No Peace

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one enters suit justly;
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs;
    they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
    men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
    and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
    no one who treads on them knows peace.
Isaiah 59:1-8 ESV

Judah’s sorry state of affairs was not an indictment against God’s power to save. He was fully capable of bringing them relief. After all, He was the very source of their current condition. It was God who had chosen to use the Assyrians as His instruments of judgment against His rebellious people. And He was the one who had warned that future judgment would come in the form of the Babylonians. The circumstances in which the people of Judah found themselves were, in a sense, self-inflicted. They had brought it on themselves because they had refused to listen to God’s calls to acknowledge their sin and return to Him. They had repeatedly stiff-armed God’s prophets, including Isaiah, rejecting their messages and stubbornly maintaining their love affair with false gods.

So, in this chapter, we see Isaiah delivering a message to his fellow Judahites that leaves them without excuse. He will not allow them to blame God. He refuses to let them cast God as the villain and themselves as the innocent victims. This was not a case of divine parental abuse or abandonment. They were the cause of their own pain and suffering. And Isaiah conveys that message in stark terms.

It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
    Because of your sins, he has turned away
    and will not listen anymore. – Isaiah 59:2 NLT

They had abandoned God. Not the other way around. In fact, God had patiently and persistently called on them to repent. He had rescued them time and time again from the consequences of their own sinfulness. He had lovingly disciplined them for their unfaithfulness, welcoming them back with open arms. But they had responded to His grace with ingratitude and continued infidelity. And the prophet Jeremiah describes their stubborn refusal to repent with a sense of shock and surprise.

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 ESV

That the people of Judah were guilty was beyond debate, and Isaiah reveals why. He provides a list of evidence that is both lengthy and appalling. It includes murder, depravity, lying, injustice, perjury, dishonesty, and violence. And these manifestations of their own wickedness were showing up in every area of their lives – from their homes to their courts of law. Iniquity was ubiquitous. And while not every member of their society was equally complicit, they all stood equally condemned. There was a corporate culpability shared by all, from the youngest to the oldest and the richest to the poorest. At some level, every single individual in their community stood before God as guilty, having committed their own fair share of sins against Him.

The list Isaiah shares is similiar to one that the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colossae. He reminded them that, even as Christians,  they needed to continue to purge their lives of those sins which mark the lives of each and every human being who walks this planet.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:5-6 ESV

Mankind, apart from help from God, is hopelessly addicted and attracted to the very things that bring the wrath of God. We can’t help it. And Paul warned the believers in Rome how a holy God must deal with those who continue to live lives of unholiness.

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

But not only does a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness bring the judgment of God, it breeds destruction. Isaiah describes the people of Judah as hatching adders’ eggs. Their evil actions were going to produce some seriously negative consequenes. And it doesn’t take a herpetologist to understand that hatching the eggs of a poisonous snake brings more of the same.

And Isaiah compares their sinful actions with the weaving of spider webs.  You can’t expect to produce clothes with that which is ephemeral and fragile. The life of ungodliness can produce nothing of lasting value. It may appear attractive but, in the end, it leaves you with nothing tangible or beneficial from all your effort.

Just how bad was it in Judah? Isaiah is unsparing in his assessment.

All their activity is filled with sin – Isaiah 59:6 NLT

Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

They think only about sinning… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

Not exactly a flattering picture. Their lives were inundated by sin and rebellion. It permeated their community. It influenced every facet of their corporate experience, from the halls of the king’s palace to the lowliest peasant’s hut. And, as a result, they were all experiencing the consequences that come from living in open rebellion against God and pursuing a way of life that is in direct violation to His call to holiness.

They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. – Isaiah 59:8 NLT

No peace. No joy. No justice. No righteousness. Without God, none of these things are achievable. You can’t walk away from Him and expect to find what only He can deliver. A life of sin is a dead end. It offers hope, fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. But it can’t deliver on its promise. Pursuing the false gods of this world may appear attractive, but they will never produce a single promise they offer. God was offering His people peace. They could be restored to a right relationship with Him and enjoy peace with the One who had made them. They could enjoy peace in their community as they allowed God to guide their actions and change their attitudes. But as long as they continued to refuse Him and choose their own paths, they would find themselves living in turmoil and in constant pursuit of the one thing for which all men long: Peace.

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

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No Peace For the Wicked

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
    they stand forth together.

14 “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
    Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him;
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16 Draw near to me, hear this:
    from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
    from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

17 Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
    who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
    and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
    or destroyed from before me.”

20 Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
    declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
    say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
    he made water flow for them from the rock;
    he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:12-22 ESV

That last line is a virtual promise from God and it is all-encompassing in its scope. As the book of Isaiah has made painfully clear, God was going to deal with the wickedness of His chosen people. He would no longer tolerate their blatant acts of spiritual infidelity and moral compromise. They had sinned against Him, and they were going to suffer the consequences. And God has revealed that His chosen method of punishment would be the Babylonians. Just as He had chosen Israel to be His prized possession, He had chosen Babylon to be His preferred means of punishment. He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to invade the land of Judah, destroying its cities and taking captive its people. Babylon’s victory over the people of Judah would be according to the will of God. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, God decreed that their rise to global dominance would be His doing.

“With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up.” – Jeremiah 27:5-7 NLT

But notice that God puts a time limit on Babylon’s rule. And it will be because they act wickedly, punishing the people of God disproportionately and wrongly taking credit for their success.

“I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” – Isaiah 47:6 ESV

They would let their many victories go to their heads and assume that they would remain in power forever. They would get cocky, claiming, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 48:8 ESV).

But as God has promised, “There is no peace for the wicked.” He would bring judgment against the Babylonians, and Jeremiah makes that fact plain.

“Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon.” – Jeremiah 27:7 NLT

And God has already decreed that His chosen instrument for bringing judgment on the Babylonians will be King Cyrus of the Persians.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me.” – Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5 ESV

God would punish wicked Judah by using the Babylonians. Then He would repay the Babylonians for the wickedness by using the Persians. And God would use Cyrus, the Persian king, to return the people of Judah to the land of promise.

