Justified by grace

Paul tackled one of the most difficult topics for Christians to understand in the final section of his short letter to Titus: justification by grace. Paul wrote:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Looking at his statement from a mathematical perspective, Paul was saying that: regeneration + renewal = justification. Regeneration or (spiritual) rebirth “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth” (G3824). Renewal, “by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God.” Paul indicated that the outcome of this life-long process was “being justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7). The Greek word that is translated justified, dikaioo (dik-ah-yoˊ-o) means “to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent” (G1344).

Paul talked at length about justification in his letter to the Romans. He stated in Romans 2:6-13:

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Paul’s declaration that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) was intended to focus his readers attention on the mercy of God which made salvation possible for all who have sinned. Repentance “involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Therefore, God’s kindness was an important factor in what causes a person to want to repent. Paul went on to explain that we are justified by grace, but the redemption that is in Christ Jesus has to be received by faith in order for God to be able to render a verdict of innocent in each individual’s case. Paul said:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Paul noted that there is no distinction between Jews and Greeks because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and then, stated that we are “justified by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24). What Paul meant by a gift was that God’s grace was given to believers without a cause (G1432). The Greek word doron (doˊ-ron) means “a present; specifically a sacrifice” (G1435).

Paul’s discussion of justification included the motive behind it: God’s love. Paul said, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:6-9). Paul reasoned that because Christ died for us while we were still sinners, his propitiation for our sins would be sufficient to save us from the wrath of God. The wrath of God is a reference to the judgment that awaits those who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation gives us a preview of God’s judgment and reveals when it will take place. The beginning of God’s judgment is recorded in Revelation 6:1-17. Verses 12-17 state, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by the gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and powerful, and everyone slave and free, hid themselves in the caves among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

Paul made it clear that God did not save us “because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Mercy “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it—efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656). Paul’s statement that we are “justified by his grace” (Titus 3:7) tells us that grace is necessary for justification to occur. The Greek word that is translated grace in Titus 3:7, charis (kharˊ-ece) refers specifically to “the divine influence upon the heart” (G5485). In the Hebrew language, “The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

When Saul was anointed King of Israel, 1 Samuel 10:9 tells us that “God gave him another heart.” God didn’t physically replace the organ in Saul’s chest. The Hebrew word haphak (haw-fakˊ), which is translated gave, was being used to convey “transformation” or “change” (H2015). As a result of him receiving a new heart, Saul was “turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6). Saul was not the same person on the inside as he was before, but we aren’t told exactly how he was different. The only thing we know for sure is that afterward, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul, “and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10). Prophecy is speaking or singing by inspiration. The function of the true prophet in the Old Testament was to speak God’s message to the people “under the influence of the divine spirit (1 Kings 22:8; Jeremiah 29:27; Ezekiel 37:10)” (H5012). In Saul’s case, the gift of prophecy was intended to be an outward sign of his anointing and only lasted a short while. After Saul returned home, it says in 1 Samuel 10:14-16, “Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.” When it was time for him to be proclaimed king before the people, Saul could not be found. 1 Samuel 10:22 states, “So they inquired again of the LORD, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the LORD said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’”

Saul’s unusual behavior after he was anointed King of Israel suggests that he was reluctant to become Israel’s king. “Saul showed himself to be a man who had no regard for God’s will. Though Samuel had already affirmed that the kingdom would pass from him to another (1 Samuel 13:13, 14), Saul did not repent. He continued to disobey according to his own whims, especially in regard to the battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 9). When Samuel discovered that Saul had kept the sheep alive following the Amalekites victory, claiming that he wanted to sacrifice them to the Lord (1 Samuel 15:21), the prophet declared, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (note on 1 Samuel 15:1-9). Saul admitted to Samuel that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” rather than doing what God told him to (1 Samuel 15:24). The Hebrew concept of obedience was closely linked to hearing the voice of God. In his final message to the people of Israel, Moses focused heavily on hearing and obeying the voice of the LORD. Moses asked the Israelites, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he let you hear his voice, that he might discipline you. And on earth he let you see his great fire, and you heard his words out of the midst of the fire” (Deuteronomy 4:33-36).

The Hebrew word that is translated heard in Deuteronomy 4:36, shama (shaw-mahˊ) means “to hear intelligently…Hearing can be both intellectual and spiritual…In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey (Genesis 22:18)” (H8085). Shama is translated obeyed in 1 Samuel 15:24. When Saul said that he feared the people and obeyed their voice, he meant that he regarded their will to be more important than God’s. Saul said to Samuel, “’Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Samuel 15:25-28). The neighbor that Samuel was referring to was David, the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Earlier, Samuel referred to David as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The primary difference between David and Saul was that David wanted to do God’s will.

1 Samuel 16:1-7 indicates that God was looking for a man with a certain kind of disposition to rule over Israel. It says in 1 Samuel 16:1, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” God said that he had rejected Saul and provided for himself a king. “God will not force man to do His will, so He sometimes must ‘reject’ him…Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…As a creature of free choice, man may ‘reject’ God…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988). When Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the one that God intended to make king, “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). God is able to see the motives, feelings, affections, and desires of our hearts. As well as, “the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of every man” (H3820), not only of those that God accepts, but also of those that he rejects. God knew that Eliab, who was likely Jesse’s oldest son and the one who would naturally have been assigned a position of leadership, was not the kind of person that could take Saul’s place. Instead, God selected David, Jesse’s youngest son who was responsible for “keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11).

David and Saul began their reigns as King of Israel with the same advantage, they were both anointed by Samuel. “The Old Testament most commonly uses mashach to indicate ‘anointing’ in the sense of a special setting apart for an office or function” (H4886). “If the verb is used in association with a religious ceremony, it connotes the sanctification of things or people for divine service…The most common usage of this verb is the ritual of divine installation of individuals into positions of leadership by pouring oil on their heads. Most frequently, people were anointed for kingship: Saul (1 Samuel 10:1); David (1 Samuel 16:13; and Solomon (1 Kings 1:34).” In both instances, after they were anointed, it is also noted that “the Spirit of God rushed upon” Saul and David, but in David’s case it says in 1 Samuel 16:13, “the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (emphasis mine). The Hebrew word that is translated rushed, tsaleach (tsaw-layˊ-akh) means “to push forward…This word generally expresses the idea of a successful venture, as contrasted with failure. The source of such success is God: ‘…as long as he sought the Lord, God made him to prosper’ (2 Chronicles 26:5)” (H6743). This might seem to suggest that David never sinned or did anything to displease the LORD after he was anointed King of Israel, but we know that David didn’t live a perfect life. The Spirit of the LORD was there to keep David on track with his responsibilities as the King of Israel and to make him successful in accomplishing God’s will for the nation of Israel.

David’s personal relationship with the LORD was what set him apart from Saul, as well as, all the other Kings of Israel that followed him. The Apostle Paul’s formula for successful Christian living: regeneration + renewal = justified by grace: shows us that regeneration in and of itself does not produce the effect of justification. Renewal, the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he lives and the restoration of the divine image, requires the person to be a fellow worker with God in the process of sanctification (G3824/G342). Jesus told his followers that a tree is known by its fruit in order to express to them the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in their heart. Jesus said:

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

In this instance, the word justified refers to acquittal from guilt (G1344). When Jesus said that we will be justified by our words or condemned by them, he meant that our own words will be used as evidence for or against us in the final judgment of mankind. Jesus went on to explain that repentance is necessary for the heart of a person to be changed (Matthew 12:39-42). In his parable of the sower, Jesus indicated that fruit is produced by the cultivation or development of God’s word and then, explained to his disciples, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:23).

Jesus’ discussion with a lawyer who wanted to test his understanding of the scriptures resulted in the Lord using the Parable of the Good Samaritan to teach the lawyer that it is impossible for us to be justified without God’s divine influence upon our heart. After the lawyer cited the law that stated we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Luke tells us:

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

Jesus said that the Samaritan had compassion on the man who was robbed and left half dead. Jesus continually showed compassion to the people that came to him for help. It is likely that Jesus used this characteristic to describe the Samaritan’s actions so that the lawyer would realize that the Samaritan was not acting of his own accord, but was responding to the divine influence upon his heart.

A foolish mistake

Saul, Israel’s first king, from a human perspective, fully satisfied the desires of the people. “He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe in all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies” (note on 1 Samuel 10:20-24), but Saul lacked spiritual discernment and was prone to making rash decisions. Only a couple of years into his reign as king of Israel, Saul started to show signs of pride and seemed to be overconfident of his ability to defeat the Philistines, Israel’s most formidable enemy. 1 Samuel 13:5-7 tells us:

And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

The Israelites were terrified of the Philistines and Saul’s leadership was little comfort to them. Samuel instructed Saul to go down to Gilgal and wait for him to come and offer sacrifices to God. 1 Samuel 13:8-10 states:

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Saul’s decision to offer the burnt offering himself was a violation of the Mosaic Law and an indication that his heart was not right with God. When Samuel arrived, he asked Saul:

“What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:11-14)

Saul told Samuel that he had forced himself to offer the burnt offering. The Hebrew word that is translated forced, ʾaphaq (aw-fakˊ) means “to contain, i.e (reflexive) abstain” (H662). The name Aphek is derived from ʾaphaq. In the sense of strength, the name Aphek means “fortress” (H663).

