No Rest for the Wicked

26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

36 And the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land, who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing up a bad report about the land— 37 the men who brought up a bad report of the land—died by plague before the Lord. 38 Of those men who went to spy out the land, only Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive.

39 When Moses told these words to all the people of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 And they rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.” 41 But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the Lord, when that will not succeed? 42 Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies. 43 For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.” 44 But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.  Numbers 14:26-45 ESV

God essentially told the Israelites that the worse-case-scenario they had conjured up in their minds was going to take place. Their greatest fears were going to become reality. In an attempt to rationalize their rebellion against Moses’ leadership, they had predicted a foreboding future if they stayed where they were.

“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. – Numbers 14:2-3 ESV

And God let them know that their projections of doom and gloom would come true.

“As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. – Numbers 14:28-30 NLT

As punishment for their rebellion, God revealed their fate. They would not be returning to Egypt and they would never enter the land of Canaan. Instead, they could die in the wilderness. They wouldn’t have to worry about dying in battle because they would never make it to the promised land. No, their deaths would be from old age as they spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness; a year for every day the spies had spent in Canaan.

There would be no supernatural cosmological display of fire and brimstone to consume the wicked. The ground wouldn’t open up and swallow all those who were guilty. In fact, for the next 40 years, God would continue to provide for their physical needs; providing them with manna, quail, and fresh drinking water. They would continue to live, raise their children, and live out their days in relative peace and security. But they would never enter the land that God had promised as their inheritance.

“Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 1:25 NLT

Canaan was to have been their final destination. It was a rich and fertile land, just as the spies had discovered. And even before God had leveled a single plague against Egypt, He had promised to lead the descendants of Jacob to their new homeland.

“I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.” – Exodus 3:17 NLT

But as a result of their stubborn refusal to trust God, they would spend 40 years wandering on the wrong side of the border of Canaan. In time, one by one, they would succumb to old age and die, and their bodies would be buried in the wilderness. And the author of Hebrews uses their rebellion and punishment as a warning to a new generation of Jews who had been offered another promise of future inheritance by God.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
as Israel did when they rebelled,
    when they tested me in the wilderness.
There your ancestors tested and tried my patience,
    even though they saw my miracles for forty years.
So I was angry with them, and I said,
‘Their hearts always turn away from me.
    They refuse to do what I tell them.’
So in my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’” – Hebrews 3:7-11 NLT

Canaan was to have been their place of rest. That doesn’t mean Canaan was going to be a stress-free environment, devoid of difficulties. There actually were enemies in the land and the Israelites would have to do battle with each of them in order to make the land their own. But God had promised them victory. He was going to use them to purge the land of all the wickedness, immorality, and godlessness that had filled it since their departure more than 430 years earlier.

Yet, rather than obeying God and doing battle with those who opposed Him and had desecrated the land He had given them, the Israelites ended up having God for an enemy.

“Because your men explored the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years—a year for each day, suffering the consequences of your sins. Then you will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy.” – Numbers 14:34 NLT

What makes this story so painful and impactful is that it involved the people of God. These were His chosen ones. He had redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. He had graciously offered them freedom and a permament home of their own where they could enjoy His presence, power, and provision. Yet, because the conquest of the land appeared to be more difficult than they had imagined, they turned their back on God’s gracious offer. And the author of Hebrews emphasizes the disbelieving nature of God’s chosen people.

And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. – Hebrews 3:16-19 NLT

And he warns his fellow Jews to learn from their ancestors’ mistakes.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. – Hebrews 3:12 NLT

For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:14 NLT

God’s promise of rest required obedience. The land was theirs, but they were going to have to do battle in order to take full possession of it. They would have to cleanse the land from all its impurities, and that would require hard work and faith. Any effort they put forth would have to be based on their faith that God would go before them and provide them with victory. But for the Israelites, a long march back to Egypt and the promise of certain enslavement were more appealing than doing the will of God. And, as a result, they would never enter His rest.

And, as for the ten spies, they would face a more immediate and unpleasant end for their leadership in the rebellion.

The ten men Moses had sent to explore the land—the ones who incited rebellion against the Lord with their bad report—were struck dead with a plague before the Lord. – Numbers 14:36-37 NLT

God had not changed His mind. His promise of providing an inheritance for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob remained just as firm as ever. But there would be some who would never get to enjoy it. They had forfeited that right.

But when the people heard the news of God’s judgment against them, they were grieved and attempted to repent for their rebellion.

“We realize that we have sinned, but now we are ready to enter the land the Lord has promised us.” – Numbers 14:40 NLT

But it was too little, too late. Moses even warned them that they were only making matters worse by attempting to escape God’s judgment through further rebellion. They were suggesting immediate entrance into the land, even though that is not what God had ordered. They thought a show of enthusiasm might temper God’s anger. But Moses warned them against making such a dangerous and ill-fated decision.

“Why are you now disobeying the Lord’s orders to return to the wilderness? It won’t work. Do not go up into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the Lord is not with you. When you face the Amalekites and Canaanites in battle, you will be slaughtered. The Lord will abandon you because you have abandoned the Lord.” – Numbers 14:41-43 NLT

But stubborn as always, the people rejected Moses’ counsel and attempted to enter Canaan – without God’s approval or help – and they failed miserably. They had forfeited their right to the inheritance. The land would never be theirs and they would never enjoy the rest that God had promised. And the apostle Paul provides a powerful application of this story for those who long to enter the eternal rest that comes through faith in Christ.

I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. – 1 Corinthians 10:1-7 NLT

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

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

Worthy Words

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:1-12 ESV

It was Jesus who said, “It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth” (Matthew 15:11 NLT). He was responding to Pharisees and the teachers of religious law who had accused the disciples of eating food without having properly cleansed their hands.

“Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” – Matthew 15:2 NLT

In response, Jesus accused these men of putting a higher priority on their man-made traditions than they did on the Mosaic law. They were guilty of violating the commandments of God. In fact, He put them in the same category as their disobedient ancestors whom God had accused of infidelity and unfaithfulness.

“These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Words matter. What we say with our lips reflects the condition of our hearts. And Jesus succinctly summed up the problem of the hypocritical religious leaders of Israel when He said: “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. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

In this chapter, James picks up on this same theme by pointing out the dangerous nature of the tongue. In doing so, he is simply continuing his emphasis on the importance of works, which are the visible manifestations of faith. For James, anyone who claims to have faith but fails to display any tangible evidence to back it up is only fooling themselves. Their faith is dead and lifeless.