And in verses 12-21 of Isaiah 48, God calls His people to recognize His hand in all of this. He has told them all that is going to happen, long before any of it has begun. He has predicted their fate, including their fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their eventual restoration to the land. And two times, God calls on the people of Judah to pay attention to what He is saying.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!” – Isaiah 48:12 ESV

“Assemble, all of you, and listen!” – Isaiah 48:14 ESV

Draw near to me, hear this…” – Isaiah 48:16 ESV

But the people of Judah suffered from a severe hearing problem. God even laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…” (Isaiah 48:18 ESV). If they would have listened to what He had said, obeying His commands and living in keeping with His divine decrees, things would have been markedly different. But listening proved difficult for them. And, through His prophets, God had continually called to them, begging for them to heed what He had to say.

“Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence?” – Jeremiah 5:21-22 NLT

The root of their problem was rebellion, fueled by a lack of fear of God.

“But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God.’” – Jeremiah 5:23-24 NLT

And God reminds the people of Judah that He has been there from the beginning. The one who created the world, had called them and made them His own. He had been beside them all along the way. He had spoken to them, provided for them, and guided and protected them. They had no reason to doubt His goodness or question His word, and now He was telling them that King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were coming. But He was also letting them know that He had plans for the Babylonians as well.

“I have said it: I am calling Cyrus!
    I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed. – Isaiah 48:15 ESV

God was going to punish Judah for their wickedness, but He was also going to redeem and restore them. And to make sure they understand the inevitability of His plan, He speaks of it in the past-tense, as if their exodus from Babylon has already taken place.

“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!
    Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message!
    Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants,
    the people of Israel.” – Isaiah 48:20 ESV

God’s word is irrefutable and unchangeable. His prophecies are not wishful thinking or some form of positive motivational, name-it-and-claim-it rhetoric. He is the God of the universe who is all-knowing and all-powerful. His word always comes to fruition. Which means, had the people of Judah done what He had said and lived in obedience to His commands, their “peace would have been like a river.” But, instead, they would learn the painful lesson that “there is no peace for the wicked.”

Taking God at His word is difficult. We are wired to doubt. Just as Eve allowed Satan to cast doubt on the word of God and cause her to disobey His command, we are prone to hear the promises of God and question their validity and credibility. Not only do we wonder whether God will do what He has said, we find ourselves questioning whether He can. And when we do, we fail to live in awe of the Lord our God.

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

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

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

The Destruction of the Destroyer.

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger;
    the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
    and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
    and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
But he does not so intend,
    and his heart does not so think;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
    and to cut off nations not a few;
for he says:
“Are not my commanders all kings?
Is not Calno like Carchemish?
    Is not Hamath like Arpad?
    Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
    whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
    as I have done to Samaria and her images?” 

12 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes. 13 For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
    and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I remove the boundaries of peoples,
    and plunder their treasures;
    like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.
14 My hand has found like a nest
    the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
    so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing
    or opened the mouth or chirped.”

15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
    or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
    or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord God of hosts
    will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors,
and under his glory a burning will be kindled,
    like the burning of fire.
17 The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame,
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day.
18 The glory of his forest and of his fruitful land
    the Lord will destroy, both soul and body,
    and it will be as when a sick man wastes away.
19 The remnant of the trees of his forest will be so few
    that a child can write them down. Isaiah 10:5-19 ESV

God’s ways are not our ways. His actions are not always understandable by us. In fact, there are times when, from our vantage point, the ways of God appear unjust or unfair. We can read many of the accounts recorded in Scripture and wonder how a loving God can act so harshly, even to His own people. When confronted with stories like the flood that wiped out an entire generation of people, we can end up questioning His goodness. And, of course, His command to the people of Israel to eliminate all the nations occupying the land of Canaan is particularly difficult for us to reconcile with our belief in an all-loving and merciful God.

And, as today’s passage so clearly portrays, there were times when God used the pagan nations to punish His chosen people, then turned around and punished the very ones He used for their actions. It sounds so capricious and temperamental. God comes across more as a tyrant than a loving and gracious sovereign. But our perspective is limited by our vantage point. We see things only from our earth-bound and man-focused point of view. So, we must be careful in judging God or indicting Him based on a limited understanding of His will or His ways. As Moses so eloquently and accurately stated:

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

In today’s passage, we find God describing the nation of Assyria as “the rod of my anger” and “a club to express my anger” (Isaiah 10:5 NLT). He will use them to punish Judah, His own chosen people, whom He describes as “a godless nation.” God will utilize Assyria like a workman uses a tool to accomplish a task. He will go on to compare Assyria to an ax or a saw, a rod or a wooden cane. These instruments are lifeless and incapable of accomplishing anything of significance apart from the one who picks them up and puts them to work according to his will.

But God makes it clear that the king of Assyria “will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way” (Isaiah 10:7 NLT). His own pride and arrogance will not allow him to see himself as an unwilling instrument in the hands of a sovereign God. From his perspective, his actions will be according to his own will. He will attack Judah because he wants to, not because God has sovereignly ordained it.

His plan is simply to destroy,
    to cut down nation after nation. – Isaiah 10:7 NLT

He will be doing what he wants to do, unaware that his actions are part of the sovereign will of God. In attacking Judah and Jerusalem, he will be doing what he has always done. He will be following a well-established strategy that had resulted in the defeats of other nations. He will not recognize the hand of God in this victory any more than he had in all the others. In fact, he arrogantly boasts:

So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods,
    just as we destroyed Samaria with hers. – Isaiah 10:11 NLT

Little did the king of Assyria know or understand that his coming victory over Judah would be God’s doing and not his own. His success would be God-ordained, not the result of his own strategic thinking or military might. But that will not be how he sees it.

“By my own powerful arm I have done this.
    With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
    and carried off their treasures.
    I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
I have robbed their nests of riches
    and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
    or utter a peep of protest.” – Isaiah 10:13-14 NLT

And yet, God makes it perfectly clear that, when the Assyrians have completed the task He has set out for them, He will turn His judgment against them. He will punish them for their role in the destruction of His people – even though He is the one who ordained it.

