Destiny

Jacob wasn’t satisfied with his circumstance of being the youngest of Isaac’s twin sons. Therefore, when his brother was in a vulnerable position, Jacob took advantage of the situation and forced Esau to give him his birthright (Genesis 25:31). Afterward, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead Esau so that he could obtain the benefit of being his father’s favored son (Genesis 27:19). Even though Jacob used deceptive tactics, he did exactly what God expected him to and as a result became the next in line to inherit his grandfather Abraham’s eternal estate.

Isaac spoke these words to Jacob before he sent him to Padan-aram to get a wife. “God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated take possession, yaresh (yaw-raysh’) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place); by implication to seize, to rob, to inherit; also to expel, to impoverish, to ruin” (H3423).

One of the things that differentiated Jacob from his brother Esau was that he was willing to do anything that was necessary to advance his position. Jacob’s dissatisfaction with his circumstances is what caused him to act in a way that changed his destiny. Isaac instructed his son Jacob to “Arise, go” (Genesis 28:2). The Hebrew words he used, quwm (koom) yalak (yaw-lak’) suggest that Isaac was kicking his son out of his house, but it is likely that there was a mutual understanding and agreement that Jacob needed to establish his own household in order to be independent of his parents’ influence.

The Hebrew word quwm can be used “in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Yalak is derived from the Hebrew word halak (haw-lak’) which can be used to describe one’s behavior or the way one “walks in life” (H1980). Isaac’s use of these two words together in his command to Jacob could mean that he was sending his son on a spiritual journey in order to establish a relationship with God. Genesis 28:5 indicates Isaac “sent away Jacob.” The most frequent use of the Hebrew word shalach “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place…Other special meanings of this verb include letting something go freely or without control” (H7971).

Genesis 28:10-17 states:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth,, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

The Hebrew word that is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is maqowm (maw-kome’) which is properly translated as “a standing.” Maqowm is also used figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Maqowm may signify “a sanctuary – i.e. a ‘place’ of worship” and in this instance suggests that Jacob had discovered a portal to a spiritual realm that he identified as heaven.

In Jacob’s dream, there was a ladder “and the top of it reached to heaven” (Genesis 28:12). The ladder or stair case probably represented the pathway that Jacob had to travel in order to connect with God. It seems likely that Jacob viewed God as being distant, perhaps unreachable from his standpoint. Jacob saw the LORD standing above the stair case (Genesis 28:13) suggesting that he was in a position of authority and could grant or deny access into his kingdom. The fact that the LORD spoke to Jacob and confirmed his covenant with him suggests that the LORD was the one initiating a relationship and was trying to bridge the gap between himself and Jacob.

The LORD told Jacob that he would bring him back to the land and would not leave him until he had done all that he had promised (Genesis 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated leave, ‘azab (aw-zab’) has to do with the severance of a relationship. “This word carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced'” (H5800). Jacob had just abandoned his family and was determined to make his way in the world without the help of anyone else and yet, the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told Jacob that God was in control of his destiny and was determined to bring him back to the place that Jacob thought he was leaving behind.

Jacob’s reaction to his dream was that he was afraid (Genesis 28:17). The Hebrew word that is translated afraid in Genesis 28:17 is yare’ (yaw-ray’). “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). In spite of the huge impact his dream had on him, Jacob did not commit himself to the LORD immediately. It says in Genesis 28:20-21, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.'”

The Hebrew word that is translated “come again” in Genesis 28:21 is the same word that is translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15. Basically, what Jacob was saying was that if God proved to him that he could do what he said he was going to, then Jacob would accept God’s divine authority over his life. In other words, Jacob would only submit himself to God’s will if he was forced to do so. Jacob’s promise to God was somewhat of a dare in that he didn’t believe the LORD could bring him back to a place that he didn’t want to go to. Jacob thought his free will trumped God’s sovereignty over him.