It’s not that these people are devoid of actions or activity. But their behavior fails to measure up to God’s righteous standards. They were guilty of treating one another unfairly by showing favoritism to the rich and influential. They were claiming to love their neighbor while treating the poor among them as second-class citizens.

Now, James focuses his attention on the importance of their words. Like Jesus, James stresses the pedagogical nature of human speech. He even warns his readers to avoid becoming teachers within the body of Christ because God will hold them to a high account.

…not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. – James 3:1 NLT

Jesus had accused the Pharisees of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9 ESV). Through their words and actions, they were instructing the people of God to disregard His commandments. And Jesus warned His disciples, “ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14 NLT).

The problem, according to James, is the uncontrollable nature of the tongue. It may be small but it’s extremely powerful and has the potential to do great damage. The words that come out of our mouths can leave a wake of destruction in their path: Hurt feelings, destroyed relationships, damaged lives from deceptive doctrines, ruined reputations, and apostate believers.

All this destruction is due to a simple muscle called the tongue. And James stresses the minuscule yet massive influence of this seemingly insignificant part of the human anatomy. He compares it to a tiny bit that allows a rider to dictate the actions of a horse. It’s like the small rudder by which a pilot can control the direction of a large vessel and determine its final destination. In comparison, “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things” (James 3:5 ESV).

The issue here is that of control. A bit and a rudder are used to determine direction. They have the power to direct and influence something far larger than themselves. In the same way, the tongue, though small, can be used to influence others in both a positive and negative way. To fail to recognize the tongue’s potential for destruction is dangerous. James compares it to a tiny, insignificant spark that can set a whole forest on fire. And just to make sure his readers understand the comparison, James adds:

…among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. – James 3:6 NLT

Think about what James is saying. The human brain is considered to have the processing power of a super-computer, yet it requires the tongue to communicate its thoughts and impressions. A thought unexpressed by the tongue remains trapped in the mind. But words, both spoken and written carry great power for good and evil. And unlike horses, dogs, lions, and other animals, the tiny tongue remains uncontrollable. No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to tame the tongue. And James paints a rather bleak picture of the problem, describing the tongue as “restless and evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NLT).

But his point seems to be that, without God’s help, the tongue will continue to be a destructive force in the life of a believer. We have no innate ability to control what comes out of our mouths. We can try, but eventually, our words reveal the true condition of our hearts. Remember what Jesus said: “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). It begins with thoughts and ends with either actions or words. And what makes our words so dangerous is their power to influence others. That’s why James stressed the tongue’s power to teach. While others may not mimic our evil behavior, they may be influenced to listen to our words and follow our instructions. And James provides a convicting example of how the tongue can negatively influence the body of Christ.

Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. – James 3:9-10 NLT

This ties back to the problem of favoritism and partiality. The believers to whom James was writing were guilty of treating some within their fellowship with disdain – and all while they were worshiping God together. With their lips, they were praising Yahweh and denigrating their neighbors at the same time. And James calls them out for their blatant hypocrisy.

Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! – James 3:10 NLT

Their words and works were ungodly and unacceptable. With their tongues, they were doing irreparable damage to the body of Christ. And James points out the illogical and seemingly impossible nature of this kind of behavior among followers of Christ.

Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3:11-12 NLT

They had been redeemed and renewed by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. They were new creations and had received new hearts and enjoyed the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. They had the God-given capacity to live in keeping with His will and according to the example of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Corinth of the life-transforming grace of God made possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 1:4-5 ESV

In his second letter to the very same congregation, Paul stressed the all-encompassing nature of God’s sanctifying grace.

…just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we inspired in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. – 2 Corinthians 8:7 BSB

According to Paul, the tongue could be tamed. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the believer’s speech can be purified and his words can be sanctified so that the body of Christ is unified and strengthened. Like the great king, David, we can ask God to help us tame the tongue so that our words produce good and bring Him glory.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14 ESV

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

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

The Way of the Wise

20 My son, be attentive to my words;
    incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Let them not escape from your sight;
    keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
    and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
    turn your foot away from evil. – Proverbs 4:20-27 ESV

All this talk of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding could easily leave the impression that Solomon is obsessed with intelligence. It sounds like he is simply trying to encourage his son to get a good education, learn all that he can learn, and apply all that knowledge to living a good life. But Solomon is wise enough to know that there is more to this picture than increased intelligence or a high IQ. He is talking about a way of life that is based on much more than just book learning. All throughout the Proverbs Solomon contrasts two ways of life or two lifestyles. One is marked by wickedness and foolishness. The other is marked by wisdom and righteousness. But the difference isn’t just about one person knowing more than the other. It is the fact that one knows God better than the other. At the end of the day, this is a heart issue. When Solomon pleads his son, and all young people, to “get wisdom” and “don’t turn your back on wisdom,” he is really telling them to pursue God, because He is the source of all wisdom.

In this Proverb, Solomon repeatedly refers to “the way.” He describes life as a journey that offers a variety of different paths to take along the way. He says, “Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving” (Proverbs 4:14-15 NLT).

He compares the way of the righteous with the way of the wicked. One ends in light, the other in darkness. But then Solomon provides us with the key. He says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 14:23 NLT). It is our heart that will determine whether we go the way of the righteous or the way of the wicked. It is our heart that will determine whether we seek God’s way or that of the world. So, we need wise hearts, not brave hearts. We need heart knowledge, not head knowledge. God wants to renew our hearts and change the way we think, act, speak, and live.

Without heart change, all efforts to live wisely will be short-lived and end up in nothing more than behavior modification. When Solomon says, “Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech” (Proverbs 4:24 NLT), he knows he is asking the impossible unless our hearts are changed by God. We will gravitate toward perverse talk and corrupt speech without wise hearts. And only God can give us wise hearts. Only God gives us the ability to make wise choices. Solomon closes his Proverb with these words: “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil” (Proverbs 4:25-27 NLT). Without a wise heart, that is impossible. God gives us the capacity to know right from wrong, good from evil. He equips us with not only the knowledge to make good choices, but the ability to do so. He changes our hearts. Head knowledge is not enough. Heart knowledge is what we need. Wise hearts and brave souls – men and women living life according to God’s terms and in the power of God’s Spirit.

But even those with wise hearts need to be on constant alert because life is not only a journey that features two different paths, but it comes with a wide assortment of dangerous and, even deadly, distractions. Every day, we face circumstances, situations, and even individuals that can easily distract us from what really matters in life. And before we realize it, we can find ourselves on the wrong path and headed in the wrong direction.