It seems that Saul had intentionally walled himself off from the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he decided to offer the burnt offering himself. Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience affirms this viewpoint. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you’” (1Samuel 13:13). Samuel’s assessment that Saul had made a foolish mistake when he went against the command of the LORD was probably based on an awareness of Saul’s motives. The Hebrew word that is translated foolishly, çakal (saw-kalˊ) means “to be silly” (H5528). Silliness is an indicator of spiritual immaturity or a lack of spiritual discernment. The Hebrew word kaçal (kaw-salˊ), another form of çakal, means “to be fat, i.e. (figuratively) silly” (H3688). The connection between fatness and silliness may be a lack of discipline or in a spiritual sense, mental exercise. A word that is derived from kaçal, keçel (kehˊ-sel) is properly translated as “fatness, i.e. by implication (literally) the loin (as the seat of the leaf fat) or (generally) the viscera; also (figuratively) silliness or (in a good sense) trustKecel means ‘stupidity; imperturbability; confidence” (H3689).

Peter’s second letter contained a reference to the prophetic word about Israel’s Messiah being confirmed by Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21). In this passage, Peter stated, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrase carried along means “impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). It seems likely that when King Saul forced himself to offer the burnt offering, he was confident that he was doing the right thing, but Saul was acting according to his own will, not God’s will, as it had already been expressed to Saul that he should wait for Samuel to arrive and that he would offer the burnt offering (1 Samuel 10:8). The book of Proverbs discusses at length the foolish behavior of a man who is void of understanding. The fool has a knowledge of God but does not properly evaluate or understand what he knows (H3683). It says in Proverbs 13:16, “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness” (NLT). Saul’s explanation of why he had offered the burnt offering himself instead of waiting as he had been told to made it seem as if Samuel was at fault and that Saul had saved the day. “Saul said, ‘When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.” So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Samuel’s reply made it clear that Saul was acting out of ignorance, rather than a desire to please God. He said, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The Apostle Paul referred to Samuel’s declaration in a message he shared with the Jews at Antioch. Paul said:

“Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.

“The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm he led them out of their slavery. He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

“And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! (Acts 13:16-23)

Paul identified David as a man after God’s own heart, someone that would do everything that God wanted him to, and connected him with God’s plan of salvation. It was important for the king of Israel to be completely committed to God, but what was really at stake was the execution of a plan that would result in Jesus’ birth. Samuel told Saul, “You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Samuel referred to Saul’s kingdom as your kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God or heaven, and told him that it would not continue. Saul’s reign over Israel was a temporary arrangement that had to do with Israel’s request for a human leader to guide them into military success. Underlying God’s approval of their request was his intention of establishing an eternal kingdom that would be ruled by Jesus.

Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven and on more than one occasion associated it with God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus used the phrase the sons of the kingdom to refer to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israelites that were not members of the kingdom of heaven. The context of Jesus’ statement was the lack of faith among the Jews. “Jesus had just commended the great faith of a Gentile, the Roman centurion who came seeking healing for his servant (v. 10). The ‘sons of the kingdom’ may refer to unbelieving Jews who thought that their ancestry automatically entitled them to the kingdom of God (see John 8:31-59). The Jews thought that they were assured of special favor by God, but the Lord reminded them that they could be ‘last’ in the kingdom of God while those who thought themselves ‘last,’ such as tax collectors and prostitutes, would be ‘first’ if they exercised faith in him (Matthew 21:31). Furthermore, unbelieving Jews would be, ‘thrown into the outer darkness’ because of their hypocritical claim that they were the children and followers of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and although these men were his physical descendants, they were not part of the family of faith” (note on Matthew 8:11, 12).

In the same way that the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day thought that their relationship to Abraham would assure them of special favor by God, so Saul thought that his position of king of Israel exempted him from obedience to God’s word. In the heat of a battle with the Philistines, Saul “laid an oath on the people, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening, and I am avenged on my enemies’” (1 Samuel 14:24). It says in 1 Samuel 14:27-30, “But Jonathon had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, ‘Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.”’ And the people were faint. Then Jonathon said, ‘My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.’” When Saul inquired of the LORD and didn’t receive an answer from him, “Saul said, ‘Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathon my son, he shall surely die…Then Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathon.’ And Jonathon was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathon, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ And Jonathon told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.’ And Saul said, ‘God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathon.’ Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathon die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people ransomed Jonathon, so that he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place” (1 Samuel 14:38-46).

The quagmire of unbelief that resulted from Saul’s rash vow led to the LORD’s eventual rejection of Saul as king over Israel. During his confrontation of Saul, Samuel asked him:

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

Samuel indicated that Saul had rejected the word of the LORD. “Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988).

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God explained to the people of Israel, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23). The book of Hebrews further clarifies God’s point by showing that it was not Christ’s sacrifice that made us holy and acceptable to God, but Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will. Hebrews 10:5-10 states:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Sanctification is “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will.” The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and refers to “the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart” (G37).

Jesus told his disciples after he was gone, that his Father would give them “another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). Jesus went on to say, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins (1 John 2:1); and the Holy Spirit destined to take the place Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). The Holy Spirit’s role of Helper is said to be linked with believers gaining a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth.

Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The concept of sound doctrine is related to nourishment, it is that which brings about health and vitality. Paul described the results of sound doctrine as being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Paul repeated the attribute of self-controlled several times as he continued to talk about the result of sound doctrine on women, young men, and all people (Titus 2:5, 6, 12). The Greek words sophron (soˊ-frone), sophrosune (so-fros-ooˊ-nay), sophronos (so-fronˊ-oce), sophronizo (so-fron-idˊ-zo), and sophroneo (so-fron-ehˊ-o) are all derived from the same root word, sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which means “to save” (G4982). Another word that is derived from sozo is soma (soˊ-mah) which refers to “the body (as a sound whole)” (G4983). The connection between soundness and being saved was apparent in Jesus’ healing ministry. When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, he responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Later, Jesus was approached by a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Matthew tells us that she “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well (sozo, to save).’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well (sozo, to save)” (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Greek word sophron (soˊ-frone), which is translated self-controlled in Titus 2:2, means “safe (sound) in mind” (G4998) and is derived from the base of sozo and phren (frane). Phren appears only in 1 Corinthians 14:20 where Paul told the Corinthian believers, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking (phren). Be infants in evil, but in your thinking (phren) be mature.” Paul associated phren with immature Christians and conveyed the idea of making a foolish mistake. In the King James Version of the Bible, phren is translated understanding. Proverbs chapter eight focuses on the blessings of wisdom and states in verse five, “O child-like ones, learn to use wisdom. O fools, make your mind understand” (NLV). This verse seems to suggest that being self-controlled is the result of training our minds to think wisely and therefore, eliminating foolish mistakes. After Samuel confronted him, Saul admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul’s mistake was that he obeyed the voice of the people rather than the voice of God. It wasn’t that Saul didn’t know what God wanted him to do. Saul knew what God wanted him to do, but the people disagreed with it so, he chose to please the people instead of obeying God.

Godly character

Near the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to a one of his traveling companions named Titus. “Titus was most likely a Gentile from Macedonia (Galatians 2:3) who was led to Christ by Paul (Titus 1:4). Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) when some dogmatic, Jewish brethren insisted that Titus should be circumcised. Paul would not allow it (Galatians 2:3-5) because this would have suggested that all non-Jewish Christians were second-class citizens in the church. Titus remained as Paul’s traveling companion and may have been with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Galatians. After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, Titus traveled with Paul to do mission work in the East. They landed at Crete and evangelized several towns (Titus 1:5). However, since Paul was unable to stay, he left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of congregations in that region. Titus met with considerable opposition and insubordination in the church, especially from the Jews (Titus 1:10). It is quite possible that Titus had written to Paul to report this problem and ask for spiritual advice. Paul responded with this short letter encouraging him to complete the process of organization, to ordain elders, to exercise his own authority firmly, and to teach sound doctrine while avoiding unnecessary strife…The letter was probably delivered by Zenas and Apollos (Titus 3:12). It is believed, however, that Paul penned this sometime between his first and second imprisonments in Rome (ca. AD 64) when he was in the city of Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This was about the same time that the book of 1 Timothy was written. The instructive tone of this epistle to Titus is similar to that of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Both Titus and Timothy endured much criticism from false teachers during their ministries. Paul exhorts Titus to continue to preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to use wise judgment concerning the appointing of leaders in the church (Titus 1:5-9)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Titus).

The transition of leadership in the church from Jesus’ apostles and original followers to Gentile believers that were some of their early converts was difficult because of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles. The issue of godly character was discussed in depth by Jesus, but not in the context of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because he didn’t come into the world until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Paul’s greeting included a doctrinal statement that was intended to lay the foundation for his message to Titus. Paul began by stating:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicated that he had been made an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1) and then, linked his role to the development of godliness. Paul used the phrase which accords with godliness to emphasize the fact that godliness is dependent upon an individual’s knowledge of the truth. The Greek word that is translated godliness, eusebeia (yoo-sebˊ-i-ah) “is from eu, ‘well,’ and sebomai, ‘to be devout,’ denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him” (G2150). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul directly linked godliness with the manifestation of God through Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, and implied that godliness was embodied in, and communicated through, the truths of the faith of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).

A critical point that Paul made about God’s character was his inability to say something that wasn’t true. With regard to our hope of eternal life, Paul said, “God, who never lies” promised it to us before the ages began (Titus 1:2). The Greek word psuedomai (psyooˊ-dom-ahee), from which the word lie (pseudos) is derived, means “to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood” (G5574). The prefix pseudo “is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else” (Wikipedia). Jesus associated lying with the devil and told the Jews who had believed in him:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus contrasted the devil’s behavior with God’s and said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In the same way that God never lies (Titus 1:2), Jesus indicated that the devil never says anything that is true because of his character (John 8:44).

In his letter to Titus, Paul stated, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:12-14). Paul acknowledged that it was the Cretans’ natural tendency to act contrary to their Christian heritage and may have been trying to encourage Titus that it wasn’t his fault that his congregation was lacking in spiritual character. Paul may have wanted Titus to view these believers as being under satanic influences. Paul said that Titus should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). The words Paul used have the connotation of cutting the Cretans off abruptly. In other words, Paul wanted Titus to be rude, if necessary, to convince the Cretans that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul wanted the Cretans to be sound in their faith, meaning that they could recognize for themselves when they were being drawn away from the truth.