The Hebrew word translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15, shuwb (shoob) generally means to retreat. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure (unless there is evidence to the contrary)” (H7725). “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption.” The LORD’s message to Jacob indicated that he was taking responsibility for his conversion and would not give up until he had accomplished what he had promised Jacob he would do (Genesis 28:15).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount focused on what happens after a person is converted. In other words, what a Christian’s life should look like. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of the life of a believer. When Jesus came down from the mountain, Matthew 8:1 tells us, “great crowds followed him.” The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). Essentially, the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus was to become like him, to be converted to his way of thinking and behaving. 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” (Matthew 7:21).

One of the first people that approached Jesus after he finished his teaching about the life of a Christian was a leper who was forbidden to make contact with anyone to prevent the possibility of transmitting his disease. Matthew 8:2 states, “And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.'” The leper’s act of kneeling was a form of worship that indicated his submission to Jesus’ authority. “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:3). Jesus’ response showed not only his compassion for the man’s vulnerable state, but also his ability to change the leper’s circumstances.

Jesus told the leper to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded as a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4). The Greek word that is translated proof is also translated as testimony and refers to the evidence necessary to regain entrance into the temple that the leper had previously been banished from (G3142). The issue of course was whether or not Jesus had the power to overturn the decisions of the high priest. What Jesus did was demonstrate God’s ability to alter the destiny of a human being. Rather than being subject to the ravages of his disease and continuing to suffer, the leper was restored to health and was able to live a normal life.

One of the things that was revealed in Jesus’ interaction with the leper was that his will and the leper’s will were in agreement. The leper didn’t ask to be healed, he said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). The Greek word the leper used that is translated clean, katharizo (kath-ar-id’-zo) refers to the effects of sin and in particular the guilt that one feels as a result of having offended God. It’s possible that the leper had been listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and realized that he was far from the standard of living that Jesus expected from his disciples. This man wanted to make things right and knew the only way he could do that was to ask for Jesus’ help.

Genesis 29:1 tells us that “Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east.” The Hebrew words that are translated journey in this verse indicated that Jacob was not being guided by God as he traveled. You might say that Jacob was walking blindly into the future. Jacob’s experience started out in a similar way to Abraham’s servant when he went to Padam-aram to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), but very quickly the situation turned into a fiasco that left Jacob at the mercy of his uncle Laban. Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s youngest daughter Rachel, so he agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to obtain his wife, but on the night of his wedding, Jacob was tricked and given Rachel’s sister Leah instead.

Jacob was determined to have Rachel for his wife, so he agreed to work for Laban for another seven years (Genesis 29:26-28) and “when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). God’s control over Jacob’s destiny was demonstrated by his ability to keep Jacob’s wife Rachel from producing his first born son and by determining which of Jacob’s sons would carry on his eternal legacy. Leah called her fourth son Judah because she said, “This time I will praise” (Genesis 29:36), meaning that she had made a profession of faith and was thanking God for her salvation (H3034).

The Hebrew word that is translated praise, yadah (yaw-daw’) is derived from the word yad (yawd) which signifies “a hand (the open one [indicating power, means, direction, etc.])” (3027). When a Roman soldier, who was the captain of one hundred men, approached Jesus, he admitted, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9). The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) implies the liberty of doing as one pleases and the right to exercise power (G1849). The centurion was acknowledging Jesus’ freedom to handle the situation as he saw fit.

Jesus responded to the centurion’s request by stating, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith…And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed'” (Matthew 8:10-13). Jesus indicated that faith was the motivating factor behind the centurion’s request. He believed that Jesus was in control of the situation and was able to change the centurion’s circumstances if he wanted to. Matthew 8:13 states, “And the servant was healed at that very moment,” which indicated there was an immediate result from the centurion putting his faith in Christ.

One of the ways of looking at our destiny is to see it as a place that both we and God wants us to get to. It’s a destination that we haven’t reached yet that has obstacles along the way and only God can remove them effectively. When Jesus saw that his disciples were being overtaken by a mob, “he gave orders to go over to the other side” (Matthew 8:18). The disciples may have seen the storm that was approaching them and knew it would overtake them before they reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Matthew 8:23 tells us, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.”

