The Invisible Hand of God

1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

While Ruth had been busy bringing Naomi up to speed on her latest encounter with Boaz, he had made his way to the city gate of Bethlehem. In an Israelite city, the city gate functioned like a city hall or town square. This narrow opening through the city’s walls was where all official business took place. Men would gather there to conduct legal transactions, land sales, and any other commercial or personal transactions. Normally, the elders of the city could be found at the gate, which was essential because they played an official role in witnessing and approving all business transactions.

So, in an attempt to settle the matter regarding who would serve as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz headed to the gate to meet the only other man who could serve in that capacity.

The situation concerning Naomi and Ruth was complicated. Naomi was an Israelite widow and, as such, there were certain legal issues involved. Because her two sons had died, there was no legal heir to Elimelech’s land. And in the ancient economy and legal environment of Israel, a woman was not allowed to be a landholder. So, it was necessary that a kinsman of Elimelech purchase the land so that it could remain within the inheritance of that family and tribe. God had made this requirement perfectly clear when He gave His law to the people of Israel during their exodus from Egypt.

“The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.” – Numbers 36:7-9 ESV

The kinsman-redeemer was obligated to purchase his deceased relative’s land so it might remain in the family. But in the case of Naomi, there was another aspect to the circumstance that complicated matters. Naomi was a widow without any male heirs to carry on the family name, and she was likely well past child-bearing age. But Naomi had a daughter-in-law, the widow of one of her deceased sons. According to the Mosaic law concerning levirate marriage, a kinsman was obligated to marry Ruth and ensure that she bore a male child so that Elimelech’s line could be continued.

The book of Deuteronomy provides detailed instructions concerning this matter.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’” – Deuteronomy 25:5-10 ESV

In the book of Ruth, we are going to see Boaz acting as Ruth’s advocate and representative. As one of the two possible kinsman-redeemers, he feels a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of Ruth and Naomi. And it seems quite clear from the previous three chapters that Boaz has strong feelings for Ruth.

In this story, the matter of the land and the marriage of Ruth are linked together. This was not a legally binding issue, but it seems that Boaz, as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, felt that both matters needed to be taken care of together. He felt a moral and legal obligation to see to it that Naomi and Ruth were cared for. In his mind, whoever agreed to buy the land should feel a moral obligation to take Ruth as his wife and ensure that she bear a male heir to carry on the line of Elimelech.

Once at the gate, Boaz spied the second kinsman-redeemer and called him over. He also invited some of the elders of the city. Boaz explained the nature of the situation.

“You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.” – Ruth 4:3-4 NLT

Notice that Boaz withheld an important detail from the story: Ruth. He simply states that the land is available for purchase and the other relative agrees to purchase it. Then Boaz drops the bombshell.

“Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.” – Ruth 4:5 NLT

That small bit of information proved to be a deal-breaker for the second kinsman-redeemer. So, he turned down the offer, stating, “this might endanger my own estate” (Ruth 4:6 NLT). The added obligation of marrying Ruth was more than he was willing to take on. So, he passed on his kinsman-redeemer responsibility to Boaz. Following the protocol outlined in the Deuteronomy passage above, “the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, ‘You buy the land’” (Ruth 4:8 NLT).

Having legally purchased the land, Boaz states his intention to take Ruth as his wife.

“You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.” – Ruth 4:9-10 NLT

The elders of the city of Bethlehem seal the deal by giving their blessing to the transaction.

“We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” – Ruth 4:11-12 NLT

Little did they know how prophetic their words would prove to be. The prophet Micah would later write: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf” (Micah 5:6 ESV). Hundreds of years later, the wise men who arrived in Jerusalem in search of the newly born king of the Jews would quote the Hebrew prophets:

And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel. – Matthew 2:6 NLT

Little did those elders know how accurate their pronouncement of blessing on Boaz’s marriage to Ruth would be. Ruth would prove to be fruitful, eventually bearing a son named Obed. And Matthew records in his genealogy of Jesus how Obed would play a role in the lineage of Jesus.

…Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… – Matthew 1:5-6 ESV

That Matthew goes on to list Jesus as the crowning fruit of that long genealogical line.

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

But Boaz knew none of this at the time. He was simply doing what he believed to be the right and honorable thing to do. But God was orchestrating his actions and directing every detail of his story in order to bring about His divine will and to set the stage for the arrival of His Son, the Messiah.

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


And She Happened to Come…

1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. – Ruth 2:1-3 ESV

Chapter one ends with a seemingly irrelevant reference that describes Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem at “the beginning of barley harvest.”

What at first appears to be little more than a throwaway line was actually intended to provide a welcome transition from the dark days that marked Naomi’s life in Moab to the more hopeful future that lay ahead as she returns to the land of promise.

This entire story began with a reference to the period of the judges and a description of a famine in the land of Judah. With these two details, the author provides an important preface for the remainder of his narrative by establishing that this story takes place during a time marked by Israel’s disobedience and God’s judgment. The nearly 300-year-long period of Israel’s history recorded in the book of  Judges was filled with repeated outbreaks of apostasy on the part of God’s people, followed by periods of suffering as a result of God’s divine judgment. The famine, while a natural disaster, had been God-ordained. Israel was suffering yet again the righteous wrath of God Almighty. But Naomi had received word that God had relented.

…the Lord had visited his people and given them food. – Ruth 1:6 ESV

It was this news that had prompted Naomi to return home. And the story reveals that she arrived in Bethlehem at just the time when the annual barley harvest was taking place. When she and her husband had left Judah, it had been a time of famine. Now she was returning at a time marked by fruitfulness and feasting. For Naomi, Moab had been a place of loss and sorrow. While there, she had experienced the deaths of her husband and two sons. But now, she was returning home to Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” and just in time for the first of the first fruits of the God-ordained harvest to be gathered.

Naomi had no way of knowing what the future held. She was still a widow and she was accompanied by her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law. She had no source of income, and there is no indication that she had a home in which to live upon her return. Her immediate prospects were bleak. But the author wants us to know that God was at work behind the scenes. His mention of the harvest is a subtle, yet powerful reminder that the lives of Naomi and Ruth were in the hands of God Almighty.