There are fires to put out, problems to handle. difficult people to deal with, deals to close, opportunities to take advantage of, and a myriad of other things, both large and small, that can get our eye off of the prize. We can easily lose focus. We can become distracted and even disoriented, losing touch with what really matters. So, Solomon warns us to keep our eyes straight ahead. He tells us to not lose focus and allow ourselves to get distracted by all that life has to offer.

Look straight ahead,
    and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
    stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked;
    keep your feet from following evil. – Proverbs 4:25-27 NLT

And he is speaking from experience. Remember, he was the wisest and wealthiest king that the nation of Israel ever knew. Yet, consider how he describes his own experience with a loss of focus.

1 I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NLT

Wow! Talk about distractions. Pleasure, wine, palaces, vineyards, gardens, parks, reservoirs, slaves, flocks, silver, gold, singers – but it was all like chasing the wind. Fleeting, ephemeral, meaningless and, ultimately, unfulfilling. Solomon had allowed himself to look in the wrong places for what he hoped would be the right solution to his problem. Instead of keeping his eyes focused on God, he got sidetracked and, ultimately, sidelined. And Solomon’s lack of focus wasn’t just a short-lived event, but a lifelong obsession that cost him dearly. Take a look at this recap of the last days of his life.

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 NLT

Solomon didn’t listen to his own advice. He refused his own counsel. He failed to look straight ahead and keep his eyes fixed on the Lord. He strayed off the straight path and found himself wandering around in the high weeds along the road of life. And the same thing can happen to us as believers. We too can lose our focus and become distracted by the cares and comforts of life. We can allow the things of this world to entice and entrap us, leaving us ineffective and a far cry from the victorious conquerors God intended for us to be.

So, Solomon warns us to maintain our focus. He encourages us to keep our eyes on the prize. “Don’t let God out of your sights” he pleads. And for Christ-followers that translates into making our pursuit of Christ our highest priority and greatest joy, because nothing else matters in this life or for eternity.

The author of the book of Hebrews provides us with advice that mirrors that of Solomon. He calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus and walk the same path that He walked.

…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. – Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. – Hebrews 12:10 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.

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

 

How Many Righteous Does it Take to Save the World?

22 So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

27 Abraham answered and said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. Genesis 18:22-33 ESV

As Abraham prepared to say goodbye to his divine visitors, two of them made their way to the city of Sodom, while one stayed behind. And Moses indicates that the one guest who stayed behind was actually Yahweh Himself, in human form. Abraham found himself standing face to face with God Almighty, and he decided to take full advantage of this unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The two angels who had left were headed to Sodom, and Abraham knew the purpose of their mission. God had make it perfectly clear.

So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 NLT

It seems highly likely that Abraham was well aware of the goings on in Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had a well-deserved reputation for being “dens of iniquity.” So, he was had little doubt that the two angels were going to find ample evidence of wickedness and full justification for God’s judgment. But Abraham had a problem. His nephew Lot was a resident of Sodom.

This passage reveals a lot about Abraham’s concept of God. He understood God to be holy, just, and righteous. He viewed Him as a just judge who sits in judgment over the affairs of men.

“Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” – Genesis 18:25 NLT

And Abraham also knew that mankind was made of two basic groups of people: The godly and the ungodly. Or, as he put it, the righteous and the wicked.

Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked?” – Genesis 18:23 NLT

Though by this time, the world consisted of a variety of diverse ethnic-based cultures and people groups, there were really only two categories of humanity: Those who believed in God and those who did not. The righteous (צַדִּיקṣadîq) were the just and lawful, the ones who lived in keeping with the will of God. They were considered Yahweh worshipers. We first learn of them in Genesis 3, when Eve gave birth to a son who would serve as a replacement for Abel, who had been murdered by his brother, Cain. Moses records, “When Seth grew up, he had a son and named him Enosh. At that time people first began to worship the Lord by name” (Genesis 3:26 NLT). Through the line of Seth came a group of people who would call upon the name of the Lord. The apostle Paul explains that ,because God’s “eternal power and divine nature” had been made visible through His creation (Romans 1:20 NLT), mankind had no excuse for failing to recognize and reverence their Creator. But Paul goes on to state that, despite their recognition of God presence, they chose to withhold their worship of Him. 

…they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

So, by the time this event takes place in the life of Abraham, there were those who considered themselves Yahweh worshipers, and there were those who had chosen to turn their back on Him. They were the righteous because they were aligned with the “right God.” This does not mean that their behavior was pure and sinless. The apostle Paul would later state that “No one is righteous— not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). And his less-from-flattering evaluation was based on the Old Testament Scriptures.

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

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one! – Psalm 14:1-3 NLT

So, when Abraham differentiates between the righteous and the wicked (רָשָׁעrāšāʿ), he is really acknowledging that there are two kinds of people: The innocent and the guilty. And he is concerned that, in His determination to punish the guilty living in Sodom and Gomorrah, God is going to inadvertently take the life of Lot.

Of course, it is easy to question Abraham’s assessment of his prodigal nephew. After all, Lot is the one who made the fateful decision to trade in his tent in the Jordan Valley for the comforts and conveniences of Sodom. And, in doing so, he exposed his entire family to the wickedness that marked this godless community. Shouldn’t he be held responsible for his poor judgment and the unwise stewardship of his family?

And yet, the apostle Peter provides a rather surprising revelation concerning Lot.

God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But 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. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day. – 2 Peter 2:6-8 NLT

Peter is not suggesting that God saved Lot because he was a sinless and perfectly blameless man. No, he is differentiating between the “ungodly people” of Sodom and the “godly” or Yahweh-worshiping Lot. It was Lot’s relationship with Yahweh that formed the basis of his salvation.

Abraham wants to know if God is going to spare the innocent or allow them to die along with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah. In doing what was just – punish the wicked – will God end up doing what was unjust – destroy the innocent? And to drive home his point, Abraham puts a number to his question.

Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? – Genesis 18:24 NLT

There is no way to determine how many people lived in the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it is safe to say that 50 people would have made up a small percentage of their overall populations. Abraham wanted to know if there were as few as 50 innocent people in Sodom, would God spare the city? Notice that Abraham doesn’t ask whether God would save the 50. For some reason, he expected God to spare the guilty for the sake of the innocent. In his mind, the presence of even as few as 50 innocent people would justify the preservation of town’s entire population.  He is not denying the fact that the wicked deserve what’s coming to them, but he is questioning the potential destruction of those who are undeserving.

This passage has always fascinated me. I have wrestled with the motivation behind Abraham’s repeated requests, and I have wondered why God was willing to play this ridiculous game of “What if…?” But there is something very significant going on here, and the key to understanding it begins in verse 19. Consider what the Lord said to the two angels.