After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. – Isaiah 10:12 NLT

Yes, God would use Assyria to punish godless Judah, but their actions would not be against their will. The king of Assyria, like the people over whom he ruled, would be acting in keeping with his nature. He was proud and arrogant. He was power hungry and convinced of his own invincibility. And God would use the king of Assyria’s pride-filled ambition like a workman wielding a sharpened ax. But unlike a lifeless, inanimate ax, the king of Assyria would boast in his accomplishments, taking full credit for the destruction of Jerusalem. But God points out the absurdity of this kind of arrogance in the face of His sovereign will.

But can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it?
    Is the saw greater than the person who saws?
Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it?
    Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

And God goes on to describe the ramifications for Assyria’s part in the fall of Judah. God would punish them, not because they did exactly what He ordained them to do, but because they did it joyfully and with no recognition of His hand in it. They acted arrogantly and willingly in all that they did. So, He warns them that their punishment would be severe. He threatens them with a plague among their all-powerful troops. He predicts the destruction of their once-glorious army. As the Holy One and the Light of Israel, He would consume them as easily as fire destroys thorns and briers. The once great nation of Assyria would be destroyed in a single night.

The Lord will consume Assyria’s glory
    like a fire consumes a forest in a fruitful land;
    it will waste away like sick people in a plague.
Of all that glorious forest, only a few trees will survive—
    so few that a child could count them! – Isaiah 10:18-19 NLT

This pattern is repeated all throughout the Scriptures – all the way to the book of Revelation. God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment on the world, then cast him into hell for his efforts. In the end, God will unleash demonic hordes on humanity to torment and kill them. But, after their work is done, God will cast them and Satan into hell for all eternity.

We may not understand the ways of God. We may not even like the ways of God. But as God will point out much later on in the book of Isaiah:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

His ways are always right and just. His divine will is always perfect and His actions are never in error or motivated by injustice or unrighteousness. That may be difficult for us to comprehend, but our inability to understand God’s ways does not diminish God’s character. Our limited perspective may not allow us to fully grasp the ways of our unlimited, all-powerful God, but rather than question His goodness, we should find comfort in the fact that He is in complete control of any and all things.

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

Blind Guides.

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” – Matthew 15:1-20 ESV

Matthew now moves the scene from Jesus walking on water to Him walking the streets of Jerusalem, where He was confronted by a contingent of Pharisees and scribes. These self-righteous religious leaders had a bone to pick with Jesus, and were anxious to expose what they believed to be His blatant disregard for the tradition of the elders. This was a reference to the man-made rules and regulations established by men and found in the Mishnah. In this case, the Pharisees and scribes were wanting to know why the disciples of Jesus did not follow the regulations concerning ceremonial cleansing. This had nothing to do with personal hygiene, but was about cleansing from defilement, including that which resulted from contact with Gentiles.

These men were not accusing the disciples of violating the Mosaic law, but of failing to keep the rabbinical interpretations of the law. So, Jesus responds to them with a question of His own, asking them, “why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 ESV). This was a bold move on the part of Jesus, because it exposed the real issue at hand and blatantly accused these religious leaders of breaking the Mosaic law.

But before they could respond, Jesus provided proof for His accusation, explaining their tradition of korban. This was a form of offering that entailed the dedication of a gift to God that was to be offered at a later date. Think of it as a kind of tax-free savings plan. According to the tradition of the elders, someone could dedicate money or an item of value to God, but not be required to offer it immediately. The actual offering was postponed indefinitely, allowing the individual to continue to benefit from the item in the meantime. And Jesus gave an example of this interesting loophole that allowed someone to openly disregard God’s command to honor your father and mother.

This man-made rule allowed someone to circumvent their God-given responsibility to care for their aging parents by simply claiming that their resources had been dedicated to God. But all the while, they would retain full access to those resources. And Jesus exposes this clever plan for what it was: Hypocrisy and an open disregard for the law of God.

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” – Matthew 15:6 ESV

And Jesus used the words of God, found in the writings of Isaiah the prophet, to condemn them.

8 “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

These men were revered for their apparent righteousness. They were respected for their knowledge of and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Jesus exposed them as hypocrites. They were all about appearances. Their concern for what men thought about them took precedence over how God perceived them. And Jesus revealed that the real issue here had nothing to do with ceremonial cleansing, but defiled hearts.

“…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:11 ESV

While the Pharisees and scribes were concerned about defiling themselves by failing to properly following the prescribed forms of ritual purification, Jesus revealed that their problem was an internal one. And the religious leaders were fully aware of what Jesus was implying and offended by it. His disciples, somewhat naively asked Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12 ESV). Yes, He knew and that had been His intention all along.

According to Jesus, these men may have been religious leaders, but they had not been commissioned by God. They were self-appointed and little more than blind guides. In other words, they were worthless leaders. They had no idea where they were going and anyone who followed them would end up in a ditch. This would not be the last time Jesus attacked the hypocrisy of these men. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records even more scathing words from Jesus aimed at the Pharisees and scribes.

23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.– Matthew 23: 23-28 NLT

Peter, most likely speaking on behalf of all the disciples, asked Jesus to explain Himself. Peter felt like Jesus was using yet another parable and was anxious to understand what He meant. But Jesus, expressing surprise at their lack of understanding, explained, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). This was all about the condition of the heart, not the keeping of man-made rules. Ritual purification could do nothing to change the inner state of a man. Keeping rules regarding outward purity will not produce a clean heart. But a defiled heart will produce all kinds of unclean behavior. The religious leaders were focusing all their attention on the outside, but Jesus had come to renew the inside. He was offering true cleansing from sin that began with a new heart.

As will be the case from this point on, Jesus is attempting to teach His disciples some very important truths regarding righteousness. It begins in the heart. Our outward behavior cannot make us righteous before God, because He sees the true condition of our hearts. And His assessment is that the human heart is in bad shape.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 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

No man can make himself righteous before God through outward adherence to rules and regulations. Our good behavior, even on our best day, is viewed by God as tainted by sin.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

The problem with the Pharisees and scribes was that they were blind to their need for a Savior. They viewed themselves as right before God because they were religious about rule-keeping. They were ritually pure, but sadly, inwardly defiled because of their sin-filled hearts. And they refused to accept the remedy for their heart problem: Jesus Christ.

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

Heart Disease.

