to give their lives away, rather than get even. Once again, Jesus was not teaching something new, but was clarifying what the Scriptures had always taught. The book of Proverbs contains numerous admonitions concerning the life of loving patience and reconciliation.

Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs. – Proverbs 19:11 NLT

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you. – Proverbs 25:21-22 NLT

Revenge simply perpetuates the problem. Retribution, rather than solving anything, only results in further retaliation and escalating tension. That’s why Paul would encourage the believers in Corinth by telling them:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. – Romans 12:14 NLT

And this was not something Paul taught, but failed to live out in his own life. He held himself to the same exacting standard.

We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment. – 1 Corinthians 4:12-13 NLT

The apostle Peter would also encourage his readers to follow the teachings of Jesus and the example He had given with His own life.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. For the Scriptures say, “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:9-12 NLT

Peter quotes from Psalm 34, a psalm of David. And he uses the words of David to remind his audience that God rewards or blesses those who live according to His laws and standards. But the ability to live in accordance with God’s laws is impossible apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit of God. And the Spirit is only available to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Paul, Peter and Jesus were teaching that this new life of self-sacrifice was impossible apart from the grace of God revealed in Christ alone and available through faith alone. Jesus knew that what He was teaching was beyond the capacity of His audience to carry out. They were incapable of living, loving, sacrificing and responding in the way Jesus was commanding. They might be able to pull off their distorted understanding of the law of retaliation, but when it came to the law of love, they were going to need help. They were going to require a righteousness they didn’t have and a strength they did not possess.

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

When Things Get Personal.

Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words.”

Hear me, O Lord,
    and listen to the voice of my adversaries.
Should good be repaid with evil?
    Yet they have dug a pit for my life.
Remember how I stood before you
    to speak good for them,
    to turn away your wrath from them.
Therefore deliver up their children to famine;
    give them over to the power of the sword;
let their wives become childless and widowed.
    May their men meet death by pestilence,
    their youths be struck down by the sword in battle.
May a cry be heard from their houses,
    when you bring the plunderer suddenly upon them!
For they have dug a pit to take me
    and laid snares for my feet.
Yet you, O Lord, know
    all their plotting to kill me.
Forgive not their iniquity,
    nor blot out their sin from your sight.
Let them be overthrown before you;
    deal with them in the time of your anger. Jeremiah 18:18-23 ESV

There is a fine balance that each follower of Christ must maintain while living in this fallen world. We are surrounded by the presence of sin and by those who commit sin. It’s impossible to go a single day without being exposed to the reality of sin’s pervasive presence in our society. It is everywhere. And one of the risks we face is becoming immune to it. In essence, we become anesthetized to all the sin from our constant exposure to it and our failure to confess its presence in our own lives. So, we find ourselves complacent about sin and adopt the attitude: “Boys will be boys”. In our hearts, we know that God hates sin, but we can find ourselves developing a soft spot in our hearts for it. We watch TV shows that glorify and glamorize sinful behavior. We get exposed to a daily avalanche of news graphically describing and depicting sinful activity in our community and world, leaving us numb and desensitized to its gravity. News footage of wars, bombings, murders, and violence of all kinds are a normal part of our day. And it no longer shocks or grieves us. It doesn’t impact us. And it doesn’t seem to bother us that all the sin in our world, including our own, is a frontal assault against God. It is an orchestrated attempt by the prince of this world, Satan, to undermine and overthrow the sovereign rule of God over His creation. Sin bothers God, but why doesn’t it seem to bother us? And why is it that we can’t seem to grasp the concept that all sin flies in the face of God’s authority as creator. It is rebellion against Him. It is lawlessness – a willful breaking of His ordained will for mankind. But far too often, believers find themselves living in self-imposed silence, refusing to speak up about the sin in the camp. We are called to expose sin, not tolerate it. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible… – Ephesians 5:11-13 ESV

God warned his prophet, Ezekiel:

“If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible for their deaths.” – Ezekiel 3:18 NLT

God held Ezekiel to a high standard. He was God’s spokesman, commissioned to deliver the word of God to the people of God. His job was not an easy one. He suffered with the same struggles as Jeremiah, finding himself living as a social outcast and pariah. No one wanted to hear what he had to say. They loathed him and his message. But as God’s prophet, Ezekiel was obligated to speak up. So was Jeremiah. And so are we. Paul reminds us of our God-ordained responsibility to act as His representatives and mouthpieces in the midst of this sin-filled world.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT

It’s difficult to be a reconciler and confront people with their sin if you’re constantly conforming to sin yourself. And an attitude of complacency about sin makes it hard to convince others of the need for a Savior from sin.