The Israelites often stumbled in their attempt to do what God wanted them to. When the people of Israel demanded a king, the prophet Samuel was resistant to giving in to them because he knew they were rejecting God’s authority. God told Samuel to do what the people wanted him to (1 Samuel 8:7). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). Among the guidelines that God established was the stipulation that the king write for himself in a book a copy of the law. God said, “it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God intended that his commandments would be the constitution that his people lived by, but “they wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). In order to prevent his people from abandoning him completely, God gave the man that was selected to be Israel’s king another heart and changed him into another person (1 Samuel 10 6, 9). 1 Samuel 10:9-13 tells us:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah,behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

The Hebrew word that is translated gave in the phrase God gave him another heart, haphak (haw-vakˊ) has to do with transformation. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). The Spirit’s interaction with Saul was not the same as when a believer is converted and the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s heart, what is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul was changed by the Spirit coming upon him which caused him to be transformed into another man (1 Samuel 10:6).

The New Testament speaks of transformation in the context of both internal and external change. Paul’s instruction to the Romans was, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Being conformed to the world means that externally you look and act like everyone else (G4964). Transformation, on the other hand, has to do with a continuous process of inward change that is expressed in the character and conduct of the individual (G3339). Paul indicated that believers are transformed by the renewal of their minds. The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God’s stipulation that the king of Israel have a personal copy of the law was so that he could meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) and adjust his thinking to it in order to develop godly character.

“From a human perspective, Saul fully satisfied the desires of the people. He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe of all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies. Saul was also a man whose own spiritual life mirrored that of the majority of the Israelites; it was not long until he disobeyed the Lord (1 Samuel 13:8-14). During his farewell address, Samuel made the people aware of the fact that they had sinned by asking for a human king. Samuel said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called upon the LORD, and he LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:16-18). The people confirmed their rejection of God’s authority when they asked Samuel to pray to the LORD your God. Samuel assured the Israelites that in spite of their rejection, God would not forsake his people, “for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22).

Samuel’s final remarks to the people of Israel made it clear that God was not going to give up on his chosen people. Samuel said that “it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22, emphasis mine), implying that the LORD could work things out with or without the cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to create, do, make…This verb is also applied to all aspects of divine acts and actions. In the general sense of His actions toward His people Israel, the word first occurs in Genesis 12:2, where God promises ‘to make’ Abram a great nation” (H6213). God’s intention of making the people of Israel a people for himself was related to his covenant with Abraham and his plan of salvation for the world. The LORD’s anointing of Saul “to be the prince of his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1) was the first step toward Jesus becoming the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was initially recognized and worshipped as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but throughout his ministry he talked about the kingdom of heaven and he told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

The distinction between God’s effort and ours when it comes to developing godly character and the result of us acquiring it are considered in the book of Acts in connection with the healing of a lame beggar. Peter and John were going up to the temple when a man asked to receive alms from them. Acts 3:4-8 states:

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

The lame beggar didn’t ask or expect Peter to heal him. Peter merely commanded the man to rise up and walk. Afterward, Peter asked the people that had witnessed this miracle, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). The Greek word that is translated piety in this verse, eusebeia is translated godliness in Titus 1:1. Peter concluded that it was power and godliness that had made the lame man walk, but wanted everyone watching to understand that he was not the source of it.

Godliness is a spontaneous feeling of the heart that causes us to do things that are godly or for God (G2150). Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that godliness had to be exercised in order for it to be helpful or advantageous to us. Paul said:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

Paul suggested that toiling and striving for godliness was a worthwhile effort “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). The point that I believe Paul was trying to make was that godly character is based on a real person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, we know what the end result looks like. Our hope is based on reality, not a fantasy.

When God gave King Saul another heart and turned him into another man, Saul was immediately converted, but he didn’t have any context for the influence of the Holy Spirit because Jesus, the source of his transformation, hadn’t yet been born. You might say that Saul was left to his own devices when it came to developing godly character because he had no concept of what God was really like. It’s possible that God intended for Saul to be an example of an ungodly Christian. In other words, Saul represented the kind of person that has experienced spiritual rebirth, but has no interest in doing things for God. Saul’s focus was on the material world rather than the kingdom of heaven. In his letter to Titus, Paul identified the qualifications for elders. Paul said, ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8). “The word ‘self-controlled’ is the Greek adjective sophron (4998). It means ‘to voluntarily place limitations on one’s own freedom’” (note on Titus 2:2, 5). Paul used the word sophron three times in the section of his letter that addressed qualifications for elders and the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s emphasis of self-control suggests that it was an important quality of godly character. Sophron is derived from the words sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982) and phren (frane) which means “to rein in or curb.” In a figurative sense, phren is “the supposed seat of all mental and emotional activity. In the New Testament, by metonymy, meaning the mind, intellect, disposition, feelings” (G5424). One way of looking at self-control is that your mind operates like someone who has been saved. A person who exercises self-control demonstrates that he or she has actually been delivered from the power of sin and death and in the process develops godly character.

Like everyone else

God’s miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt was an important turning point in the nation’s history. Numerous times, God referred back to that pivotal point to remind the Israelites of their relationship with him and of their dependence upon his mercy for their continued sustainment. Psalm 124 captures the essence of Israel’s situation from the time they were delivered from bondage in Egypt to the time when they were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Psalm 124:1-5 states:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—
    let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

The imagery of being swallowed up alive and of a flood sweeping them away were meant to depict the consuming destruction that comes on people who are enemies of God. This kind of imagery was used in the book of Jeremiah in connection with God’s judgment on the Philistines. Jeremiah 47:2-4 states:

“Thus says the Lord:
Behold, waters are rising out of the north,
    and shall become an overflowing torrent;
they shall overflow the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
Men shall cry out,
    and every inhabitant of the land shall wail.
At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his stallions,
    at the rushing of his chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels,
the fathers look not back to their children,
    so feeble are their hands,
because of the day that is coming to destroy
    all the Philistines,
to cut off from Tyre and Sidon
    every helper that remains.
For the Lord is destroying the Philistines,
    the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.”

The Philistines were among the nations that the LORD left in the Promised Land to test Israel by them. “They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses” (Judges 3:4). After the household of Eli was rejected by God as Israel’s priests, Israel was defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by them. “The Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon” (1 Samuel 4:2). “Canaanite deities, such as the Baals and the Ashtoreths, remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile. Other Canaanite deities included the Asherahs (Judges 3:7) and Dagon (Judges 16:23)…Overall, the religion of the Canaanites was extremely corrupt. It was characterized by the practices of human sacrifice, ritual prostitution and homosexuality, and self-mutilation” (note on Judges 2:13). The Philistines’ placement of the Ark of the Covenant next to their god Dagon was intended to signify his dominion over the Israelites, but God caused Dagon to fall face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD (1 Samuel 5:3-4) and eventually, the Philistines voluntarily returned the ark to Israel (1 Samuel 6:1-14).

Samuel’s duel role as a judge of Israel and also a prophet was a part of the shift in leadership that occurred when Israel demanded a king to rule over them. 1 Samuel 8:1-5 tells us, “When Samuel become old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’” “Like Eli, Samuel neglected to discipline and teach his sons properly. The failure of Samuel’s sons led the people to reject their authority as judges and to reject God as well, who in his sovereignty had set the judges in place to rule over his people” (note on 1 Samuel 8:3). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The people seemed to be motivated by the desire to avoid further military losses (1 Samuel 8:20) and to get rid of corrupt potential leaders, the sons of Eli and Samuel. Samuel saw their request as a rejection of himself, but God affirmed that they had actually rejected him. The people were no longer satisfied with the system of judges that had been established. They improperly attributed the failures during that time to the system itself, not to their sin. They rejected God because they wanted to be like the other nations, not a peculiar people, set apart as the chosen ones of God. They wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight, not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7).

When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, after being delivered from slavery in Egypt, God declared his intention of transforming them into a unique people. It says in Exodus 19:3 that God called to Moses out of the mountain and instructed him to tell the people of Israel:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6)

The Hebrew word that is translated treasured possession in Exodus 19:5, çᵉgullah (seg-ool-lawˊ) “signifies ‘property’ in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God’s personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what he wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people” (H5459).

Moses reminded the Israelites of their special status just before they entered the Promised Land. Moses said, “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 people, 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). Moses used the Hebrew word bachar (baw-kharˊ), which means “to choose” (H977), to refer to Israel’s election as God’s holy nation and indicated that God’s motivation for choosing Israel was his love for them. The Hebrew word that is translated love in Deuteronomy 7:7, chashaq (khaw-shakˊ) means “to cling, i.e. join” (H2836). The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that God’s election of those who would be redeemed by the blood of Christ took place before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and that all who will receive an eternal inheritance from God will do so by “being predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). The Greek word proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) or predestined, “is used to declare God’s eternal decrees of both the objects and goal of his plan of salvation (Romans 8:29, 30), of the glorious benefits that will come from that salvation (1 Corinthians 2:7), and of our adoption and inheritance as sons of God (Ephesians 1:5, 11)” (G4309).

The Israelites’ desire to be like everyone else was rooted in the fact that they were worshipping the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13). Samuel challenged the people of Israel to be faithful to God. Samuel said, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:3). In spite of his faithfulness in subduing the Philistines, the people of Israel refused to accept God’s authority over them (1 Samuel 8:7). 1 Samuel 8:19-22 states, “But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, ‘No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ And when Samuel heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and make them a king.’”

