And Justice For All

In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, raise a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt and say to him:

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
    but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
    trouble the waters with your feet,
    and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
    I will throw my net over you
    with a host of many peoples,
    and they will haul you up in my dragnet.
And I will cast you on the ground;
    on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you,
    and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
I will strew your flesh upon the mountains
    and fill the valleys with your carcass.
I will drench the land even to the mountains
    with your flowing blood,
    and the ravines will be full of you.
When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
    and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon shall not give its light.
All the bright lights of heaven
    will I make dark over you,
    and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.

“I will trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries that you have not known. 10 I will make many peoples appalled at you, and the hair of their kings shall bristle with horror because of you, when I brandish my sword before them. They shall tremble every moment, every one for his own life, on the day of your downfall.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you. 12 I will cause your multitude to fall by the swords of mighty ones, all of them most ruthless of nations.

“They shall bring to ruin the pride of Egypt,
    and all its multitude shall perish.
13 I will destroy all its beasts
    from beside many waters;
and no foot of man shall trouble them anymore,
    nor shall the hoofs of beasts trouble them.
14 Then I will make their waters clear,
    and cause their rivers to run like oil,
declares the Lord God.
15 When I make the land of Egypt desolate,
    and when the land is desolate of all that fills it,
when I strike down all who dwell in it,
    then they will know that I am the Lord.

16 This is a lamentation that shall be chanted; the daughters of the nations shall chant it; over Egypt, and over all her multitude, shall they chant it, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 32:1-16 ESV

A little less than a year later, God gave Ezekiel another round of mournful lyrics to commemorate the “death” of Egypt. They are delivered as a memorial for Pharaoh, but are intended to recount the sad plight of the entire nation. As their regal representative, Pharaoh stood as their official proxy or substitute. He was the face of the nation and was held accountable by God for the sins of his people. God tells Ezekiel to sing this funeral dirge with Pharaoh in mind.

“Son of man, mourn for Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and give him this message…” – Ezekiel 32:2 NLT

God accuses Pharaoh of imagining himself as “a strong young lion among the nations” (Ezekiel 32:2 NLT). This imagery of the Egyptian leader as a fierce predator was memorialized in the form of the sphinx, a figure that combined the body of a lion and the head of the Pharaoh. Hophra, who was likely the Pharaoh on Egypt’s throne at this time, had his very own sphinx statue and fancied himself to be the king of the jungle. But God diminishes Hophra’s visions of grandeur by comparing him to a crocodile thrashing about in the muddy waters of the Nile.

“You think of yourself as a strong young lion among the nations,
    but you are really just a sea monster,
heaving around in your own rivers,
    stirring up mud with your feet. – Ezekiel 32:2 NLT

Egypt wasn’t the global superpower she envisioned herself to be. She was nothing more than a regional player with global aspirations that were about to come to an abrupt stop. The Babylonians were going to deal Hophra and his troops a decisive blow that would prove to be the nation’s death knell.

God makes it painfully clear that His plans for Egypt involve their complete destruction.

“The sword of the king of Babylon
    will come against you.
I will destroy your hordes with the swords of mighty warriors—
    the terror of the nations.” – Ezekiel 32:11-12 NLT

When the dust had settled, Hophra, his people, and all the other nations on earth would know that Egypt’s downfall had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel. Their unexpected demise was going to come as a shock to all the surrounding nations. No one expected Egypt to suffer such a devastating defeat, even at the hands of the Babylonians. As a nation, they had been around for millennium. They had proven to have staying power and the resources to maintain their status as a perennial force in the region. So, when they fell, the other kings and nations would view their demise as a bad omen.

“I will disturb many hearts when I bring news of your downfall to distant nations you have never seen. Yes, I will shock many lands, and their kings will be terrified at your fate. They will shudder in fear for their lives as I brandish my sword before them on the day of your fall. – Ezekiel 32:9-10 NLT

These less powerful nations would quickly conclude that they had no hope against the Babylonian juggernaut, and they would be right. If Egypt couldn’t hold its own against Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, no one could.

And what’s interesting to note is that the events foreshadowed these chapters do not always follow a chronological timeline. This chapter opens with the words, “In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the first day of the month” (Ezekiel 32:1 ESV). But in chapter 33, Ezekiel records another message he received from God two months earlier.

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” – Ezekiel 33:12 ESV

In other words, by the time Ezekiel received this oracle concerning Egypt’s defeat, the walls of the city of Jerusalem had already fallen and the Babylonians had destroyed the temple. So, as Ezekiel shared the words of this funeral dirge mourning Egypt’s pending demise, his exiled Jewish audience would have already received the devastating news of Jerusalem’s destruction. Word of Egypt’s fate would have functioned as an emotional salve, helping to alleviate some of the pain they felt concerning their city and their friends and family members back in Judah.

And God wanted them to know that the pride-filled Egyptians would not escape His wrath. They too would meet an untimely end at the hands of the Babylonians. There was no guilty party who would escape God’s judgment. Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Egyptians would all suffer the same fate. And the common denominator would be Nebuchadnezzar.

“The sword of the king of Babylon
    will come against you. – Ezekiel 32:11 NLT

But that sword, while wielded by the Babylon king, would belong to God Almighty. Nebuchadnezzar would be acting on God’s behalf, carrying out His sovereign will and fulfilling His providential plan for the nations.

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.

No More Than They Deserved

But I am the Lord your God
    from the land of Egypt;
you know no God but me,
    and besides me there is no savior.
It was I who knew you in the wilderness,
    in the land of drought;
but when they had grazed, they became full,
    they were filled, and their heart was lifted up;
    therefore they forgot me.
So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

He destroys you, O Israel,
    for you are against me, against your helper.
10 Where now is your king, to save you in all your cities?
    Where are all your rulers—
those of whom you said,
    “Give me a king and princes”?
11 I gave you a king in my anger,
    and I took him away in my wrath. – Hosea 13:4-11 ESV

Israel’s idolatry was a particularly harsh slap in the face to God because He had proven Himself to be a faithful, powerful, gracious, and generous God. In His long association with them, He had done nothing to earn their distrust and disfavor. In fact, they would not have existed as a nation had not God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and sent him to the land of Canaan. Then if God had not caused a famine in the land of Canaan, Abram’s grandson, Jacob, would not have taken his family to Egypt to seek food and shelter. And God had miraculously prepared the way for their arrival. Years earlier, Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. Jealous of their father’s affections for their younger brother, they had chosen to get rid of him. Joseph ended up a household slave in the land of Egypt. But God protected and prospered Joseph, eventually ordaining his rise to the second-highest position in the land, serving directly under the Pharaoh. So, when Jacob and his small family of 70 arrived in Egypt, Joseph was there to provide them with land, food, and protection. His brothers, fearful that Joseph would use his power to seek revenge on them, were surprised to hear him say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).