So, there is always the problem of not taking sin seriously. But then, there is another risk of taking all sin personally. That seems to be what Jeremiah is wrestling with in this passage. He expresses a heart-felt prayer to God revealing his very real and intense desire that the people of Judah get exactly what they deserve, and he pulls no punches.

let their children starve! (vs 21 NLT)

Let them die by the sword! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their wives become childless widows. (vs 21 NLT)

…Let their old men die in a plague… (vs 21 NLT)

…let their young men be killed in battle! (vs 21 NLT)

…Let screaming be heard from their homes as warriors come suddenly upon them. (vs 22 NLT)

…Don’t forgive their crimes and blot out their sins. (vs 23 NLT)

…Let them die before you. (vs 23 NLT)

…Deal with them in your anger. (vs 23 NLT)

Wow! I would say it’s safe to say that Jeremiah was taking things a bit personally. He was calling down the judgment of God on the people of Judah. But it’s important to note why he was doing so. Listen to what he says:

They have dug a pit to kill me,
though I pleaded for them
    and tried to protect them from your anger. – Jeremiah 18:20 NLT

For they have dug a pit for me
    and have hidden traps along my path. – Jeremiah 18:22 NLT

Lord, you know all about their murderous plots against me. – Jeremiah 18:23 NLT

Things had gotten a bit too personal for Jeremiah. And his calls for judgment seem to have had less to do with their sins against God than their sins against him. He was angry and upset with all the personal threats. He reminded God that he had just been doing his job. He self-righteously claims, “I pleaded for them and tried to protect them from your anger” (Jeremiah 18:20 NLT). And how had they responded to his good efforts? By repaying him with evil. So, he was done with them. He was ready for God to do every single thing He had threatened to do and, as far as Jeremiah was concerned, the sooner, the better. Wipe them all out.

But wait a minute. When had this become all about Jeremiah? At what point did the sins of the people become transgressions against the prophet of God rather than God Himself? Jeremiah had let this all become personal. And it began when the sins of the people started affecting him personally. As long as their sins were against one another, Jeremiah was far more tolerant. He was content to keep speaking on behalf of God and warning the people about God’s pending judgment. But when their attention was turned on him and he began to feel the white-hot rage or their resentment, he suddenly became God’s champion for righteous judgment. Gone were his pleas for mercy. He was no longer interceding on behalf of the people, asking God to forgive them for their sins. Once it got personal, Jeremiah demanded judgment. He wanted payback.

And the two extremes we’ve just looked at are ones we must avoid at all costs as Christ-followers. We cannot afford to become complacent with sin, in our lives or in the world around us. Sin is a personal affront against God. And we know what the outcome of all sin is: Death. Eternal separation from God. So, as Paul told us, we are to always keep in mind that we have been given a task by God to reconcile lost people to Himself. We have been given this wonderful message of reconciliation: that God is no longer counting people’s sins against them. Instead, when they accept His Son as their Savior and the one who paid their sin debt, they are made right with God. Their sins are forgiven and they become like we are: children of God. So, we are to constantly spread the message: Come back to God! We are to call people to repentance. Rather than complacency, we are to show compassion.

And instead of taking the sins of others personally, we are to recognize that their sin is against God. While we may suffer personally as a result of the sins of others, we are not to seek vengeance. Instead, Paul reminds us:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:21-32 NLT

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Jeremiah was angry, and his anger had become personal. He wasn’t upset with how the people were treating God. This had become all about him. He wasn’t interested in reconciliation. He wanted revenge and retribution. But all sin is ultimately against God. And all sinners are equally rebellious to God. It does no good to ignore their sin. But it also does no good to take their sin personally. Their sin is the result of a broken relationship with God. They need reconciliation and restoration with God. And like Jeremiah, we have been given the only message that counts: Come back to 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.

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

Will the Real King Stand Up?

Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king’s son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day. – 2 Samuel 18:1-18 ESV

Like a modern-day soap opera, there are so many plots and sub-plots going on in this passage that it is difficult to know exactly what the main point may be. You have the battle between the forces of David and those of Absalom. There is Joab mortally wounding Absalom, providing what would appear to be a well-justified sentence for his rebellion. But what Joab did was against the direct orders of David. Which brings up another intriguing sub-plot. Why was David, yet again, unwilling to enact justice against a rebellious son? He had failed to punish Amnon for his rape of Tamar. He had also failed to enact judgment on Absalom for his murder of Amnon, which had eventually led to Absalom’s loss of respect for David and his overthrow of his kingdom.

And finally, we see the interesting side note that tells of Absalom having erected a monument to himself. That part shouldn’t surprise us, because we have seen ample evidence of Absalom’s pride. But what is significant is the statement, “I have no son to carry on my name” (2 Samuel 18:18 NLT). How could that be? According to 2 Samuel 14:27, Absalom had three sons and a daughter. What would possess him to say that he had no son to carry on his name? Perhaps his sons had refused to follow in their father’s footsteps. There is the possibility that they had all died. Or it could be that Absalom had erected the monument before his sons had been born. But whatever the case, Absalom left a lasting memorial to himself by erecting a monument that bore his own name.

Nothing ever seems to be tidy and neat when it comes to the life of David. This section is no different that any of the others we have read. There are so many complications and conflicts going on it can be difficult to keep up. The battle between David’s forces and those of Absalom, as significant as it was, is nothing compared to all the mini-conflicts taking place behind the scenes. David had specifically commanded that Absalom be spared. Yet Joab, the commander of his army and the one who had convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem in the first place (2 Samuel 14), would disobey those orders. Easily overlooked in all of this is the fact that more than 20,000 Israelites lost their lives that day. This had been a civil war, an internecine conflict between brothers. David lost a son, but as a result of his failure to deal with Absalom’s original sin against Amnon, David had caused many Israelites to lose their fathers, sons and brothers. There would be 20,000 other graves dug that day. There would be countless mothers, father, wives, brothers and sisters, mourning the loss of someone they loved. And all of this can be traced back to David’s sin with Bathsheba. Absalom would be the third son David would lose as a result of his moral indiscretion.

In Psalm 63, written while he was hiding in the wilderness, David penned the following words:

But those plotting to destroy me will come to ruin.
    They will go down into the depths of the earth.
They will die by the sword
    and become the food of jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God.
    All who swear to tell the truth will praise him,
    while liars will be silenced. – Psalm 63:9-11 NLT

David believed in the vengeance of God, but it seems he had a hard time seeing it apply to one of his own. David’s command that the life of Absalom be spared does not reflect well on David’s leadership. It speaks of his regret and recognition that all of this was his own fault. He is reticent to punish Absalom. But his unwillingness to deal with the rebellion of Absalom would have set a dangerous precedence. He needed to reestablish his authority and nip this thing in the bud. But it took Joab, disobeying a direct order of the king, to do what needed to be done. Joab was forced to go against the king’s wishes and risk his retribution, but he did the right thing. The rebellion had been ended and its leader, eliminated. David’s reign over Israel had been restored. And it is important to note, that David played no part in any of it. On the advice of Joab, David remained behind, safe and sound and out of any danger. Perhaps Joab had known that, had David gone into battle, he would have spared the life of Absalom. So he had recommended that David stay behind and David had readily agreed.

With all that happened in this passage, we must lose sight of the fact that God was in control. The events recorded in these verses are an expression of God’s divine will concerning Absalom and David. From God’s perspective, Absalom was a usurper to the throne. He had no right to claim the kingship of Israel. David was still the Lord’s anointed. All of this was part of God’s plan to deal with Absalom’s sin against Amnon. David may have been willing to overlook and forget what Absalom had done, but God was not. The rebellion of Absalom should have been a wake-up call to David just how dangerous it can be to turn a blind eye toward sin. Absalom’s rebellion, while apparently successful, was destined to be short-lived, because it did not have God’s backing. It was simply a means by which God was going to repay Absalom while teaching David yet another vital lesson in justice.

As the story unfolds, we will see David weep over the loss of Absalom. But we will not see him shed a single tear for the unnecessary loss of life that came as result of Absalom’s rebellion. There will be no mention of the 10 concubines violated by Absalom on the palace rooftop. David would return to power, but over a fractured and divided nation. And his continual mourning over the loss of his son would send a confusing message to those who had fought for him and helped restore his kingdom to him. Absalom was dead, but the difficulties were far from over. David had his work cut out for him, and it was going to take Joab, once again, to help David do the right thing. God would use this faithful friend to speak truth into David’s life, convicting and forcing him to do what God would have him do.