One of the epithets of Jesus was King of the Jews. During the time when Jesus was living on the earth, the nation of Israel couldn’t have a king of their own because they were under the Roman government’s authority. King Herod was the Roman Jewish client king of Judea and Matthew 2:1-2 tells us that wise men from the east came to Herod the king, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” After Herod determined the location of Christ’s birth, he sent the wise men to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8). The wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, Herod “became furious and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:12, 16). At his trial before the Roman governor, Jesus was asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11). Later, the governor’s soldiers stripped Jesus “and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisted together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-29). At his crucifixion, the title of King of the Jews was used to condemn Jesus to death. Matthew 27:37 states, “And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’”

Israel’s tragic mistake of asking for a human being to rule over them instead of God is evident in the final book of the Bible, Revelation which deals with end-time events. The nation of Israel isn’t mentioned in the book of Revelation, but instead its contents are addressed “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4). Both Peter and Paul elude to the fact that the holy nation that God intended for Israel to become was replaced by the church that Jesus established before his death on the cross (Matthew 16:18). Peter stated:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Peter pointed out that believers in Christ are considered to be God’s people. He said, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10). Paul echoed this thought in his letter to Titus where he spoke of Christ’s followers as “a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). The Greek word that is translated for his own possession, periousios (per-ee-ooˊ-see-os) means “being beyond usual, i.e. special (one’s own)” (G4041).

Paul talked in his letter to the Romans about the people of Israel being grafted back into the tree from which they were cut off through their unbelief. Paul explained:

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusionmean!

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:11-24)

Paul indicated that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah made it possible for the world to be reconciled to God and identified them as the firstfruits of God’s plan of salvation. The grafting back in that Paul was referring to in this passage may be the purpose behind the great tribulation that is depicted in the book of Revelation.

According to Paul, one of the key outcomes of believing in Christ is being conformed into the image of God’s Son, “in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Paul warned believers to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that Christ had made both Jew and Gentile one “by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14-16). God’s ability to transform the minds of both Jews and Gentiles and bring people from both groups into the body of Christ has been demonstrated through the conversion of many Jews to Christianity, but God’s ultimate goal of grafting the nation of Israel back into the tree from which it was cut off seems to be a larger objective that has yet to be accomplished.

The book of Revelation, which opens with John’s greetings to the seven churches, focuses primarily on God’s judgment of the earth and his overthrow of a world system that is opposed to the kingdom of heaven. Before God’s angels are allowed to harm the earth or the sea, John tells us that 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel are set apart to serve God. Revelation 7:3 states, “’Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” Later, John says:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. (Revelation 14:1-5)

John indicated that the 144,000 had been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). The Greek word that is translated firstfruits, aparche (ap-ar-khayˊ) means a beginning of sacrifice, i.e. the (Jewish) first-fruit” (G5360). This seems to suggest that the 144,000 will be the first to be martyred for their faith during the great tribulation. Revelation 13:15-16 states that anyone who would not worship the image of the beast would be slain. “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” It seems that God intends for the 144,000 to not be like everyone else and to be killed because they refuse to submit to the false prophet’s demands.

The Ark of the Covenant

The Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt was intended to illustrate God’s active role in divine redemption and to reveal the individual’s need for a relationship with Christ in order to be released from the power of sin and death. In the Apostle Paul’s testimony of his conversion, he shared with King Agrippa the conversation that he had with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul said:

“And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:14-18)

Paul concluded his testimony with an explanation of his arrest in Jerusalem. Paul said, “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:21-23).

Paul indicated that nothing had changed since Moses and the prophets revealed God’s plan of salvation to the people of Israel. Exodus 19:1-6 tells us:

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’”

The Apostle Peter made a reference to God’s promise to Israel in his first letter and talked about Jesus as the living stone that was rejected by men (1 Peter 2:4). Peter said that believers are “like living stones” that “are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Referring to the unbelieving nation of Israel, Peter said, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8) and then, he went on to say, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

The primary focus of the covenant that God made with the nation of Israel was the Ten Commandments which were personally spoken to them by God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). When the covenant was ratified, “all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD” (Exodus 24:3-4). Later, the LORD told Moses to take a contribution, “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me…And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:2, 8). “The Lord commanded Moses to build a sanctuary in which he would dwell among his people. It was to be a tabernacle or moveable tent that would be suitable for the Israelites’ nomadic lifestyle. The Levites would have responsibility for it (Numbers 18:1-7). Its general designation was ‘the house of the LORD’ (Exodus 34:26), but it was also known as “the tabernacle of the testimony’ (Exodus 38:21) because is served as a depository for the tables of the law or testimony. Another designation was the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because the Lord met his people there and the sanctuary was filled with his glory and presence (Exodus 40:34-38). From this tent, God would lead the Israelites on their journey” (note on Exodus 25:8, 9).

A key feature of the sanctuary that the Israelites were instructed to build was the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was made of acacia wood, but it was overlaid with pure gold. The ark was symbolic of Christ and depicted him as the God/man through the gold/wood construction which did not mingle with each other. God told Moses:

 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22)

The mercy seat functioned as a lid for the ark, but its meaning was much more significant. “On the Day of Atonement, the high priest made atonement for himself, the tabernacle, and the people by a sin offering, which included sprinkling blood on this lid (Leviticus 16:13-15)” (H3727). The Hebrew word that is translated mercy seat, kapporeth (kap-poˊ-reth) is derived from the word kaphar (kaw-farˊ), “A verb meaning to cover, to forgive, to expiate, to reconcile. This word is of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it is central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin. At its most basic level, the word conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature. It is therefore employed to signify the cancellation or ‘writing over’ of a contract (Isaiah 28:18); the appeasing of anger (Genesis 32:20[21]; Proverbs 16:14); and the overlaying of wood with pitch so as to make it waterproof (Genesis 6:14). The word also communicates God’s covering of sin. Persons made reconciliation with God for their sins by imposing something that would appease the offended party (in this case the Lord) and cover sinners with righteousness (Exodus 32:30; Ezekiel 45:17; cf. Daniel 9:24). In the Old Testament, the blood of sacrifices was most notably imposed (Exodus 30:10). By this imposition, sin was purged (Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 6:7) and forgiven (Psalm 78:38). The offences were removed, leaving the sinners clothed in righteousness (cf. Zechariah 3:3, 4). Of course, the imposition of the blood of bulls and of goats could never fully cover our sin (see Hebrews 10:4), but with the coming of Christ and the imposition of His shed blood, a perfect atonement was made (Romans 5:9-11)” (H3722).  

The concept and process of propitiation are discussed in the ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews. After describing in detail the tabernacle and the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the author states:

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing(which is symbolic for the present age).According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:6-10)

The author of Hebrews indicated that the gifts and sacrifices that were offered under the Old Covenant could not perfect the conscience, but were imposed until the time of reformation. The reformation that he was referring to was the new covenant that was enacted by Jesus on the night of his crucifixion (Matthew 26:26-29). Matthew’s gospel tells us that during the Last Supper, Jesus “took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).

The key aspect of propitiation that the author of the book of Hebrews wanted his readers to focus their attention on was the perfecting of the conscience. The Greek word that is translated conscience in Hebrews 9:9, suneidesis (soon-iˊ-day-sis) means “co-perception, i.e. moral consciousness…that faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Suneidesis is a prolonged form of the word suneido (soon-iˊ-do), which means, “to see completely…to know within oneself, be conscious of.” Suneido is used figuratively, “to see in one’s own mind, to perceive within oneself, to be aware of (Acts 12:12; 14:6)” (G4894). According to Hebrews 9:14 and 10:1, Jesus purified our conscience when he offered himself as a sacrifice to God and is able to perfect those who draw near to him, but that was not the case before his death and resurrection. Hebrews 10:1-4 states:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

This passage makes it clear that the sacrifices that were made by the high priest every year on the Day of Atonement were not meant to take away the sins of the people of Israel, but merely to remind them on a regular basis that they were sinners in need of a savior.

The Ark of the Covenant’s symbolic meaning seemed to be lost by the time the period of the judges came to a conclusion. 1 Samuel 3:1-2 states, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of the LORD had not gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was.” Samuel’s presence was strictly forbidden in the area of the temple where the ark of God was (Leviticus 16:2) and yet, it appears that Eli had intentionally stationed him there so that he could attend to a lamp that was supposed to be kept lit continually. 1 Samuel 3:7 tells us, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” Samuel’s unregenerate state made him oblivious to the voice of the LORD. When God called to Samuel from between the two cherubim that were on the mercy seat of the ark, he thought it was Eli. It says in 1 Samuel 3:8-14:

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”

The severity of the message that Samuel received from the LORD made him afraid to share it with Eli the next day when he was asked, “What was it that he told you?” (1 Samuel 3:16), but Samuel told Eli everything and didn’t hide anything from him (1 Samuel 3:18). As a result, 1 Samuel 3:19-21 tells us, “Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.”

Samuel’s designation as a prophet meant that God spoke to him in the same way that he had Moses. “This word describes one who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart. To do so was to be a false prophet (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16, 26, 30). What a prophet declared had to come true, or he was false (Deuteronomy 18:22; Jeremiah 23:9)” (H5030). The first proof of Samuel’s authenticity as a prophet was the message he received from the LORD about Eli’s family. After the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines, the elders of Israel decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh where the tabernacle was located into their camp. “So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God” (1 Samuel 4:4). 1 Samuel 4:10-11 states, “So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for thirty thousand foot soldiers of Israel fell. And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.” “The Israelites treated the ark as a kind of magic charm instead of the testimony of God’s presence and power. The mere presence of the ark would not bring victory in the battle” (note on 1 Samuel 4:3). When a messenger came to tell Eli what had happened, “As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died” (1 Samuel 4:18).

1 Samuel 5:1-5 tells us, “When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, behold Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.” The Philistines may have thought that capturing the ark of God meant that they had triumphed over the God of Israel, but the LORD used the situation to teach the Philistines a lesson about his sovereignty. Psalm 97 conveys the reality of God’s dominion over all people and nations. Verses 6-9 state:

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    worship him, all you gods!

