God’s discipline

Moses’ preparation of the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land focused on the essential responsibilities they had in keeping their covenant with God. One of the things that Moses wanted the people to do was to consider the discipline of the LORD. Moses said:

“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always. And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds that he did in Egypt to Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to all his land, and what he did to the army of Egypt, to their horses and to their chariots, how he made the water of the Red Sea flow over them as they pursued after you, and how the Lord has destroyed them to this day, and what he did to you in the wilderness, until you came to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households, their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel. For your eyes have seen all the great work of the Lord that he did.” (Deuteronomy 11:1-7)

Moses described the discipline of the LORD as “his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, his signs and his deeds” (Deuteronomy 11:2-3) and then, went on to identify specific things that the people had seen God do in order to discipline them. Discipline is a type of personal involvement in the lives of others that is usually motivated by love. Hebrews 12:3-17 states:

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

The writer of Hebrews associated discipline with making straight paths for our feet and indicated that holiness is required for us to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:13-14). The Greek word that is translated see, optanomai (op-tanˊ-om-ahee) means “to gaze (i.e. with wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable)” (G3700). This particular kind of vision is different that simple voluntary observation or mechanical, passive vision. Optanomai has to do with spiritual discernment and one’s ability to understand spiritual truth.

Knowing and seeing the discipline of the LORD are connected with our personal experience as a believer. Jesus told his followers, “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 might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). The Greek word that is translated knew, ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) “signifies ‘to be taking in knowledge, to come to know, recognize, understand,’ or ‘to understand completely,’…”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 a relationship” (G1097). Epiginosko “suggests generally a directive, a more special, recognition of the object ‘known’ than does ginosko (G1097); Sometimes epiginosko implies a special participation in the object ‘known,’ and gives greater weight to what is stated…Cf. the two verbs in 1 Corinthians 13:12, ‘now I know in part (ginosko); but then shall I know (epiginosko) even as also I have been known (epiginosko),’ ‘a knowledge’ which perfectly unites the subject with the object” (G1921).

The Hebrew word that is translated discipline in Deuteronomy 11:2, musar, (moo-sawrˊ) appears throughout the book of Proverbs and is used figuratively in speaking of “warning or instruction; also restraint” (H4148). Musar is used three times in the first seven verses of Proverbs 1 which “provide the title (v. 1), the purpose (vv. 2-6), and the theme (v.7) of the book as a whole” (note on Proverbs 1:1-7). It states:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

According to Solomon, instruction or discipline is connected with wisdom and intelligence and therefore, it is silly to disrespect the person that gives it to you. Proverbs 3:1-12, which encourages believers to trust in the LORD with all their hearts, contains the original text that is cited in Hebrews 12:5-6. It states:

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life
    and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the firstfruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
    or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
    as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:1-12)

Solomon warned believers against leaning on their own understanding or being wise in their own eyes. The point that Solomon was trying to make was that our minds and God’s mind do not work the same way. God’s way of doing things is superior to our own and he is able to accomplish anything he wants to. Isaiah 55:6-11 states:

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Thinking “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived” (H2803). Typically, people do this without giving any consideration to God’s thoughts about the matter or his ways of doing things compared to their own. Isaiah’s argument in favor seeking the LORD was that God is compassionate and he is willing to forgive our mistakes.

Judges 1:1 tells us that “After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’” “The expression ‘inquired of the LORD’ refers to the fact that the civil ruler of Israel had the right to ask the high priest to consult the Urim and Thummin for him (Numbers 27:21). This was the means that God set up for the judges, and later the kings, to know his judgment on any particular matter” (note on Judges 1:1). The Urim and the Thummin were necessary in Old Testament times because the Holy Spirit was not yet available to believers. When one of Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus said to them:

“When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:2-13)

Jesus used the example of an unfortunate friend to illustrate his point that God always responds to our requests for help and then, concluded with the statement, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). The Holy Spirit is our primary means of direct communication with God. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). The Holy Spirit doesn’t intercede on our behalf in order to make our request known to God, but, so that God can communicate his will to us.