 

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

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Subtle Snare of Self-Salvation.

And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male.” Then David received from her hand what she had brought him. And he said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

And Abigail came to Nabal, and behold, he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. And Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until the morning light. In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. And about ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died. – 1 Samuel 25:32-38 ESV

David knew the hand of God when he saw it. As he and his men stood there with their weapons at the ready, prepared to wipe out Nabal and every male in his household, Abigail had showed up with a gift of food and a word of wise counsel. She had bowed down before David and begged his forgiveness. And she appealed to David to refrain from doing something he would later regret. Nabal was a fool. He was insignificant and not worth the time and effort it would take to enact revenge. She wisely warned David, “When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel,  don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance” (1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT).

Her words struck a chord with David. They were like a cold glass of water thrown in his face, waking him up to the reality and danger of what he was about to do. And he was grateful, not only to her, but to God for having sent her. “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today!” (1 Samuel 25:32 NLT). He knew this was a God-ordained encounter with Abigail. He clearly sensed that God had sent her to prevent him from doing something he would later regret. Killing Nabal would have been an act of vengeance, but not an act of God. David had not sought out or received any word from God to take the life of Nabal or anyone else. But the temptation of self-salvation and taking revenge on those who offend us always lingers within us. David had been offended by a rich fool and he was man enough to do something about it. But a man after God’s own heart would leave vengeance up to the Lord. And that is exactly what Abigail reminded David of. God had bigger plans for David. He was going to be the next king of Israel. Nabal was a bump in the road on the way to the throne room, and David would be better off letting God deal with him.

It’s interesting to note that when David had been given the opportunity to kill Saul, he had refrained from doing so. He even told Saul, “May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24:12 ESV). At that point, David had been willing to leave the judgment of Saul in the hands of God. But when it came to Nabal, David had suddenly determined to take matters into his own hands. Only the words of Abigail prevented David from doing the unthinkable and committing an act of fratricide against fellow Jews.

And when David heard the words of Abigail, he immediately recognized the gravity of what he had been about to do. He said to her,  “Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands” (1 Samuel 25:33 NLT). There is the key to understanding this exchange between Abigail and David. His sin was not his anger with Nabal, but his desire to carry out vengeance against Nabal with his own hands. What he was about to do was an act of self-salvation, but not self-preservation. Nabal was no threat to David. All he had done was offend David by treating him with contempt and disrespect. He had hurt David’s pride. And David had been willing to slaughter Nabal and everyone associated with him in a needless act of revenge.

It’s interesting to note that, years later, when David was king, he would have another opportunity to take revenge on someone who treated him with disdain and disrespect. It was when his son, Absalom, had taken over Jerusalem and David had been forced to flee for his life. On his way out of town, he had been confronted by a man named Shimei, a member of the clan of Saul. As David and his men made their way out of the city, he threw stones at them and loudly cursed David.

“Get out of here, you murderer, you scoundrel!” he shouted at David. “The Lord is paying you back for all the bloodshed in Saul’s clan. You stole his throne, and now the Lord has given it to your son Absalom. At last you will taste some of your own medicine, for you are a murderer!” – 2 Samuel 16:7-8 NLT

David’s men offered to kill Shimei, but David restrained them, saying:

“My own son is trying to kill me. Doesn’t this relative of Saul have even more reason to do so? Leave him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. And perhaps the Lord will see that I am being wronged and will bless me because of these curses today.” – 2 Samuel 16:11-12 NLT

David’s encounter with Abigail had taught him a valuable lesson: To leave vengeance in the hands of God. He was to do nothing without God’s expressed permission. Taking Nabal’s life might have assuaged David’s damaged pride, but it would have done far more damage to his reputation. It would appear from studying the life of David, that he was a man prone to impulsive behavior. He was susceptible to giving in to his inner impulses and failing to think things through. His affair with Bathsheba is a case in point. He let his physical passions override his reasoning. He saw her and he wanted her. So, he took her. He didn’t think it through. And when his actions got him in trouble and she became pregnant, he threw reason to the wind, and went into self-preservation mode. He attempted to cover up his indiscretion with a carefully thought-out plan to have Uriah, he husband returned from war so that it might appear that the child was his. And when is efforts failed, his self-preservation efforts escalated and he had Uriah murdered, so he could take Bathsheba as his wife.