And God would prosper Jacob’s family during their stay in Egypt. They would grow in number, from the original band of 70 to more than 1 million. And while the Egyptians eventually enslaved and abused the Israelites, in an attempt to control their growing population, God provided them with rescue. He sent Moses to deliver them from their captivity and lead them to the land of Canaan – the land He had promised to Abraham as his inheritance.

This entire scenario was proof of God’s love and care for His chosen people. They could look back on their nation’s history and see ample evidence that God had been with them and for them. He had fed them during the 40-plus years they had wandered in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to Canaan. He had fed them with manna and quail. He had provided them with water from a rock. During that entire time, their sandals and clothes never wore out. And when they finally entered the land God had promised to them, they found it to be just as God had advertised: A land flowing with milk and honey.

Even as they had stood on the border of the land, preparing to enter it for the first time, Moses declared just how abundant and rich they would find it to be.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:7-10 NLT

But Moses had also warned the people not to allow God’s blessings to lull them into a sense of complacency and spiritual compromise.

“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:12-18 NLT

But Hosea reveals that the people of Israel had failed to heed the words of Moses. They entered the land and then promptly began to forget the One who had given it to them. God summarized their ungrateful response to His gracious generosity.

“But when you had eaten and were satisfied,
    you became proud and forgot me.” – Hosea 13:6 NLT

And they were about to discover the truth behind Moses’ words of warning.

“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:19-20 NLT

Now, centuries later, God affirms the words of Moses by assuring His rebellious people that the gift-giver was about to become the life-taker. God, the gracious deliverer from captivity was going to become the apex predator who would discipline and destroy His own people. He would turn on them and, rather than providing for all their needs, He would deprive them of life and liberty.

“So now I will attack you like a lion,
    like a leopard that lurks along the road.
Like a bear whose cubs have been taken away,
    I will tear out your heart.
I will devour you like a hungry lioness
    and mangle you like a wild animal.” – Hosea 13:7-8 NLT

They seemed to miss the significance and seriousness of this drastic alteration in their relationship with God. It is almost as if they failed to believe that God’s words, as recorded by Hosea, would actually come to fruition. They refused to accept the finality of it all. Surely God would be forgiving and faithful just like always. After all, they were His chosen people and He had promised to care for and protect them. But they had conveniently forgotten all of God’s warnings about judgment and curses should they prove disobedient and unfaithful. They had lived under His grace for so long that they had come to take it for granted. They believed it would always be available to them, regardless of how they lived their lives. But they were about to discover just how wrong they were.

“You are about to be destroyed, O Israel—
    yes, by me, your only helper.” – Hosea 13:9 NLT

God was no longer willing to stand back and watch as His people mocked and maligned His character by their actions. He could not and would not allow them to continually drag His name through the mud through their incessant immorality and idolatry. And they were about to find that there was nothing they could do to stop the wrath of God Almighty. Their wealth and power would not save them. The kings they had demanded to rule over them would prove helpless against the forces of divine judgment coming against them. Their status as God’s chosen people would not innoculate them from the death sentence that loomed over them. Their days were numbered because they had failed to number their days. And Moses, their deliverer from captivity in Egypt, had written a psalm that prophetically previewed their eventual judgment but also called on God to show them mercy and forgiveness.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil. – Psalm 90:9-15 ESV

But it was too late. Israel had failed to number their days, so now their days were numbered. God would prove no more means of rescue. He would no longer show patient endurance as His people forsook His name and abused the many blessings He had bestowed on them. The time for judgment had finally arrived.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When All Looks Lost

1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.
The sword shall rage against their cities,
    consume the bars of their gates,
    and devour them because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all. – Hosea 11:1-7 ESV

When considering the nation of Israel, one of the most astounding realities is that  they existed at all.  As a people group, they were the byproduct of God’s divine imagination. And while you could easily say that about any nation on the face of the earth, it was particularly true of Israel. Why? Because, until God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeas, the nation of Israel had been non-existent. The book of Genesis records that fateful call of Abram.

Go from your country[and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

God ordered Abram to leave his homeland and travel to a place he had never been before – a land called Canaan. And God promised to make of Abram a great nation. What made this promise so unique was that Abram was already advanced in years and his wife, Sarah, was barren. So, God was going to have to work a miracle to make this promise happen. And He did. Years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who would later father Jacob, whom God would later rename, Israel.

The book of Genesis also records the time when Jacob (Israel) and 70 of his family members moved to Egypt to escape a drought in Canaan. There in Egypt, Jacob was reunited with one of his sons whom he had long thought dead. That son was Joseph. In a fit of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery years earlier. But God had blessed Joseph and, eventually, he became the second-most-powerful man in Egypt, serving as the Pharaoh’s right-hand man. He would provide his family members with land and employment in Egypt. But after his death, a new Pharaoh would come to power who did not know Joseph or his family. And the Scriptures indicate that while the descendants of Israel were living in the land of Egypt, they grew exponentially.

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:6-7 ESV

It was while they were living in the land of Egypt that God blessed the descendants of Israel, and they grew to be a significantly large people group. In fact, we are told in the book of Exodus that there were 600,000 adult males who left Egypt under the direction of Moses, and that number didn’t include women and children.

And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. – Exodus 12:37-38 ESV

It is estimated, that when you factor in the women and children, the number of Israelites who left Egypt would have been in the millions. And in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reveals why God had set apart the nation of Israel as His own.

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV

The bottom line is that God created for Himself a specific people group to whom He would give His law, the sacrificial system, and the promise of His covenant blessings. They were a specially created nation that would were intended to exhibit to the rest of the world what it was like for mankind to live in communion and fellowship with God. But they failed to live up to His law and they violated His covenant agreement. Not once, but repeatedly.

And Hosea records God’s summary of His remarkable creation and redemption of the nation of Israel.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.” – Hosea 11:1 ESV

But Hosea adds God’s sad assessment of their response to this gracious act of kindness.

“The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.” – Hosea 11:2 ESV

God’s call had consisted of far more than a command to leave Egypt and travel to the land of Canaan. He had been consistently calling them into an intimate and ongoing relationship with Himself. He had given them His law and the sacrificial system. He had ratified a covenant agreement with them. They were to be His children and He was to be their God – a relationship that was to be based on faithfulness and obedience, and marked by permanence.

Yet, despite all of God’s gracious dealings with them, the people of Israel had turned their back on Him. He had faithfully guided and taught them. He had taken them from a place of pain and spiritual sickness and provided them with healing and hope. But they failed to recognize His involvement and express gratitude for all He had done for them. They were like ungrateful children who refuse to appreciate the selfless sacrifices of their earthly father. The Israelites took all God’s blessings for granted and, worse yet, they sometimes attributed those blessings to their false gods.

God had rescued them out of the land of Egypt where they had been living in slavery and subjugation. But rather then send them back to Egypt, He would send another nation to defeat and destroy them. And tens of thousands of them would end up living as slaves again, but this time, in Assyria.