Zion hears and is glad,
    and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
    because of your judgments, O Lord.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
    you are exalted far above all gods.

The Hebrew word that is translated most high in Psalm 97:9, ʿelyown (el-yoneˊ) as a title means “the Supreme” and “stands in parallel to the epithet God and Shaddai” (H5945). After God afflicted the Philistines in Ashdod and Gath with tumors, it says in 1 Samuel 5:10-11, “they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.’ They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, ‘Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.’ For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city.” The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months before it was returned to Israel. When the ark was sent back, it was transported on a new cart with two milk cows that had never been yoked pulling it. The two cows were yoked to the cart and their calves taken away from them. “It is normally difficult for even cows who have been trained to be driven straight down a road when their calves have been taken away from them. In this case, the cows did follow a straight line, carrying the ark back to the Israelites, which revealed that their behavior was controlled by God. God is all-powerful and uses even animals to accomplish his will (cf. Numbers 22:21-32)” (note on 1 Samuel 6:7-12).

An answer to prayer

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount included many practical teachings about spiritual life. One of the important topics that Jesus addressed was prayer. Jesus told his followers:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:5-15)

Jesus contrasted public prayer with private prayer and referred to those who were fond of praying in the sight of others as hypocrites. The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-taceˊ) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). Instead, Jesus said that believers should, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The Greek term that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tosˊ) has to do with that which is hidden in the human heart. Jesus concluded that forgiveness, or the lack thereof, was the deciding factor when it came to God answering our prayers.

Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point about God’s attitude toward forgiveness. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus said to him:

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:22-35)

Jesus indicated that we must forgive our brother from our heart. The phrase from your heart denotes a change in attitude toward something or someone. In Jesus’ parable, mercy was the key to being able to forgive others (Matthew 18:33). The Greek word eleeo (el-eh-ehˊ-o), which is translated mercy in the English Standard Version of the Bible and compassion in the King James Version of the Bible, is “spoken of the mercy of God through Christ or salvation in Christ: to bestow salvation on…The general meaning is to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances. Used transitively in the passive, to be pitied, obtain mercy, implying not merely a feeling for the misfortunes of others involving sympathy (oiktirmos [3628], pity), but also an active desire to remove those miseries” (G1653).

“The book of 1 Samuel presents in detail the transitional phase between the period of the judges and the period of the kings…Samuel bridged the gap between the periods of the judges and kings in that he was the last one to serve as a judge in all Israel and that he anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David” (Introduction 1 Samuel). The book of 1 Samuel opens with the birth of Samuel which was the result of God answering his mother Hannah’s prayer. 1 Samuel 1:9-20 states:

After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

Hannah’s emotional plea for a child was witnessed by Eli the priest, but 1 Samuel 1:13 tells us, “Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.” Hannah described herself as “a woman troubled in spirit” and she told Eli, “I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD” (1 Samuel 1:15). The Hebrew word qasheh (kaw-sheh), which is translated troubled, indicates that Hannah was in a painful situation (H7186). Hannah’s complaint was that her rival’s constant provocation had made her bitter and her misery was beyond what she could bear. It says in 1 Samuel 1:6, “And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the LORD had closed her womb.”

Hannah’s situation was attributed to the LORD’s sovereign control of her ability to have children. The Hebrew word that is translated closed in 1 Samuel 1:6, çagar (saw-garˊ) means “to shut up” and is used figuratively as “to surrender.” “In the books of Samuel, cagar is used in the special sense of ‘to deliver up,’ implying that all avenues of escape ‘are closed’” (H5462). It seems likely that the LORD had intentionally kept Hannah from having children so that she would surrender this aspect of her life to him. When Hannah got to the point where she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, “the LORD remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked for him from the LORD’” (1 Samuel 1:19-20). The Hebrew word that is translated remembered, zakar (zaw-karˊ) is properly translated as “to mark (so as to be recognized), i.e. to remember; (by implication) to mention…Remembering in ancient Israel was a major aspect of proper worship, as it is today” (H2142).

First Samuel 1:11 tells us that Hannah vowed a vow and said that, if the LORD would remember her and give her a son, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” A vow is a “voluntary promise to give or do something as an expression of consecration or devotion to the service of God” (H5087). After Samuel was born, Hannah told her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the LORD and dwell there forever” (1 Samuel 1:22). Hannah’s understanding of the temple of God’s purpose was that it functioned in a similar way to what heaven does now that Jesus is seated at the right hand of his Father. In order for Samuel to appear in the presence of the LORD, he would have to have access to the holy of holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Leviticus 16 indicates that only Aaron, the high priest, was allowed to go inside the veil, before the mercy seat that was on the ark once per year on the Day of Atonement. The book of Hebrews explains that Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf into the inner place behind the curtain, “having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). The earthly holy place was a temporary structure that provided a way for sacrifices to be made to God, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). Thus, Samuel’s dedication to the LORD was meant to be a type of spiritual rebirth, similar to what Christians experience when they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit (G3824). Hebrews chapter 10 tells us that Christ’s sacrifice was once for all and states specifically, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14).

Samuel’s sanctification was attained through Hannah’s Nazarite vow on her son’s behalf. Hannah said, “then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God” (H5139). The Hebrew word naziyr (naw-zeerˊ) is derived from the word nezer (nehˊ-zer). “A masculine noun meaning consecration, an ordination. This could be the consecration of the high priest (Leviticus 21:12); or of a person taking a vow as a Nazarite (Numbers 6:5, 7, 9, 12)” (H5145). It says of the person who has taken the Nazarite vow, “All the days of his separation he is holy to the LORD” (Numbers 6:8). The Hebrew word qadosh (kaw-dosheˊ), which is translated holy in Numbers 6:8, is also translated saint (Psalm 106:16) and is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means “to be holy, to sanctify” (H6942).

When Hannah brought Samuel to the temple to give him to the LORD, she told Eli the priest, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted my petition that I made to him” (1 Samuel 1:26-27). The fact that the LORD granted Hannah’s petition was a remarkable feat in and of itself, but the important thing to note about Hannah’s situation was that she had the kind of faith that prompted her to go to God for help. There are very few instances recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible where an individual prayed to God and only once do we see a situation like Hannah’s where a woman prayed for her individual need and received an answer from God. Jesus said that when we pray to our Father in secret, or as Hannah did, from our heart, he will reward us. The idea behind the Greek word that is translated reward is that of repayment or of giving something back (G591). Hannah’s reward is mentioned in the context of Eli’s negligence as a parent. It says in 1 Samuel 2:12, “Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD.” The text goes on to state, “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17). Then, 1 Samuel 2:18-21 tells us:

Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy clothed with a linen ephod. And his mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” So then they would return to their home.

Indeed the Lord visited Hannah, and she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord.

One way of looking at Hannah’s reward was that the LORD gave her back what she gave to him, but even more so, because she had three additional sons, as well as two daughters.

When Hannah gave Samuel to the LORD, she prayed a second prayer that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah’s prayer was similar to Mary’s song of praise, also known as The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Hannah’s prayer opened with the statement:

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation. (1 Samuel 2:1)

The Hebrew word that is translated salvation in this verse, yᵉshuwʿah (yesh-ooˊ-ah) means “something saved” (H3444). Jesus is a Greek form of yeshu’ah. In the final verse Hannah’s prayer, there is a reference to Israel’s Messiah (1 Samuel 2:10), suggesting that Hannah knew about and had personally received salvation through Jesus Christ. Whether Hannah was already saved when she asked God to give her a son or her salvation was the result of her receiving an answer to prayer isn’t clear in her story, but it can be assumed that she believed God was listening when she spoke to him in her heart (1 Samuel 1:13). After a fig tree quickly withered that Jesus had cursed earlier in the day, his disciples were amazed and asked him, “’How did the fig tree wither away so soon?’ So Jesus answered and said to them,  ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive’” (Matthew 21:20-22, NKJV)

The day of judgment

Peter addressed his second letter “to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Peter’s intention in addressing his audience as equals may have been to let them know that the topics he was going to cover were not meant for people outside the faith or for those who thought of him as being different because he was a Jewish believer. Peter talked about things in his second letter that were important to every believer. Peter encouraged his followers to be eager to grow spiritually and warned them about false teachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” and “exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:1-3). Peter referred to false teachers as “the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6), a group of people that do not worship the true God (G765). Jude said about the ungodly, “For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). The phrase crept in unnoticed means “to settle in alongside, i.e. lodge stealthily” (G3921). This implies that the ungodly people Jude was talking about were members of the church.

Jude indicated that ungodly people were designated for condemnation (Jude 1:4). Being designated for condemnation meant that the ungodly were not predestined for adoption into God’s family through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Jude said ungodly people “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). The Greek word that is translated deny, arneomai (ar-nehˊ-om-ahee) means “to contradict, i.e. disavow, reject, abnegate” (G720). Arneomai is used in John 18:25-27 in connection with Peter’s denial of the Lord shortly before his crucifixion. It states, “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples are you?’ He denied (arneomai) it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied (arneomai) it, and at once the rooster crowed.” Peter’s refusal to admit that he was one of Jesus’ followers is recorded in all four of the gospels. In Luke’s account of the incident, it says, “And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62). In Jesus’ statement, “you will deny me three times,” the word aparneomai (ap-ar-nehˊ-om-ahee) is used, which means “’to deny utterly,’ to abjure, to affirm that one has no connection with a person…The strengthened form is the verb used in the Lord’s warning as to being ‘denied’ in the presence of the angels (Luke 12:9)” (G533).