Despite her dire circumstances, Naomi would find herself far from alone. In fact, chapter two opens with a hope-infused reference to Naomi’s relative.

Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. – Ruth 2:1 ESV

The timing of her return to Judah was divinely ordained and sovereignly orchestrated. Even the decision by Ruth to leave abandon her own home and family to align herself with Naomi is going to be revealed as the will and the work of God. There is no luck, kismet, or cosmic karma going on here. This is not a case of fortunate timing or happenstance. Everything about this story is intended to point to God. He is at work behind the scenes, orchestrating every single aspect of the story, from the timing to the characters involved. And it is because He has a much larger and grander plan involved than Naomi and Ruth could have ever imagined.

With the author’s introductory details concerning Boaz, he telegraphs yet another seemingly serendipitous encounter. Naomi and Ruth are not aware of Boaz’s presence yet. He has been introduced but has not yet made his appearance in the story. But Ruth, desiring to provide some source of sustenance for she and Naomi, offers to go into the fields outside Bethlehem and “glean among the ears of grain” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). In order to do so, she will need to find a farmer willing to let her gather some of the grain that remained in the corners and edges of his field.

This was a common practice among the Israelites because God had ordained it as a means of caring for the poor and needy among them. It had part of God’s original law passed down to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai in the wilderness.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 10:9-10 ESV

Now, decades later, here was Ruth preparing to take advantage of this divine decree in order to provide for her and her mother-in-law. But little did Ruth know that God had something far more significant in store for the two of them. She was a stranger to Bethlehem, a widowed Moabite woman wandering around the barley fields outside the city. And she just happens upon a field that belongs to the close relative of Naomi.

So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. – Ruth 2:3 ESV

The author wants us to know that this appears to be a case of blind luck. He purposefully uses the Hebrew word miqreh, which means “unforeseen meeting or event, accident, happening, chance, fortune.” But he knows this is nothing of the sort. It appears as if Naomi has inadvertently and unexpectedly stumbled into this situation. Unknowingly, she has chosen to glean barley grain in the field that belongs to a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. But while Naomi was operating blind, her every action took place under the divine gaze of God. He was watching but also directing each and every aspect of this story.

Think about the details of this story. Naomi moves to Moab with her husband Elimelech in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. While there, her husband unexpectedly dies. Her two sons end up marrying women from Moab. Had the family not moved to this foreign country, this would never have happened. One of those women just happened to be Ruth. When the two sons of Elimelech died, Naomi was left with Moabite women as her only family. But when Naomi announced her plans to return to Judah, only one of the women made the fateful decision to accompany her. And that woman was Ruth.

Now, Ruth, who had promised to stay with and care for her mother-in-law, has taken upon herself the responsibility to seek some kind of food for the two of them. And she happens to end up gleaning barley grain in the field of Boaz, a close relative of her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech.

The scene is set and the next act in the divine drama of God’s redemptive plan is ready to be revealed.

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

Exodus Reversed

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

64 “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” Deuteronomy 28:58-68 ESV

In this last portion of chapter 28, Moses makes an unmistakable link between the future state of Israel and their former condition in Egypt. In effect, he describes them experiencing a reverse exodus. More than four decades earlier, God had graciously delivered the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt and led them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. Now, as Moses attempts to prepare the people to enter the land and conquer it, he warns them of the dangers associated with disobeying God’s commands. If they fail to keep God’s laws, they will experience a litany of curses that will leave them in a state of physical and moral degradation.

And Moses ends his bone-chilling description of the curses of God by letting them know that they will experience a complete reversal of fortunes, including their return to captivity in Egypt.

“And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” – Deuteronomy 28:68 ESV

Think about how this news would have impacted the Israelites. They were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter the land God had promised as their inheritance, and now Moses is telling them that failure to comply with God’s laws will result in their return to their former state as slaves in Egypt. But long before that happens, they will have to endure the same kind of pain and suffering the Egyptians had endured as a result of the ten plagues brought upon them by God.

“…the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.” – Deuteronomy 28:59-60 ESV

God had punished the Egyptians for their refusal to let His people go. Repeatedly, Moses had appeared before Pharaoh, asking that he release the Israelites from their captivity. But each time, Pharaoh had refused. And his stubborn resistance to the will of God had been met with a series of plagues that grew in their intensity. Eventually, God brought upon the entire nation of Egypt the death of the firstborn, a devastating tragedy that struck every household, including Pharaoh’s.

And Moses warns that all this and more will happen to the Israelites – should they choose to live in rebellion to God.

One of the things we tend to overlook or downplay in these warnings from Moses is the extreme dichotomy they represent. Things would not be as they were meant to be. The promised land had been meant to be a place of rest. It was intended to be the polar opposite of their time spend in Egypt. In fact, when God had chosen Moses to be the one to deliver the people of Israel from captivity, He had told him:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” – Exodus 3:7-8 ESV

Canaan was to be a place of fruitfulness, abundance, blessing, rest, and peace. And the first time thei Israelites had arrived at the border, they had chosen to reject God’s command to enter the land, out of fear of its inhabitant. And the author of Hebrews used that ocassion as a lesson for New Testament Christians.

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts
    as Israel did when they rebelled.”

And who was it who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Wasn’t it the people Moses led out of Egypt? And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness? And to whom was God speaking when he took an oath that they would never enter his rest? Wasn’t it the people who disobeyed him? So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest. – Hebrews 3:15-19 NLT

They were not allowed to “enter his rest.” Their rebellion resulted in their deaths in the wilderness. That generation would spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, until each of them had died off, before the next generation would be given another opportunity to obey God and conquer the land.

And Moses has warned that second generation not to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers, or they too would find themselves being cast out of the land. They would go from enjoying God’s rest to experiencing slavery in Egypt again.

It was God’s will that the people of Israel “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 ESV). And Moses reminds the Israelites, “the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you” (Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV). But their disobedience would result in the polar opposite reaction from God.

“The Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” – Deuteronomy 28:63 ESV

God would leave the Israelites scattered, demoralized, oppressed, weary, and suffering from “a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul” (Deuteronomy 28:65 ESV). Their hearts will be filled with dread. Their lives will be marked by regret, loss, and a longing for each day to come to an end. But the nighttime will be no better. The hours will drag by as they long for the new day to dawn. Then the miserable cycle of frustration and despair will repeat itself.