The Greek term that is translated “the other side” in Matthew 8:18, peran (per’-an) is sometimes translated beyond (G4008) and could mean a place that is beyond our reach or a place that we don’t think we can get to. When Jesus’ disciples were overtaken by a hurricane as they crossed the sea, they panicked and thought they were going to die. Matthew 8:24-27 states:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26) revealed that his disciples didn’t handle the situation the way they should have because they were afraid. What the disciples needed to do in order to get to their destination safely was to exercise their faith.

Jesus’ remark, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26) most likely meant that his disciples didn’t believe in or trust him at this point in his ministry. In other words, they didn’t recognize that Jesus was God and could do the impossible. The disciples question, “What sort of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27) indicated that they only saw Jesus as a man, not the creator of the universe. The Greek word that is translated sort of, pas (pas) means all or the whole (H3956) with regard to the human race. The disciples knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, but still couldn’t figure out why he was able to accomplish everything that he set out to do.

Matthew 8:26 tells us that Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea. The Greek word that is translated rebuked, epitamao (ep-ee-tee-mah’-o) indicates that Jesus had the authority to stop the storm because it was interfering with his desire to cross the sea (G2008). What this suggests is that it was God’s will for Jesus to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and therefore, nothing, not even a hurricane, could stop him from getting there.

Submission

Jesus’ commitment to doing his Father’s will meant that he had to fight against his human desire to live a normal life. On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane with eleven of his twelve apostles. When he took Peter, James, and John to a private spot to pray, “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed saying, ‘My Father, If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:37-39, ESV). Jesus’ human nature was no different than anyone else’. He didn’t want to die on the cross, but his divine nature made it possible for him to submit to his Father and do what no other human was capable of, voluntarily dying for the sins of all humanity.

After praying a second, and then a third time that his Father’s will would be accomplished, Jesus went to meet his betrayer, Judas Iscariot who had arranged for him to be arrested while he was away from the crowd of followers that typically surrounded him. It says in Matthew 26:47-50:

While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. (ESV)

Jesus’ reference to Judas as his friend was not a sarcastic remark, but his way of communicating that Judas wasn’t doing him any harm by turning him over to the religious authorities. Jesus knew that it was his Father’s will for him to be taken into custody that night and crucified the next morning. Everything was happening according to a predestined plan for Israel’s Messiah to be killed like the lamb that was eaten during their Passover celebration. The irony was that Jesus’ death would actually do what the annual animal sacrifice could not. John the Baptist declared about him the first time he saw Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Jesus made it perfectly clear that he was acting according to his Father’s will when he told Peter to put away his sword because “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). In other words, Peter could not defeat Satan with physical force. Jesus then asked Peter two rhetorical questions to ignite his spiritual insight into the situation. He said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, And he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV). Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy was the ultimate goal of his ministry on Earth. Were it not for his submission to his Father’s will, Jesus would have accomplished nothing more than a short period of communion with his human counterparts and then spent eternity in Heaven alone.

Rest

God designed the world to operate in a state of perpetual motion. The fact that the earth rotates at an approximate speed of 1000 miles per hour on a continual basis demonstrates that humans are wired for activity, but there is also an innate need for us to rest. The example God gave us in his work of creation was six days of activity followed by one day of rest. It says in Genesis 2:3, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The Hebrew word translated rest, shabath (shaw – bath´) is where the word Sabbath or the concept of a day of rest comes from (7673). God intended rest to be a part of our lives, but very few people understand why it is important.