The fact that Peter wept bitterly after he realized what he had done shows us that he was remorseful for his behavior. Peter’s relationship with the Lord was restored after Jesus’ resurrection. At the end of a conversation in which Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15, 16, 17), Jesus repeated his original invitation to Peter, stating, “Follow me” (John 21:19). The book of Hebrews asserts that it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened to be restored after they have fallen away from their faith (Hebrews 6:4-6). It states, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8). According to this passage, the fruit or outcome of one’s actions determines the condition of the person’s heart. Jesus told his disciples, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. The Greek word metanoia (met-anˊ-oy-ah) “as a noun, means ‘afterthought, change of mind, repentance,’…In the New Testament the subject chiefly has reference to ‘repentance’ from sin, and this change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). Paul went on to say, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:5-11).

When Jesus’ disciples asked him about the sign of his second coming and of the end of the age, he told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4-5). Jesus went on to say, “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…But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time, Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:21-51).

Jesus compared the faithful and wise servant with the wicked servant and said that it was his master’s delay that caused the wicked servant to neglect his responsibilities. Peter addressed the issue of the Lord’s delayed return in his discussion of the judgment of the ungodly. Peter said:

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:1-9)

Peter indicated that the heavens and earth that now exist are being stored up for fire and being kept until the day of judgment (2 Peter 3:7). Peter compared the day of judgment to the flood that caused all life on earth to perish and said that it would result in the destruction of the ungodly. The Greek word that is translated destruction, apoleia (ap-oˊ-li-a) refers to “the second death, perdition, i.e. exclusion from the Messiah’s kingdom” (G684).

The book of Revelation provides some insight into what the second death is about. It says in Revelation 2:11, “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” Hurt in this instance has to do with Satan’s ability to harm people (G91). In the second death, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). “Thanatos, death, has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God. Death, in whichever of the above-mentioned senses it is used, is always in Scripture, viewed as the penal consequence of sin, and since sinners alone are subject to death (Romans 5:12), it was as the Bearer of sin that the Lord Jesus submitted thereto on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). And while the physical death of the Lord Jesus was of the essence of His sacrifice, it was not the whole. The darkness symbolized, and His cry expressed, the fact that He was left alone in the universe, He was forsaken (Matthew 27:45-46).

Jesus encouraged believers to enter by the narrow gate and said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus went on to explain to his disciples that knowing God’s will and doing it are not the same thing. Jesus said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:21-27)

Jesus’ analogy of a house built on the rock was particularly meaningful to the Jews because their Messiah was referred to in the Song of Moses as the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31). Jesus also used the analogy of a rock when he affirmed Peter’s declaration that he was the Christ. Matthew tells us:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus said that he would build his church on this rock, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18); meaning that, just as the rain, floods, and the wind beating against it could not bring down the house built on the rock, so also, the forces of Satan would not be able to bring down Jesus Christ’s church.

The nation of Israel was intended to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), but shortly after they received God’s Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), “the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up make us gods who shall go before us.’” (Exodus 32:1). Aaron “made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:4). After the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land, idolatry became a problem for them and “remained a problem for Judah until the Babylonian exile” (note on Judges 2:13). It says in Judges 2:19-22. “They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, ‘Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did or not.” Judges 17:6 states, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The corruption that developed among the people of Israel is evident in a situation that resulted from a man traveling through one of the towns inhabited by the people of Benjamin. The man and his concubine were taken into the home of an old man living in Gibeah. Judges 19:22-30 tells us:

As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

This low point in the nation’s development shows that not all the people of Israel were committed to doing things God’s way. All who saw it were stunned by what happened in Gibeah and were prompted to “consider it, take counsel, and speak” (Judges 19:30).

Judges 20:1 tells us, “Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah.” The unification of the people of Israel was an important first step in their attempt to correct the problem that had developed in Gibeah. It says in Judges 20:8-11, “And all the people arose as one man, saying, ‘None of us will go to his tent, and none of us will return to his house. But now this is what we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot, and we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the people, that when they come they may repay Gibeah of Benjamin for all the outrage that they have committed in Israel.’ So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one man.” The Hebrew word that is translated united, chaber (khaw-bareˊ) has to do with fellowship and is similar to the Greek word koinonia (koy-nohn-eeˊ-ah). Koinonia is derived from the word koinonos (koy-no-nosˊ) which means “a sharer, i.e. associate” and is used “figuratively, of those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20).” Koinonos is also used “figuratively, of those who serve Christ, partakers of divine blessings” (G2844). Peter used koinonos to refer to himself “as a partaker in the glory that is to come” (1 Peter 5:1) and said of God, the Father, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, though the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers (koinonos) of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Peter indicated that the divine nature is shared among believers and is obtained through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. When the people of Israel became united as one man, they were operating in the same way that the body of Christ is expected to.

Judges 20:12-17 states:

And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What evil is this that has taken place among you? Now therefore give up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and purge evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the people of Israel. Then the people of Benjamin came together out of the cities to Gibeah to go out to battle against the people of Israel. And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war.

The battle that took place between the Benjaminites and the rest of the people of Israel initially resulted in 40,000 of Israelite soldiers being killed. Judges 20:26-28 tells us, “Then all the people of Israel, the whole army, went up and came to Bethel and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. And the people of Israel inquired of the LORD…saying, ‘Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?’ And the LORD said, ‘Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.’” It says in Judges 20:34-5 that “the battle was hard…And the LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All of these were men who drew the sword” Further details of the event are provided in Judges 39-41. It states:

Now Benjamin had begun to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel. They said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” But when the signal began to rise out of the city in a column of smoke, the Benjaminites looked behind them, and behold, the whole of the city went up in smoke to heaven. Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were dismayed, for they saw that disaster was close upon them.

When the men of Benjamin saw that disaster was close upon them, they realized that the day of judgment had arrived for them. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, raʿ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrong-doing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). The Hebrew word that is translated destroy in Judges 20:35, shachath (shaw-khathˊ) is used in Genesis 6:11-13 in reference to the corruption that God saw in the world before he destroyed it with the flood. “This word especially marks dissolution or corruption and also to the physical destruction of all that was living on the earth and of the earth itself” (H7843). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

The ungodly

Peter’s second letter was written from a very practical standpoint in that Peter zeroed in on what he most likely considered to be the three most important aspects of successful Christian living: spiritual growth, awareness of false teaching, and the Lord’s return. Peter’s discussion of false teaching in the second chapter of his book, focused in on a particular group of people he referred to as the ungodly. According to Peter, the ungodly have known the way of righteousness, but have turned back “from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that knowing what sin is makes us accountable to its effect. Paul said, “I was once alive. That was when I did not know what the Law said I had to do. Then I found that I had broken the Law. I knew I was a sinner. Death was mine because of the Law. The Law was supposed to give me new life. Instead, it gave me death. Sin found a way to trap me by working through the Law. Then sin killed me by using the Law. The Law is holy. Each one of the Laws is holy and right and good” (Romans 7:9-12, NLV). Paul’s conclusion that the Law is holy meant that the effect of knowing the Law was an awareness of right and wrong. When Paul didn’t know what he was supposed to do, he wasn’t accountable for doing it, but after he did know, he was held accountable for his sin. James concluded in his letter, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

One prominent feature of the book of Ezekiel is the declaration of individual responsibility (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-20; 18:1-32; 33:1-20). In Ezekiel 18:1-32, the Lord was setting aside an old proverb in Israel (Ezekiel 18:2, cf. Jeremiah 31:29, 30) and replacing it with one of his own: ‘The soul who sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). In the Old Testament, God’s people were treated as a national unit, and their sustenance and material prosperity were often affected by the sins of the minority (cf. Joshua 7:1, 4-11, 16-26). Consequently, God was just when he spoke of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’ (Exodus 20:5). Ezekiel 18:1-32, however, looks beyond material ramifications and considers the eternal results of sin. This is implied by the use of the term ‘soul’ (Ezekiel 18:4) and the command to ‘make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezekiel 8:31). Many righteous people were going to die in the siege, and many would be carried to Babylon (as Ezekiel and Daniel were). The eternal fate of each person, however, was determined by his or her individual relationship to God” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32). Speaking through Ezekiel, God said:

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:21-24)

Hebrews 6:4-6 expands on the topic of individual responsibility by including the result of redemption that was made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It states:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

“This much debated passage likely discusses unbelievers who have ‘fallen away’ (v. 6) by consciously rejecting the spiritual enlightenment they have received (v. 4). They had experienced a taste of God’s goodness (v. 5) and may even have been part of the assembly. They had given intellectual assent to the truth of Christianity, but their apostasy demonstrated that their professed faith was not genuine. In turning away from the sacrifice of Christ, perhaps to return to the Judaism they previously espoused, they rejected the only means of salvation that God has provided. Their deliberate apostasy was so severe that they could not be ‘restored’ (anakainizein [G344]) to repentance. Judas Iscariot is an example of one who, although outwardly associated with the things of the Lord, ultimately chose to turn away” (note on Hebrews 6:4-6). Hebrews 10:26-27 adds, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Peter received instruction from the Lord about the importance of doing God’s will once it has been made known to us. Luke 12:35-48 states:

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Jesus used the role of a servant to emphasize the absolute obedience that was required of those in his ministry.  The harsh treatment that the servant received from his master, he cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful, showed that he could not be restored to his former state of grace.

Peter argued that the ungodly were being kept under punishment until the day of judgment because they despised authority. He said, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. The Greek word that is translated authority, kuriotes (koo-ree-otˊ-ace) “denotes ‘lordship’ (kurios, ‘a lord’)” (G2963). In the King James Version of the Bible, kuriotes is translated government, suggesting that the ungodly are anti-government. It says in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Doing what is right in ones’ own eyes does not necessarily mean that a person is anti-government. The ungodly are irreverent toward God and therefore, see themselves as the supreme authority.