And Moses ends this dismal list of curses with a bleak prediction of Israel restored to captivity in Egypt – right back to where they started. They will be forced to watch as the promised land fades into the distance as they make their way back to Egypt as slaves. They will endure the shame and humiliation of a reverse exodus. And their lives will once again be marked by bondage, not freedom. There will be no more rest. They will enjoy no more rewards or blessings from God. All because they decided to disobey the law of God.

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

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

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

Immodesty, Dishonesty, and Perversity

11 “When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12 then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

13 “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 16 For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God.

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.– Deuteronomy 25:11-19 ESV

As has been the case throughout this section of Deuteronomy, verses 11-19 of chapter 25 contain additional regulations that appear to have no rhyme or reason to them. Not only do they seem to lack any common thread of logic, at least one of them deals with what would appear to be a highly unlikely scenario and a heavy-handed form of punishment (excuse the pun).

Moses brings up the case of a dispute between two men. In Hebrew, the phrase describes “a man and his brother.” So, it is unclear as to whether this involves two sons of the same mother or two Israelites. But in either case, the scenario Moses paints involves a conflict between two men that has resulted in the throwing of punches. In other words, the dispute has gone from verbal to physical. Now, this would not have been a rare occurrence in Israel. Men will be men, and anger has a way of getting out of hand. But Moses introduces another actor to the drama whose actions complicate the scene and require the divine regulation that follows. The point of the passage is not the bare-knuckles brawl between the two men, but the indelicate behavior of one of their wives. Moses describes her involvement this way: “the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts” (Deuteronomy 25:11 ESV).

Now, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what is going on here. And many of the modern translations of the Scriptures provide much more specific wording to get the point across: “genitals” (NASB, NRSV, TEV); “sex organs” (NCV); “testicles” (NLT). Suffice it to say, the woman’s efforts to aid her husband involve what would have to be considered as immodest and indecent behavior. While we might want to say that the heat of the moment provides ample justification for her actions, Moses obviously disagrees. He provides no excuse for the woman’s behavior, demanding instead that her hand be cut off as punishment for her actions.

It would appear that the fight involves a non-life-threatening confrontation. One man is beating another. There are no swords drawn. Death is not imminent or even intended. But the woman, in an attempt to come to the aid of her husband, commits an act of indecency that could actually result in permanent physical harm to her husband’s adversary. By grabbing the man’s genitals, she would likely incapacitate him, giving her husband the upper hand in the fight, but she also risks doing irreparable damage to the man’s reproductive capacities. And this seems to be the point of the passage and the reason behind the severe punishment demanded by Moses.

Her response would not only be considered indecent and improper, but it would also be deemed an excessive form of retribution. It is interesting to consider the lex talionis or laws concerning retaliation.  They are found throughout the Pentateuch:

…if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. – Exodus 21:23-25 ESV

If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. – Leviticus 24:19-20 ESV

Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. – Deuteronomy 19:21 ESV

It would appear that Moses is citing a case where the woman’s actions did not result in permanent damage to the man’s genitals. If it had, according to the lex talionis, the law of retribution, her husband would have to suffer a similar fate. But since the wife was the one guilty of committing the crime, she would be the one to suffer the punishment. And, in this case, Moses prescribes the punishment as the cutting off of her hand. There is no tit-for-tat retribution involved. Which seems to suggest that her actions had no long-term or permanent impact. But she would suffer the consequences of her actions nonetheless. She had intended to do harm and her actions could have had serious repurcusions that left a man incapable of having children. This was a serious crime in God’s eyes, and it came with serious consequences.

And, as he seems prone to do, Moses suddenly shifts his attention to less dramatic matters, focusing his attention on dishonesty. He mentions the use of different measures. This is a reference to the scales used in buying and selling. Since Israel was predominantly an agrarian society, when produce was sold, it was placed on one side of the scale and the form of payment was placed on the other. A bag of wheat equaled a certain amount of coin. So, if you had two different forms of measurement, it essentially meant you had false scales and an intent to cheat the one with whom you were conducting business. The prophet, Micah, records the words of God concerning those who would do such a thing.

Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights? – Micah 6:8 ESV

And the book of Proverbs provides further insight into God’s perspective on dishonesty in business.

The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.
 – Proverbs 11:1 NLT

And God had provided the Israelites with His laws concerning the matter.

“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:35-36 NLT

Accuracy and honesty are important to God. He is a just and righteous God who expects His people to treat one another with love and respect. To cheat someone is nothing less than an outward display of hate for them. It is to rob them of what they are rightfully due. And, in cheating someone, you are setting yourself up as god, establishing your own rules and establishing your will as greater than God’s. But Moses makes it painfully clear that “all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16 ESV).

Finally, Moses brings up God’s commands concerning Israel’s relationship with the Amalakites. In the book of Exodus, there is a story describing Israel’s first encounter with these people. They appeared on the scene at a place called Rephidim, launching an unprovoked attack on the Israelites. While Joshua did battle with the Amalakites, Moses stood on a nearby hill, holding up the staff of God as a symbol of God’s presence and power. As long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle raged on, his arms grew weary and Aaron and Hur were required to assist him in keeping the staff aloft. Eventually, the forces of Israel prevailed and God made a pronouncement concerning the Amalakites.

“Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:14-16 ESV

Now, Moses is reminding the Israelites that they were to fulfill God’s will concerning the Amalakites. There were to be no compromises or concessions made. God had decreed that the Amalakites were to be blotted out and He fully expected His people to carry out His wishes.

Hundreds of years later, when Saul had been appointed the first king of Israel, God reiterated His will that the Amalakites be wiped out.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2-3 ESV

But Saul failed to obey God’s command.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. – 1 Samuel 15:9 ESV

And as a result of Saul’s disobedience, God rejected him as king. This man had chosen to partially obey, making compromises and concessions that were unacceptable to God. And Samuel, the prophet of God, delivered the following indictment against Saul.