 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

At first glance, these verses appear to contain some confusing and contradictory messages from the lips of Jesus. In His continuing confrontation with the Pharisees, His rhetoric intensified and some of His statements seem contrary to the Gospel as we know it. As usual, we must take into account the context and the individuals to whom His words are directed. The Pharisees were considered part of the religious elite and Israel. They were revered for their piety and their strict adherence to the law of Moses. But they had just accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In other words, they had judged His works as being evil. So, Jesus determined to address the issue of works or fruit.

He began with what appears to be a command that, from a Christian perspective, sounds a bit strange coming from the lips of Jesus.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” – Matthew 12:33 ESV

Can a tree make itself good or can a tree make itself bad? The real issue here has to do with fruit. The nature of the fruit is in direct relationship to the condition of the tree. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad or unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. The fruit merely proves the condition of the tree from which it came.

This was not the first time Jesus utilized this metaphor of trees and fruit. He had previously used it in His sermon on the mount.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:16-20 ESV

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name and power of Satan. But by restoring the sight and speech of the possessed man, Jesus had done a good thing. His actions had released a man from the control of a demon and restored him to health. The “fruit” was self-evident and should have been recognized for what it was: A work of the Spirit of God. But instead, the Pharisees had attributed it to Satan.

So, Jesus addressed the Pharisees on terms they could understand. They were self-righteous men who truly believed that their actions were the determiner of the justification before God. They were confident in their own righteousness, believing themselves to be law-abiding and God-pleasing. But Jesus knew their hearts and called them out for their hypocrisy. He used what would become a favorite term of His when referring to these men: “You brood of vipers!”

This was the same term John the Baptist had used when the Pharisees and Sadducees had showed up in the wilderness seeking to be baptized by him.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:7-10 ESV

These men, who by all appearances were godly and righteous, were actually deadly and dangerous. They were the offspring of Satan himself, and the fruit of their lives was proof. They could no more change the nature of their fruit than an apple tree could decide to bear oranges. Notice what John the Baptist said to them: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, the only way they were going to change the fruit of their lives was by repenting of the way they lived their lives. They were going to have to change their whole outlook on what it means to be righteous before God. Their belief that good works and obedience to the law earned a man a right standing before God was going to have to be replaced by faith in Jesus. First, they would have to agree with the assessment of the prophet Isaiah.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

They would need to accept the less-than-flattering conclusion of Solomon:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

Or as the apostle Paul would later put it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Jesus pulled no punches, but harshly assessed the true state of the spiritual condition.

“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34 ESV

He leaves little doubt as to His opinion of these men. They were evil and the very words that came from their lips were proof. They were suffering from a serious heart problem. And the Old Testament was full of warnings regarding the heart.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 ESV

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” – Ezekiel 16:30 ESV

Jesus made His view of them crystal clear.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. – Matthew 12:35 NLT

They were suffering from an internal disorder over which they had no control. They couldn’t change the fruit they bore because they were incapable of altering their sin natures. The true condition of their hearts would eventually manifest itself. There was no hiding it. And Jesus dropped a bombshell on them that had to have left them reeling in disbelief and anger.

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” – Matthew 12:36 ESV

The day is coming when God will judge all men. And Jesus seems to be saying that He wil judge them according to their words. But it is important to consider all that Jesus has said. His emphasis has been on the condition of the heart. He told them, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The word translated as “abundance” has to do with surplus or that which fills and overflows the heart. Whatever fills the heart will overflow through the mouth. So, at the judgment, men will give an account for the words they have spoken, because those words will give evidence of the content of their hearts.

Then Jesus summarizes His comments with a statement that seems in direct violation of the Gospel.

“…for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:37 ESV

Is Jesus insinuating that our speech will save us? Do we have the capacity to talk our way into the Kingdom of God?

Obviously Jesus did not mean that if a person was able to say all the right words he or she could deceive God and win salvation by clever speech. The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but words reveal character and so become the instruments by which God judges. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Matthew

Once again, the point Jesus was making had to do with the condition of the heart. As the prophet Jeremiah so boldly put it: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Our words and our conduct are merely expressions of the condition of our heart. And we can do nothing to change our words or actions because we can do nothing to change our hearts. That is the work of God. And God had long ago promised to give the people of Israel new hearts, doing for them what they could have never done on their own.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

The Pharisees were convinced of their own righteousness. They viewed themselves as justified before God because of their outward adherence to the law of Moses. But Jesus knew their real problem was a heart condition for which their was only one cure: Faith in Him. Their words would end up condemning them because the wicked hearts within them. Had they been willing to pray the same prayer that King David prayed, they would have found Jesus ready, willing and able to answer.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10 ESV

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

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

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

Devoted to Destruction.

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. Joshua 6:15-27 ESV

The seventh day finally arrived, and it was on this day that the people of Israel were to march around the walls of Jericho seven times. We are provided no explanation for this change in protocol, except that it was the will of God. He had commanded it. So, they marched as they had the previous six days, but on completion of their seventh circuit around the wall, the priests blew their shofars and the people broke their silence with a collective shout of victory. And when they did, the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell. There is no logical reason for this to have happened. Nothing the Israelites had done over the past seven days had contributed to the weakening of the walls of Jericho. Their marching had not weakened the foundations of the walls. The constant blowing of the shofars by the priests had not damaged the structural integrity of the walls. This was a work of God. And the seven days it took for the walls to fall had been less a battle than a religious rite. The priests, the ark of the covenant, the shofars, the ceremonial procession –  it was all a visual reminder of God’s power and presence. He was going before them. He was leading them. And their faithful following of the ark of the covenant provides a tangible expression of the peoples’ dependence upon God. The walls standing between them and the city of Jericho were too great for them to overcome. They had no means by which to breach the defenses of Jericho. But by faithfully following God, they were able to see Him do what only He can do. He brought down the walls. He removed the barrier. Like the Jordan River held back by the hand of God, so the people could cross over on dry ground; God leveled the walls of Jericho so the people could enter into the city unobstructed and unhindered. The walls of Jericho represented the hope of the people of Jericho. That stone barrier had been their protection for generations. They had placed their faith and hope in their mighty wall on many occasions and had yet to be disappointed. Until this fateful day.

God was greater than their wall. He was more powerful than some stone structure erected by the hands of men. He destroyed their great wall and exposed the unreliability of all man-made forms of salvation.