Self-salvation is tempting, but it never turns out like we were expecting. Taking matters into our own hands may feel good for the moment, but the repercussions can be devastating. Too often, our desire for revenge is based on nothing more than our own damaged pride. There is no real threat to our safety, but we find ourselves offended by something someone has said to us or about us. Perhaps it’s a rumor that someone has spread falsely representing us. It could be a simple case of someone showing us disrespect or treating us in a way we find distasteful. Our first impulse is to get even, to teach them a lesson. But what would God have us do? How would He prefer we respond? For David, the best course of action was no action at all. He was to leave Nabal in God’s hands. Rather than seeking revenge on Nabal, he was to rest in the sovereign will of God.

Jesus gave us some similar advice in the Beatitudes.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.” – Matthew 5:38-42 NLT

We are to be driven by a bigger purpose than our own self-salvation and preservation. God has bigger plans for us than worrying about what others think and wasting our time attempting to protect our reputations. God had greater plans for David than eliminating a fool who happened to offend him. There were greater enemies to fight. There were much more significant wars for David to wage. He was to leave Nabal in God’s hands. And because he did, David would see God deal with Nabal as only God could. When Abigail told Nabal all that had happened and how David had been planning to come and destroy him, “he had a stroke, and he lay paralyzed on his bed like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck him, and he died” (1 Samuel 25:37-38 NLT). God avenged David. God dealt with Nabal. And David learned that the salvation of God is preferable to self-salvation every time.

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

Dark Days.

Then Ahimelech answered the king, “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house? Is today the first time that I have inquired of God for him? No! Let not the king impute anything to his servant or to all the house of my father, for your servant has known nothing of all this, much or little.” And the king said, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house.” And the king said to the guard who stood about him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me.” But the servants of the king would not put out their hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep, he put to the sword.

But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. And David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house. Stay with me; do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life. With me you shall be in safekeeping.” – 1 Samuel 22:14-23 ESV

The moral, spiritual, and mental state of King Saul was on a steep and rapid decline. His animosity toward David was insatiable and he would let anyone or anything stand in the way of his quest to eliminate David once and for all. So, while his treatment of the Ahimelech and the priests of Nob may shock us, it should not surprise us. Even the priests of God were fair game and subject to Saul’s wrath. But while Saul seemed to have lost all fear of and respect for God, his troops had not. He was unable to recruit any of them to carry out his vindictive order to kill the priests. But there was one man who was more than willing, most likely driven by a desire to see himself promoted and rewarded for his efforts. Doeg the Edomite, the man who had been at Nob when David showed up, had made a beeline to King Saul with the news. This Edomite, a foreigner, was more than willing to carry our Saul’s command. Doeg was “the chief of Saul’s herdsmen” (1 Samuel 21:7 ESV), and, like any other ambitious individual, was probably seeking a way to get out of the pasture and climb the palace social ladder. By carrying out Saul’s command when no one else would, he knew he would ingratiate himself to the king and secure his favor. So Doeg slaughtered 85 priests of God that day. And then he killed every living inhabitant of Nob. It was a bloodbath – a senseless, sinful, and Satan-inspired act would turn the  priesthood from Saul to David. A solitary priest, Abiathar, miraculously escaped the carnage that day and made his way to David with the news of what had happened. David was wracked with horror and guilt. He felt responsible for the deaths of Ahimelech and his fellow priests. It was his deception that had led to their destruction. He had lied to Ahimelech that day by telling him he was on a secret mission for Saul. His rash decision to seek refuge from the priests and then lie to secure their help had put them at great risk. And Saul, in his ever-present paranoid state, saw them as traitors and had them summarily executed.

David most likely assumed that Saul, as the king and a servant of Yahweh, would show the priests the respect they were due. He probably never imagined that Saul would dare lift his hand against the priests of God. But he had been proven wrong. And David was furious. His respect for Saul all but disappeared that day. We get a good idea of David’s mental state at the time, because he wrote a psalm to commemorate the event. In it, he reveals his feelings about Saul.

Why do you boast about your crimes, great warrior?
    Don’t you realize God’s justice continues forever?
All day long you plot destruction.
    Your tongue cuts like a sharp razor;
    you’re an expert at telling lies.
You love evil more than good
    and lies more than truth. – Psalm 52:1-3 NLT

David was a warrior himself, but he was appalled at the actions of Saul. He was shocked at the actions of someone he once admired and idolized. He could not believe that Saul, the king of Israel, could do the things he had done. But he knew that God would not let Saul’s actions go unpunished.