“I have singled him [Abraham] out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” – Genesis 18:19 NLT

God had set apart Abraham and his descendants for a special purpose. They were to be His chosen people, and were expected to live distinctively different lives than all the other nations on earth. But at this point in the story, Abraham’s family was small in number. He had one son, Ishmael, born to him through his wife’s handmaid, Hagar. He had male and female servants. But compared to all the other people groups on earth, Abraham’s clan was quite small and insignificant.

Now, consider what must have been going through Abraham’s mind. As he thought about Sodom and the pending judgment of God, he couldn’t help but think about the insignificant, yet innocent family of Lot. And it seems highly likely that Abraham began to ponder his own family’s status as the innocent few living among the guilty masses. If God was willing to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, what would keep Him from wiping out the rest of Canaan and its godless inhabitants? Abraham wanted to know if God was going to spare the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah so that a righteous remnant might be spared.

Abraham would have been well aware of the flood story. And while he would have known about God’s promise to never destroy the earth by flood again, he would have understood that this left God a lot of other options for bringing judgment against the wicked. So, this led Abraham to question just how few of the “righteous” it would take to prevent God from wiping out humanity again. And he used Sodom as a case study.

But notice how Abraham keeps moving the goal post. He starts out with a quantity of 50 and then slowly works his way down. And notice that each time, as Abraham lowers the number, God continues to assure Abraham that He will spare the city.

“If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” – Genesis 18:26 NLT

He will spare the city, including all the wicked within it – all for the sake of 50 righteous people. But, hedging his bets, Abraham reduces the number from 50 to 45, from 45 to 40, from 40 to 30, and then, ultimately, all the way down to 10. And, once again, God confirms His commitment.

I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.” – Genesis 18:32 NLT

Again, Abraham’s emphasis is on the city itself. He wants to know how many righteous it will take to save the city. And what appears to be driving his line of thinking is his awareness that the world in which he was living was growing increasingly wicked while the size of his family remained remarkably small. Abraham knew the story of Noah and would have recalled that he too had been a righteous man.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 ESV

And yet, despite that fact, God had ended up destroying the entire earth, sparing only Noah and his family. It seems that Abraham feared this happening again. Would he, like Noah, be forced to begin again? Or would the presence of a faithful few spare the earth from judgment?

As this story unfolds, it will become clear that there were far fewer innocents in the city of Sodom than Abraham could have known. Things were far worse than he thought possible.

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.

The Power of God

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him. 40 And I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astonished at the majesty of God. – Luke 9:37-43 ESV

Just one day after the scene of Jesus’ spectacular transfiguration on the mountaintop, it was back to business as usual for the disciples. Peter, James, and John had been given the unique opportunity of watching the glorified Jesus having an intimate discussion with the long-dead patriarchs, Moses and Elijah. Still on an emotional high from their experience, the three disciples must have been disappointed to find the ever-present throng of people who had gathered to see Jesus. They had probably seen the transfiguration as a sign that Jesus was about to establish His messianic kingdom. But now it appeared that nothing had changed.  They were greeted by a scene of chaos and confusion. There was a large crowd encircling the other nine disciples, who were in a heated argument with the scribes (Mark 9:14). But as soon as Jesus arrived on the scene, He became the focus of attention, drawing the crowds like moths to a flame.

Like a father who arrives home to find his children in an unexpected predicament, Jesus attempts to discern the cause of the trouble. And it doesn’t take Him long to discover that the conflict involves His disciples and another man in the crowd. The rest of the people were like rubberneckers at an accident, drawn by the spectacle of it all and curious to see what was going to happen next.

When Jesus demanded to know the cause of the argument taking place, a father in the crowd spoke up.

Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. – Luke 9:38-39 NLT

This man had come expecting to find Jesus but instead, he had encountered the nine disciples whom Jesus had left behind. In his account of this event, Matthew describes the man as kneeling at the feet of Jesus. His actions reveal his high regard for Jesus and his belief that Jesus was capable of assisting him with his need. He had brought his son for healing but when he had discovered Jesus to be gone, he had turned to the disciples for help.

I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it. – Luke 9:40 NLT

Disappointed by his failure to find Jesus, the anxious father had turned to the disciples for help. And it seems clear from the text that these men had made a valiant effort to cast the demon from the man’s son but with no success. What makes their failure so significant is that Jesus had given all of the disciples the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). And they had successfully proven their possession of that authority when Jesus had sent them out in pairs to preach, teach, and heal. Mark reports that “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV).

And yet, on this occasion, their efforts had come up short. The argument that had ensued must have begun when the disciples started making excuses for their failed attempts at exorcising the demon. Perhaps they began to question whether this man or his son had broken a particular Mosaic law and this violation had resulted in the boy’s condition. They were obviously frustrated at their inability to exercise their authority over the demon and were trying to figure out what was standing in their way. When all the dust had settled, they even asked Jesus, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?” (Mark 9:28 NLT).

The scribes may have been dragged into the argument in order to explain the Mosaic Law and to give their opinions on the boy’s condition and the demon’s persistent power over him. The whole scene had quickly devolved into a shouting match, with each side pointing fingers at the other. And all the while, the boy remained demon-possessed.

Into this storm of confusion and chaos, entered the only one who could bring peace and calm. Jesus, disappointed at the sordid scene taking place in front of Him, declared His frustration.

You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you? – Luke 9:41 NLT

To fully appreciate Jesus’ words, one must recall the transfiguration He had just experienced on the mountain top. For a brief moment in time, Jesus had been transformed into His future, glorified state, and had been joined by Moses and Elijah, two of the great patriarchs of the Hebrew people. The three of them had discussed His coming “exodus” or departure from this life. It had all been a much-needed reminder that His days on this earth were coming to a close and He would soon be returning to His Father’s side. But upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus had encountered a scene of faithlessness and spiritual apostasy.

This recalls a similar scene that took place hundreds of years earlier. Moses, the great deliverer of the Hebrew people, had just spent 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai. He had enjoyed intimate communion with God and had received the Ten Commandments from the Almighty’s hand. But when He had descended from the mountain, he found the people of Israel worshiping before a false god. He had returned to a scene of chaos and confusion prompted by the faithlessness of the people of God.

Upon His descent from the mountain, Jesus was forced to look upon a similar scene where faith was in short supply and the enemy was having his way among the people of God. The disciples’ inability to cast out the demon had left the boy still possessed and persecuted. But even more importantly, their failure of faith had left the people in a state of doubt and uncertainty.