Once the wall had collapsed, the people of Israel had clear instructions from Joshua as to what they were to do. And his instructions echoed those given by Moses many years earlier.

16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

Joshua had told them, “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). They were to destroy anything and everything. There were to be no inhabitants spared or spoil taken. Only Rahab and her family were to be protected, in keeping with the agreement made between her and the two spies. All the gold, silver and other forms of precious metals were to be dedicated to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. And the text records that the people obeyed the command of Joshua.

Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. – Joshua 6:21 ESV

We find these verses hard to read and even more difficult to justify. They seem barbaric and unjust to our modern sensibilities. They appear to paint God as some kind of heartless and vengeful monster who shows no regard for the lives of men. How can a God who demands justice and mercy from His people also demand that they completely destroy another people group, including their innocent women and children. But what we fail to recognize is that this is far less a battle between two people groups than it is a war between righteousness and wickedness. The real enemy here is sin. The nations occupying the land of Canaan were known for their wickedness and moral corruption. God had chosen the people of Israel and given them His law, in order that they might display to the rest of the world what living in a right relationship with Him might look like. But God knew that the influence of sin was going to be a constant threat to their testimony. The presence of these pagan nations and their immoral practices would make it next-to-impossible for the people of God to keep themselves set apart for Him. So, He demanded the removal of the temptation. He commanded the destruction of anything and everything that might cause His people to fall away. It is a picture of the way in which believers in Christ as to purge their lives from their old ways of living. The apostle Paul provides us with similar admonitions to eliminate anything that would hinder or harm our relationship with God.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. –  Colossians 3:5 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

…put to death the deeds of your sinful nature… – Romans 8:13 NLT

Sin is contagious. It is a dangerous and deadly disease that, if allowed to exist, will spread throughout the body of Christ infecting all with whom it comes in contact. The same was true for the people of Israel. God knew that the people of Jericho were infected by sin and the pagan practices of their false religions. To treat the residents of Jericho with kid gloves was to invite destruction. To wink at the wickedness that permeated the city of Jericho would prove to be a deadly mistake. And God knew it.

And God had Joshua put a curse on the city of Jericho, demanding that it never be rebuilt. It was to be a permanent reminder of God’s judgment against sin. The broken walls would form a perpetual memorial to God’s righteousness and the ultimate fate of all who stand opposed to Him. The rubble of Jericho would form a monument to the folly of sin and a life lived without God.

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

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

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

 

Hold Tightly To What You Have.

18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28 And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”  Revelation 2:18-29 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapJohn is told to address the next church by referring to Jesus as the Son of God, and describing Him as having “eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” This is the exact imagery John used when describing his vision of Jesus in chapter 1. The eyes of the Son of God are like burning fire, indicating the penetrating nature of His divine judgment. As the Son of God, Jesus is all-knowing and able to see into the hearts of men. In the book of Daniel, we find a similar description of Jesus in one of the visions Daniel was given by God. Upon seeing Jesus, Daniel states that “his eyes flamed like torches.” Here in the book of Revelation, Jesus is described as having feet like burnished bronze. This image is a bit more difficult to comprehend, but it may refer to his purity and holiness. The feet are the means by which we navigate and make our way from one place to another. Jesus does so in perfect purity and righteousness. His way is always marked by holiness. The very designation, “Son of God”, speaks of the deity of Christ. The title, “son of man”, which was used in chapter one, emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, and ties Him to His role as the Messiah. 

As the all-knowing, holy Son of God, Jesus lets the church in Thyatira know that He knows. He tells them, “I know your works.” He is fully aware of all that is going on in this congregation. He sees their “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Revelation 2:19 ESV). Nothing escapes His divine notice. If you recall, Jesus had warned the church at Ephesus to “do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5 ESV). Now, He commends the believers in Thyatira because their “latter works exceed the first” (Revelation 2:19 ESV). In other words, they were progressing, not regressing in their faith. They were loving better, believing more, serving faithfully, and enduring patiently.

But Jesus, with the aid of His penetrating vision, saw something going on in the fellowship in Thyatira that He could not commend. He tells them, “you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20 ESV). This is likely a reference to an actual woman in the local congregation. It is doubtful that her name was actually Jezebel, but that it is used here by Jesus to accentuate the wickedness of this woman’s actions. The original Jezebel had been the wife of Ahab, one of the most wicked kings of Israel. And Jezebel had played an important and influential role in her husband’s sin-plagued reign. The book of 1 Kings tells us that Ahab “took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria” (1 Kings 16:31-32 ESV). Jezebel had a polarizing and demoralizing influence on the nation of Israel, even attempting to rid the nation of the prophets of God. And evidently, according to Jesus, there was a woman in the church in Thyatira, who was deserving of the designation “Jezebel” because of her wicked influence on that local congregation. She was leading them astray by encouraging them to commit acts of immorality and backing up her words by claiming to be a prophetess for God. Like Balaam, mentioned earlier in the condemnation of the church at Pergamum, Jezebel had been guilty of causing the people of God to sin against God, by violating His commands for sexual purity and against sexual immorality of all kinds. One of the greatest threats against any church will be the attack that comes from within, perpetrated by someone claiming to be a Christ-follower, but who propagates and promotes ungodly behavior.

This woman had been given time to repent of her sins, but had stubbornly refused. So, Jesus warns that judgment was coming. Her sinful behavior would have dire and devastating consequences, for her and for all those who bought followed her lead. Jesus describes all those who willingly participate in her immoral activities as her children or offspring. And He warns that they too will face divine judgment, possibly even death, for their actions. Jesus is deadly serious. And He warns every church in every age to take heed to what He is saying.

And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.” – Revelation 2:23 ESV

This “Jezebel” and her followers would become lessons for what happens to those who commit spiritual adultery, violating their covenant commitment to God. That is the heart of the issue here. The sexual sins that these people were committing were in violation of God’s commands, but the more devastating aspect of their sin was that they were doing so in connection to the worship of false gods. They were practicing immorality as part of their worship of idols. So, in essence, they were committing adultery against God Almighty. What we see here is a reenactment of the sins of the people of Israel and Judah that ultimately led God to send them into captivity as punishment for their sin and unfaithfulness.