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” – 1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV

Saul had chosen to act perversely. According to, someone who acts perversly is “willfully determined or disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired.” He did not do what God had told him to do. But God considers obedience far better than sacrifice. As Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 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

To Fulfill All Righteousness.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 3:13-4:1 ESV

For three decades, Jesus had lived in relative obscurity in the region called Galilee. The four Gospels provide us with few details regarding his childhood and nothing regarding his formative years as a young man. Matthew picks up the story of the life of Jesus at His baptism by John in the wilderness. And John, while a relative of Jesus, evidently had no idea that Jesus was the one of whom he was speaking when he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). John had been sent by God to act as a forerunner, a kind of herald whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And evidently, there were those who wondered if John was the himself the Messiah. But John knew his role and clearly stated that there was one coming who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:19-23

And again, John had no idea that Jesus was the one until God confirmed it for him at the baptism of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

But once John had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus at His baptism, he had known without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and he knew exactly why Jesus had come.

29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

The baptism of Jesus acted as the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It officially launched His campaign to take away the sins of the world. And it was marked by His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the verbal confirmation by God of His public ministry. John had been reluctant to baptize Jesus, feeling inadequate for the task and viewing Jesus as having no need of repentance. But Jesus persuaded John that this was a necessary part of God’s divine plan for His life.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15 ESV

Jesus was encouraging John to do what was right – that which was in keeping with the will of God. Matthew’s use of the word, “righteousness” has nothing to do with salvation or a right standing with God, but with conformity to the will of God. Jesus was letting John know that His baptism was God’s will and, therefore, they were morally or ethically obligated to do what God commanded. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the audible expression of God’s favor were both forms of God’s confirmation that this had all been part of His divine will.

Because Jesus was sinless, His baptism was not for the remission of sins or because He was in need of repentance. It was an act of submission to the will of His Father, and a means of identifying Himself with all those who had obeyed John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many had come to the wilderness to be baptized by John. But John warned them that their willingness to undergo water baptism had to be marked by true life change. He demanded that they, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:3 ESV). And when pressed by the people as to what that fruit should look like, John had given them specific examples.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:10-14 ESV

Their lives were to be marked by distinctively different behavior. Their repentance was to be characterized by life change. But what John was asking them to do was impossible. They did not have the inner capacity to live out what John was commanding. There was something missing. And John, whether he fully understood it or not, declared to the people what that missing ingredient was: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The water baptism John offered was insufficient to provide people with the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. But there was a baptism coming, made available by Jesus, that would include the Holy Spirit and fire, and empower all those who received it to fulfill all righteousness. Not only would they be able to do the will of God, they would find themselves in a right standing with God. And the baptism to which John eluded was that which took place years later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The power to live radically different lives was going to come from the Holy Spirit, But the Holy Spirit would not be made available until Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, completing God’s plan for His life, which was to include His death on the cross. And it’s essential that we note that even Jesus’ earthly ministry was begun with the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended upon Him at His baptism, empowering Him for the task that lay ahead. All that Jesus would do in the coming days would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be led by the Spirit. And the very first verse of the very next chapter reveals that Jesus was now going to be under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God until He fully accomplished the will of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 2:1 ESV

Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness – to do the will of His Father in heaven. And He made that point perfectly clear when He stated: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). The baptism of Jesus was just the beginning of His willing submission to His Father’s plan for His life. And each step He took from that day forward, including His journey into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, was in order that He might fulfill all righteousness – doing all that God had planned for His life – so that He might be the means by which sinful mankind might have eternal life.

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

Rescued by God.

1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Acts 12:1-11 ESV

In the preceding chapter, Luke mentioned the famine taking place in the land of Judea. This devastating natural disaster had left the congregation in Jerusalem in a state of great need and physical suffering. So much so, that an effort was made on the part of the new Gentile converts to raise funds to send to the church in Jerusalem to assist them in their time of need. Luke records that Barnabas and Saul made a trip to Jerusalem to deliver the generous gift of the Gentile church.

29 So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30 This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem. – Acts 11:29-30 NLT

But chapter 12 presents an even greater problem taking place back in Jerusalem. The persecution of the church was continuing to increase in magnitude and intensity. Now, Herod, the pseudo king of the Jews, who had been appointed by Rome, was getting in on the act. Herod Agrippa I was part-Jewish, but was greatly disliked by the Jewish people because of his close association with the Roman emperor Gaius, who had given him his position. In an effort to curry favor of the Jewish people, Herod used his political office to carry out attacks on the church, even going so far as to have James, the brother of John, executed. And when he saw how much this pleased the Jews, he made plans to do the same thing to Peter. The murder of James, one of the original apostles and a leader in the Jerusalem church, would have had a devastating impact on its members. And, while the news of his death would have been surprising and unexpected, Jesus Himself had predicted it. Years earlier, while Jesus was still on the earth, James and his brother, John, had come to Jesus with a request.

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36 “What is your request?” he asked.

37 They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39 “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering.” – Mark 10:35-39 NLT

Now, James was dead. And Peter was next. At least, that was Herod’s plan. It was as if his plan was to eliminate the leadership of the church, one man at a time. And he was serious about it, having Peter arrested and thrown in jail.

This entire section of the Book of Acts provides us with an important interlude or break that separates the spread of the church to the Gentiles, as recorded in chapter 11, with the trip of Saul and Barnabas to Cyprus, where they continued their evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles. As the gospel made its way into the world, the heat in Jerusalem was intensifying and the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was becoming increasingly volatile and violent. Yes, there had been thousands of Jews who had come to faith in Jesus, but as a nation, both politically and religiously, they were standing opposed to Jesus’ claim to be their Messiah. John, the brother of James, recorded the nature of Israel’s rejection of Jesus, illustrated in their corporate refusal to accept Him as their Messiah.

37 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him. 38 This is exactly what Isaiah the prophet had predicted:

Lord, who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?”

39 But the people couldn’t believe, for as Isaiah also said,

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts—
so that their eyes cannot see,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and have me heal them.”

