Individual character

Jacob, who was later renamed Israel (Genesis 32:28), his sons and their families numbered seventy persons when they came into Egypt (Genesis 46:27). Exodus 12:37 tells us that 400 years later, when the people of Israel left Egypt, there were about “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children.” At the time of Jacob’s death, his twelve sons and their families were referred to as the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis 49:28 states, “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.” Jacob’s blessing was transferred to his sons on an individual basis. He blessed each of his sons with a blessing that was suitable to him, meaning that the blessing was appropriate for that individual son. The Hebrew word that is translated tribes in Genesis 49:28, shebet (shayˊ-bet) means “to branch off” and literally refers to “a stick” or “the ‘rod’ as a tool used by the shepherd (Leviticus 27:32) and the teacher (2 Samuel 7:14)” (H7626). Jesus told his disciples:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Jesus talked about branches in the context of discipline and productivity. The example that Jesus used of a vine that was intended to bear fruit was a universal theme that he used throughout his ministry to describe the process of salvation and was consistent between both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Jesus indicated that individual branches could be pruned or might be taken away if they did not bear fruit. This seems to be the case with regards to the tribe of Simeon, Jacob’s second oldest son. Simeon was left out when Moses’ pronounced his final blessing on Israel (Deuteronomy 33).

Simeon was the second son of Jacob’s first wife Leah. Genesis 29:31-33 states, “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.’ She conceived again and bore a son, and said, ‘Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.’ And she called his name Simeon.” The name Simeon means “hearing” (H8095). Simeon is derived from the Hebrew word shamaʿ (shaw-mahˊ) which means “to hear intelligently” (H8085). Shama is associated with discernment and understanding and refers to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. Simeon and his younger brother Levi responded to the rape of their sister Dinah by killing all the men in the city of Shechem. Genesis 34:13-15 and 24-31 tells us:

The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised”…On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Simeon and Levi were outraged by the rape of their sister Dinah and took vengeance by killing all the men in Shechem. Their father Jacob was upset because their method of retaliation put his family in danger. Later, Simeon was singled out by Joseph to remain in prison while the rest of his brothers returned to Canaan to get their youngest brother Benjamin to verify their identity (Genesis 42:18-20). During this incident, Joseph’s brothers acknowledged their guilt for selling him into slavery. Genesis 42:21-23 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen (shama). That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen (shama). So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood (shama) them, for there was an interpreter between them.

The Hebrew word shama (the root word of the name Simeon) appears three times in Joseph’s brothers’ brief admission of guilt. The repeated use of shama emphasizes its importance in the message that was being conveyed. It was as if Simeon’s name and his absence were providing the other brothers with a clue about the cause of the circumstances they were experiencing (no hearing).

The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were all chosen because of the circumstances of their births (Genesis 29:31-30:24, 35:16-18) and may or may not have been a reflection of their individual character. As was the case with Abram who God renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob who became Israel (Genesis 32:28), Jesus gave some of his disciples new names after they became his followers (Mark 3:16-17). The connection between a person’s name and his individual character seems to be important from the standpoint of God becoming involved in the lives of individuals. The Apostle Paul referred to individual character as your inner being and said, “For this reason I bow my knee before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). Paul indicated that God strengthens or empowers us in our inner being. The strengthening that occurs doesn’t happen as a sudden influx of power, but as a gradual increase in energy over time (G2901).

The idea that we can grow stronger and be more energetic as we get older is contrary to the way that we usually experience life. Typically, a person will slow down and accomplish less in their later years. Caleb, one of two individuals that was delivered from slavery in Egypt and survived the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, gave this testimony afterward:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. (Joshua 14:6-11)

Caleb indicated that he had wholly followed the LORD and that Moses had promised him an eternal inheritance as a result of it (Joshua 14:8-9). The meaning of the name Caleb (kaw-labeˊ) isn’t completely clear, but it may have been a contraction of the Hebrew words qadesh (kaw-dasheˊ) which denotes “a (quasi) sacred person” (H6945) and leb (labe) “the heart” (H3820). Qadesh is derived from the word qadash (kaw-dashˊ). “This word is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942).

The connection between the process of sanctification and the development of individual character as demonstrated in Caleb’s life may be related to what Paul described as “being joined together” and “being built together into a dwelling place for God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). Paul talked about believers being members of the household of God and identified Jesus as “the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21). Paul indicated that we are growing into a holy temple and being built together into a dwelling place for God. The original temple that was built by King Solomon, was referred to as “the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 6:1). The Hebrew word that is translated house, bayith (bahˊ-yith) “denotes a fixed, established structure made from some kind of materials. As a ‘permanent dwelling place’ it is usually distinguished from a tent (2 Samuel 16:21, cf. v. 22)” (H1004). 1 Kings 6:7 tells us, “When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.” The large stones that were used to build the temple were chiseled into shape at a quarry so that they would fit together perfectly when they were placed in their designated spot. In the same way that the stones were prepared beforehand at the quarry, so are individuals prepared by God through the process of sanctification so that they can be joined together and built into a dwelling place for God.