But Jesus realized that there were many in the congregation in Thyatira who had remained faithful and unstained by this woman’s influence, and He commends them. And He tells them, “I do not lay on you any other burden” (Revelation 2:24 ESV). He is assuring them that He is not going to ask anything more of them than that they hold fast until He comes. He simply asks that they remain faithful. He wants them to keep their eyes focused on their future reward, not immediate gratification through sinful behavior. Jesus is calling them to endure to the end and He offers them a reminder of what they can expect for doing so.

To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star! – Revelation 2:26-28 NLT

It is the one who conquers who will receive these rewards. But as we saw earlier, the term conqueror is more a designation referring to our future condition. When we stand with Christ in heaven, we will be conquerors, those who have conquered. We will be called conquerors at that point in time, not here and now. To be called a conqueror, one must have already conquered. He must have won the final victory. And that is what Jesus describes in these closing verses. We will receive authority. We will rule alongside the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus had told His disciples, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). It is Jesus who is the conqueror, the overcomer. And He is reminding the believers in Thyatira that the only burden they have is the one requiring them to remain faithful to the end. Their faithfulness will have the reward of standing alongside the conquering Christ in His Kingdom. Paul and Barnabas encouraged the churches to whom they ministered by reminding them that faithfulness in this life has its reward in the next life.

…they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. – Acts 14:22 NLT

The final promise Jesus offers the believers in Thyatira is the gift of the morning star. We know from the closing verses of this book that Jesus is that morning star.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16 NLT

So, Jesus is offering them the gift of Himself. But in a real and physical sense. They will, as the apostle John wrote, “see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). All those who endure to the end, refusing to give in to the temptations to compromise, will receive the reward of uninterrupted intimacy and fellowship with Jesus Christ and God the Father. And Jesus closes out His address with a message to all believers throughout all time, to hear what He has said to the church at Thyatira. It applies to us and should encourage us to hold tightly to what we have until He come. And come, He will.

 

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

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

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

Wash Your Heart.

Behold, he comes up like clouds;
    his chariots like the whirlwind;
his horses are swifter than eagles—
    woe to us, for we are ruined!
O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil,
    that you may be saved.
How long shall your wicked thoughts
    lodge within you?
For a voice declares from Dan
    and proclaims trouble from Mount Ephraim.
Warn the nations that he is coming;
    announce to Jerusalem,
“Besiegers come from a distant land;
    they shout against the cities of Judah.
Like keepers of a field are they against her all around,
    because she has rebelled against me,
declares the Lord.
Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” Jeremiah 4:13-18 ESV

God was demanding change. He called them to repent and expected that repentance to entail more than just an external change in behavior. God knew that their real problem was much deeper than that. They suffered from a heart condition. Which is why God had Jeremiah warn them:

“O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart
    that you may be saved.
How long will you harbor
    your evil thoughts? – Jeremiah 4:14 NLT

The day of their destruction was coming, like a fast-approaching storm, bringing devastation and destruction in the form of war horses and chariots. And if the people of Judah had any hopes of avoiding the inevitable outcome of a Babylonian invasion, they were going to have to cleanse their hearts. But was that even possible? And was God really expecting them to be able to do so? The prophet, Isaiah, who was also sent by God to warn the people of Judah regarding their wickedness and God’s impending judgment of them, had a very similar word from God:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV

Notice what Isaiah writes. They were to wash themselves. They were to make themselves clean. It was up to them to get rid of their evil behavior and to start doing what God commanded. Their purification was to have external proofs that they had indeed changed. But again, was what God demanded of them even possible? Could they purify themselves? Well, the next verse gives us the answer:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.” – Isaiah 1:16-18 ESV

It was as if God said, “Let’s think about this.” Their ability to purify their own hearts was non-existent. They were incapable of changing their ways – on their own. If fact, later on, in the book of Jeremiah, God makes the following assessment of their ability to change:

You will probably ask yourself,
‘Why have these things happened to me?
Why have I been treated like a disgraced adulteress
whose skirt has been torn off and her limbs exposed?’
It is because you have sinned so much.
But there is little hope for you ever doing good,
you who are so accustomed to doing evil.
Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin?
Can a leopard remove its spots? – Jeremiah 13:22-23 NLT

Their predilection to sin was ingrained, a part of their DNA. Like every other human being, they had inherited the sin nature of Adam. Disobedience to God came naturally. A propensity toward evil was built into them. They could no more change their nature than a leopard could remove its spots. Like a person’s genetic makeup determines their skin color, the people of Judah had a built-in predisposition toward sin. But God was also telling them that He was willing and able to do something about their condition. He lets them know that even though they have been stained by their sins. He can make them white as snow. He has the ability to wash them clean from all their iniquities and make them pure. Isaiah wrote these words of God to the people of Judah:

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
    and I will not remember your sins.” – Isaiah 43:25 ESV

God would remove their sins, not because they deserved it, but simply because He wanted to show His grace and mercy. They would not be able to earn His forgiveness through human effort, but God did expect them to turn back to Him and acknowledge their need for Him. Like the great king David, they would have to call out to God and ask Him to do for them what they could not do for themselves.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. – Psalm 51:7 NLT

It is only when we come to grips with our own incapacity to redeem ourselves, that we turn to God as our redeemer. When we finally realize that we are incapable of improving our own behavior and cleaning up our act, that is when we become desperate enough to call on Him. But for some reason, we stubbornly hold on to the idea that we can change ourselves. We mistakenly cling to the hope that we can muster up enough strength to do enough good things that will earn us favor with God and hold off His punishment of us. But just a few verses later, Jeremiah writes this painful assessment of the people of Judah:

“My people are foolish
    and do not know me,” says the Lord.
“They are stupid children
    who have no understanding.
They are clever enough at doing wrong,
    but they have no idea how to do right!” – Jeremiah 4:22 NLT

Once again, the prophet Isaiah makes a chilling assessment of Judah’s complete inability to mend their hearts and change their behavior.