“They shall not return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.” – Hosea 11:5 ESV

Judgment was coming. Divine payback was inevitable and inescapable. Their king would prove powerless against Sennacherib and his Assyrian forces. Their false gods would be exposed for what they really were: Nothing more than the figment of man’s fertile imagination. They were lifeless, impotent, and no match for God Almighty.

And Yahweh summarizes the intractable and intransigent nature of His chosen people.

“My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.” – Hosea 11:7 ESV

Yet, despite the hopeless sound of God’s words, He would not completely abandon His people because He was not yet done with them. He would eventuallysend His own Son to earth to be born into the nation of Israel. Jesus would be a son of Abraham and a descendant of King David.  He would be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abram’s offspring.

The apostle Paul explains how Jesus was that fulfillment.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had chosen to make that nation of Israel because He had already chosen to send His Son into the world to redeem sinful mankind. The nation of Israel would be the channel through which His blessing to the nations would come, and Jesus Christ would be the manifestation of that blessing.

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 Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah 1:4-7 ESV

God told Jonah to “get up and go” and that is exactly what he did. But in the wrong direction. Rather than head to Nineveh as God had commanded, Jonah decided to “to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 ESV). While we have no idea of the exact location of Tarshish, we do know that it was nowhere near Nineveh. In fact, to go there, Jonah headed east to the city of Joppa on the Mediterranean coast, where he hired a boat. Some speculate that Tarshish was another name for the city of Tartesus in southwest Spain. In Jonah’s day, the 2,500-mile journey to this remote location would have been like traveling to the end of the world.

But for Jonah, the trip was well worth the effort and expense. He was determined to get as far away from the land of Israel as he possibly could. Among the people of the ancient world, it was a common belief that the gods were regionalized deities whose domains were restricted to specific geographic locations. We have an example of this mindset recorded in 1 Kings 20. In this account, the Israelite army finds itself encamped in a valley, facing a much larger Syrian force. But God delivers a word to the king of Israel.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Based on his actions, it seems that Jonah believed that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was somehow restricted to that region of the world. After all, the temple where God’s presence was said to dwell was located in Jerusalem.

Three separate times in this opening chapter, the author stresses that Jonah was attempting to flee from the presence of the Lord. In other words, his decision to go to Tarshish was motivated by a desire to get away from God. Having found the task assigned to him by God to be unacceptable, Jonah chose to avoid doing God’s will by escaping His presence. And this raises some serious questions about Jonah’s theology. Did he really think he could run from God? As a good Hebrew and a prophet of God, was he not aware of the concept of God’s omnipresence? Had he never read the words of King David?

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.” – Psalm 139:7-12 ESV

To think that Jonah had a fully formed theology of God would be a mistake. Later in the book, he will display an intimate understanding of God’s nature.

“I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” – Jonah 4:2 ESV

But we should not assume that Jonah’s concept of God was fully complete or entirely accurate. Even his understanding of God’s grace and mercy seems a bit skewed. He almost describes these divine traits as weaknesses, that might somehow allow God to relent from pouring out His judgment on the Assyrians. Jonah describes his understanding of God’s grace, mercy, patience, and love as the very reasons why he ran away in the first place. “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish” (Jonah 4:2 ESV).

Rather than run the risk of having to watch God spare the Ninevites, Jonah simply ran away. But he was about to discover the truth behind David’s words – the hard way.

The author matter-of-factly states that “the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV). It’s almost as if, at the very moment Jonah stepped foot on the boat, his plan began to fall apart. His hope to escape the presence of the Lord was met with a divine reminder that running from God is not only futile but utterly impossible.

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. – Psalm 33:12-15 ESV

And the prophet Amos, a contemporary of Jonah, had declared God’s words of judgment against the rebellious people of Israel.

“Even if they dig down to the place of the dead,
    I will reach down and pull them up.
Even if they climb up into the heavens,
    I will bring them down.
Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel,
    I will search them out and capture them.
Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean,
    I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them.” – Amos 9:2-3 NLT

Little did Jonah know that he was about to experience the words of this prophetic statement in real life. He could run but he couldn’t hide. Jonah had no idea that he had just purchased a ticket to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

One of the things that will become readily apparent as we work our way through the book of Jonah is the author’s habit of repeating certain words for emphasis. He states that God “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV). One verse later, he writes that the sailors “hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them” (Jonan 1:5 ESV). And in verse 15, he will bring this part of Jonah’s story to a climax by stating that “they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea” (Jonah 1:15 ESV). The Hebrew word for “hurled” is ṭûl and it was often used to describe the act of casting a spear. Like a divine warrior, God uses the elements of nature like a weapon, flinging the wind and the waves at his reluctant and rebellious prophet. And the psalmist describes the Lord’s sovereign authority over the wind and the waves in graphic terms.

Some went off to sea in ships,
    plying the trade routes of the world.
They, too, observed the Lord’s power in action,
    his impressive works on the deepest seas.
He spoke, and the winds rose,
    stirring up the waves.
Their ships were tossed to the heavens
    and plunged again to the depths;
    the sailors cringed in terror.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
    and were at their wits’ end.
Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress. – Psalm 107:23-28 NLT

That is the scene being played out in the opening chapter of the book of Jonah. God is hurling his divine weapons of judgment against the ship in which his prodigal prophet has sought refuge. And the sailors responsible for Jonah’s safe passage find themselves in a state of abject fear as their vessel begins to break up under the relentless wrath of God Almighty. As a sign of their desperation, they begin to jettison the ship’s valuable cargo, willingly sacrificing any hopes of profit in order to preserve their lives. In 1 Kings 10:22, we are given a description of the potential value of the cargo contained on ships traveling to and from Tarshish.

…the king [Solomon] had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. – 1 Kings 10:22 ESV

These seasoned sailors were terrified by the intensity of the storm. So much so that they “each cried out to his god” (Jonah 1:5 ESV). These men were non-Israelites and the fact that they each had their own god would seem to indicate that were from different countries and cultures.  Little did Jonah know that his traveling companions were a mixed bag of pagan idol worshipers. And these men were in fear of losing their lives. But while they were busy calling out to their respective deities and throwing cargo overboard, Jonah was fast asleep in the hold of the ship.

It’s amazing to think that Jonah was able to sleep through the storm and the constant noise associated with the sailors’ frantic efforts to jettison cargo. But the author is very specific in the word he uses to describe Jonah’s slumbering state. The Hebrew word is rāḏam and it conveys the idea of a sleep bordering on unconsciousness. Jonah is in a state of stupefaction. He is out like a light. Perhaps Jonah had imbibed in some liquid refreshment that contributed to his coma-like condition. But regardless of what caused Jonah’s deep sleep, it was soon interrupted by the angry cries of the ship’s captain.