An example of irreverence toward God can be found in Judges 17:7-13, which states:

Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Micah’s ordination of the Levite wasn’t prescribed by the Mosaic Law and his assumption that God would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest was unfounded.

The Hebrew word that is translated prosper in Judges 17:13, yatab (yaw-tabˊ) appears throughout the book of Deuteronomy in connection with keeping God’s commandments. After reciting the Ten Commandments, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well (yatab) with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” Peter described the ungodly as “bold and willful” and said that “they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones” (2 Peter 2:10). Blaspheme is the use of speech to bring down another’s value, honor, due-respect or to injure another’s reputation in the eyes of others (G987). Micah’s claim that the LORD would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest (Judges 17:13) was blaspheme not only because it devalued the office of priest, but also because it dishonored God’s intention of blessing his people through their obedience to the Ten Commandments. Micah lowered God’s standing to that of a pagan god who was worshipped because of his supposed ability to control the seasons, weather, and grain (note on Judges 2:13).

Micah’s irreverence toward God was most likely rooted in his practice of idolatry. It says in Judges 17:4-5 that Micah had a carved image and a metal image in his house. “And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods.” Later, when the images, the ephod, and the household gods, along with the priest that he had ordained were taken from his home, Micah said to the men who stole them, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?” (Judges 18:24). Micah’s response implied that he had lost all of his spiritual capability as a result of the images and the priest being taken from him. Judges 18:30-31 tells us, “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves and Jonathon the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.” The sons of Moses were not authorized to serve as priests. The priesthood was initially reserved for Aaron and all his descendants, but “God entered into a special covenant with Phinehas’ descendants (Numbers 25:13) following his zeal for God’s honor” (note on Numbers 25:6-13). God’s covenant with Phinehas was “an unconditional divine promise to maintain the family of Phinehas in an ‘everlasting priesthood’ (implicitly a pledge to Israel to provide her forever with a faithful priesthood)” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Along with that, the second commandment explicitly stated, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). The mention of the carved image and the priests being set up until the captivity was probably meant to draw attention to the fact that the Danites’ idolatry was a contributing factor in Israel being expelled from the Promised Land.

Peter described the ungodly as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12) and then, went on to say, “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of darkness has been reserved” (2 Peter 2:14-17). The debauchery of the Israelites was evident not long after they took possession of the Promised Land and is clearly portrayed in the account of the Levite whose concubine was sexually abused while they were traveling from Bethlehem in Judah to the hill country of Ephraim. The men of Ephraim were from the tribe of Benjamin. An old man who saw the traveler in the open square of the city was concerned about his safety and invited the Levite to spend the night in his home. Judges 19:21-30 tells us:

So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank. As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

The Israelites’ decline in morality after they entered the Promised Land was considered to be equal to their spiritual growth during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness at this point in time. Peter’s summarization of ungodly people’s behavior captures the essence of the Israelites’ situation. Peter said, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Spiritual growth

Peter’s first letter was written to converted Israelites who were living in “the five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey)” (Introduction to the First Letter of Peter). Peter focused his attention on two key aspects of these Christians’ lives, submission and suffering. Peter began by stating that God the Father “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5). The phrase caused to be born again is “used metaphorically for a change of carnal nature to a Christian life; to regenerate…It is equivalent to being a child of God” (G313). Peter used the pronoun us to indicate that he was a member of God’s family too and as such, was speaking to himself as well as his audience when he said, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Peter connected the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you with being grieved by various trials in order to show that there is a reason why Christians suffer. Peter indicated that “the salvation of your souls” is the outcome of trusting in God (1 Peter 1:9).

The Greek word that is translated outcome, telos (telˊ-os) means “to set out for a definite point or goal” and is properly translated as “the point aimed at as a limit, i.e. (by implication) the conclusion of an act or state” (G5056). The thought that telos conveys is that there is a purpose for things that happen and that the processes we go through as Christians have an end to them. Telos is often translated as the end in reference to Jesus’ ministry and his purpose for coming into the world. Peter talked about the end in the context of being stewards of God’s grace and suffering as a Christian. Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:7-8) Peter went on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Peter’s final statement, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19) suggests that doing good is a part of suffering and that it has an effect on our souls. In order to rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed, it seems that Peter expected believers to go through a process of suffering that would change their souls and result in Christ’s resurrection being realized in their own lives.

The Apostle Paul talked about being transformed by the renewal of your mind and said that Christians are to be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 states:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The renewal that Paul was talking about was a qualitative change. “Therefore, a renewing or a renovation which makes a person different that in the past” (G342). The Greek word nous (nooce) defines the mind “as the seat of emotions and affections, mode of thinking and feeling, disposition, moral inclination, equivalent to the heart (Romans 1:28; 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:17, 23; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15)” (G3563). Paul expanded his teaching on the renewal of the mind in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Paul said that unbelievers are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). Darkness was being used metaphorically to describe a mind that is void of spiritual truth. Jesus told his followers, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Luke’s gospel tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples and told them, “’These are my words that I have spoken to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The Greek word that is translated opened, dianoigo (dee-an-oyˊ-go) means “to open thoroughly, literally (as a first-born)” (G1272). Jesus’ opening of the minds of his followers was likely considered to be a part of the process of being born again. They received directly from Jesus an initial understanding of the Scriptures that had to do with his death and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-49) so that his disciples could proclaim the gospel and start bringing others to a saving knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Peter indicated that new Christians need to be fed, just like newborn babies. Peter said that having purified our souls by obedience to the truth, we should love one another earnestly from a pure heart, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22-23). And then, Peter went on to say, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2). The Greek word that Peter used for spiritual milk, logikos (log-ik-osˊ) is derived from the word logos (logˊ-os) which has to do with “the expression of thought…in this respect it is the message from the Lord, delivered with His authority and made effective by His power…’The Personal Word,’ a title of the Son of God” (G3056). “Logikos pertains to the reasoning faculty, reasonable, rational and is used of the service rendered by believers in presenting their bodies a living sacrifice. The sacrifice is to be in accordance with the spiritual intelligence of those who are new creatures in Christ and are mindful of the mercies of God; in contrast to those offered by ritual and compulsion (Romans 12:1)…It is found also in 1 Peter 2:2, ‘(milk) of the word’ and so here the nourishment may be understood as of that spiritually rational nature which, acting through the regenerate mind, develops spiritual growth. God’s word is not given so that it is impossible to understand it, or that it requires a special class of men to interpret it; its character is such that the Holy Spirit who gave it can unfold its truths even to the young convert” (G3050).

In his second letter, Peter talked about spiritual growth in the context of believers becoming partakers of the divine nature. Peter said:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)

Peter indicated that believers must supplement their faith, which meant that something needed to be added to faith in order for it to be effective. The Greek word epichoregeo (ep-ee-khor-ayg-ehˊ-o), which is translated supplement, comes from the root words epi (ep-eeˊ) and choregeo (khor-ayg-ehˊ-o). Choregeo is where the English word choreography comes from. Choreography is the sequence of steps and movements in dance. I believe Peter was laying out for believers the sequence of steps that need to be followed in order for them to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7), suggesting there might be a progressive flow from one spiritual attribute to the next.

Paul talked about the way of love in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-13)

Paul said, “The greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). The Greek word meizon (mideˊ-zone) associates greatness with age (G3187). Paul may have been thinking of the greatness of love in terms of spiritual maturity or as indicator of spiritual growth. Paul said that when he was a child, he spoke like a child, but “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Peter indicated that pure spiritual milk would help believers to grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2).

Peter referred to the qualities that produce spiritual growth as things that need to be practiced. He said, “If you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). In this instance, fall has to do with committing sin (G4417). Peter’s assertion that you will never fall if you practice the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love make it seem as if it is possible for a believer to live a perfect life. The point that I believe Peter was trying to make was not that practice makes perfect, but that a continual effort toward spiritual growth will keep you from experiencing moral failure. Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that Israel’s rejection of their Messiah made it possible for the entire world to be reconciled to God (Romans 11:15) and indicated that Israel would at some point in the future be grafted back into the family of God (Romans 11:24). Paul said, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). The irrevocableness of God’s gifts and calling is based on the impossibility of us changing God’s will for our lives. In particular, God’s plan of salvation was instituted before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and our predestination for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who seals us until we acquire possession of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). Peter may have intended the qualities he identified in 2 Peter 1:5-7 to be a gauge of our spiritual progress, rather than a prescription for our spiritual success.

The life of Samson is an Old Testament example of stunted spiritual growth. We know that Samson had faith because he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as one of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34). Samson’s marriage to one of the daughters of the Philistines was used by God as an opportunity against the Philistines, but it resulted in Samson returning to his parents’ home “in hot anger” (Judges 14:19). God gave Samson superhuman strength in order to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (note on Judges 13:24) and the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him on multiple occasions (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14), but Samson didn’t seem to make much spiritual progress during the twenty years that he judged Israel. Samson’s lack of wisdom is evident in the decisions he made about getting involved with foreign women. After Samson’s Philistine wife “was given to his companion, who had been his best man” (Judges 14:20), it says in Judges 16:1, “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.” During the night, the Gazites set an ambush for Samson, “But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron” (Judges 16:3). Samson’s ability to escape the ambush may have caused him to become reckless or perhaps selfish with the gift that God had given him. “The true source of Samson’s great strength was not in his long hair or in abstaining from strong drink. His might came from the Spirit of the LORD (Judges 15:14) and was provided by God to accomplish his will” (note on Judges 15:14, 15).

After Samson’s escape from the ambush in Gaza, Judges 16:4-6 tells us:

He loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Seduce him, and see where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to humble him. And we will each give you 1,100 pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you.”