You assist those who delight in doing what is right,
who observe your commandments.
Look, you were angry because we violated them continually.
How then can we be saved?
We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:5-6 NET

Isaiah seems to be saying that God comes to the aid of those who long to do what is right, what God demands. But the problem is that those very same people can’t turn their delight into action. Even their most righteous actions end up looking like bloody rags before God. They are completely controlled by the sin in their lives. They want to do what is right, but lack the capacity to turn their desires into reality. The apostle Paul described having a similar frustration:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. – Romans 7:15-21 NLT

Paul fully realized that, if left to himself, he was incapable of doing what he really wanted to do. In the flesh, he couldn’t produce the kind of life God demanded. He could desire it, but his sin nature would fight him every step of the way. So, Paul cried out:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 7:24-25 NLT

Paul knew His hope was external, not internal. His Savior was Christ, not himself. He needed Jesus Christ to do for him what he could not do himself. And the people of Judah would have to reach the same conclusion. They would have to turn to God for their salvation, but also for their cleansing. In fact, they were going to need to desire cleansing more than salvation. While they all wanted to avoid the coming destruction, they weren’t all that keen on changing their behavior. They wanted God’s salvation, but didn’t seem to think they were so sinful that they needed His cleansing. But God wanted them to grieve over their sins. He wanted them recognize their sinfulness and their own inability to do anything about it. Then they would turn to Him for help. King David learned that very lesson after having sinned against God by having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, then having her husband eliminated so he could marry her. He recognized His sin against God and realized that what God wanted was a broken and repentant spirit.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17 ESV

And it was his own brokenness and his recognition of his complete dependence on God to purify him that led David to write:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin! – Psalm 51:2 ESV

And the sad indictment God made against the people of Judah was that their sin had permeated them to the very core of their being. Their hearts were stained by their wickedness. In fact, their wickedness was a byproduct of their sin-filled hearts. Which is why God said:

“Your ways and your deeds
    have brought this upon you.
This is your doom, and it is bitter;
    it has reached your very heart.” – Jeremiah 4:18 ESV

They would need God to do for them what they could not do for themselves. But first they would need to turn to Him. They would need to rely on Him for the power to cleanse and forgive.

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

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

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

When God Says, “Enough!”

Woe to the bloody city,
    all full of lies and plunder—
    no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
    galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
    and treat you with contempt
    and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
    Where shall I seek comforters for you? Nahum 3:1-7 ESV

 

For the third time since he started his oracle, Nahum will describe the fall of Nineveh, but this time he will provide the reason for the fall. He begins this section with the word, “woe”, which signals that what follows contains a warning of impending doom. The prophet, Isaiah, would use the same word when speaking of the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.

“Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves.” – Isaiah 3:9 ESV

Their impending doom is directly tied to their guilt. They were a people known for shedding blood. They had conquered countless cities and captured or slaughtered their citizens. As a result of the victories, they had taken much plunder and moved it to their capital, Nineveh. But their appetite was insatiable. There was no end to their need for conquest and so there was no end to their prey. They were never satisfied. But God had had His fill of the Assyrians. He would no longer put up with their exploits, so Nahum uses very graphic terms to describe their fall: “hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end—they stumble over the bodies!” (Nahum 3:3 ESV). The chariots and horsemen of the Medes and Persians were going to do to Nineveh what the Assyrians had done to countless other cities. The citizens of Nineveh were going to know the fear and terror of a siege as enemy soldiers attacked their city day after day, month after month. They would know what it was like to live under the constant threat that each day could bring the city’s fall and their own deaths.

And Nahum provides us with the “why.” He lets us know the reason for their coming destruction.

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms. – Nahum 3:6 ESV

Nahum compares the Assyrians to a prostitute. In some sense their probably refers to the role they often played as an ally to more defenseless nations. They would offer their services to those under threat by other powers, and agree to come to their aid should they be needed – all for money or tribute. King Ahaz of Judah, would turn to the Assyrians for aid against the combined forces of Syria and Israel.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. – 2 Kings 16:7-8 ESV

But on many occasions, they would turn on those they had agreed to help. That’s exactly what they did to Judah. Years later, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria surrounded Jerusalem and sent a message to the king.

Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. – Isaiah 36:16-17 ESV

Sennacherib was lying to Hezekiah. He offered to take them to Assyria and provide them with fine land and to treat them fairly. But he had nothing of the sort in mind. They were deceitful and motivated by conquest. And they were willing to use military might or cunning deception to get what they wanted. Not only that, Nahum accuses them of witchcraft and sorcery. The Hebrew word translated as “deadly charms” is the word kesheph and it refers to the practice of witchcraft. The Assyrians were pagans who mixed sorcery and witchcraft with their religious practices, and sought the aid and direction of the spirit world to determine their fate. This, coupled with their military success, made them highly attractive to the nations around them. Even King Ahaz of Judah, when he met with King Tiglath-pileser, was enamored by their temple and its altar. So he “sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus” (2 Kings 16:10-11 ESV). Not only that, Ahaz had the bronze altar, the one that was prescribed by God as the place to offer all the sacrifices, moved from its place of prominence. And then Ahaz began to use to as a tool of divination, saying, “the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by” (2 Kings 16:15 ESV).

The power and success of Assyrian had made them attractive to other nations. They became the nation to emulate. Their power was great, so their gods must be great as well. Their methods had been successful, so other nations began to model themselves after Assyrian, adopting their ways, both militarily and spiritually. But many of these nations would become the victims of Assyria and end up being sold into slavery.

But God was about to bring all that to an end. He tells them, “Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame” (Nahum 3:5 ESV). God was going to expose them for what they really were. But not only that, He was going to judge them for all that they had done. One of the things the Assyrians were known for was mocking the gods of the nations they conquered. Sennacherib did so when he surrounded Jerusalem.

Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” – Isaiah 36:18-20 ESV

But God would have the last laugh. He would be the one to mock the Assyrians.