After the people of Israel “inquired of the LORD, ‘Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?’ The LORD said, ‘Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.’” (Judges 1:1-2). The answer the people received gave them the confidence to move forward and resulted in successful conquests, but a pattern developed where there was a failure to complete the conquest. Judges 1:19 states, “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.” Judah’s inability to drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron was not a matter of it being impossible. Israel’s conquests in Northern Canaan involved a great horde of soldiers, “in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4). The problem that developed was that the people who had seen the great work that the LORD had done for Israel all died. “And there arose a generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, 10). Israel’s disobedience caused the angel of the LORD to tell them, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you…And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:3, 11-12).

Israel’s early abandonment of the LORD was predicted before Moses’ death. Deuteronomy 31:16-18 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” The LORD hiding his face meant that his favor had been withdrawn, making it seem as if he was no longer present with his people (H5641). The LORD was certainly aware of what was going on because he continued to intervene on their behalf when they got into trouble. Judges 2:16-22 tells us:

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. 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.”

The statement, “They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways” (Judges 2:19) indicates that the people of Israel were at that point doing “what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), rather than inquiring of the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated practices, maʿalal (mah-al-awlˊ) refers to “an act (good or bad)” (H4611). Maʿalal is derived from the word ʿalal (aw-lalˊ) which specifically means “to glean” or to produce an effect, “by implication (in a bad sense) to overdo” (H5953).

Psalm 50 provides some additional insight into what was going on during the period of time between Joshua’s death and the installation of Israel’s first king. Psalm 50:7-17 states:

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
    O Israel, I will testify against you.
    I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
    your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
    or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
    the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
    and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.

God indicated that his people were continually sacrificing burnt offerings to him, but for the wrong reasons. The Israelites weren’t thankful for the things that the LORD had done for them; they were trying to earn God’s favor. God associated the wicked with being able to recite his statutes and being identified with his covenant, but indicated that the wicked were not open to his correction or willing to apply his word to themselves. Subjugation to God’s discipline was an important aspect of the relationship that was demonstrated between God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus used the parable of the two sons to emphasize his point that it is necessary for us to change our minds in order to do what God wants us to. Jesus asked, “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).

Spiritual discipline

Hebrews chapter twelve focuses on the task off exercising our faith. In the same way that the great heroes of faith identified in chapter eleven had to demonstrate their reliance upon God, so believers today are expected to make every effort to not give up on what they say they believe God is going to do in their lives. In the context of a competition, we are told, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).

The sin that does so easily ensnare us is a reference to unbelief. Our faith is constantly under attack because the world we live in is a contradiction to it that cannot be explained away. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, died on a cross as a criminal. Thinking of him as the Savior of the world, takes a significant amount of spiritual effort. One of the most difficult statements in the Bible to comprehend is, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, NKJV).

One of the ways believers are expected to think of themselves is children. Since everyone had been or still is a child, it is easy for us to imagine a parent correcting or disciplining us as a child. The Greek word translated chastens, paideuo (pahee-dyoo’-o) actually means “to train up a child” (G3811). Most people who are good parents discipline their children in ways that are sometimes perceived to be harsh or what we use to call being strict. The intent was to keep our children out of trouble. God’s children should be associated with godly behavior.

The purpose of spiritual discipline is explained in Hebrews 12:11. It says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (NKJV). The peaceable fruit of righteousness means that people are able to see evidence of God’s work in our lives. When a person goes through a difficult time and survives, and even gets stronger in the process, it is usually because his faith was at work in spite of his difficult circumstance.

The author of Hebrews identified two specific types of spiritual discipline. The instruction to “make straight paths for your feet lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Hebrews 12:13) refers to Bible study. Sometimes the truth is painful, but we have to continue to read and study the Bible even when it hurts. Ultimately, the word of God heals and restores us and makes it possible for us to stay on course.

The second type of spiritual discipline is associated with a root of bitterness that springs up and causes us trouble (Hebrews 12:15). I believe this refers to wounds from our past. You might think of a root of bitterness as a weed that was pulled out of a garden, but the root was left behind, therefore, it is able to come up again. Jealousy is often a source of bitterness because we don’t like it when someone takes what is rightfully ours. Once bitterness takes root in our hearts, it is very difficult to get rid of it. The only way to remove a root of bitterness completely is to accept that what has been lost is irretrievable and it is time to move on.