“How can you sleep at a time like this?”Jonah 1:6 NLT

It was all hands on deck. This was no time for anyone to be sleeping while sinking. He demanded that Jonah join the rest of the crew by calling on his particular deity of choice. He was an equal-opportunity idolater who was more than willing to accept the aid of any and all gods. At this point, he had no idea who Jonah was, where he was from, or what religion he practiced. He just knew that, without divine intervention, they were dead men.

“Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” – Jonah 1:6 NLT

It should not go unnoticed that these pagan sailors displayed far more spiritual awareness than the Hebrew prophet, Jonah. While they had been praying, Jonah had been sleeping. He almost seems resigned to the fact that his life is not worth living if he has to do what God has commanded him to do. Jonah shows no signs of remorse or regret. He was not tossing and turning in sleepless anxiety, questioning his actions, or agonizing over his decision to disobey God. He was sleeping like an innocent baby. But these pagan sailors seemed to recognize that this storm had divine retribution written all over it. Someone was guilty of something and the god(s) were angry. So, in the hopes of assuaging the divine wrath, they come up with a plan to discover the identity of the guilty party.

“Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” – Jonah 1:7 ESV

And, not surprisingly, “the lot fell on Jonah” (Jonah 1:7 ESV). These sailors discovered what the readers of the book already knew. Jonah was the cause of all their troubles. This unknown and unnamed passenger had uncaringly jeopardized the lives of the entire crew. And whatever deity Jonah worshiped was going to kill them all if they didn’t figure out a way to appease its wrath.

Jonah, the Hebrew prophet, showed no concern for the suffering sailors. At no point does this servant of Yahweh display a heart for these pagan idolaters who were desperately calling out to the gods in hopes of experiencing salvation. Jonah was a follower of the one true God, but he had no desire to share what he knew with these desperate and dying men. There is no indication that Jonah ever prayed to Yahweh on their behalf. He was too busy running from the presence of God to take time to call on the power of God. And as the representative of Israel, Jonah displayed their ongoing reticence to be a light to the nations.

 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

Repentance or Regret

For this I will lament and wail;
    I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
    and mourning like the ostriches.
For her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem.

10 Tell it not in Gath;
    weep not at all;
in Beth-le-aphrah
    roll yourselves in the dust.
11 Pass on your way,
    inhabitants of Shaphir,
    in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaanan
    do not come out;
the lamentation of Beth-ezel
    shall take away from you its standing place.
12 For the inhabitants of Maroth
    wait anxiously for good,
because disaster has come down from the Lord
    to the gate of Jerusalem.
13 Harness the steeds to the chariots,
    inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin
    to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
    the transgressions of Israel.
14 Therefore you shall give parting gifts
    to Moresheth-gath;
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
    to the kings of Israel.
15 I will again bring a conqueror to you,
    inhabitants of Mareshah;
the glory of Israel
    shall come to Adullam.
16 Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
    for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
    for they shall go from you into exile. Micah 1:8-16 ESV

After describing the coming judgment of God against the kingdom of Israel and its capital city of Samaria, Micah’s reaction is one of deep sorrow. He doesn’t rejoice over the pending fall of Judah’s northern neighbor, even though they had sided with the Syrians and attacked the city of Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5). Micah mourned over the fate of the northern kingdom because it was comprised of ten of the tribes of the sons of Jacob. Their fall would leave only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining in the land of promise. And Micah knew that the same fate awaited the southern kingdom because they had been just as unfaithful.

The book of 2 Kings recounts the rise of Ahaz to the throne of Judah, describing his reign in less-than-flattering terms.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. – 2 Kings 16:2-3 NLT

So, Micah declares his intent to mourn over the fall of Israel because he knows it is only a matter of time before Judah finds itself suffering under the righteous wrath of God Almighty. He compares Israel’s spiritual and moral condition to a deadly disease, totally incurable and highly infectious.

her wound is incurable,
    and it has come to Judah;
it has reached to the gate of my people,
    to Jerusalem. – Micah 1:9 ESV

Sin, like cancer, never remains localized but has a way of metastasizing and spreading, and Micah knew that Judah had already been negatively influenced by its neighbor to the north. But Micah also knew that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease. Judah’s sin was going to bring the judgment of God and His punishment was going to be severe, leaving the nation in a state of physical, emotional, and mental devastation. The prophet Isaiah could not imagine why the people of Judah would refuse to repent, choosing instead to suffer the ongoing and merciless anger of God.

Why do you continue to invite punishment?
    Must you rebel forever?
Your head is injured,
    and your heart is sick.
You are battered from head to foot—
    covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—
    without any soothing ointments or bandages. – Isaiah 1:5-6 NLT

In an attempt to personalize the coming judgment of God, Micah uses his hometown of Moresheth-gath as the epicenter of all that is going to happen. He mentions the names of various cities in Judah that encircle his hometown, including Gath, Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, and Lachish. Each of these towns seem to have been chosen for their location as well as the meaning of their names. Micah is using a not-so-subtle play on words to drive home the extreme nature of God’s coming judgment.

Gath means “winepress” and the residents of this city were going to experience “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 ESV). Beth-le-aphrah means “house of Aphrah” but Aphrah can be translated as “dust.” So, Micah states that the citizens of “the house of dust” will soon find themselves rolling in the dust as a form of mourning. Shaphir means “fair” or “beautiful” but it would soon be marked by “nakedness and shame” (Micah 1:11). The name Zaanan is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “come out” and Micah informs these people that they will not be able to escape the coming judgment of God. Zanaan actually means “place of flocks” and sadly, Micah lets them know that they will be trapped like sheep in the fold when God pours out His wrath.

Beth-ezel means “house of firm root.” Yet Micah delivers the bad news that their “house has no support” (Micah 1:11 NLT) and God will level it in His anger. The name of the city of Maroth is similar in sound to the Hebrew word for “bitterness.” Like a thirsty person seeking for refreshing water, they will “anxiously wait for relief, but only bitterness awaits them” (Micah 1:12 NLT). The name of the city of Lachish, which means “invincible,” sounds very similar to the Hebrew word rekesh, which means “steeds.” Micah warns this “invincible” town to “Harness your chariot horses and flee” (Micah 1:13 NLT). He accuses them of being “the first city in Judah to follow Israel in her rebellion” and of leading Jerusalem into sin (Micah 1:13 NLT).

Achzib, which means “deceit,” would end up deceiving the kings of Israel by failing to resist the coming invaders. Every single town would fall at the hands of the Babylonians. Even Micah’s hometown of Moresheth-gath, which means “possession of Gath” would become the possession of the Babylonians.

Marashesh (“crest of a hill”) will not be high enough to escape the coming judgment of God. Adullam (“justice of the people”) will experience the justice of God as He forces “the glory of Israel” (its kings and leaders) to run there in a vain attempt to escape His wrath.