The Philistines objective of overpowering Samson would not have been possible if Samson had refused to reveal the source of his superhuman strength to Delilah. “Samson’s admission to Delilah resulted in the breaking of his covenant, the Nazirite vow, and God left him as a result (Judges 16:20). His strength returned one more time, however, allowing him to decimate the Philistine leaders (Judges 16:30). This came about only after he humbly acknowledged that God was the true source of his strength (Judges 16:28)” (note on Judges 16:17).

Samson demonstrated virtue, the manifestation of God’s divine power, but that seems to be where his spiritual growth stopped. Peter said that believers should “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and your virtue with knowledge, and your knowledge with self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-6). The Greek word gnosis (gnoˊ-sis), which is translated knowledge, “means primarily ‘a seeking to know, an enquiry, investigation’” (G1108). Gnosis is derived from the word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko). In the New Testament ginosko frequently indicates a relation between the person ‘knowing’ and the object known; in this respect, what is ‘known’ is of value or importance to the one who knows, and hence the establishment of the relationship” (G1097). Self-control “is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites…In 2 Peter 1:6, it follows ‘knowledge,’ suggesting that what is learned requires to be put into practice” (G1466). Samson’s failure to learn from his experience with his first wife (Judges 14:17) resulted in him revealing information to Delilah that could be used against him. It says in Judges 16:16-17, “And when she pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death. And he told her all his heart.” The Hebrew word that is translated vexed, qatsar (kaw-tsarˊ) means “to harvest” (H7114) and is usually translated reap. Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to the flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Samson’s humble acknowledgement that God was the true source of his strength showed that his knowledge of God had been expanded through his experience of being betrayed by Delilah (Judges 16:18) and the suffering that followed (Judges 16:21). It says in Judges 16:28 that Samson called to the LORD. The Hebrew word qara (kaw-rawˊ) refers to “an encounter through the idea of accosting a person met” and is properly translated “address by name…To ‘call’ on God’s name is to summon his aid” (H7121). Judges 16:28 states, “Then Samson called to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson called the LORD, Lord. The Hebrew word Adonay (ad-o-noyˊ) means “’Lord’ par excellence or ‘Lord over all,’ even as it sometimes does in the form adon (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17, where God is called the ‘God of gods, and Lord of lords’; Joshua 3:11, where He is called the ‘Lord of all the earth’). The word adonay appears in Genesis 15:2: ‘And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless….’” (H138). According to Revelation 19:16, the name “King of kings and Lord of lords will be written on Jesus’ robe and on his thigh at the time of his second coming. It seems that before he gained the victory over his enemies (Judges 16:29-30), Samson had to recognize and acknowledge Jesus in this way.

Incomprehensible strength

Sanctification was a central characteristic of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, they were told, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). The Hebrew word that is translated holy, qadowsh (kaw-dosheˊ) means sacred. “It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony…This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, set apart (Psalm 22:3[4]; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9)…God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918). Qadowsh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ) which means, “to be (causative, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally)…The tabernacle, the ark, the table of showbread, the altar of burnt offering, and all the smaller accessories and utensils used in the cult of Israel were anointed with a special anointing oil so they became holy. Whatever came in contact with them became holy (Exodus 30:26-29)…The word is used most often in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate” (H6942). Exodus 19:8 tells us, “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’” And then, “When Moses told the words of the people to the LORD, the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people’” (Exodus 19:9-11). The Israelites’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai was a unique experience in that they could hear what God was saying to Moses. When they heard God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, “the people were afraid, and trembled, and they stood afar off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

“God made a conditional promise to the Israelites that if they would obey him and keep his covenant, he would regard and treat them in a special way. The people chose instead to make a golden calf and forsake the God who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 32:1-24). That event, as well as persistent infidelity throughout most of their history, greatly limited the extent to which the Israelites could realize these promises. The designations ‘royal priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ are also applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:9, 10” (note on Exodus 19:5, 6). Peter addressed his letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling in his blood and said:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter’s mention of the sprinkling in Jesus Christ’s blood is related to the Old Testament process of sanctification. During their ordination, the blood of a bull and two rams were used to consecrate Aaron and his sons so that they could serve God as priests (Exodus 29:1). Exodus 29:19-21 states, “You shall take the other ram, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram and take part of its blood and put it on the tip of the right ear of Aaron and on the tips of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the great toes of their right feet, and throw the rest of the blood against the sides of the altar. Then you shall take part of the blood that is on the altar, and of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments with him. He and his garments shall be holy, and his sons and his sons’ garments with him.” The placement of blood on the tip of the right ear symbolized sensitivity to God and his word. The placement of blood on the right thumb and great toe of the right foot symbolized a life of service to others on God’s behalf (note on Exodus 29:20, KJSB). Peter wanted his readers to understand that as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the elect exiles of the Dispersion were set apart to serve God and were expected to accomplish what the Old Testament priesthood failed to do, to be sensitive to God’s word and to serve others on God’s behalf.

Peter emphasized the importance of abstaining from the passions of the flesh and indicated that they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The flesh represents the unregenerate part of man that is associated with human nature. The soul is regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life. The soul as an essence differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (G5590). “The soul of man, that immaterial part, which moves into the afterlife [the body is buried and decomposes] needs atonement to enter into God’s presence upon death” (H5315). Peter’s determination that the passions of the flesh war against your soul was reinforced by James’ warning against worldliness. James said:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:1-10)

The war between the flesh and the soul of a man is a spiritual conflict that James associated with submission to God. James admonished believers to resist the devil and said, “He will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7).

On an individual basis, the Israelites were able to consecrate themselves to God by making a special vow, “the vow of a Nazirite” (Numbers 6:2). “The term Nazarite means one who is consecrated to God. The Nazarite vow included abstinence from strong drink or the cutting of his hair, and no contact with dead bodies” (H5139) because of his separation to God (Numbers 6:7). If the vow of a Nazarite was broken, it was considered a sin (H5088). The person would have to go through a process of purification which included making atonement for his sin (Numbers 6:11). “The word ‘Nazarite’ (not to be confused with ‘Nazarene’) means ‘separated,’ and in this context refers to one who was specifically ‘holy to the LORD’ (Numbers 6:8). By the terms of the vow, men or women could voluntarily separate themselves unto the LORD for a specific period of time, even for life” (note on Numbers 6:2-21). Samson is one of the two Nazarites mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. The circumstances of Samson’s birth are recorded in Judges 13:1-5. It states:

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samson’s designation as a Nazarite was a life-long commitment that began even before his conception. His mother was told to “drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4) in order to keep Samson from being defiled while he was in her womb. When Samson’s mother told her husband about what had happened, she said, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome” (Judges 13:6). The Hebrew word that is translated awesome, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means “to fear…This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God” (H3372).

“There is the distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar, she called him ‘a God of seeing’ (Genesis 16:7, 13). The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD had the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). When the angel of the LORD appeared a second time, Samson’s father, Manoah said to him, “’What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?’ And the angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” (Judges 13:17-18). The Hebrew word that is translated wonderful, pilʾiy (pil-eeˊ) means “incomprehensible” (H6383) and is derived from the word pala (paw-lawˊ) which means “to separate, i.e. distinguish” (H6381). “While nothing is too extraordinary for God, various things are said to be beyond the abilities of some individuals to do or comprehend.” The angel of the LORD’s appearance to Samson’s parents was likely intended to prepare them for the incomprehensible things that God intended to do through their son Samson. “Samson was a Danite, living adjacent to the Philistines. He was selected before birth as the one who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God gave him superhuman strength to achieve this, but Samson’s life was filled with compromise in his repeated refusal to control his sensual desires and whims. His physical blinding by the Philistines (Judges 16:21) seems to have brought about the opening of his spiritual eyes; he gave his life for his people and is commended for his faith in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32)” (note on Judges 13:24).

It says of Samson in Judges 13:24-25, “The young man grew, and the LORD blessed him. And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” The Hebrew word that is translated stir, paʿam (paw-amˊ) means “to tap, i.e. beat regularly; hence, (generally) to impel or agitate” (H6470). It was as if God was continually tapping Samson on the shoulder and asking him, when are you going to do something about this? Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was used by God to begin the process of change. Judges 14 tells the story of Samson’s embarrassing disappointment from the vantage point of a young man in love for the first time. It states:

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”

His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines ruled over Israel.

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she was right in Samson’s eyes.

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion.

His father went down to the woman, and Samson prepared a feast there, for so the young men used to do. As soon as the people saw him, they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can tell me what it is, within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes, but if you cannot tell me what it is, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty changes of clothes.” And they said to him, “Put your riddle, that we may hear it.” And he said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

And in three days they could not solve the riddle.

On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Entice your husband to tell us what the riddle is, lest we burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” And Samson’s wife wept over him and said, “You only hate me; you do not love me. You have put a riddle to my people, and you have not told me what it is.” And he said to her, “Behold, I have not told my father nor my mother, and shall I tell you?” She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted, and on the seventh day he told her, because she pressed him hard. Then she told the riddle to her people. And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

“Mixed marriages of Israelites with other races were forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4). Samson’s parents were right to oppose his marriage to a heathen woman from the Philistines, who constantly oppressed the Israelites” (note on Judges 14:3). “God did not force Samson into the marriage; Samson made his own decision. God used Samson’s marriage to accomplish his will in spite of the lack of wisdom on Samson’s part. It proved to be a crucial step in the liberation of the Israelites from the Philistines (Judges 15:1-8)” (note on Judges 14:4). It says in Judges 14:19, “In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” Samson’s passion for the woman that he wanted to marry was turned into zeal for the LORD because of his personal experience which revealed to him how the Philistines were taking advantage of the Israelites. Samson’s slaughter of thirty men so that he could pay his debt to the men who solved his riddle also demonstrated to the people of Ashkelon the incomprehensible strength that he was capable of exerting in order to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.