41 Isaiah was referring to Jesus when he said this, because he saw the future and spoke of the Messiah’s glory. 42 Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. 43 For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. – John 12:37-43 NLT

Now, years later, and long after Jesus had been put to death by the joint efforts of the religious authorities of Israel and the Roman government, His disciples were facing the same threat of execution. But the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel, while disappointing, had a purpose. It opened up the door to the Gentiles. Because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, the gospel was taken to non-Jews, so that they might enjoy the righteousness and redemption provided by faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. And Paul, himself a devout Jew, would later write that Israel’s rejection of Jesus would not be permanent in nature.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

This was all part of God’s divine plan. Had the Jewish nation, as a whole, not turned its back on Jesus, the persecution and scattering of the church would not have taken place. But it did, because that was the way God had ordained it. Even Peter’s arrest, while clearly the decision of Herod, was part of God’s sovereign, preestablished will.

Luke tells us that when Peter was arrested, the rest of the church got busy lifting him up in prayer. They feared for the worst. James was dead, and they had no reason to expect that the same thing would not happen to Peter. So, they took their need to God. Luke doesn’t tell us what they prayed, but we can easily assume that they pleaded for God to spare Peter’s life and to deliver him from the hands of Herod. And God did just that. The story of Peter’s deliverance provides us with a startling, but often overlooked reminder of God’s power. Herod, the king of the Jews, who had the full authority of the Roman empire behind him, had placed Peter in jail and had every intent to put him to death. And Luke tells us that, on the very night he had determined to carry out his plan, God stepped in. And He did so in a dramatic and memorable way. Peter was sound asleep, chained to two Roman solders, when suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared, filling the cell with dazzling light. Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to the two guards, but they were either paralyzed or, perhaps, even killed by the angel. All we know is that Peter’s chains dropped off and, after having gotten dressed, he walked out of the prison a free man. And the whole time this was going on, Peter thought he was dreaming. It wasn’t until he had made his way out of the prison complex and the angel suddenly disappeared, that Peter realized that what had happened was real and not a dream.

“Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” – Acts 12:11 ESV

God had much more for Peter to do. His work on behalf of the kingdom was not yet complete. In John 21, we have Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s death, but this was not the time or the place. Herod, even as powerful as he was, stood powerless before God Almighty. His execution of James, could not have happened without God’s approval. We don’t know why God allowed James to die by the sword, any more than we know why God allowed Stephen to be stoned to death. And God is not obligated to explain Himself to us. But we can rest in the fact that God, in His sovereign will and almighty power, was in full control of all the circumstances surrounding His church. He was going to use each and every event – the good, the bad and the ugly – to accomplish His divine will for the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. And as we will see later on in this same chapter, God would eventually deal with Herod, revealing that no one stands outside of or aloof from God’s sovereign hand and righteous judgment.

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

Submit Like It.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. – 1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV

Peter continues to provide specific details regarding the behavior that should characterize those who have been chosen by God and who have been made a part of His family. They are a chosen people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood and a people for God’s own possession and, as such, they should “show others the goodness of God” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT). And now, Peter applies his calls for changed behavior to the relationship between the believer and the state. In these verses, Peter reflects the same thoughts as expressed by Paul in his letter to the believers in Rome.

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. – Romans 13:1-7 NLT

Both of these men are calling for a dramatically different outlook when it comes to the Christian and his ongoing relationship with the civil government. Peter says, “Be subject…to every human institution.” Paul says, “submit to governing authorities.” And they are both referring to the rulers and leaders who make up the local government. Peter says that it is to be done “for the Lord’s sake.” Paul says to not do so is to rebel against God, since He is the one who has instituted all those in authority. This has nothing to do with whether we think they deserve our submission. Neither Peter or Paul qualifies their statements with words like, “as long as they are Christians.” That doesn’t seem to matter. Peter simply says that these man (or women) serve under the sovereign will of God. Paul says they have been placed in their positions by God. And we must realize that this kind of talk was as difficult to accept then as it is now. We have a hard time seeing corrupt governments and despotic dictatorships serving at the whim and according to the will of God. But both men want us to know that government was God’s idea. He instituted it and has charged it with keeping the law and maintaining order among all men, not just Christians. And if you think about it, that is an extremely difficult proposition, because of the nature of the fall and the ever-present reality of sin.

Ultimately, human governments exist “to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right” (1 Peter 2:15 NLT). That is their God-given mandate. Paul makes it perfectly clear that governments exist to punish those who do wrong. If you are doing what is right, you have nothing to fear.

For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. – Romans 13:3 NLT

Now, while we know that this is not always the case, it is the normal and natural role that civic government is to play in the lives of men. There will always be outliers and anomalies. There will be dictators and oppressive regimes that use their power and authority unethically and even illegally. There will be world leaders who abuse their people and their authority, punishing even those who do right. But in the normal scheme of things, government exists to provide order and protection, to enforce the laws, and to create an environment that fosters stability and encourages productive lifestyles among its people.

But neither Peter or Paul takes time to deal with the renegade rulers. They are more interested in dealing with the behavior of believers. What should our relationships with these authorities look like? Quite simply: Be subject, do good, and live as people who are free. Peter was a big fan of our new-found freedoms in Christ, but like Paul, he knew that those freedoms could be misunderstood and abused. Just was we can live as if we are free from the law and assume that we are released to live however we want, we can easily assume that, since we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, we are free from having to obey earthly kings and authorities. But that would be a wrong and dangerous assumption.  Which is why Peter summarizes his thoughts with the short, but far-from-simplistic admonition: “Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king” (1 Peter 2:17 NLT). Notice the juxtapositions in this statement. We are to love the family of God, while we show respect to everyone outside the family of God. We are to show fear, awe and reverence to God, while we show respect to the king. Our status as children of God does not remove our responsibilities to the earthly authorities that God has established. We are are continue to pay our taxes. We are to support and pray for our governmental leaders. Paul put it this way:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. – 1 Timothy 2:1-4 NLT

Peter wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t out of touch with reality. He knew that there were plenty of corrupt governments and officials. He knew that the believers to whom he wrote were going to find themselves persecuted for their faith by the very governments to whom he was calling these people to submit. Jesus Himself lived and ministered during the period of Roman rule in Israel, when the government hamstrung the people of God with exorbitant taxes and oppressive rules. And yet, it was Jesus who said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 28:22 NLT). Jesus did not foster civic unrest or try to drum up rebellion against the Roman rulers. In fact, He allowed them to crucify Him on a cross, their preferred method of capital punishment. Jesus didn’t raise an army in response. He didn’t even raise His voice. He submitted, because He knew that, ultimately, He was submitting to the will of His Father.