Over and over again, Micah uses these plays or words to drive home the message of God’s pending judgment and the devastating impact it is going to have on the entire nation of Judah. It will be unavoidable and its consequences, inescapable. From the streets of the smallest village to the gates of Jerusalem, the story will be the same: The people of Judah will find themselves mourning just like Micah.

Oh, people of Judah, shave your heads in sorrow,
    for the children you love will be snatched away.
Make yourselves as bald as a vulture,
    for your little ones will be exiled to distant lands. – Micah 1:16 NLT

They had made their bed, now they were going to have to sleep in it. But God still longed for His rebellious people to return to Him in repentance. He greatly desired to bless them and restore them to their place of honor as His chosen people. But the prophet Isaiah declared God’s requirements for judgment to be avoided.

“Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!” – Isaiah 1:13-14 NLT

God wasn’t interested in watching them through the motions, perfunctorily performing their religious rituals like mindless robots. He wanted true heart change and legitimate repentance.

“Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.” – Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT

The choice was up to them. They could obey and experience God’s blessings, or they could continue to rebel and endure His wrath. He was ready to forgive and cleanse them. But it was going to require obedience and submission to His will for them.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.
If you will only obey me,
    you will have plenty to eat.
But if you turn away and refuse to listen,
    you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 1:18-20 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

God Has a Plan

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 ESV

The Thessalonian believers to whom Paul wrote were undergoing persecution for their faith. But they were also experiencing unnecessary suffering as a result of errant end-times teaching that had made its way into their fellowship. In his previous letter, Paul had taught that the Great Tribulation would not begin until the Rapture of the church had taken place (1 Thessalonians 5). The Rapture would usher in “the day of the Lord” which would include the seven-year period of tribulation and end with the Second Coming of Christ. But others were teaching that the presence of persecution and trials was evidence that the day of the Lord had already begun. In essence, they were teaching the Thessalonian believers that they were already living in the great period of end-times tribulation.

Paul believed in and taught a pretribulation Rapture, which was based on Jesus Christ returning for His bride, the church, and removing all His followers from the earth. They would be “caught up” to meet Him in the air and return to heaven to live with Him there. And this removal of His bride would protect them from the judgment of God that would come on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

Paul had taught the Thessalonians to find encouragement in the knowledge that Jesus would one day return for the church. It may not happen in their lifetimes, but it would happen before the final period of tribulation began. The order of the end times events was the Rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, the Great White Throne Judgment, and then the eternal state.

Even today, there are those who do not believe in the Rapture of the church. They understand and teach that there will only be Christ’s second advent. Based on this view, many conclude that we are already living in the period of tribulation and can expect the Second Coming to take place at any time.

But Paul was very specific regarding his views on the matter. In reference to the Second Coming, he stated that Jesus would come from heaven and descend to the earth in order to mete out God’s judgment on unbelieving mankind.

…when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

After seven years of intense judgment on the earth and all its inhabitants, God will send His Son a second time, but not in the form of an innocent baby. He will return to earth as the Warrior-King, accompanied by the host of heaven and charged with the task of dispending “the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

But there was confusion among the Thessalonians. On the one hand, they were eagerly expecting the return of Jesus for the church. But then, others were telling them that the tribulation had already begun. Their understanding of the end-times sequence of events was muddled and confused. And Paul makes it clear that the real heart of the matter was the Rapture of the church. He opens this chapter with the phrase: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV).

Regardless of what others were teaching, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to rest in the knowledge that Jesus was going to return for the church. In spite of what the false teachers were claiming, the day of the Lord had not yet arrived. And, according to Paul, there were certain events that had to take place before it did.

…that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT

Paul refers to “the man of lawlessness,” an individual who will play a significant role in the end times scenario. The prophet, Daniel, refers to him as “the ruler” (Daniel 9:27). And this ruler will stand in direct opposition to God Almighty.

He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time. – Daniel 7:25 NLT

This individual will appear on the scene after the Rapture of the church. He will arise to power out of relative obscurity and become a global leader with great power. And as Daniel predicts, this individual will make a treaty with the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. But halfway through the seven-year period of tribulation, he will break that treaty and launch a program of intense persecution of the Jews.

The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.” – Daniel 9:27 NLT

When Daniel refers to “a time, times, and a half time,” he is speaking of the first three-and-a-half years of the tribulation.

A time – 1 + times – 2 + a half time – 1/2 = 3 1/2

Paul is revealing details concerning the end times that are meant to assuage any worries the Thessalonians may have had. The presence of trials and persecution was not a sign that the tribulation had begun. Even Jesus had warned that all kinds of ominous and seemingly portentous events would take place, but they would simply be the precursors of something far worse to come.

And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

The ruler to whom Daniel referred and the man of lawlessness are one and the same person. He is the Antichrist, the Satan-appointed and empowered world leader who will dominate the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Paul describes him as “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John refers to this same individual as “the beast” and describes his open rebellion against God and His holy people.

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT

Again, notice that his ability to inflict persecution on God’s chosen people, Israel, is restricted to a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. Then God will inflict judgment on him and all those who bear the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). This will be the period of Great Tribulation, the second half of the seven years of tribulation.

Paul is describing a future period of time that has no similarity whatsoever to the circumstances in which the Thessalonians are living. They had no need to worry about whether they were living in the day of the Lord because none of the events associated with that day had taken place. Yes, Paul concedes that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). In other words, the world showed signs of the coming apostasy, but it was nothing when compared to the tribulation to come. Jesus described it this way:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that the only thing preventing that fateful day from occurring was the presence of “he who now restrains” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). This is a reference to the Holy Spirit who indwells each and every believer (John 14:17), as well as the entire body of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:16). Due to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, the body of Christ acts as a restraining influence on the earth. When the church is raptured, this restraining influence will be removed, allowing unbridled apostasy to run rampant on the earth.

And with the church removed, God will be free to bring His full wrath to bear on the unbelieving world, for their sin and for their rejection of His gracious offer of salvation through His Son’s sacrificial death.

Things were difficult in Thessalonica, but Paul wanted the believers there to know that the real days of tribulation were yet to come. And the good news was that they would be preserved and protected from experiencing the suffering of those days because of their faith in Christ and God’s promise to save them from the wrath to come.

For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 BSB

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

Be Sure Your Sins…

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:
“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!
10 Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
    and the scant measure that is accursed?
11 Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
    and with a bag of deceitful weights?
12 Your rich men are full of violence;
    your inhabitants speak lies,
    and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
13 Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins.
14 You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
    and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
    and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
15 You shall sow, but not reap;
    you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
    you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
16 For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;
    so you shall bear the scorn of my people.” Micah 6:9-16 ESV

Verse 8 records Micah’s sober reminder of God’s expectations for His people.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

The criteria for doing what was good was not subjective or left up to the peoples’ imaginations. God had made Himself perfectly clear and the essence of His behavioral goals for His people had been outlined in the Ten Commandments. The Decalogue, as handed down to Moses by God, contained a summary of the entire Mosaic Law, and was intended to provide divine principles for life, ethics, and worship. By keeping the Ten Commandments (doing what the Lord required), the people of Israel would end up doing what is good. Their lives would be marked by justice, kindness, and a humble attitude of obedience to and love for God.