God did not need to rest after he created the world. The purpose of his rest was to acknowledge the completion of his work, to see that it was finished. The process of ending is important because it shows us that it is possible to complete something from a standpoint of perfection. In fact, the Hebrew word translated perfect, tamiym means complete (8589). When Abraham was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). In other words, God was saying he wanted to bring Abraham to a place of rest or his life to a point of completion. Closely related to the idea of completion is purpose or destiny. When we walk before the LORD, we arrive at the destination he has predetermined to be our place of rest, our perfect ending.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God wanted them to enter into his rest, which means he wanted them to end up at the same place he was. You could say that God’s temple was his house or his place of residence, but it was really just a marker for the entrance of his Messiah into the world. In order to ensure that his birth would occur and not be overlooked by his chosen people, God designated a specific location for his Messiah to be born. In a sense, you could say that location was God’s place of rest,  but technically it was Jesus birth, and subsequent death, that marked completion of God’s work of salvation. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

There was really only one requirement for the Israelites’ Messiah to be born. God’s people had to occupy the territory he had designated for an inheritance to Abraham and his descendants. The problem was that the Promised Land was inhabited by other people and the Israelites couldn’t get rid of them. The ongoing battle between Israel and its surrounding neighbors continued until the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. After they were released from captivity, the Israelites were reluctant to return to their homeland because they feared being overtaken again. The Jews were dispersed throughout the Persian Empire when Esther became queen. After Haman the Agagite’s plot to kill all of God’s people was uncovered and stopped, it says in Esther 9:16 that the Jews had rest from their enemies.

The defeat of Haman brought rest or completion to the Jews because his death fulfilled the last Old Testament commandment as well as prophecy related to the Israelites’ occupation of the Promised Land before the Messiah’s birth. It says in Deuteronomy 25:17-19, “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.”

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.

Providence

The book of Esther is so much like a fairy tale that it might be hard for some people to take it seriously. The events recorded in the book occurred at a time in history that was actually very well documented, so there is little doubt that it is a true and correct account of what happened to Esther, but how the story may be interpreted varies greatly. In order to understand the details, a context has to be established, and I believe the best way to do that is to look at the accomplishments of the first Persian Empire. It was the first kingdom to establish a centralized bureaucratic administration system that included people of different origins and faith. The Persian Empire had an official language that was used across all its territories which spanned 5.5 million square kilometers, approximately the size of the United States. After its conquest of the Babylonian Empire, a series of kings, beginning with Cyrus the Great, identified themselves as world leaders and attempted to unite all people into a single culture. Ahasuerus reigned “from India to Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces” (Esther 1:1).

It could be said that the first Persian Empire was similar to the United States during the 1950’s after its victory in World War II. The economy was booming and expansion was taking place throughout the country. A key characteristic that I think is similar between these two cultures is male dominance in the home and sexual pleasure being considered a necessary requirement for a successful marriage. Queen Vashti, Ahasuerus’ first wife, was deposed, which means she was removed from her office suddenly and forcefully, because she refused to appear immediately in his court at his command during a festival the king was hosting. It says in Esther 1:12, “But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” It is likely Vashti was pregnant with her third child at the time this incident took place. Using Vashti’s disobedience as justification for her dismissal, Ahasuerus launched a search for a suitable replacement that included all the good looking virgins in his kingdom (Esther 2:2).

It is clear from the description of what happened that every virgin that was selected was expected to have sex with the king. It says in Esther 2:14, “In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into a second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came into the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” A concubine or paramour in today’s language is a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person. When it was Esther’s turn to sleep with the king, he fell in love with her. It says in Esther 2:17, “And the king loved Esther above all the other women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” The king’s emotional decision to marry Esther was most likely a result of God’s providence over her life. Even though Esther was out of the will of God, he did not allow her life to be ruined by her circumstances.

Destiny

Almost from the start of his relationship with the people of Israel, God predicted that they would turn away from him and worship idols. It says in Deuteronomy 28:36-37 of Israel’s captivity, “The LORD shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the LORD shall lead thee.” Later in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses predicted that the Israelites would return to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:5). He said:

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I  command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the LORD thy Good will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

Jeremiah prophesied a 70 year Babylonian captivity. He said specifically of Judah and Jerusalem, “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations” (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Babylon’s punishment came at the hands of Cyrus king of Persia. His conquest of Babylon in 538 B.C. set the stage for the Israelites’ return to their homeland. It says in Ezra 1:1-2:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth: and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

The Hebrew word translated charged in Ezra 1:2, paqad (paw – kad´) means to visit (6485). This word was used in Genesis 21:1 where it says, “And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.” The LORD visited Sarah in order to intervene on her behalf, “so as to demonstrate the divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent” (6485). God’s divine intervention in the normal course of events through king Cyrus’ proclamation meant that the Israelites would return to the Promised Land exactly when Jeremiah predicted they would.