And that is the attitude that we are to have. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15 ESV). When we live godly lives, even when surrounded by ungodly governments and oppressive circumstances, we are placing our faith in God, and that brings Him glory. We are trusting God and revealing to the lost world around us, that we truly believe nothing can come against us or harm us that God has not allowed. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome:

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

So, if we believe what Paul has to say, we must begin to submit like it. Because it reveals that we trust in God’s unfading, never-failing love and rest in the knowledge that when we submit to governments, we are really submitting to the sovereign will of God for our lives. He is in control, so what do we have to fear?

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

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

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

The Day of Vengeance.

The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.

About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:

“Prepare buckler and shield,
    and advance for battle!
Harness the horses;
    mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
    polish your spears,
    put on your armor!
Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
    and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
    and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
    terror on every side!
declares the Lord.

“The swift cannot flee away,
    nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
    they have stumbled and fallen.

“Who is this, rising like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge?
Egypt rises like the Nile,
    like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
    I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
Advance, O horses,
    and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
    men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
    men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,
    a day of vengeance,
    to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
    and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice
    in the north country by the river Euphrates.
Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
    O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
    there is no healing for you.
The nations have heard of your shame,
    and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
    they have both fallen together.” Jeremiah 46:1-12 ESV

At this point in the book, as it comes to a close, the attention of God shifts to the other nations who have played significant parts in the stories of Israel and Judah. God will speak oracles concerning each of these nations, providing a glimpse into what their fates will be. In doing so, God reveals His sovereign will over all the nations and peoples of the world, not just the Jews. His divine will and sovereign plan encompasses the entire earth and all who live on it. And God will begin His revelation concerning His plans for the nations by focusing His attention on Egypt. This should not be surprising, considering the fact that a portion of the people of Judah had fled to Egypt for safety, and they had taken God’s prophet along with them.

Egypt had been a significant power in the region of Canaan for centuries. There was a time when they controlled significant portions of Canaan and Syria, but they had lost these regions in subsequent battles with the Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. In this oracle, provided by God to Jeremiah, we are given God’s pronouncement of Egypt’s defeat by the Babylonians. It all began in 609 B.C. when Pharaoh Neco and his troops marched to Carchemesh which was located on the Euphrates River in Northern Syria. King Josiah of Judah attempted to stop Neco, but was killed in battle. In the fourth year (605 B.C.) of the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, Prince Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians defeated Neco’s forces, providing the Babylonians with complete control of the region. In this passage, God predicts this event. And while, Jeremiah writes in the past tense, he actually penned these words long before the events took place.

In the opening verses, Jeremiah warns the Egyptians to prepare themselves for battle. They are to arm themselves for war, making sure they include their chariots and war horses. But in the very next verses, Jeremiah paints a picture of the Egyptian forces running way in terror. Even the bravest warriors are attempting to escape, as fast as they can, not bothering to look back. “They are terrorized at every turn” (Jeremiah 46:5 NLT). But they can’t escape. There is nowhere to run. The Egyptian’s took great pride in their army because of its invincible power. They boastfully compared its might to that of the Nile when it overflowed its banks during flooding.

It is the Egyptian army,
    overflowing all the land,
boasting that it will cover the earth like a flood,
    destroying cities and their people. – Jeremiah 46:8 NLT

God issues a challenge to the Egyptians and all their allies.

Charge, you horses and chariots;
    attack, you mighty warriors of Egypt!
Come, all you allies from Ethiopia, Libya, and Lydia
    who are skilled with the shield and bow! – Jeremiah 46:9 NLT

But God warns them that things are not going to turn out quite like they expected. This would be a day of defeat for them, because they were running headlong into the sovereign will of God, the Lord God of hosts. This would prove to be a day of vengeance, when God would bring His judgment on the nation of Egypt. There is no reason given for Egypt’s fall. Perhaps it was due to Pharaoh Neco’s murder of King Josiah. But God is not required to provide us with a rationale or justification for His actions. He is the God of the universe. His ways are not our ways. “His judgments are true and just” (Revelation 19:2 NLT).

The battle will end in defeat. The Egyptians will fall to the swords of the Babylonians. And God describes this event as a sacrificial offering. The blood of the Egyptians will be spilled as payment for their many sins and for their arrogance and pride, believing themselves to be unbeatable in battle. God is clearly showing that He alone is God. Pharaoh is not divine. His troops are not invincible. It would not be because of the superior nature of the Babylonian forces that Egypt would fall that day, but because of the sovereign will and almighty power of God.

God recommends that Egypt go to Gilead and take advantage of their healing balms. But they would find no medicine strong enough to restore their health. Egypt, long renowned for its healing arts, would be incapable of recovering from the devastation God was bringing upon them. There was no ointment that could heal the wounds inflicted by a vengeful God. There were not enough allies to prevent defeat at the hands of a sovereign God, the Lord of heaven’s armies. These mighty nations that had risen to power and whose kings believed they had the right to rule over all the world, would find that the scope of their power was limited and their dreams of world domination were controlled by a power outside of themselves.

It is likely that these oracles from God were intended to remind the people of Judah that their God was in control. While they had suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, God wanted them to understand that all the events surrounding their circumstances were part of His divine plan. He was in control of all that was taking place in the world at that time. They were never to have placed their hopes in foreign nations. They were to trust in God alone. But Judah and Israel had made a habit out of trusting in anything and everything but God. They had repeatedly turned to alliances with foreign nations and to the worship of false gods as their sources of comfort and security. But God was reminding them that He alone could be trusted. He alone could provide true safety and security. He alone was powerful enough to rely upon in times of need.