But in the courtroom scene that opened up chapter 6, God, acting as the prosecuting attorney, levels His charges against the people of Israel. And He warns them that their “bad” behavior, marked by injustice, greed, violence, and deceit, was going to bring about their conviction and their well-deserved condemnation.

And Micah demands that the inhabitants of the royal city of Jerusalem pay special heed to what God is about to say.

The voice of the Lord cries to the city—
    and it is sound wisdom to fear your name.
– Micah 6:9 ESV

God was about to deliver His stinging indictment against His disobedient and rebellious people, and Micah warns them that if they are wise, they will listen to what God has to say. His words echo those found in the book of Proverbs.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! – Proverbs 110:10 ESV

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For Micah, it was clear that the people of Israel were marked by a lack of wisdom and it was all a result of their failure to fear the Lord. Their lives had displayed no reverence for His name. As His children, they had been given the privilege of bearing His name and were to have been His representatives on earth. But instead, they had ended up defaming and profaning His holy name through their actions.

And the prophet Ezekiel had warned the people of Israel that God would not tolerate their disrespectful treatment of His name forever.

“As for you, O people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go right ahead and worship your idols, but sooner or later you will obey me and will stop bringing shame on my holy name by worshiping idols.” – Ezekiel 20:39 NLT

Just a few chapters later, God adds His assessment of Israel’s behavior.

“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by the evil way they lived. To me their conduct was as unclean as a woman’s menstrual cloth. They polluted the land with murder and the worship of idols, so I poured out my fury on them. – Ezekiel 36:17-18 NLT

Rather than displaying a fear of God that translated into wisdom that resulted in good behavior,  the people of Israel had displayed conduct that reflected their ignoring of God’s laws and their ignorance of God Himself.

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
– Proverbs 30:2-3 ESV

It is interesting to note that the primary evidence God brings against His people has to do with their behavior toward one another. He doesn’t begin with a diatribe against their idolatry and spiritual adultery. He exposes the extent of their dishonest and deceitful treatment of their fellow Israelites. They had failed to do justice and to love kindness.

Their homes were filled with “treasures of wickedness” gained through deceptive and unethical business transactions. God accuses them of “the disgusting practice of measuring out grain with dishonest measures” (Micah 6:10 NLT). Jerusalem’s merchants had used “dishonest scales and weights” (Micah 6:11 NLT). The prosperous in the city had “become wealthy through extortion and violence” (Micah 6:12 NLT). And, in general, the population of Jerusalem had grown “so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth” (Micah 6:12 NLT).

Not exactly a flattering portrait of God’s chosen people. But it was accurate. One of the commandments found in the Decalogue was a prohibition against stealing. And it is quite evident by God’s description of their behavior, that this law had been disregarded by the people of Israel – for generations. And they had also broken God’s command against coveting. Their lives were marked by an insatiable desire for that which was not theirs. They used deceit and dishonest practices to turn their covetous desires into tangible results.

And in all of this, they displayed a lack of trust in God. Their actions gave evidence that they doubted in His ability to provide for all their needs. They were dissatisfied with God’s blessings and so they used unjust and ungodly means to steal from one another. But God warns that their behavior was going to bring His judgment.

“Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
    making you desolate because of your sins. – Micah 6:13 ESV

Their suffering would not be the result of random chance. Their destruction would not be because they were in the wrong place and the wrong time. It was going to be the sovereign act of God Almighty and in direct response to their sins. And God’s pending punishment would have direct ties to their behavior.

Those who had greedily filled their houses with “treasures of wickedness” were going to find themselves struggling with unsatisfied hunger and unrelenting poverty.

“You will eat but never have enough.
    Your hunger pangs and emptiness will remain.
And though you try to save your money,
    it will come to nothing in the end.
You will save a little,
    but I will give it to those who conquer you.” – Micah 6:14 NLT

They had made a habit out of mistreating and deceiving one another, now God was going to show them what injustice and a lack of kindness felt like when they found themselves on the receiving end.

You will plant crops
    but not harvest them.
You will press your olives
    but not get enough oil to anoint yourselves.
You will trample the grapes
    but get no juice to make your wine. – Micah 6:15 NLT

None of this should have been a surprise to them. Because long before they entered the land of promised, God had warned them that this would happen. If they failed to obey His commands, they would eventually suffer the consequences. And God had been very specific as to the nature of those consequences.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you:

Your towns and your fields
    will be cursed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
    will be cursed.
Your children and your crops
    will be cursed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
    will be cursed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
    you will be cursed.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-19 NLT

Now, the inevitable and seemingly unavoidable was about to happen. God tells them, “I will make an example of you, bringing you to complete ruin. You will be treated with contempt, mocked by all who see you” (Micah 6:16 NLT). But He also tells them why.

For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
    and all the works of the house of Ahab;
    and you have walked in their counsels… – Micah 6:16 ESV

Omri and Ahab were two kings who ruled over the northern kingdom of Israel. And they both hold the unflattering distinction of having been more wicked than all the other kings who had come before them.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

But Ahab son of Omri did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, even more than any of the kings before him. – 1 Kings 16:30 ESV

They were the poster boys for spiritual adultery and godless conduct. And their unrighteous reigns had a deleterious influence over the nation of Israel, causing the people to follow their example by walking in their counsels. These two men became the icons for idolatry and immoral behavior. And sadly, their decision to do evil in the sight of the Lord had led an entire nation to follow their lead and walk according to their ungodly counsel. Now, the time had come to pay for Israel to pay for their sins.

“Therefore, I will make an example of you,
    bringing you to complete ruin.
You will be treated with contempt,
    mocked by all who see you.” – Micah 6:16 NLT

Omri and Ahab had set a bad example for the people under their care, and the Israelites had eagerly and willingly followed their lead. So, now God would make the Israelites an example before the nations of the earth. Those who bore His name but had profaned it by their behavior would learn the painful but invaluable lesson that disobedience brings the discipline of God. Dishonoring the integrity and holiness of His name will always result in the display of judgment.

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

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

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

Our Righteously Wrathful God – Part II

For the Lord holds a cup in his hand
    that is full of foaming wine mixed with spices.
He pours out the wine in judgment,
    and all the wicked must drink it,
    draining it to the dregs.
 
– Psalm 75:8 NLT

28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”Matthew 10:28 NLT

5 “But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” – Luke 12:5 NLT

So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. – 2 Peter 2:9 NLT

Discussing the wrath of God can come across as if we are dealing with a flaw in the divine character. It seems out of step with His love, grace, and mercy. But the wrath of God is never displayed in an arbitrary manner. He need never apologize for it or be embarrassed because of it. And His never unleashes His wrath undeservedly or unjustly. Unlike us, God never loses His temper. He never flies off the handle or suffers from a lack of self-control. He is always purposeful when displaying His wrath against sinful mankind. When doing so, He is displaying who He is, displaying His divine nature and bringing glory to Himself. In fact, God’s wrath is inseparably linked with His glory. When He exercises His wrath, He is revealing the fulness of His glory.