It could be said that destiny is the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged. Although God has given us a free will, meaning we are completely able to control our own lives, he somehow manages to accomplish his purposes anyway. In response to Cyrus’ proclamation, it says in Ezra 1:5, “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.” The statement, “all of them whose spirit God had raised,” suggests that God literally picked them up or caused these men to rise to their feet. There is no indication though that the men that left Babylon after 70 years of captivity were being forced to do so. They merely responded to Cyrus’ proclamation, and of their own free will, did exactly what God predicted they would hundreds of years earlier.

The truth

The angel Gabriel’s second visit to Daniel was opposed by Satanic forces. Gabriel told Daniel, “Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine hart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days” (Daniel 10:12-14). Gabriel described for Daniel the spiritual battle that took place as a result of his prayer to understand the vision he had. It took both Gabriel and Michael, two archangels of God, fighting against the prince of the kingdom of Persia to overcome him, and the battle lasted twenty one days.

Gabriel told Daniel he would show him what was noted in “the scripture of truth” (Daniel 10:21). The exact meaning of this phrase is unknown, but Gabriel may have been referring to the divine record of the destinies of all human beings (note on Daniel 10:21). Gabriel’s reference to the scripture of truth indicates that God keeps a record of the events in his realm in the same way that earthly kings do (note on Psalm 51:1). This record is believed to include a list of the righteous, whom God blesses with life (note on Psalm 69:28). David prayed that his enemies would be “blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28). Moses interceded for God’s people and said, “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:32). Gabriel told Daniel, “there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:21). Apparently, only the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael have access to this record.

Gabriel said to Daniel, “And now will I shew thee the truth” (Daniel 11:2). The Hebrew word translated truth  is emeth (571). Emeth is a shortened form or contraction of the word aman (539) which means to believe or have belief. Aman appears in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” In other words, God recorded Abraham’s belief in his book of righteousness. What Gabriel showed Daniel, was a detailed account of a conflict between the north and south that would ultimately lead to a power struggle between Jesus and the agent of Satan, Antichrist for the kingdom of God. In conclusion, Gabriel said of Antichrist, “And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Daniel 11:45). Gabriel’s mention of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16) indicated that even before Jesus was born, it was predestined that in his first coming to the earth, he would be rejected by God’s people, and then, in his second coming be proclaimed as Savior, not only of the Israelites, but of the entire world.

The Living God

Jeremiah exposed the trade of idolatry as a worthless pursuit of self glorification. He spoke of those who practiced idolatry as being vain. He said, “For the customs of the people  are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold, they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go” (Jeremiah 10:3-5).

Idols were nothing more that inanimate objects that were portrayed as having superhuman powers that could harm people unless sacrifices were made to them. Jeremiah said, “Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good” (Jeremiah 10:5). At the heart of idolatry was a superstitious belief that a person could control his own destiny and did not need help from God to be successful in life.

Jeremiah pointed out that God’s role in the universe was to control the final outcome of his creation. He said, “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king; at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). The Hebrew word translated everlasting, ‘ôlâm (o – lawm´) refers to something that is concealed or the vanishing point when time no longer exists (5769). Another interpretation of olam is eternity. In the context of an everlasting king, it refers to the God who always has and always will rule over the earth.

Jeremiah’s reference to the LORD as the true God, the living God, was meant to emphasize the fact that God is alive and is a divine being with real superhuman powers. Jeremiah said, “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). Jeremiah’s use of the words power, wisdom, and discretion to describe God indicate that he is an intelligent being with the ability to create a world that is stable in the midst of a chaotic universe.