The analogy of the potter and the clay is used throughout the Bible to describe the process of sanctification. It was first introduced through the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 18:1-6 states:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

Paul used the analogy of the potter and the clay to explain God’s sovereign choice. Paul said:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.”

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:14-33)

Paul referred to Jesus as a stone of stumbling rather than the cornerstone that orients the building in a specific direction in order to point out that faith in Jesus is what tripped up the Israelites. The people of Israel were unable to shift the focus of their attention from their own individual acts of righteousness to the sacrifice that was going to be made by Jesus so that their sins could be atoned for.

Simeon’s exclusion from Moses’ blessing (Deuteronomy 33) demonstrates how free will and God’s sovereign choice work together to produce the final outcome in an individual’s life and the legacy that is passed on to future generations. A similar example can be found in the life of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Jesus told his disciples:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:63-71)

Jesus later linked Judas’ betrayal with the process of sanctification and what Paul described as the edification of the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). After Jesus had washed his disciples feet, he said, “’The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’ When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you’” (John 13:10-15). Jesus differentiated between the initial spiritual birth of a believer and regeneration when he said, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). Paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-eeˊ-ah) “is that free act of God’s mercy and power by which He removes the sinner from the kingdom of darkness and places him in the kingdom of light; it is that act by which God brings him from death to life. In the act itself (rather than the preparation for it), the recipient is passive, just as a child has nothing to do with his own birth. Anakainos (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis), by contrast, is the gradual conforming of the person to the new spiritual world in which he now lives, the restoration of the divine image. In this process the person is not passive but is a fellow worker with God” (G3824).

Jesus told his disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). It seems that anakainos is not just a process that God engineers to build individual character, but a joint process that all believers participate in for the collective benefit of everyone. From that standpoint, the twelve tribes of Israel modeled the type of community that the body of Christ is expected to emulate. Just as Simeon’s absence created a noticeable gap in Israel’s family structure (Genesis 42:36; Deuteronomy 33), so does the absence of individual members of the body of Christ. Paul said, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have not need of you’…But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

A spiritual pathway

The Israelites journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan had both physical and spiritual elements to it. As the people traveled through the desert, they were focused on worshipping God and were given many opportunities to experience spiritual success and failure. After they rebelled against God (Numbers 14:1-4), the people of Israel were pardoned, but none of the men who had seen God’s glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and in the wilderness were allowed to enter the land that God had promised to give them (Numbers 14:20-23). The LORD told the Israelites, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure” (Numbers 14:34). At the end of the forty years, Moses recounted the Israelites’ journey. Moses wrote, “This is the route the Israelites followed as they marched out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress. These are the stages of their march, identified by the different places where they stopped along the way.” (Numbers 33:1-2, NLT). Moses indicated that the Israelites’ route was determined by the LORD and their progress was dependent upon their stops along the way. Deuteronomy 1:2 states that “it is eleven days journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea” and yet, the Israelites arrived in Kadesh-barnea “in the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month” (Deuteronomy 1:3).

Moses told the people of Israel that the LORD had carried them, “’all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe in the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:31-33). The Hebrew word that is translated place, mᵉqomah (mek-o-mahˊ) is properly translated as “a standing, i.e. a spot; but used widely of a locality (generally or specifically); also (figuratively) of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Mᵉqomah appears in Genesis 28:11 where it says that Jacob “came to a certain place and stayed there that night.” Mᵉqomah is derived from the Hebrew word quwm (koom) which means “to arise, stand up, come about…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). When it says that the LORD carried the Israelites all the way that they went until they came to this place, it meant that the Israelites’ final destination was prearranged, but it also meant that the people were going to arrive at their destination at a particular time because of the way or route that they traveled. The Hebrew word that is translated way, derek (dehˊ-rek) “represents a ‘distance’ (how far or how long) between two points.” Derek is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action.” In Jeremiah 10:23, derek “signifies the overall course and fixed path of one’s life, or his ‘destiny’” (H1870).

Jesus told his followers, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). When Jesus said he was the way, he was speaking of himself as “the author and medium of access to God and eternal life” (G3598). In that sense, Jesus was the pathway, the route that people needed to follow in order to connect with God. When Jesus called his disciples, he commanded them to, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, 9:9; John 1:43). Jesus talked about the pathway to heaven in the context of the Golden Rule. Jesus said:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:12-14, NLT)

Jesus referred to the pathway to hell as a highway because that’s the route that most people choose to take. The idea that Jesus conveyed was a paved road that had lots of traffic on it. By contrast, the pathway to heaven was very narrow and difficult, likely a single lane, dirt road that required a four-legged animal or today a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to your destination.