The book of Exodus records the encounter that Moses had with God on Mount Sinai. Moses, the deliverer God had chosen to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, made a bold request of God. He asked the Almighty, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18 ESV). God agreed to do so, but with one condition.

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord…But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” – Exodus 33:19, 20 ESV

God warned Moses that viewing His face would prove deadly. Why? Because of Moses’ sinfulness. No man can behold the full, unveiled glory of God while in his sinful state. Moses wanted to see God’s glory, but to do so without God’s protection would result in Moses’ destruction. Because the wrath of God goes hand-in-hand with the glory of God.

God kept His word, but in a display of His goodness and mercy, He prevented Moses from seeing Him in all His glory.

“I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:22-23 ESV

Moses, as a fallen human being, deserved to come under the wrath of God but, instead, he experienced God’s grace and mercy. Remember what God had said to Moses immediately after making his request:

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” – Exodus 33:19 ESV

God, because of His righteousness and holiness, is obligated to punish sin. He cannot overlook or ignore it. But He can make provision for it. And, in this case, that is what He did.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” – Exodus 34:6-7 ESV

As God passed, with His hand placed protectively over His servant, He proclaimed His mercy and grace, His patience and steadfast love, His faithfulness, and forgiveness. In other words, He declared His divine attributes. But don’t miss this part. While God declared that He is willing to forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin, He will NOT clear the guilty. The Hebrew word translated as “clear” is naqah and it means to “acquit” or ”to leave unpunished.” The guilty must be held to account. They must pay for their sins. God cannot simply whitewash over them.

Just before Moses had been given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the glory of God, he had been given the law of God – the Ten Commandments – on tablets of stone. And Moses had returned from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, only to find the people worshiping false gods down in the valley. In his shock and anger, Moses had destroyed the tablets containing God’s law. And God, in His wrath, brought a plague on the people, punishing them for their rejection of Him and their rebellion against Him.

…the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf, the one that Aaron made. – Exodus 32:33-35 ESV

God punished the guilty. He could not and would not allow them to get away with their sin. The entire law, as prescribed by God on Mount Sinai, was based on the premise “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). There were those who would die by the plague that God had sent. Their deaths would assuage or propitiate God’s wrath. He had to punish the guilty. He could not simply clear or acquit them.

God gave Moses a second set of tablets, containing His code of conduct for the people of Israel. His laws were intended to set them apart as His chosen people. In them were contained all they needed to know about living life as His children. He left nothing up to their imaginations. They would not be free to live on their own terms or to follow the examples of the other nations around them. But Moses, knowing the hearts of his people, made yet another request of God.

“If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” – Exodus 34:9 ESV

Moses knew that, without God’s grace and mercy, the people of Israel would find themselves the fully deserving recipients of God’s wrath, once again. So, God renewed His covenant commitment with the people of Israel, but He warned them:

“…for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” – Exodus 34:14 ESV

God will not tolerate unfaithfulness. He will not put up with His creation turning their backs on Him by worshiping something or someone other than Him. But it is not because He is overly sensitive or wears His feelings on His sleeve. It is because He is God and worthy of all glory, honor, and praise.

In the book of Revelation, John records his vision of the throne room of God in heaven. He describes the four living creatures, standing around the throne of God:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—
    the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” – Revelation 4:8 NLT

And they are joined by the 24 elders, who lay their crowns before God’s throne and say:

“You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” – Revelation 4:11

God is worthy of our praise. He deserves our worship. He created us. We exist for His glory. And when we refuse to give Him the glory He deserves, we sin against Him. Sin is not so much the action we commit, as it is the heart behind the action. What we do is an outward display of the state of our hearts. Jesus said that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19 NLT). Then He added, “These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:20 NLT). The Greek word for “defile” is koinoō and it means “to make common or unclean.”

Our actions, which stem from our hearts, end up making us unacceptable to God. They display our love for something other than Him. When we sin, we are giving evidence that our hearts do not belong to God. We love something other than God. Such as pleasure, sensuality, self, success, power, position, prominence, or happiness. Those things become idols or substitutes for God. And our sin is an expression of our love affair with these false gods.

But God’s holiness demands justice. And His justice requires that He display His wrath “against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18 NLT). Yet, in His mercy and grace, God came up with a way to satisfy His wrath and display His goodness at the same time. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission or forgiveness of sin. And since all men have sinned, all men deserve to fall under the wrath of God. But Paul reminds us of the amazing grace of God as displayed through the gift of His Son.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:23-26 NLT

God satisfied His own wrath by sending His own Son as the payment for mankind’s sin debt. He gave His sinless Son as the atonement for sinful men.

God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. – Romans 4:25 NLT

But to escape the wrath of God, sinful men and women must accept the free gift of God’s sacrifice on their behalf. They must acknowledge their sin and their need for a Savior. The payment has been made. The gift has been offered. But it must be accepted. Paul goes on to state: “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22 NLT). And a few chapters later, he adds: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

The wrath of God is real. But so is His grace and mercy. God is a just God who must punish sin. But He is also a gracious God who has provided a way that He might justify the ungodly. All for our good and His glory.

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

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

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

A Darkness To Be Felt

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:45-54 ESV

Jesus on cross

Jesus hung on the cross, a battered and bruised man, struggling desperately and agonizingly for His next breath. His body was racked with pain. His eyes were filled with blood from His thorn-pierced brow and the salt from His own sweat. And He was surrounded by hostile bystanders who relentlessly mocked Him. Even the chief priest and his fellow members of the religious high council cast insults at Jesus, shouting, “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42 ESV). They found great delight in disparaging Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43 ESV). Even one of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus got into the act, demanding of Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). 

But at Noon, the shouting stopped. The sky grew dark. Luke described it this way: “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). And that darkness would pervade the whole land for three full hours. It is reminiscent of the darkness that God brought on the land of Egypt by the hand of Moses during the days before the Exodus. 

“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV

This darkness that accompanied the death of Jesus was palpable and supernatural. It was out of the ordinary and inexplicable. And no one could ignore it or avoid it. The Light was gone.

