Obedience

While the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, they were expected to conform to the laws and customs of the kingdom in which they lived. The book of Daniel records two incidents where disobedience was punished by death. The first was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who were thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshipping a golden image made by the king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:21) and the second was Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den because he prayed to his God instead of King Darius (Daniel 6:16). When it was discovered that Esther’s uncle Mordecai would not bow or worship Haman the Agagite, it was not enough for him to just kill Mordecai, Haman decided to have all the Jews exterminated and he was able to obtain permission from the king Ahasuerus to do so (Esther 3:11).

Mordecai’s response to the king’s commandment showed that he was devastated by what was going to happen to God’s people (Esther 4:1) and so, he went to Queen Esther to ask for her help. Esther’s initial reaction indicated that she was more concerned about being killed for breaking the law than she was saving her people. Esther sent a message to Mordecai saying, “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden scepter, that he may live: but I have not been called to come into the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). The picture Esther painted of her husband, King Ahasuerus was a tyrant that would kill his own wife simply because she dared approach him without his permission. Esther may have been justified in her opinion of her husband, but it also revealed her attitude toward God. Esther didn’t believe God would deliver her, even though he had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego, and Daniel when they were going to be killed.

Esther’s insecurity may have been due to her awareness that she was out of the will of God. Although Esther didn’t choose to marry Ahasuerus, she was benefitting from her position as queen of Persia. Mordecai’s argument was that it might actually have been God’s will for her to marry Ahasuerus so that she could use her position to intervene with her husband on behalf of her people, the Jews. Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knows that whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). In other words, what Mordecai wanted Esther to know was that God would hold her accountable for her intention rather than her action with regards to her obedience to the Persian law. Mordecai believed God would save his people, including Esther, if she chose to put her trust in him instead of her husband, King Ahasuerus.

Before Esther went in to speak to her husband, she asked Mordecai to have all the Jews observe a fast on her behalf. Esther indicated that she and her servants would fast also. Esther most likely viewed this action as a way of purifying herself. Although the fast may have had some effect in the mind of Esther, it is unlikely God paid any more or less attention to what Esther was doing as a result of their fast. What was important to him was that Esther cared enough to risk her own life to stop what was going to happen to God’s people. It says in Esther 5:2, “And so it was, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter.” This illustration of Ahasuerus’ mercy toward Esther was meant to display God’s pleasure with her self-sacrifice. Although it was true that the king could have killed Esther for her disobedience, God protected her because she was willing to risk her life to save his people.

Heart trouble

God’s understanding of the human heart goes far beyond a mere perception of who we are or what we want to be. He sees our motives as if they are a clear depiction of the inner being’s true identity. In his condemnation of the ungodly rulers of Jerusalem, God declared, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Ezekiel 11:5). The Hebrew word translated mind, ruwach (roo´ – akh) means wind or breath and is an emblem of “the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God” (7307). In other words, the mind is where the human and supernatural aspects of man become one. As a creature created in the image of God, man’s mind has the capacity to convey the intentions of his heart.

According to Hebrew belief, “the breath is suppose to symbolize not only deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (7307). Ultimately, what God wants is for man to reflect his own nature, to be like him. That is why God set apart the Israelites as his own people, they were to be an example to the rest of the world of what God was like. Unfortunately, God’s people failed to take on his characteristics, but instead became like the people of the nations that surrounded them (Ezekiel 11:12).

After the people of Israel and Judah were judged by him and were sent into exile, God planned to return his people to their land and start a new relationship with them based on his forgiveness of their sins on a personal basis. God told Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). The contrast between a stony heart and a heart of flesh was meant to convey the difference between a heart that was submitted to God and one that was not. Another way of saying a heart of flesh would be a circumcised heart. Circumcision was a symbol of Abraham’s submission to God.

The reason why God had to put a new spirit within his people was because they lacked a desire to do his will. Human nature is such that our independence from God’s control makes it impossible for him to impose his will upon us. Therefore, we must choose to become one with him and accept him into our heart. Union with God is a spiritual transaction in which he transforms the inner person or mind to conform it to his will. This can only happen through a conscious decision to give up one’s right to govern oneself. In the case of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, their right to govern their own lives was relinquished when God purchased them out of slavery through their redemption by a sacrificial system, i.e. the blood of Jesus Christ.