You love to destroy others with your words,
    you liar!
But God will strike you down once and for all.
    He will pull you from your home
    and uproot you from the land of the living. – Psalm 53:4-6 NLT

David was confident that God would bring justice and retribution against Saul. He would not allow this immoral act to go unaccounted for. While David was in no position to do anything about it, he knew that God would.

The righteous will see it and be amazed.
    They will laugh and say,
“Look what happens to mighty warriors
    who do not trust in God.
They trust their wealth instead
    and grow more and more bold in their wickedness.” – Psalm 53:6-7 NLT

Through the misguided and unrighteous actions of Saul, David was learning some valuable lessons regarding those who fail to place their trust in God. He saw in King Saul a stark portrayal of the once godly man who abandons his faith in God for reliance upon his own strength and resources. Saul’s blatant betrayal of God was difficult for David to understand. But it drove him in his commitment to place his trust in and maintain his reliance upon God, whatever happened.

But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
    I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people. – Psalm 52:8-9 NLT

Abiathar, the sole remaining priest, would find refuge with David. The future king of Israel and the future high priest of Israel were suddenly united by one man’s hatred for them and God’s divine plan for them. Neither David or Abiathar knew what God had in store for them. David had no idea what the next few years of his life would hold. Abiathar only knew that he was alone and no longer able to exercise his priestly duties. Both men were unaware of all that God was doing behind the scenes. There was no silver lining to the dark cloud that hung over them. There was no light at the end of the foreboding tunnel in which they found themselves. But they would learn to trust in God by having to place all their hope in 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.

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

Tit for Tat.

The king’s scribes were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day. And an edict was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded concerning the Jews, to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed it with the king’s signet ring. Then he sent the letters by mounted couriers riding on swift horses that were used in the king’s service, bred from the royal stud, saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods, on one day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. A copy of what was written was to be issued as a decree in every province, being publicly displayed to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take vengeance on their enemies. So the couriers, mounted on their swift horses that were used in the king’s service, rode out hurriedly, urged by the king’s command. And the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a robe of fine linen and purple, and the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them. – Esther 8:9-17 ESV

This passage virtually mirrors, word-for-word, an earlier portion of the story of Esther. Back in chapter three, we read:

Then the king’s scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and an edict, according to all that Haman commanded, was written to the king’s satraps and to the governors over all the provinces and to the officials of all the peoples, to every province in its own script and every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the king’s signet ring. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day. The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. – Esther 3:12-15 ESV

The precise wording and attention to details is intentional. The author wants us to know that what Haman had intended was being countermanded by God Himself. The powers of evil that had been behind the original decree were being matched by the sovereignty of God as He brought the desires of the wicked back on their own heads. In an eerily similar fashion, God was using the same methodology used by Haman, but to protect His people, not destroy them. God would use the name of the king, representing his power and authority, and all the resources of the king, to accomplish His divine will. And it would all be sealed with the king’s own ring, making it irrevocable and unavoidable. The tables were being turned. Originally, the instructions were “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day…and to plunder their goods.” But now, the Jews were “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, children and women included, and to plunder their goods.” The exact same wording, but a completely different outcome. It is fascinating that God did not choose to eliminate or eradicate the king’s original edict. It remained in place. It was still the law of the land. But God simply countered it with His own version of the same decree that put power into the hands of His people. It was going to pit the forces of evil against the forces of the people of God. Both decrees were issued under the king’s name and sealed with the king’s ring. But one of them was now backed by the power and providence of God. These two decrees, while similar in wording, were anything but equal in their authority and ultimate outcome. The Jews, the people of God, would have the help of God on their side. Two groups were going to be pitted against one another, both with the authority to wipe out the other. But the Hebrews would not be alone. They would be accompanied and assisted by the same God who had defeated the Egyptians and helped them conquer the inhabitants of Canaan.