One can’t help but think of these words found in the gospel of John, written long after the death of Jesus.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

But at that moment, on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, it appears as if the darkness did overcome the Light. Certainly, the disciples and all those who had followed Jesus and placed their hope in His claim to be the Messiah, would have seen the darkness as a sign of defeat. The end had come. But John went on to record what was really taking place.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Jesus was being rejected by His own. And the darkness was like a physical manifestation of that rejection, revealing the true spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. John goes on to describe how the Jews had developed a love affair with darkness, the visible manifestation of sin.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Matthew goes on to record that after the three hours of stifling darkness had passed, Jesus broke the silence by shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Jesus was taking on the sins of mankind, bearing the full brunt of God’s righteous indignation and just judgment. And in doing so, He found Himself separated from His heavenly Father for the first time in all eternity. Jesus bore God’s indictment against the sins of the world and the wrath of a holy God was poured out on Him. As Paul so eloquently put it: “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

At that moment, as He hung on the cross, Jesus found Himself alone. He had been forsaken and abandoned by all. Even His heavenly and holy Father had to turn away His divine countenance as His Son took on the sin burden of humanity. God was obligated by His holiness and righteousness to render a just judgment against sin. The wages of sin His wrath on sinHis own Son the righteous wrath He was obligated by His holiness to dispense. The wages of sin is death (John 6:23), and “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). God was offering His own Son as payment for the sins of men.

Luke records that Jesus made one final statement from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then He took one last breath and died.

At that moment, when all appeared lost and it looked like the forces of the enemy had won the day, some incredible things took place. Jesus had died, but the action was far from over. Matthew records:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. – Matthew 27:51-53 ESV

The death of Jesus was accompanied by incredible, inexplicable phenomena. There was an earthquake. The thick curtain in the temple that barred entrance into the Holy of Holies, was split in two from top to bottom. And the most bizarre of all the events accompanying Jesus’ death was the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead saints. As can be imagined, there is much debate and speculation about this particular event. But it is interesting that Matthew provides us with little or no details.

It would seem that the earthquake was responsible for the opening up of the tombs. But the text seems to indicate that the bodies contained within those tombs did not come back to life until Jesus did three days later. And, just as Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected form, so did these individuals. We are not told who they were or whether they remained alive. Was their resurrection temporary or permanent? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that they miraculously resuscitated or reanimated, just as Lazarus had been. They did not receive resurrected, glorified bodies. And, like Lazarus, they would die a second time. But you can imagine the shock and surprise for all those who ran into these formerly deceased individuals on the streets of Jerusalem.

The death of Jesus, while marking the end of His earthly life, was far from the end of His ministry. By dying and resurrecting, Jesus defeated death. And the apostle Paul reminds us:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. – Colossians 2:13-15 NLT

The people mocked. The soldiers cast their insults. The religious leaders sneered and gloated over their defeat of Jesus. But even in death, Jesus had the last laugh. He publicly shamed them by his victory over them on the cross. And Matthew records the words of a solitary Roman centurion who had witnessed all that had happened that fateful day: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV).

Even in death, Jesus made an impression. This hardened Roman soldier was moved by what He saw and expressed a recognition of the deity of Jesus. His statement is not necessarily an expression of faith or belief in Jesus as his Savior. But it is interesting that the very first person to clearly articulate the deity of Jesus after His death was a Gentile and a Roman. The religious leaders were probably long gone. We hear no words spoken from Jesus’ disciples. But whether he realized the import of his words, this Roman centurion was the first to declare Jesus to be exactly who He had always claimed to be: The Son 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

Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

23 And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, 25 Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, 26 “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”  Deuteronomy 31:23-29 ESV

The commissioning of Joshua by God seems a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? It takes just one verse to record the whole affair. There were no animals sacrificed, no anointing oil poured over the head of Joshua. A comparison between his commissioning and that of Aaron reveals some remarkable and glaring contrasts.

And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:6-9 ESV

And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:12-13 ESV

Yet, all Joshua got as a word of encouragement from God: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23 ESV).

But even these words of encouragement and affirmation had to come across as a little underwhelming to Joshua. After all, he had just heard God say that the people of Israel would prove to be rebellious and unrepentant, earning them the full weight of the curses Moses had warned them about. So, while God provided Joshua with the assurance that he would be successful in his new role as leader of the people of Israel, it had to have been bitter-sweet news to his ears. Yes, Joshua would accomplish his God-given assignment and lead the people into the land of Canaan, but how could he forget the fact that they would not be allowed to stay there. The day would come when they would be destroyed by their enemies and taken as captives to foreign lands.

And even after his rather abrupt and abbreviated commissioning, Joshua had to hear Moses repeat the warning God had delivered to them in the tent of meeting.

I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!” – Deuteronomy 31:27 ESV

Put yourself in Joshua’s sandals. He has just been commissioned the new leader of the people of Israel and yet when he and Moses step out of the tent of meeting, he doesn’t even get an introduction. There is no official announcement of the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. It’s almost as if Joshua simply stood in the background, eyes wide with shock and surprise. He had just seen the Shekinah glory of God, heard the voice of God, and was still digesting the devastating news from God that the nation of Israel would end up back in captivity one day. And just as he is about to take over the reins of leadership, he has to sit back and hear Moses accuse the people of being rebellious and stubborn.

And Moses wasn’t done. He had one more punch to the gut he wanted to deliver.

“I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

I can’t help but imagine how Joshua felt as all this transpired. Here he was getting ready to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, not exactly an easy task, and Moses was busy stirring up and offending them. On top of that, Joshua had just been informed that, while the whole conquest-of-the-land initiative would be a success, it would prove to be shortlived and irrelevant.

This is probably not the way Joshua had envisioned his tenure as the shepherd of Israel beginning. This entire section of the book of Deuteronomy is weighted with a dark sense of foreboding. This should have been one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Israel’s long and storied history as they prepared to cross over the border and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God centuries earlier. But rather than joy and celebration, the occasion was marked by sadness and disappointment. The party balloons had popped. The candles on the cake had blown out.

And Moses told the people that the law itself would bear witness against them. He instructed the Levites to “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26 ESV). His handwritten copy of God’s commandments would be a constant presence among the people, practically screaming out its judgments against them every time they violated its contents.

Moses assembles all the elders and officers of the 12 tribes and calls heaven and earth to witness against them. But what does this mean? How do the heavens and the earth bear witness against the nation of Israel? Well, in the opening stanza of the song that God gave Moses, we read these words: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth” (Deuteronomy 32:1 ESV).

Moses was going to sing the words of God’s song to the people, and the first words would be addressed to the heavens and the earth. It is as if God is saying, “If you won’t listen, creation will.” The rest of the creative order will hear the commands of God and bear witness against the Israelites for their stubborn refusal to do as He has said.

In a sense, Moses is saying that the heavens and earth will still remain, even after the Israelites are long gone. The sun, moon, and stars will still be in the sky long after Israel is exiled from the land of promise. They will look up from their new home in Babylon and see the same unchanging scene in the heavens, but they will be in captivity. The land of Canaan will remain right where it was when they left. Nothing will change about it except the identity of those who occupy it. The earth will keep spinning. The sun, moon, and stars will keep shining. Canaan will remain a land flowing with milk and honey. But the fate of the Israelites will be markedly different than it had been.

“…in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 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