It is interesting to look back in the history of Judah and recall the time when Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians was invading Judah. He sent an emissary to King Hezekiah, with a word of warning.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? On Egypt? If you lean on Egypt, it will be like a reed that splinters beneath your weight and pierces your hand. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, is completely unreliable!” – Isaiah 36:4-6 NLT

Even then, Judah was prone to place its trust in Egypt. And Sennacherib warned Hezekiah against putting the fate of his people in the hands of an unreliable “reed” like Egypt. But Sennacherib went on to warn Hezekiah not to put his trust in God either.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem?” – Isaiah 36:7 NLT

Ah, the pride of man. It is inescapable and unavoidable. Time and time again, all throughout history, we see it raise its ugly head, as mere men set themselves up as the masters of their fate and the self-proclaimed kings of the world. But they fail to recognize that God alone is King. He alone rules and reigns. It is His will alone that matters. And these oracles from God concerning the fates of the nations surrounding Judah were designed to let the people of God know that He was still in control. In the midst of their dire circumstances, they could rest in the fact that their God was still on His throne.

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

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

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

That Day.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it.”

These are the words that the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah:

“Thus says the Lord:
We have heard a cry of panic,
    of terror, and no peace.
Ask now, and see,
    can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man
    with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor?
    Why has every face turned pale?
Alas! That day is so great
    there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob;
    yet he shall be saved out of it.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
    nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
    and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
    and none shall make him afraid.
For I am with you to save you,
declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
    among whom I scattered you,
    but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
    and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”
Jeremiah 30:1-11 ESV

Jeremiah is going to write a book. Not the book that bears his name, but another book that has come to be known as “The Book of Consolation.” In actuality, it is God who will be the author of the book and Jeremiah will act as His scribe. God tells the prophet: “Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2 ESV). But a better translation would be that found in the New English Translation Bible (NET): “Write everything that I am about to tell you in a scroll.” God is not asking Jeremiah to write down everything He has said over the last 29 chapters. He is instructing the prophet to put down in a scroll all that He is about to say. And God gives Jeremiah the purpose behind this book of consolation he is going to help create.

“For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it again. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 30:3 NLT

God was creating a permanent record of His promises and prophecies, so that when the people of Judah and Israel returned to the land, they would have tangible proof of
God’s faithfulness. There would be a written record of all that God had said He would do. It would contain a recounting of the people’s sins against God and a reminder of how all His predictions of judgment had come to pass just as He had said.

While this record is referred to as “The Book of Consolation”, it starts off an a fairly negative note:

“I hear cries of fear;
    there is terror and no peace.
Now let me ask you a question:
    Do men give birth to babies?
Then why do they stand there, ashen-faced,
    hands pressed against their sides
    like a woman in labor?” – Jeremiah 30:5-6 NLT

God provides a highly descriptive picture of how bad things are going to get. There will be pain and suffering like nothing the peoples of Judah and Israel have ever experienced before. Men will look like they are going through labor pains. God describes it as “a time of distress for Jacob” (Jeremiah 30:7 ESV). It’s interesting that God uses the name “Jacob” rather than “Israel”. If you recall, there was a time in the life of the patriarch, Jacob, where God renamed him Israel. Jacob’s original name meant “taking hold of the heal, supplanter, layer of snares”. He had lived his life as a conniver and deceiver, cheating his brother out of his birth right and living in self-imposed exile as a result. When God had commanded him to return home, He also chose to rename him. His new name meant “God prevails”. And along with a new name, Jacob received a promise from God:

“I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:11-12 NLT

So, in His book, God refers to the peoples of Judah and Israel as Jacob. Perhaps He did so as a not-so-subtle reminder that they had lived most of their lives as deceivers and supplanters. The word, “supplant” means “to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like” ( In essence, the people of God had been trying to replace God with false gods. They had been attempting to be their own gods. So, God warns them that they are going to go through a time of great distress. But there’s good news: “Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7 NLT). And God gets very specific about what that salvation will look like.

“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” – Jeremiah 30:8-9 ESV

Now, this is where we need to stop and think about what God is saying to them. We have to ask the question: Has any of this taken place yet? Has this prophecy been fulfilled. You might conclude that it was fulfilled when the 70 years of captivity in Babylon was complete and God allowed the return of a remnant to Judah to restore the city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But while that would be true, it would only be a partial fulfillment, because the people of Israel never had another king from the line of David. The next king they would have would be Herod, during the time of Jesus, who was an Edomite and a puppet-king of the Romans. He was not a descendant of David. So, this prophecy must have an as-yet-future aspect to it. It is not yet fulfilled. Whenever you see the reference to “that day” in Scripture, it is referring to future event.

The prophet, Zechariah, also spoke of this coming day of the Lord.

“I will pour out on the kingship of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me, the one they have pierced. – Zechariah 12:10 NLT

Do you see the Messianic aspect to this prophecy? It contains a clear reference to Jesus, the Messiah, the one who was pierced for the sins of mankind. In his great messianic chapter, Isaiah wrote of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and of His sufferings on behalf of mankind.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

The prophet, Zechariah goes on to say:

“In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurity. And also on that day,” says the Lord who rules over all, “I will remove the names of the idols from the land and they will never again be remembered. Moreover, I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.”Zechariah 13:1-2 NLT

God has Jeremiah write down on the scroll the following words of comfort to the peoples of Judah and Israel:

“For I will bring you home again from distant lands,
    and your children will return from their exile.
Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet,
    and no one will terrorize them.
For I am with you and will save you” – Jeremiah 30:10-11 NLT

And while God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land, they would be without a king. Their lives in the land would not be marked by peace and quiet. They would be surrounded by enemies and constantly harassed by foreign powers, even up until the days of Jesus. They would find themselves under the constant rule of other nations, like the Romans. So, it is clear that this prophecy has only been partially fulfilled. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. That is why He was having Jeremiah put the words He was speaking on paper. He wanted a written record that the people could turn to and be reminded of what He had said He would do. The return of the remnant to Judah from Babylon was just a small glimpse into the greater good that God has in store for His people in the future.

There was more godly discipline coming for the people of God. He was going to continue His judgment of them. Even today, Israel finds itself under the judgment of God. They are back in the land, but they are surrounded on all sides by enemies and face with constant threats against their sovereignty as a nation. They have no king. There is no temple and, therefore, no sacrificial system. But “that day” is coming. God is not done yet. His plans for Israel are not yet complete. As God had prophesied through Jeremiah in the preceding chapter:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 NLT

The captivity of Israel has only partially ended. Their fortunes have only partially been restored. But the days of God’s testing will come to an end. He will one day complete His plans for the people of Israel and restore them completely to a right relationship with Himself. And the prophet, Zechariah gives us an exciting glimpse of that day.