Choosing

Jeremiah’s vision of the figs illustrated God’s natural inclination to choose good rather than evil. Choice is an important theme in the Old Testament of the Bible, especially in connection with living in the Promised Land. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses presented the people with a choice that they needed to make. He said, I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Before he died, Joshua reiterated the choice that each person had to make and emphasized the need to serve or worship the LORD instead of idols (Joshua 24:15). In spite of their promised to do so, the people of Israel and Judah were not faithful to God, but continually chose idolatry as a way of life. The tendency of man to choose evil rather than good was first demonstrated in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. Even though God told them they would die if they ate it, “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).

In his vision, Jeremiah was shown two baskets of figs that were set before the  temple of the LORD as if they were an offering to God. Jeremiah recorded, “One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe: and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten they were so bad” (Jeremiah 24:2). Jeremiah’s reference to the second basket of figs as “naughty figs” was intended to portray the character rather than the condition of the people they represented. The Hebrew word translated naughty, ra‘ is a word that “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences” (7451). Ra‘ characterizes the ungodly man that has chosen a life of evil. “One of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and every one around him.”

Jeremiah was told that the good figs had been chosen or set apart by God to fulfill his plan of salvation. Jeremiah declared:

Thus saith the LORD, the  God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive in Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jeremiah 24:5-7)

In order to differentiate which of his people were the evil figs, God stated, “And as the evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the LORD, So will I give Zedekiah the king of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt: and I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all places whither I shall drive them” (Jeremiah 24:8-9). In 597 B.C., 3,023 Jews, the best of Judah’s leaders and craftsmen were taken captive by Nebuchadrezzar and they went into exile in Babylon. In 588 B.C., Nebuchadrezzar’s army attacked those who remained in Jerusalem. After a two year battle, the Babylonian army finally penetrated the walls of Jerusalem and the city fell to Nebuchadrezzar who completely destroyed it.

Spiritual warfare

In the same way that every Jewish person belongs to God, they are his people/servants, so every non-Jewish person belongs to Satan, they are his people/servants. Because we were created with a free will, God gives non-Jewish people the option to switch sides if they want to. We do not have to remain under Satan’s control if we don’t want to.

Salvation is the process whereby Satan’s hold on a person is released, We escape from him. God literally snatches believers out of Satan’s hand (Isaiah 50:2). Even though the Israelites belonged to God, Satan was still able to influence them into disobeying God because of their free will. Therefore, everyone needs salvation.

Isaiah stated, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Hebrew word translated separated, badal means to divide (914) in the sense of cutting or splitting something in two (2673).

To separate something can mean that it is consecrated or set apart for a specific purpose (5144). In this sense, Israel had deliberately separated itself from God in order to worship foreign gods or idols (Hosea 9:10). In essence, they chose to join Satan’s  camp and were enemies of God. That’s why the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and its people  removed from the Promised Land.

In order for God’s people and the rest of humanity to become unseparated from God, there needed to be an intercessor, someone that could encroach upon Satan’s territory and set his prisoners free (Isaiah 59:16). Basically, from a military stand point, the Messiah’s mission was to advance over Satan’s territory (area of influence) and make an impression on his people so that they would choose to abandon ship and return to God.

The reason why Satan’s people are referred to as prisoners (Isaiah 42:7; 49:9)  is because they cannot set themselves free. The  power of sin can only be broken by God. The separation that occurs when a person sins is permanent unless God forgives the sin and restores the relationship. Isaiah declared, “Therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:16).

Israel’s Messiah was expected to be a warrior, but the people were mistaken about the type of warfare he would engage in. Isaiah described the Messiah in spiritual terms. He said, “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (Isaiah 59:17).

The apostle Paul described similar attire for Christians in Ephesians 6:14-17 where he talked about putting on the whole armour of God in order to defeat the devil. Paul explained, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Somehow, when Jesus came, Israel didn’t recognize its Messiah, even Paul rejected Christ initially. Isaiah talked about “an acceptable time” and “in a day of salvation” when Israel would be redeemed (Isaiah 49:8). Isaiah concluded with, “And all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Savior, and thy redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:26).

Because God intended that his Messiah would save the world, not just his chosen people, his plan of salvation included a period of time when the Gentiles’ sin would be dealt with. Prior to the dawn of Zion’s glory, there would be a period of grace in which salvation would be offered to everyone. Afterwards, God’s people would be redeemed. Isaiah declared:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

 

Not chosen

The prophecy about Edom recorded in the book of Obadiah was a result of the nation’s rebellion against Judah (2 Kings 8:20). Edom, also known as Esau, was the older twin brother of Jacob who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:32-33). Esau was predestined to serve his younger brother, and yet, he refused to accept his position. The struggle between the two brothers was manifested in hostility between their two nations, and after Israel went into captivity, Edom sought to take advantage of Judah’s misfortune.