But Jesus stepped into the darkness of the moment and focused His full attention on the state of the boy. The father provided Jesus with a blow-by-blow description of his son’s condition, explaining in great detail how relentlessly the demon had tormented his child (Mark 9:21-22). And you can sense his growing state of desperation as he begs Jesus for help.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” – Mark 9:22 ESV

At this point, even the father is unsure whether Jesus can do anything about his son’s condition. He is losing hope. But Jesus gently rebukes the man’s timid and half-hearted expression of faith, stating, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (MRK 9:23 ESV). Jesus seems to be telling the man that it is not so much a matter of if He can heal the boy, but if He will. This was less an indictment of the man’s faith as it was an exposure of his lack of understanding of who Jesus was.

The father, anxious to see his son healed, cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). He desperately wanted to believe that Jesus could heal his son, but he had seen the disciples try and fail. He asked Jesus to remove any and all doubts by casting the demon from his son. And Jesus did just as the man wished. He addressed the demon directly, commanding it to leave the boy and to never return.

“You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” – Mark 9:25 ESV

And the demon obeyed, convulsing the boy one last time and leaving him in a catatonic state that made it appear as if he was dead. But Jesus raised the child up, revealing him to be fully restored to health.

This entire scene had been a demonstration of faith. But the focus was not on the faith of the father. Jesus was exposing the faithlessness of His disciples. Matthew records that after Jesus had exorcised the demon and the disciples had asked why they had been unsuccessful, He had responded, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 ESV).

Remember, Jesus had told the man, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The emphasis was on His own faith, not that of the father. Jesus fully believed He had the power and authority to cast out the demon, and He proved it by doing so. He knew who He was and what He was capable of accomplishing with the power He had been given by God. But the disciples were another matter. Their belief had proven insufficient. But it was not the amount of their faith that was the problem. It was their inability to understand the true source of their power. According to Jesus, even the smallest portion of faith in the full power of God could “move mountains.”

Their ability to cast out demons did not reside in themselves. It was not some inherent power they possessed but it was meted out to them by God. That is why Jesus told them that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29 ESV). They had failed to understand that their earlier experience of casting out demons had been authorized by Jesus and made possible by God’s power, not their own. But they had somehow believed that they were in personal possession of that power. They had wrongly assumed that it had become permanently resident within them.

In trying to cast out the demon, they had put their faith in themselves. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the disciples had ended up worshiping a false god: Themselves. They thought they were the possessors of power, but Jesus reminded them that even the smallest of faith placed in the power of God could produce the greatest of miracles. Jesus believed He had authority over the demon because He believed He had the power and authority of God at His disposal. His life was living proof that “All things are possible for one who believes.”

And Luke concludes that everyone who witnessed this scene was “astonished at the mighty power of God” (Luke 9:43 NET). Jesus had full faith and confidence in the power given to Him by God the Father, and He had demonstrated that faith by casting out the demon. And even those in the crowd had to recognize that what they had witnessed was the power of God. There was no other explanation. 

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

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

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

A Difficult Assignment

1 The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.  When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” Hosea 1:1-2 ESV

We know from the opening lines of this book that Hosea was a prophet whose God-ordained ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah. During that same period of time, Jeroboam II ruled as the king of the ten northern tribes, known as the nation of Israel. King Uzziah’s reign began in 792 B.C. and King Hezekiah’s reign ended in 686 B.C.. That’s a period of 106 years. According to 2 Kings 14, Jeroboam II reigned 41 years over Israel. Many scholars believe that Hosea’s prophetic ministry lasted some 45 years and extended beyond the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.. So, he was well-acquainted with each of these men.

Hosea was a contemporary of Jonah and Amos and, like them, he was called by God to prophesy to the northern kingdom. The 8th-Century B.C. was a time of prosperity and relative peace for both the northern and southern kingdoms. Both nations experienced tremendous growth and were able to expand their territorial boundaries. But, for the most part, both kingdoms were guilty of apostasy and idolatry during those years. Yet, we’re told that hree of the kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah) “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3, 34; 18:3 ESV). Only Ahaz proved to be a wicked king who “walked in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kings 16:3 ESV). In other words, he promoted the worship of false gods and encouraged the people to turn their backs on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But even the efforts of the three “good” kings did little to curtail the downward spiritual spiral taking place in Judah.

But Hosea was not called to prophesy to the southern kingdom. His ministry would be to the ten northern tribes, who were known for their persistent and unrelenting rebellion against God. In the northern kingdom, there was a long line of godless kings who followed Jeroboam II. These included Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah. And while these five men are not mentioned in the opening verses of Hosea’s book, it is likely that Hosea’s prophetic ministry took place during the reigns of a few of them. So, why are they left out? It’s most likely due to the fact that their reigns were relatively short-lived and were marked by blatant apostasy. It is said of each of them, that they “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (2 Kings 15:4 ESV). They willingly continued the wicked and idolatrous ways of their predecessor.

We know very little about this man named Hosea. All we’re told is that he was “the son of Beeri” (Hosea 1:1 ESV). We have no idea where he was from or how old he was. But the text makes one thing perfectly clear:  This relatively unknown prophet received a rather bizarre assignment from God.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.”  – Hosea 1:2 NLT

Let that sink in for a minute. The holy and righteous God of the universe is commanding His prophet to marry “a wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2 ESV). The Hebrew word is זנונים (zᵊnûnîm), which can be translated as “adultery, fornication, or prostitution.” Everything about this command should raise red flags. Why would a holy God command His spokesman to do such a thing? There are those who believe that God was not telling Hosea to commit a sin by marrying a known prostitute, Instead, they believe God was simply using His omniscience to foretell what would happen after Hosea had married his wife. But there is nothing in the text that supports such a conclusion. It seems rather clear that God told His hand-picked prophet to “take” (lāqaḥ) a prostitute to be his wife. And that word conveys the idea of taking in marriage. It can also mean “to buy” or “to acquire.” This was a case of a good wife gone bad. God was commanding Hosea to take for himself a wife who had a reputation for unfaithfulness.

What makes this command even more disconcerting was that this woman was well-known within the community. So, his marriage to her would have raised eyebrows and loosened tongues. Poor Hosea would have been the talk of the town. But God had a very good reason for giving His prophet to this very awkward and humbling command. It was intended to provide a powerful and visual lesson to the disobedient people of Israel. They too were guilty of adultery, but theirs was of a spiritual nature. And, like the prostitute Hosea would marry, Israel had a well-known and unflattering reputation for unfaithfulness.

And the one who knew their reputation best was the one who had chosen them in the first place. In fact, long before the people of Israel were a nation, God had chosen a man named Abram, who lived in the land of the Chaldeans, beyond the Euphrates River.