Jeremiah acknowledged that there is no comparison between man’s ability and God’s ability. As much as we want to think we can control our own destiny, it is impossible. Without God, there is no way to know how our lives will change over the course of 40 – 50 years. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

 

God’s family

God’s relationship to the people of Israel was the basis of his involvement in their lives. It says in Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” The Hebrew word translated known, yada’ is properly translated as “to ascertain by seeing” which includes observation, care, recognition; and causatively instruction, designation, and punishment (3045). In a sense, Israel had become a member of God’s family, and vice versa. God treated the Israelites like a father would treat his own child.

Because God had been involved in the lives of the Israelites and knew them in a personal way, it says in Amos 3:2, “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Hebrew word translated punish, pâqad (paw – kad´) means to visit or be concerned with, to look after and make a search for, as well as punish (6485). Another way to look at paqad is “to intervene on behalf of” and in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent.

Over the course of time, Israel seemed to have forgotten or were unaware that there was a reason for their existence. In particular, the nation of Judah was designated to bring forth the Messiah. At the time of Amos’ ministry, the primary focus of Judah was preservation of the most favored nation status they were entitled to as God’s chosen people. Their worship had become meaningless as if they were just going through the motions. In an effort to remind his people that he was in control of their destiny, God asked the question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

The Hebrew word translated agreed, yâ‘ad (yaw – ad´) means to meet at a stated time (3259). The idea behind this word is to make an appointment or set a time for an event to take place, such as an engagement when a wedding date is established. God was letting his people know that a time had been set for his Messiah to be born and he intended to keep his appointment. Therefore, God’s people needed to be brought into alignment with his plan through divine intervention.

God’s punishment was intended to bring his people back to him. He wanted them to repent, make an effort to change, “to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). What needed to happen was the people needed to be converted. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

God had made numerous attempts to bring his people to a point of repentance, but each time there was no response. Five times in Amos chapter four, the LORD stated, “Yet have ye not returned unto me” and then concluded, “Therefore thus will I do unto thee O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12). The LORD’s people would encounter an enemy so fierce, they would be forced to cry out to God for mercy.

Balance of power

The divided kingdom of Israel made it possible for God to control his peoples’ destiny through a balance of power. Bassha’s evil influences on the people of Israel was counteracted by Asa’s reforms and dependence on God. King Ahab’s wicked deeds were offset by Jehoshaphat’s devotion to God and obedience to his word.

Jehu was made king of Israel at a time when the kingdom of Judah was extremely vulnerable. All the male descendants to the throne had been killed except one (2 Chronicles 22:10-11). Athaliah, the daughter of king Ahab, was reigning over the land of Judah while her grandson, Jehoash was hidden away in the temple of God (2 Chronicles 22:12).

Jehu’s cleansing of Israel began with the death of king Joram (2 Kings 9:24) and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:33), then he had all of Ahab’s seventy sons put to death (2 Kings 10:7). After that, Jehu dealt with the idolatry that had taken over the people’s hearts. Jehu’s first action was to befriend the leader of a conservative movement in Israel named Jehonadab (2 Kings 10:15). Jehu invited Jehonadab to participate in his effort to rid Israel of Baal worship. “And he said, Come with me, and see my zeal for the LORD. So they made him ride in his chariot” (2 Kings 10:16).

Jehu’s zeal for the LORD could have been described as righteous indignation over the Baal worship that Ahab had instigated. Ahab had gone so far as to build a temple for Baal in his capital city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:32). When Jehu called all the Baal worshippers to a solemn assembly, it says in 2 Kings 10:21, “And they came into the house of Baal; and the house of Baal was full from one end to the other.”

Jehu put and end to Baal worship in Israel (2 Kings 10:28), “but Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31). Jehu was not devoted to God. More than anything, Jehu wanted to punish Ahab for what he thought he had done wrong, compromise Israel’s position of power.

Jehu knew God, but he didn’t have a personal relationship with him. Jehu didn’t pray or ask the LORD for guidance. He merely carried out the assignment he was given to cut off the house of Ahab (2 Chronicles 22:7). Jehu’s zeal for the LORD served the purpose of restoring Israel to a position of power, but it didn’t last. The shift was only temporary until Jehoash was able to take the throne and reform the kingdom of Judah.