Edom made the mistake of aligning itself with the world powers hostile to God and his kingdom. Therefore, the nation was doomed to destruction. Instead of defending their brother nation, Edom joined a confederacy that stood against Israel and made a pact to support their enemies. It says in Obadiah verse 10, “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever.”

Like a gambler that makes a wager against his own team, Edom showed no loyalty to God’s chosen people, but rather reveled in the thought that they would be beaten by their enemies. Since a time had already been set for his people to be justified, God made it clear to the nation of Edom that they had chosen the wrong side. “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Obadiah 15).

While the foreign nations may have been able to claim ignorance about God’s plan for the nation of Israel, Edom could not. As descendants of Abraham, the people of Edom were aware of the promise God made to bless his chosen people. Jealousy and envy caused Edom to resent the choice God made. The nation, like their forefather Esau, could not get over the fact that God was in control and he would decide their fate. “And there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it” (Obadiah 18).

Edom could have been saved if they would have continued to serve Judah. It was because they broke away and became hostile to Israel that they were condemned. The problem was that Edom wasn’t interested in God’s mercy. God’s plan for Israel included salvation for the gentiles. The only requirement was that they had to submit to God and do things his way, but Edom would not. “And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (Obadiah 21).

Judgment

Israel’s miraculous defeat of the Syrian army (1 Kings 20:29) made it clear that God intended to eliminate the threat of a future attack from Ben-hadad. Ahab’s decision to form an alliance with the king of Syria may have been an attempt to accomplish God’s will in a different manner, but it did not guarantee that Ben-hadad would leave Israel alone.

While it is true that God is merciful, he judges those who choose to follow Satan. King Ahab was determined to maintain his secular lifestyle and was willing to align himself with one of Satan’s chief agents in order to do so. Ahab was more concerned with accumulating wealth than he was worshipping and serving God, so God punished him for his disobedience.

Even though he may not have been specifically instructed to kill Ben-hadad, it was obvious that God had delivered the king of Syria over to Ahab so that he could kill him. It was because Ben-hadad acknowledged his inferiority and subordination to Ahab by designating himself Ahab’s servant (1 Kings 20:32) that Ahab wanted to keep him alive. Ahab went so far as to refer to Ben-hadad as his brother, a sign that he intended to develop a close relationship with him.

After making a covenant with Ben-hadad, Ahab was visited by an unnamed prophet. “And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people” (1 Kings 20:42).  The Hebrew word translated appointed, cherem is derived from the word charam. “Charam is a religious word of great importance representing the devotion of some object to destruction or to a sacred use, not for the gratification of any selfish purpose” (2763).

Israel’s defeat of the Syrian army was meant to bring glory to God. Ahab could have sent a strong message to the surrounding nations by killing Ben-hadad. Instead, the covenant he formed with Ben-hadad let everyone know that Ahab’s relationship with Ben-hadad was more important to him than his relationship with God.

Mommy

The best seven years of my life were the ones when I was a stay-at-home mom. On the day my daughter was born I knew I had found my calling. When I saw her for the first time, I immediately fell in love and after 33 years, I love her just as much now as I ever have. I didn’t know until it actually happened to me that being a mom would be the best thing for me. When I was growing up, I never thought about being a mom, but I’m sure it is what God created me to be.

When God creates things or people, he does it with wisdom. It says about wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-23, “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” The word translated wisdom, chokmah “can refer to technical skills or special abilities in fashioning something. Chokmah is the knowledge and the ability to make the right choices at the opportune time. The consistency of making right choices is an indicator of maturity and development” (2451).

At the time God created me, he had a purpose in mind for every characteristic and trait he gave me. In his design, God established certain abilities in me that would enable me to live my life according to his plan. Before I became a Christian, I was not concerned with God’s plan, nor did I care if what I was doing was pleasing to God. When I got pregnant with my daughter, even though I was not married, I didn’t think it was a mistake. I believed that God wanted me to be a mom, so I chose to continue with the pregnancy rather than have an abortion.

Jesus is Lord

One day Jesus will be king of the earth. He currently reigns in heaven and sits on a heavenly throne, but as David sat on the throne of Israel and reigned over God’s people, so will Jesus reign on earth in the future (Revelation 20:6). The reason why people were confused when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah was they expected him to establish his kingdom immediately (Luke 19:11). Instead, he died on a cross and declared men’s sins to be forgiven (Luke 5:24).