“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods.” – Joshua 24:2 NLT

Abram was not a God-worshiper. He was a pagan idolater, but God chose Him and promised to make of him a great nation.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” – Genesis 12:1-2 NLT

And God chose to fulfill that promise by allowing Abram’s descendants to seek relief from a famine in the land of Canaan by moving to Egypt. They would end up staying in Egypt for more than 400 years and, during that time, they would grow to number in the millions. But they would also end up the slaves of the Egyptians. And during their tenure their, they would end up worshiping the gods of their masters. Joshua makes that point clear when he calls on the people of Israel to serve and fear the Lord.

“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone…” – Joshua 24:14 NLT

Even after God had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the land of Canaan, they proved to be idolatrous and unfaithful. They reverted to their old, idolatrous ways.

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” – Exodus 32:7-8 NLT

So, when God commanded Hosea to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom” (Hosea 1:2 ESV), it was intended to demonstrate exactly what He had done with the people of Israel. He had chosen them when they were idol worshipers. And even after He had introduced Himself to Abram, the descendants of Abram proved to be less-than-faithful to their new God. During their four centuries in Egypt, they forgot all about Him. And even as He led them to the land of promise, they attempted to replace Him with a god of their own choosing. The apostasy of Israel under the reign of Jeroboam II was nothing new. They had a well-deserved reputation as spiritual adulterers, selling themselves to the highest bidder and offering their affections to any god that came along.

But what makes God’s command to difficult to get our brains around is that He ordered Hosea to raise a family with this adulterous and unfaithful woman.

“Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution.” – Hosea 1:2 NLT

Yet, once again, God was simply providing a visual illustration of the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. They too had born children “conceived in prostitution.” Each of the kings of Israel had been the byproduct of their own ungodly parents and the inheritors of the godless kingdom bequeathed to them by their royal predecessor. Poor Hosea was being asked by God to use his own life and marriage as a real-life parable that would put the sins of Israel on display for all to see.

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

They Believed God

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:4-5 ESV

Jonah arose and went to Nineveh. Those six simple words would have hit the author’s Jewish audience like a brick. The thought of the lone prophet of God entering the gates of the infamous city would have created in them a sense of fear and foreboding. The Assyrians had a well-deserved reputation for immorality, idolatry, and wanton cruelty. Their empire-building aspirations had been marked by incessant conquest and marred by violent savagery. During the ninth century to the end of the seventh century BC, they were an unstoppable military juggernaut that used the torture and executions of its conquered enemies as a powerful public relations tool. They eagerly promoted this less-than-flattering aspect of their success to create a sense of fear and subjugation among those nations that remained yet unconquered.

One of their kings, Ashurnashirpal II, referred to himself as the “trampler of all enemies…who defeated all his enemies [and] hung the corpses of his enemies on posts” (Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Part 2: From Tiglath-pileser I to Ashuer-nasir-apli II, Wiesbadan, Term.: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976, p. 165). He proudly chronicles his treatment of the nobles of one city that had refused to surrender.

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile…I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls” (Grayson, p.124).

It was not uncommon for the Assyrians to behead and dismember their conquered foes. One particularly gruesome form of torture was their impaling of prisoners on wooden stakes. These gory displays were intended to be a macabre form of outdoor advertising, informing the remaining citizens of a conquered city to cooperate or face a similar fate.

But the Assyrians were more than cruel. They were idolatrous and immoral. And as the capital city of this godless nation, Nineveh would have been the epicenter of Assyrian power and perversion. The author describes Nineveh as “an exceedingly great city” (Jonah 3:3 ESV). In Hebrew, the phrase actually says, “a great city even in God’s sight.” The word translated as “exceedingly” in the ESV is actually ‘ĕlōhîm, which was most commonly used to refer to a god or divine being. Throughout the book of Jonah, the author substitutes the name ‘ĕlōhîm for Yahweh when speaking of God in association with the Gentiles. So, when he describes Nineveh as “great,” he is essentially saying that “Nineveh was a great metropolis belonging to God.” Another interpretation of this enigmatic phrase is “an important city for God’s purposes.”

It seems that the author wants us to know that Nineveh’s greatness has been sovereignly ordained. It is an allusion to God’s divine role in Assyria’s rapid rise to power and fame. They are divinely appointed instruments in His hands, created to accomplish His coming judgment against the rebellious people of Israel. And if this book was written after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC, then its readers would have clearly understood the author’s reference to Nineveh as belonging to God.

The greatness of Nineveh had been God’s doing. And this brings to mind another powerful and pride-filled king whom God would raise up as His instrument of judgment against the rebellious southern kingdom of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar would eventually rise to power and use his Babylonian army to conquer the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC. But this very same king would end up taking credit for his success. At one point, he would stand on the balcony of his palace, pridefully surveying the work of his hands.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

But Nebuchadnezzar would learn an important, if not humbling, lesson. God told the arrogant king that he was about to lose his mind and his kingdom. He would suffer a sudden bout of insanity and be forced to live like a wild animal in the wilderness. And the prophet Daniel told the king that his condition would last “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32 ESV).

Nineveh and Babylon were “great” cities ruled over by “great” kings. But their domains and dominion were the sovereign work of God. And, whether he realized it or not, as Jonah walked through the gates of the “great” city of Nineveh, he wasn’t entering into enemy territory. He was walking into the realm of Yahweh. Nineveh did not belong to Sennacherib any more than Babylon belonged to Nebuchadnezzar. And while Ishtar was the primary god worshiped by the Ninevites, Yahweh was the one true God of the universe.

Just imagine this lone prophet of God walking through the streets of this massive metropolis declaring, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 ESV). That took courage. He was delivering a divine ultimatum to the citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. Jonah’s little encounter with the fish had made a powerful impression. He was motivated and took to his task with a renewed sense of vigor. But despite his zeal and enthusiasm, it seems that Jonah was fixated on one thing: The destruction of Nineveh. The author only records one message coming from the lips of the prophet: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And Jonah was probably counting the days. He was hoping and praying that God would rain down judgment upon the wicked people of Nineveh.

Jonah had been given a message from God, but it seems that he might have misunderstood what God had in mind. The key to understanding his confusion is found in the Hebrew word translated as “overthrown.” While that is an acceptable meaning of the word hāp̄aḵ, it is more often translated as “turn” in the Hebrew scriptures. It conveys the idea of turning about or turning back. Or to put it another way, it can refer to conversion. What God was telling Jonah was that within 40 days, the people of Nineveh would turn to Him. But Jonah heard what he wanted to hear. To him, the meaning of God’s message was clear: The Ninevites were about to face the wrath of Yahweh. So, he eagerly and enthusiastically walked the streets of Nineveh, delivering God’s divine ultimatum.