Bad things happen to good people

“In ancient times, and even today, it was often assumed that a calamity would befall only those who were extremely sinful (see John 9:1-2; see also Job 4:7; 22:5, where Eliphaz falsely accused Job)” (note on Luke 13:2,4). Jesus refuted this belief when he responded to a report that Pilate, a Roman governor was offering human sacrifices in his temple. It says in Luke 13:2-3, “And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Jesus was referring to the great white throne judgment when he said all who didn’t repent would likewise perish. This is the judgment of unbelievers (those who have rejected Christ) that takes place at the end of the Great Tribulation. It says in Revelation 20:11-15:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to illustrate the difference between judgment (what happens to unbelievers) and discipline (what happens to believers). In his parable, the owner of the fig tree expected it to produce fruit, but after three years there was none. Therefore, the owner told the caretaker of his vineyard to cut it down because it was useless to him (Luke 13:7). The caretaker responded, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shall cut it down” (Luke 13:8-9). Jesus used the image of fruit symbolically throughout his ministry to represent spiritual activity in the life of a believer. Jesus explained the process of spiritual discipline to his disciples in John 15:1-2. He said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” In other words, like a healthy tree that needs to be pruned, God disciplines believers so that they will produce more spiritual fruit.

One of the hindrances to believers bearing fruit is spiritual bondage. Jesus used the example of a woman’s infirmity or feebleness to show that a person can be delivered from moral sickness. It says in Luke 13:11-12, “And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman thou art loosed from thy infirmity.” The Greek word translated loosed, apoluo (ap-ol-oo´-o) means to set free or “to let go free, release a captive: i.e. to loose his bonds and bid him depart, to give him liberty to depart (Lk 22:68; 23:32), to acquit one accused of a crime and set him at liberty” (630). It seems as though this woman may have been bound by her guilt and needed to be released from the power it had to condemn her. Jesus did not mention any sin or say that she was forgiven, but merely took away the spirit or belief she had that she was a bad person.

 

Divine influence

The explanation Ezekiel received for God’s punishment of his children was that they were to serve as a warning to the nations around them. God said, “So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in my anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 5:15).

God intended to judge the nations surrounding Israel, but first he set an example by punishing the nation of Judah and more specifically Jerusalem because he said, “they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them” (Ezekiel 5:6). According to God, the people of Jerusalem had acted more wickedly than the nations around them by defiling his temple (Ezekiel 5:11) and would be reduced to cannibalism as a sign of their depravity (Ezekiel 5:10).

In a final symbolic act, Ezekiel was instructed to shave his head and beard (Ezekiel 5:1). Afterward, he was told, “Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled, and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part shalt thou scatter to the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:2). These gestures signified the ways God’s people would be destroyed: famine, being killed in combat, and being scattered abroad.

The harsh treatment God’s people received was due to their continuous rebellion over a period of more than 400 years. Rather than give up on them completely, God wanted to show them they would not escape judgment if they refused to repent. God’s judgment of the nation of Judah was actually a one-time event that was never to be repeated (Ezekiel 5:9). The outcome would be a strong turning to a new course of action by God. He said, “Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted” (Ezekiel 5:13).

The Hebrew word translated comforted, nacham (naw – kham´) means to sigh or to be sorry. Nacham is also associated with repentance. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). God’s judgment of his people marked the end of his effort to get them to obey his laws. From that point forward, God would deal with his people as sinners that could only be saved by grace; through his divine influence upon their hearts.

Hidden

Within the framework of the Mosaic Law was a provision for God’s people to receive mercy if they would repent from their sins. Because they had taken advantage of this provision numerous times, there came a point when God basically said, that’s enough. You will have to be punished in order to learn your lesson. The way that God chose to discipline his children was to allow them to be taken into captivity by their enemies, the Babylonians. Before the end of their time in the Promised Land, God spoke to the people of Judah and warned them that the end was coming. In one last attempt to spare them from destruction, God sent the prophet Zephaniah to tell the people that “the great day of the LORD” was near (Zephaniah 1:14).

Zephaniah did not offer the people of Judah an opportunity to escape their punishment, but he did say there was a way they could escape death. He said, “Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3). Zephaniah told the people the way for them to be saved was through humility, asking the LORD’s help. The Hebrew word translated seek, baqash means to search out by any method, but specifically it refers to worship and prayer (1245). God’s ultimate goal was to restore his relationship with his people. It was only because they had turned away from him repeatedly that he was forced to discipline them.