Psalm 97 states, “The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice” (Psalm 97:1). There appears to be a contradiction in this statement. At the present, sin is still at work in every life and although our sins have been forgiven, we experience the consequences of our wrong choices. The only way we are able to rejoice is by focusing on the condition of our hearts.

The Psalmist said, “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright of heart” (Psalm 97:11). On an individual basis, it is possible for God to reign, even in a world filled with sin. When a person submits himself to God, a light or flame is set in his heart signifying the presence of God. Figuratively, it could be said that the LORD is placed on the throne of his heart and Jesus begins to reign as his king.

At its root, the word translated gladness means to brighten up. The Hebrew word “samach usually refers to a spontaneous emotion or extreme happiness which is expressed in some visible and/or external manner” (8055). David was not an ordinary man, nor was his behavior typical of a king. It says in 1 Samuel 18:28, “Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David.” And when the ark was brought into Jerusalem, it says, “so David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom into the city of David with gladness…And David danced before the LORD with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:12, 14).

Although David had the privilege of being king of Israel, he submitted himself to God and acknowledged the LORD’s right to reign over his life (Psalm 110:1). It says in Psalm 97, “The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory. Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols” (Psalm 97:6-7).  The word translated confounded, bûwsh (boosh) means to be ashamed or to be disappointed (954).

The word translated idol is eliyl. This word literally means not god or good for nothing (457). God allows us the freedom to choose to worship him or not. When we let God reign in our hearts, the result is gladness. Those who choose to be lord of their own lives will be disappointed because one day they will have to stand before God and answer for their rejection of Jesus Christ (Romans 14:12).

He walks with you

Speaking of the LORD in Psalm 103, David said, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). The word translated transgression, pasha‘ (peh´ – shah) means a revolt, a willful rebellion from a prescribed or agreed upon path (6588). The word removed, nâchaq (naw – khak´) means to widen and is used in reference to distance (7368).

When David said east, he was referring to the point on the eastern horizon where the sunrises and the west, the point where the sun sets. So basically, he was saying that the distance that God removes our transgressions or widens the path for us when we rebel against him is the distance between the two farthest points in our line of sight. In other words, God gives us complete latitude, there is no way we can get off the pathway he has prescribed for us.

Although David emphasized God’s authority when he said in Psalm 103, “The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19), he attributed God’s mercy with the power to overcome our willful rebellion (Psalm 103:11).

God does not force us down a narrow pathway. He gives us innumerable options to get where he wants us to go. Our free choice determines the how, God’s sovereignty determines the where and/or what we will do in our lives. If it is true that all paths lead to heaven, then why choose Jesus Christ? Because when you choose Jesus, he walks with you on the pathway and carries you when the road gets too tough.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

As good as dead

I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. (Psalm 88:4-5)

A question often asked about God is why do bad things happen to good people? It is assumed that only good things should happen to good people. The truth is that good and bad things happen to all people.

One of the outcomes of free choice is that people make bad choices as well as good choices and therefore, get mixed results, both good and bad. My granddaughter who is one year old likes to play with my stereo receiver. When I was out of the room, she decided to turn the volume knob all the way up. The sound was so loud it hurt her ears and made her cry. She learned that turning the knob all the way up produced a bad result and hasn’t done it since.

Unfortunately, not everyone learns from the bad results they get and sometimes choose to ignore the results they get until it is too late. My dad was an alcoholic who drank excessively until he was 65. After he stopped drinking, his health improved significantly and he thought he would live to be 100. When he was 72, he was diagnosed with cancer and died six weeks later.

The day that I went down into the pit was the day my ex-husband called me and told me he was having an affair. I had been a Christian for almost 20 years, but in the moment that the news sunk in, I felt as miserable as I had the night I overdosed on sleeping pills, a few weeks before giving my life to Christ. Psalm 88 expresses perfectly how I felt for about a year afterward.

The difference between the two situations in my life was when I found out my ex-husband was having an affair, even though I felt dead inside for awhile, I recovered. From that point forward, I made a conscious decision to make choices that would bring good results, not bad. Like the Psalmist, I thought, “Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves” (Psalm 88:7), but I knew it wasn’t the end of my life or my dreams.

In Psalm 88:10, the Psalmist asks, “Wilt thou show wonder to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee?” I believe the answer to both questions is yes, because Jesus rose from the dead. The power to rise from the dead resides in every Believer. We can choose to live and overcome whatever afflictions come into our lives.