But he was in for a shock. His message did get a reaction, but not the one he had been expecting. It is likely that Jonah had fully expected to be arrested and executed for his efforts. After all, he had spent days walking through the capital city declaring its pending destruction. It was only a matter of time before his message was conveyed to the authorities and his prophetic career came to an abrupt and less-than-pleasant end.

Yet, the author states, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5 ESV). What’s fascinating to consider is that nowhere in Jonah’s message does he seem to share the nature of their crime or the form of their pending punishment. There’s no indication that he provided them with a way to avert their “overthrow.” And the most glaring omission is his failure to mention the name of Yahweh. And yet, the people “believed God (ĕlōhîm).” Whether or not Jonah told them about God didn’t seem to matter. The Ninevites inherently understood that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was sending them a message. And they heard that message and believed.

They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. – Jonah 3:5 ESV

We can only imagine how this sudden and surprising reaction impacted Jonah. He must have been beside himself with frustration and anger. This was exactly what he feared would happen, and it’s what had motivated him to run away in the first place. He longed for judgment against his enemies but instead, God had shown grace, mercy, and love. Jonah had been hoping for their overthrow but, instead, God orchestrated their conversion. They believed and repented. And they exhibited their change of heart by entering a state of mourning. They knew they were guilty and deserving of God’s judgment, but He had graciously provided them with an opportunity to turn to Him.

Once again, this story would have conveyed a powerful and convicting message to its original readers. The Jews living in exile in Assyria would have understood that they were being exposed for their own stubbornness and refusal to turn to Him. God had given them ample opportunities to hear His calls of repentance and respond in humility and belief. But they had refused – time and time again. And yet, here were the pagan Ninevites, hearing the message of God’s prophet for the very first time and responding in belief and humble repentance. Centuries later, Jesus recognized the underlying message found in the book of Jonah and conveyed it to His Jewish audience.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Luke 11:32 ESV

Even in 1st-Century Israel, the people of God remained just as obstinate and unwilling to hear God’s message of repentance. Jesus, the greater Jonah, had appeared, declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). But as the apostle John points out, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They refused to believe His message and rejected His offer of salvation. But John goes on to write, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).

Jesus’ message of the Kingdom would be heard by Gentiles and they would believe. But the majority of His Jewish brothers and sisters would continue to reject His offer and remain stubbornly unwilling to repent and believe.

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 Ahead

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV

If Paul’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage Timothy, this section seems to veer wildly off course. In it, Paul shares a rather bleak and pessimistic view of the conditions Timothy can expect to find in the days ahead. Essentially, he is warning his young friend that things are going to get worse before they get better. In his efforts to spread the gospel and instruct the saints, Timothy should not expect the world to be transformed into heaven on earth.

With his use of the term, “last days,” Paul is referring to the time period that began with the birth of the church at Pentecost and will continue until the Lord returns for His bride at the Rapture. In his first letter, Paul had already warned Timothy to expect an increase in apostasy and demonic activity.

Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some will turn away from the true faith; they will follow deceptive spirits and teachings that come from demons. These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. – 1 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT

And  Paul was not alone in his gloomy assessment of the final days. The apostle Peter also shared a rather dismal outlook for the future.

Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?” – 2 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

And Jude echoed the words of the apostles, warning his readers to expect the last days to be marked by an increase in “scoffers” – those who stand opposed to Christ, His followers, the things of God, and the truth of the gospel.

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them. – Jude 17-19 NLT

If Timothy was successful in helping believers to live lives that were set apart from the world, they would act as bright lights in the darkness, exposing the sinfulness of those around them and accentuating the glaring difference between holiness and wickedness.

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:11-14 NLT

Timothy could expect difficult days ahead because of the increasingly wicked context in which he would carry out his ministry. He would find himself sharing the good news of the gospel in a world filled with evil people with bad motives. And Paul shares a long and far-from-flattering description of what Timothy can expect to encounter in these last days.

…people will love only themselves and their money – Vs. 2

People will be plagued by selfishness and self-centeredness. They will be narcissistic and self-consumed, refusing to love others and spending all their time and energies on loving themselves. And they will use money as a means to gratify their own desires. They will chase the almighty dollar in an attempt to satisfy their insatiable appetite for pleasure, possessions, power, and prominence.

They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God – Vs. 2

Their growing affluence will make them self-sufficient and arrogant, as they glory in their own greatness. Their self-made success will cause them to dismiss the very idea of a sovereign God of the universe. They will see themselves as the masters of their own fates and the captains of their souls. Mankind will inculcate the values expressed by Napoleon Hill in his classic work, Think and Grow Rich.

“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.” – Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich (1937)

King David wrote a psalm that describes the very nature of these kinds of people.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

They are corrupt; their acts are vile. There is no one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if any understand, if any seek God.

All have turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. – Psalm 14:1-3 BSB

Money will become a substitute for God, serving as the primary source of comfort, provision, and purpose for life.

And Paul goes on, describing the world’s inhabitants as “disobedient to their parents” (2 Timothy 3:2 NLT). Each of these descriptions stands in stark contrast to the Ten Commandments. Rather than honoring their fathers and mothers, people will treat them with disdain by disregarding their God-given authority.

Ingratitude will become commonplace. And this ungratefulness will be primarily directed at God. A spirit of dissatisfaction fueled by unmet expectations will run rampant. People will never be happy with all that they have and will refuse to give thanks to God for all that He has done. Paul expressed this problem in his letter to the church in Rome.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. – Romans 1:21 NLT

And it gets worse.

They will consider nothing sacred – Vs 2

Paul used one Greek word to describe these individuals: anosios, and it means unholy or wicked. Their lives will be marked by a complete disregard for all that God has deemed holy. While Christ-followers are called to live set-apart lives, the rest of humanity will share the common distinction of being unholy because they will not belong to God. They will stand in rebellion against Him.

And their antipathy toward God will reveal itself in a range of godless behaviors that expose the destructive nature of their chosen lifestyle.

…unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. – 2 Timothy 3:3-4 NET

The last days will be marked by love of self and hatred of others. This narcissistic, self-consumed lifestyle will have corporate consequences. No one will truly care for anyone other than themselves. The world will become an increasingly selfish place where everyone looks out for their own self-interests, at the expense of all others. It will be every man for himself. Disunity, discord, dissension, and division will be the order of the day. Everyone will care only for themselves, a trait Paul describes as self-love that is motivated by self-pleasure.