The best way to understand the process of salvation was for Zephaniah to let the people know they were lost. Jesus often told parables about things being lost to illustrate God’s desire to reconcile with those people that had been separated from him by sin (Matthew 10:6, 15:24, 18:11). When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was sent out and prevented from ever seeing God’s face again (Genesis 4:14). In actuality, what happened was that Cain was hidden from God’s sight. In a sense, you could say he was invisible to God. The Israelites had committed so many sins while they was living in the Promised Land that God could no longer look at them. They were too disgusting for him to look at. The only way God could reconcile with them was to punish his children and force them to repent.

Zephaniah’s call to repentance included the possibility that God might still show mercy to those people that humbled themselves before him. In the same way that they had been hidden from God’s sight, Zephaniah suggested the people “seek righteousness, seek meekness; it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD’s anger (Zephaniah 2:3). In this instance, the word hid refers to someone hiding or sheltering a person from his enemies (5641). In other words, God could conceal the repentant sinner from the Babylonian army so that his life would be spared and he would be taken into captivity instead of killed. If God’s people remained alive, God promised he would allow them to return to Jerusalem when their captivity was over (Zephaniah 2:7).

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.

A parable

Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-2) was used to describe the role Judah, and more specifically Jerusalem, had in God’s plan of salvation. Isaiah stated plainly in his parable that a partnership existed between God and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. God had done his part to ensure the Messiah would be born, but his kingdom had become unfit for habitation. Isaiah’s parable provided an important clue as to why the Messiah would not establish his kingdom until the last days, God’s people were corrupted by idolatry.

God had gone to great lengths to nurture and protect his people. In spite of his efforts, they refused to do things his way. Isaiah identified several problems the LORD intended to deal with in his judgment of the people of Judah, most importantly, their abuse of the land he had given them. Speaking for the LORD, Isaiah stated, “And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up, and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned or digged, but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it” (Isaiah 5:5-6).

Isaiah’s use of the term “wild grapes” (Isaiah 5:2,4) to describe the fruit of the LORD’s vineyard indicated the people of Judah had reached a point of no return in their abandonment of God’s law. The Hebrew word translated wild grapes, be’ushiym means poison-berries (891). Poison-berries are usually colorful and juicy looking, but toxic if ingested. Some poison-berries are lethal and it could be that Isaiah named a specific poison-berry in order to make his point that the vineyard had to be abandoned and was useless to its owner.

Part of the reason for God’s judgment against Judah was a need to expose the people’s sin and to condemn their bad behavior. As a demonstration of their unfaithfulness to God, the people would be removed from the land and humbled before the surrounding nations. It says in Isaiah 5:13, “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”

The word translated captivity, galah means to denude or make oneself naked, especially in a disgraceful sense (1540). Captivity is also referred to as going into exile, captives being usually stripped in order to disgrace and humiliate them in public. Another meaning of the word galah is to reveal and it is sometimes applied to “the revealing of secrets and of one’s innermost feelings.” I believe God sent his people into captivity so that they could see themselves for what they really were, sinners in need of a Savior.

 

Correction

The biggest problem I had when I became a Christian was sexual addition. Even though I knew sex outside of marriage was wrong, I had a habit of having sex with every guy I got involved with. Within a year of giving my life to Christ, I got pregnant. Because I had already had two abortions and knew that ending my pregnancy meant I would be killing my unborn child, I decided I would keep my baby no matter what. The baby’s father and I got married and had two more children in the first few years of our marriage.

If you are not used to being disciplined, being a Christian can be difficult and sometimes unpleasant. In Proverbs, it says that God disciplines us because he loves us. “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction; for whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Proverbs 3:11-12). The Hebrew word translated correction, towkachath (to – kakh´ – ath) is derived from the word yakach (yaw – kahh´) which means to be right (3198). These two words have the connotation of giving proof or evidence in order to decide a case (8433).

While I was married, no one suspected that I had a problem with sex. On the surface, everything appeared to be normal. It wasn’t until my marriage failed that I was confronted with the truth, being cut off from my source of sex made me very anxious. Although I knew I could survive for a period of time, the thought of never having sex again was too much for me to handle. What I realize now, after being divorced for 14 years, is that my desire for sex may never go away, but I do not have to fulfill it.