“I will refine them like silver is refined
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name and I will answer;
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” – Zechariah 13:9 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

“You Will Be Safe!”

Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
    cry aloud and say,
‘Assemble, and let us go
    into the fortified cities!’
Raise a standard toward Zion,
    flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
    and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket,
    a destroyer of nations has set out;
    he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
    your cities will be ruins
    without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth,
    lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the Lord
    has not turned back from us.”

“In that day, declares the Lord, courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God, surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you,’ whereas the sword has reached their very life.”

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A hot wind from the bare heights in the desert toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow or cleanse, a wind too full for this comes for me. Now it is I who speak in judgment upon them.” Jeremiah 4:5-12 ESV

Back in chapter one, God gave Jeremiah a vision of a boiling cauldron that was spilling over. And He told Jeremiah:

“Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the Lord, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah.” – Jeremiah 1:14-15 ESV

Now God is going to give Jeremiah a much more detailed description of what is going to happen, and Jeremiah is to share this less-than-comforting news with the people of Judah. God tells Jeremiah to metaphorically “blow the trumpet.” He was to issue an alarm to the people, warning them to send signals to the entire nation to seek shelter in the fortified cities. Disaster was coming. A destroyer of nations was coming out of the north “to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 4:7 ESV). And all the people could do was wait for the inevitable and unavoidable outcome. All they could do was mourn their fate and regret the folly of their ways.

So put on sackcloth!
Mourn and wail, saying,
‘The fierce anger of the Lord
has not turned away from us!’” – Jeremiah 4:8 NET

But before we go on, let’s take a minute to consider something that is often overlooked. First of all, how do you think Jeremiah felt about having to deliver this message? Talk about being the bearer of bad news. What a difficult task it must have been for Jeremiah to obey God and speak these words to people he knew and loved. And how do you think Jeremiah was received? What kind of reception did the prophet encounter when he gave his message of doom and gloom to the people of Judah? He was ,undoubtedly, a very unpopular person. It is unlikely that he was invited to a lot of dinner parties. People probably avoided him on the street. No one wanted to be seen with Jeremiah. And no one wanted to be around when Jeremiah went on one of his rants.

We sometimes forget that the prophets of God were mere men. And yet, they had been called by God to deliver very difficult news to the people of God. They were human and had feelings just like anybody else. They didn’t enjoy being despised and rejected. But they put a higher priority on obedience to God’s will than they did on being liked by the people. God’s words were difficult to deliver, and even more difficult for the people to receive. But they knew God was speaking truth the people needed to hear. So they spoke – faithfully and fearlessly.

But back to God’s message. He also told Jeremiah to tell the people:

“When this happens,” says the Lord,
“the king and his officials will lose their courage.
The priests will be struck with horror,
and the prophets will be speechless in astonishment.” – Jeremiah 4:9 NET

The leadership of Judah would find themselves in a state of shock. Responsible for the well-being of the nation, they will be unprepared to deal with the enormity of the problem when it comes. The king and his court won’t know what to do. The priests won’t know where to turn. After all, they had a plethora of gods they worshiped, so they had do decide which one was going to help them? The false prophets, who had been predicting ongoing peace, would be tongue-tied, unable to explain how they had gotten it so wrong. And Jeremiah alludes to the deceptive message of these false prophets when he responds to God:

“Ah, Lord God, you have surely allowed the people of Judah and Jerusalem to be deceived by those who say, ‘You will be safe!’ But in fact a sword is already at our throats.” – Jeremiah 4:10 NET

While God had not raised up these false prophets, He had allowed them to present their deceptive messages promising safety and security. He had let the people be lulled into a false sense of comfort, all the while knowing that their unrepentant state was going to lead to their destruction. But the time had come for God to speak and to bring an end to Judah’s overconfident, unrepentant attitude.

“At that time the people of Judah and Jerusalem will be told,
‘A scorching wind will sweep down
from the hilltops in the desert on my dear people.
It will not be a gentle breeze
for winnowing the grain and blowing away the chaff.
No, a wind too strong for that will come at my bidding.
Yes, even now I, myself, am calling down judgment on them.’ – Jeremiah 4:11-12 NET

Judgement was coming. The party was over. The fake gods, false prophets, faithless priests, godless officials, and adulterous people were going to find themselves facing the wrath of the God they had taken for granted and treated with disdain. He would no longer tolerate their blatant disregard for His will and His ways. And He makes it clear that He will be the one who calls down judgment on them. This will not just be a case of fate. God will be the one who sends the Babylonians. This coming destruction will be the direct result of God’s sovereign will and providential plan.

There is a not-so-subtle message in these verses for those of us who consider themselves God’s chosen people in this day. We who claim to be Christ-followers and lovers of God must take heart God’s words of warning. While our sins are forgiven and our right standing with God has been fully taken care of by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, we must not take our secure standing lightly or treat the glory of God flippantly. He is still a holy God who expects His people to live in accordance with His will. He not only expects us to be holy, He has given us His Spirit in order that we might BE holy. But the greatest danger we face is that of complacency and a false sense of comfort. Just because we know where we’re going when we die doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want while we’re alive. The fact that we have forgiveness available to us when we sin is not to be an incentive to continue to live in sin. And Paul makes the absurdity of this kind of thinking quite clear in his letter to the Romans.

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. – Romans 6:1-4 NLT

God has called us to live new lives, and He has provided us with the power to make it possible. But how easy it is for us to reject God’s call to live holy lives and to choose to live slightly improved versions of our old selves. That is NOT what He has called us to. That is NOT what His Son died to make possible. We have been redeemed from captivity to sin and set free to live Spirit-empowered lives of holiness and spiritual wholesomeness. We are to be faithful to God and committed to His will and His ways. We are to be His representatives on this earth, providing living proof that His Son’s death truly does provide new life – both here and in the hereafter. We must never become complacent or overly comfortable with our status as God’s children. God will discipline us. Why? Because He loves us too much to allow us to continue to live in sin. But we must always remember that His love for us, even in the form of His discipline of us, will be for our good. The author of Hebrews reminds us:

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.” As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. – Hebrews 12:5-7 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