If it feels good, do it. That will be the mantra of the day. And the love of pleasure will replace the love of God. The quest to fulfill sinful desires will overwhelm any sense of living in obedience to the will of God. But Paul warns Timothy that this will not be an irreligious time. In fact, people will pursue all kinds of spirituality in the form of a wide assortment of man-made religions. But they will all prove unprofitable because they will lack any transforming power. Paul states that people “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:6 NLT).

The pursuit of godliness apart from God is impossible. The desire for contentment, significance, and meaning in life can never be fulfilled apart from a relationship with God. Man’s tireless quest for pleasure at all costs will always fall short because true joy is unattainable without God. And a restored relationship with God is impossible apart from a belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ. So, as Timothy continued to do his work of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, he was to avoid all those who displayed a persistent and stubborn rejection of the truth. The self-righteous and falsely religious were not interested in what Timothy had to offer. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they viewed themselves as spiritually whole and in no need of a Savior. They pridefully viewed themselves as healthy individuals who did not require the services of the Great Physician.

But there would always be those who understood their need for healing. Timothy would always find that there were some who recognized their sickness and were unashamed to seek the help of the Savior. So, he was to keep on teaching, preaching, and proclaiming the good news of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

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

Disorderly Conduct

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ESV

After making a personal request for their prayers on his behalf and expressing his desire that their hearts be directed “to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV), Paul shifts into apostle mode. He has one last issue he must address with the church in Thessalonica and it involves disorderly conduct. The Greek word Paul used is ataktōs and it could be used to refer to a soldier who was marching “out of ranks,” or out of step with his fellow soldiers and therefore, violating established military protocol.

But the word was also used to describe anyone who deviated from the prescribed order or rule of society. This could include immoral behavior, but it could also refer to any actions that were out of step with the societal norms of a community or group. In this case, Paul feels compelled to address a particular ataktōs taking place within the Thessalonian church, and it involves a “brother who is walking in idleness” (2 Thessalonians 3: 6 ESV). It seems likely that Paul is not referring to a particular individual, but to the spirit of idleness that must have become prevalent in the church. And rather than addressing the guilty offenders, Paul focuses his attention on the rest of the members of the church. He commands them, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to avoid anyone who lives an undisciplined or disorderly life. Paul saw these people as a serious threat to the spiritual health of the body of Christ.

But why? What was it that these idle or undisciplined people were doing that was so dangerous that it required the rest of the church to avoid them like the plague? Part of the problem was that the actions of these people were “out of step” with the teachings of Paul and his companions. Paul accuses them of living their lives “not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV). The word “tradition” is paradosis in the Greek and means “to give up” or “give over.” Paul and his fellow missionaries had “given over” clear instructions regarding the gospel and the Christian life, by word of mouth and in writing. They had taught the Thessalonians how to conduct their lives as followers of Christ, and these idle individuals were out of step with that instruction. They had heard it but were refusing to conduct to their lives according to it.

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had not only taught them what to do, he had also modeled it in front of them.

For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NLT

With this statement, Paul seems to get to the heart of the matter. These idle members of the fellowship were freeloading off of the rest of the congregation, refusing to work, and expecting others to provide them with food to eat. They had become social parasites, depending upon the goodwill of their fellow church members, rather than using their God-given abilities to do their part. They were lazy. And Paul was not alone in his condemnation of such behavior. He was a student of the Hebrew Scriptures and knew what God’s Word had to say about the dangers of such a lifestyle.

Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin. – Ecclesiastes 4:5 NLT

The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. – Proverbs 12:24 ESV

Lazy people sleep soundly, but idleness leaves them hungry.– Proverbs 19:15 NLT

Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.– Proverbs 20:4 NLT

Paul understood that laziness was not just a personal problem. It was a drain on the community. But Paul was not suggesting that the church avoid the needs of the less fortunate or destitute. This was all about able-bodied individuals who were refusing to work with their hands and putting an unnecessary burden on the rest of the members of the faith community. As far as Paul was concerned, the idleness of these people was nothing less than godlessness, and according to the Scriptures, God has no intention of meeting the needs of the wicked.

The Lord will not let the godly go hungry, but he refuses to satisfy the craving of the wicked. Lazy people are soon poor – Proverbs 10:3-4 NLT

Even as a minister of the gospel, Paul had every right to expect and even demand payment for his services. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul had defended his right to compensation as a minister of the gospel.

Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals?Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves? What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? – 1 Corinthians 9:4, 6-7 NLT

Paul went on to accuse the Corinthians of having a double standard because they were caring for the needs of some ministers, but not those of he and Barnabas.

If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:12 NLT

For Paul, it was always about the integrity of the gospel message. He was not going to let anything stand in the way of spreading the good news concerning Jesus Christ. And he would rather pay his own way rather than run the risk of being accused of being in the ministry for personal gain.

And, he reminds the Thessalonians that when he was among them, he never accepted a meal without paying for it.

We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT

He certainly had a right to demand payment for services rendered, but he had refused to do so. And his example was meant to be followed. So, there was no excuse for the church to tolerate the damaging influence of the willingly idle and disorderly. In fact, when Paul had been in Thessalonica, he had warned them not to provide food for those who refused to work.

…we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT

The body of Christ is meant to be an organism, a living community of like-minded individuals who each contribute to the well-being of the whole. There is no place for laziness or self-centeredness. And Paul wrote often about this communal aspect of the body of Christ, encouraging believers to do their God-given part to contribute to the spiritual and physical well-being of the whole faith community.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:4-5 NLT

And Paul made it clear that God placed every member in the body with a particular gift designed to minister to the rest of the members.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8 NLT

As Paul told the believers in Corinth, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). So, there was no place for idleness or laziness in the body of Christ. These lazy, self-absorbed individuals were living out of step with God’s plans for the church. Rather than acting as Spirit-empowered contributors to the flock, they were acting as self-centered drains on the limited resources and patience of their fellow members. And Paul would not allow it to continue.

This was not new information for the Thessalonians. They were not hearing this teaching for the first time. Paul had addressed the issue of diligence and hard work in his first letter to them.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. – 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NLT

There is no place for disorderly conduct within the body of Christ. And those who are guilty of it should be treated as social pariahs. Because the danger they pose to the faith community is real and the discredit their actions bring to the cause of Christ is undeniable. The church has no place for the lazy and disorderly. While the needy and lost are always welcome, those who come to faith in Christ but who refuse to live in keeping with the teachings of Christ are to be avoided at all costs. Because not to do so could cause irreparable damage to the body of Christ and the integrity of the gospel.

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