“I will cover you with filth
    and show the world how vile you really are.
All who see you will shrink back and say,
    ‘Nineveh lies in ruins.
Where are the mourners?’
    Does anyone regret your destruction?” – Nahum 3:6-7 NLT

Mighty Nineveh would be no match for the might of Yahweh. Their track record of success would be brought to an abrupt end. Their tenure of violence and destruction was coming to come to a screeching halt, all because God deemed it so. And the nations would rejoice over the demise of Assyria. There would be no mourners at their wake. No one would cry over the destruction of the once mighty nation of Assyria. Their day in the sun would end with darkness and anonymity. No king or nation can stand before God Almighty. No individual or people group is immune from His power or can escape His judgment. Like the Assyrians, they may face the music in their own lifetimes, but all will face the coming judgment of God. No one will be able to escape His righteous indignation and avoid His future punishment reserved for all those who rebel against Him and refuse His Son as the only means by which they might be saved. The Assyrians would hear the “woe” of God and live to regret it. But the day is coming when all mankind will hear God’s declaration of either judgment or acceptance. All will have to answer for their sins one day. But for those who have placed their faith in His Son as their sin substitute and Savior, they will face no judgment, because their sin debt has been paid for once and for all.

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

Radical Surgery.

After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.

And he defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.

David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots. And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.

When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him, for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze. These also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.– 2 Samuel 8:1-14 ESV

Chapter five ended with the words: “And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25 ESV). And chapter eight begins with the words: “After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines” (2 Samuel 8:1 ESV). It is believed by many commentators that chapters six and seven are parenthetical and not chronological in nature. They deal with more religious-oriented aspects of David’s reign, while chapters five and eight deal with his military conquests. Chapter six describes David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem. Chapter seven covers God’s giving of His covenant to David. And chapter seven opens with the words: “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies…” (2 Samuel 7:1 ESV). It is that second half of the sentence that leads most Old Testament scholars to believe the covenant was given to David later in his reign, after he had ceased from war with the enemies of Israel. Therefore, like chapter six, chapter seven is out of chronological order. These two chapters were placed where they are in the story because they provide a spiritual context to David’s reign. They reveal his zeal and dedication for the Lord, a key motivating force in his military efforts. They also shed light on the real source behind David’s military success: God. And that point is made clear in chapter eight.

And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. – 2 Samuel 8:15 ESV

Chapter eight picks up where chapter five left off. David, as God’s hand-picked king, was finishing what Joshua and the people of Israel should have done when they entered the Promised Land years earlier. They were to destroy the inhabitants and take over the land that God had provided for them. God had told Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” – Joshua 1:2-5 ESV

God had clearly told Moses what the people were to do when they entered the land He had promised to Abraham and his descendants. And Moses had passed the words of God on to the people.

“In those towns that the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the Lord your God has commanded you. This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

But the people of God had disobeyed and failed to purge the land of its inhabitants. They had been half-hearted in their efforts and had allowed the majority of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan to remain. And, just as God had predicted, the people of the land ended up infecting the people of God with their idolatry, immorality and “detestable customs.” This is what led to the period of the judges. In fact, the opening chapters of the book of Judges reveals exactly what had happened.

 The Lord was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains, who had iron chariots. – Judges 1:19 ESV

The tribe of Benjamin, however, failed to drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem. So to this day the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the people of Benjamin. – Judges 1:21 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the people living in Beth-shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, and all their surrounding settlements  – Judges 1:27 ESV

The tribe of Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, so the Canaanites continued to live there among them. – Judges 1:29 ESV

The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. – Judges 1:30 ESV

And the list goes on and on. It got so bad, that God ended up sending an angel to give the people of Israel some bad news:

“I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV

So by the time David had become king, the nations surrounding Israel had become far more than just thorns in their side. They were a real threat to the future existence of Israel as a nation. So, David, as the king and commander-in-chief of Israel]s armies, determined to finish what Joshua had started, but the people of God had failed to carry through.

David defeated the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Edomites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and the armies of Zobah. And the author makes it clear that David’s military successes were the result of God’s blessing on him. God was giving David victories over his enemies. The very fact that David was forced to fight so many battles reflects just how unsuccessful the Israelites had been in their efforts to rid the land of its inhabitants. Their disobedience had allowed these nations to not only survive, but thrive. They had grown in numbers and strength. They were no longer just an irritant to the people of Israel, but a real threat to their existence. But David was doing everything in his power to subdue and destroy them.

It’s almost impossible to read this chapter and God’s words found in Deuteronomy 20 where He commanded the complete annihilation of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and not be shocked at what appears to be God’s callous and seemingly capricious outlook on human life. How can the loving, creator-God call for the destruction of entire people groups, including men, women, and innocent children? This question has caused many to doubt the veracity of the Old Testament. It has led others to reject the very idea of God Himself. Richard Dawkins, a proudly professing atheist and staunch opponent of Christianity has described the God of the Bible as, “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion).  He goes on to say, “The tragi-farce of God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually through the Old Testament.”

For someone like Dawkins, the issue has less to do with the destruction of the people of Canaan, than it does with his desire for proof that the God of the Bible is a farce. He simply uses the Old Testament record of God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan as proof that this so-called “God” of the Israelites, even if He did exist, would not be worth following. But he misses the whole point of the story and the true nature of mankind’s tragic situation. The Bible makes it painfully clear that all men (women and children included) are sinners and stand before God as guilty and worthy of death. Because of sin, they are in rebellion against a holy God. And His holiness, which consists of justice, must deal with the sins of men. He cannot simply overlook them. And God recognizes that sin, like an infectious disease, is contagious and capable of spreading from one person to another. Sin contaminates and destroys, like cancer cells in the human body. Sin is non-discriminatory and without mercy. God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of the land was based on His understanding of the true danger of indwelling sin. Left unchecked, the sinful dispositions of the inhabitants of the land would gradually infect and influence the people of God. And that is exactly what happened. Slowly, but surely, the Israelites became just like the nations around them. The cancer of sin spread among them, destroying their relationship with God. And the same thing happens to believers today, as we allow the sins of the world to contaminate our lives. Rather than doing radical surgery and removing the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1), we embrace it, welcoming it with open arms. We end up loving the world and the things of the world (1 John 12:15). We become friends of the world, failing to recognize that the world hates us (John 15:18-19).

The removal of the sinful influences in our lives is difficult. Sometimes it is painful. It may cause us to lose friends who have a negative influence on our lives. It may demand that we pull away from those individuals whose influence in our lives is unhealthy and potentially destructive. David knew just how dangerous sin could be, both externally and internally. And he was willing to whatever it took to remove both. In Psalm 139, he offers a compelling and heart-felt prayer to God.

O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:19-24 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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