And it’s hard not to miss the two distinctly different reactions that accompanied the issuing of these two decrees. After Haman had convinced the king to place his seal of approval on the first decree, the two of them celebrated with drinks, while the people of Susa were left in confusion. And the Jews were left to mourn their fate. But with the sealing of the second decree, Mordecai walked out of the presence of the king wearing royal robes and a crown, not sackcloth and ashes. “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.” Rather than mourning, there was celebration. Rather than confusion, there was elation. The Jews went from being pitied to being feared. In fact, we’re told, “And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them” (Esther 8:17b ESV). The people of Susa sensed the tides were turning and that it would be safer to be a Jew than to be attempt to stand against them. What a remarkable shift in circumstances. What an incredible turn of events. But God has a way of doing the impossible and improbable. Just when we think all is lost, God steps in to prove us wrong. We should never count God out. We should never conclude that God has given up. No matter how bleak the circumstances may appear, our God is fully capable of reversing the tide, turning the tables and accomplishing the impossible.

God Has Seen. He Will Redeem.

You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. You have seen all their vengeance, all their plots against me. – Lamentations 3:56-58 ESV

Jeremiah had been through a lot. He had been a prophet for God, delivering a message of repentance and warning of future judgment if that message was ignored. Not only was his message unaccepted, his own people persecuted, rejected and even physically attacked him for his efforts. And eventually, Jeremiah had to stand by and watch as the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. He had to witness the destruction of the temple of God. He had a front row seat to the deportation of the people as they were shipped out as captives of the Babylonian king and his conquering army. And while Jeremiah was allowed to remain in the land of Judah along with a remnant of the people, he fared no better than before. He was still despised. He was blamed for all that had happened. He had no friends, only enemies. There were even times when he felt alienated and abandoned by God. “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;  though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked” (Lamentations 3:7-9 ESV). Jeremiah found himself in a dark place emotionally and spiritually. He confessed, “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations 3:17-18 ESV). But as we saw in yesterday’s post, Jeremiah had one thing he continued to hang on to during his dark days of despair. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV).

The love and faithfulness of God. That is what kept Jeremiah going. And for Jeremiah, it was not some nebulous, bible-verse-on-a-plaque concept. It was real and he had experienced it in his own life. God had been loving and faithful to him in the past, so he knew that it was possible for God to be that way even under his current circumstances. God had taken up Jeremiah’s cause before. He had redeemed Jeremiah’s life on more than one occasion over the years. So why couldn’t He and why wouldn’t He do so now? Jeremiah knew that God was fully aware of what was going on. He had seen it all. He wasn’t not blind or oblivious to Jeremiah’s difficulties. Jeremiah’s God was compassionate and fully cognizant of his circumstances. After all, God had been the one to orchestrate all that had happened. There was nothing Jeremiah said in chapter three that God was not aware of already or for which He had a failed to prepare a plan of action. The question wasn’t whether God would redeem, but simply when and how. Jeremiah had no way of knowing just what God would do. He had no idea when God would do it. But he had hope based on past experience that God WOULD do something. Jeremiah believed, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV). 

The temptation we face when going through a difficult time like Jeremiah is to lash out, if not at God, at others. We especially want to verbally attach those who are harming us. We want to take revenge and enact vengeance on those who persecuting us. But Jeremiah says it is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It’s hard to keep our mouths shut when those around us are casting dispersions on our character or attacking us with their words. Yet Jeremiah said, “You have heard their taunts, O Lord, all their plots against me. The lips and thoughts of my assailants are against me all the day long. Behold their sitting and their rising; I am the object of their taunts” (Lamentations 3:61-63 ESV). I am sure there was a part of Jeremiah that wanted to lash out and light up his opponents. He wanted to give them a piece of his mind. He would have loved to have been able to defend himself and expose the lies of his enemies. But instead, he was willing to trust God. He sees. He will redeem. In the last three verses of his prayer, Jeremiah states, “You will repay them…”, “you will give them…, “your curse will be on them…”, “you will pursue them….” In other words, God had this handled. He would do what needed to be done. He would redeem. And Jeremiah was content to let God do it His way and according to His timeline. In the meantime, he would quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.

We sometimes have a hard time believing that God sees what is going on. We either believe He is indifferent and doesn’t care or is too busy and preoccupied with more significant issues. And because we don’t think God sees, we doubt that He will redeem. That’s when we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. We seem our own vengeance. We attempt to act as our own savior. Rather than quietly wait on God’s salvation, we step in and, sadly, we screw things up. Waiting on God can be difficult. Remaining quiet can be practically impossible. But when we have a long history of having seen God work in our lives, it is far easier to trust Him. His past acts of redemption make future waiting on Him less difficult. That is why Jeremiah said, “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.” God had proven Himself faithful in the past. He would prove himself faithful in the future. He has seen. He will redeem.