Psalm 95 provides insight into why the people of Israel were unsuccessful in the spiritual aspect of their journey to the Promised Land. It says of God, “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways’” (Psalm 95:10). The Israelites didn’t understand God’s way of doing things and also made the mistake of following the examples of other nations. Proverbs 12:26 says, “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were referred to as wicked men in Numbers 16:26. Moses said, “These men have despised the LORD” (Numbers 16:30). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rejected the LORD and were influencing other Israelites to rebel against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Numbers 16:2-3). Numbers 16:25-33 states:

So Moses got up and rushed over to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, followed by the elders of Israel. “Quick!” he told the people. “Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and don’t touch anything that belongs to them. If you do, you will be destroyed for their sins.” So all the people stood back from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrances of their tents, together with their wives and children and little ones. And Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things that I have done—for I have not done them on my own. If these men die a natural death, or if nothing unusual happens, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord does something entirely new and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them and all their belongings, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have shown contempt for the Lord.” He had hardly finished speaking the words when the ground suddenly split open beneath them. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned. So they went down alive into the grave, along with all their belongings. The earth closed over them, and they all vanished from among the people of Israel. (NLT)

Going astray in their heart meant that these wicked men’s will and God’s will were not aligned with each other. In Proverbs 4:23 we are told to guard our “heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT). The Hebrew word that is translated heart, leb (labe) “includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man…the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820).

It says in Genesis 8:21 that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” and in Deuteronomy 29:4 that the LORD did not give the Israelites hearts that could understand what he was doing. The only way the people knew how to do what God wanted them to was to obey his commandments and follow Moses’ directions. It says in Proverbs 12:15, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” The Hebrew word that is translated listens, shama (shaw-mahˊ) “means to give undivided attention” and refers to hearing in both an intellectual and spiritual context. “The most famous use of this word is to introduce the Shema, ‘Hear, O, Israel,’ followed by the content of what the Israelites are to understand about the Lord their God and how they are to respond to him” (H8085). Deuteronomy 6:4-5 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The connection between loving God and listening to him had to do with the relationship that God wanted to have with his chosen people. It says in Deuteronomy 7:6 that the Israelites were chosen by God to be a people for his treasured possession. “Being ‘chosen’ by God brings people into an intimate relationship with Him” (H977).

God encouraged the Israelites to do what he commanded them to by promising to bless them if they were obedient and to curse them if they were not. Moses told the people, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated high in Deuteronomy 28:1, ʿamad (aw-madˊ) is an epithet for God and means “to stand” and “can suggest ‘immovable,’ or not being able to be moved…another nuance appears in Psalm 102:26, which teaches the indestructibility and/or eternity of God—the creation perishes but He ‘shalt endure [will ever stand].’ This is not the changelessness of doing nothing or standing physically upright, but the changelessness of ever-existing being, a quality that only God has in Himself” (H5975).

God’s promise of an eternal kingdom provided a strong incentive for the people of Israel to follow the spiritual pathway that he had prepared from them, but knowing that they were unlikely to live up to his expectations, God established a strong deterrent against disobedience as well. Moses said, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 20). The Hebrew word that is translated cursed in Deuteronomy 28:16, ʾarar (aw-rarˊ) generally denotes to inflict with a curse. “There are at least five other Hebrew words with the same general meaning. This verb, in a more specific sense, means to bind (with a spell); to hem in with obstacles; to render powerless to resist” (H779).

After Simon Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, “the Son of the living God,” Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19). Jesus told Peter that he was blessed because a spiritual truth had been revealed to him by God the Father. The Greek word that is translated revealed, apokalupto (ap-ok-al-oopˊ-to) means “to take off the cover, i.e. disclose…The subjective use of apokalupto is that in which something is presented to the mind directly as…the will of God for the conduct of his children (Philippians 3:15)” (G601). Jesus indicated that the spiritual truth that was revealed to Peter would be the rock on which his church was built “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus’ reference to the gates of hell not being able to prevail was likely intended to point out that a spiritual battle was taking place and that this particular spiritual truth could free a person from spiritual bondage. Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Greek word that is translated loosed, luo (looˊ-o) speaks “of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ” (G3089).

The fact that the Israelites who did not obey the voice of the LORD were cursed and therefore, rendered powerless to resist the temptation of sin suggests that they were forced to go down a spiritual pathway that was contrary to God’s will, but God used the Israelites’ disobedience to accomplish his ultimate purpose, the salvation of the world and unification of the Jews and Gentiles into a single body of believers. Paul discussed this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. (Ephesians 2:11-18, NLT)

The Book of Hebrews explains that God has provided a better way for us to know and do his will through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It says in Hebrews 10:14-22:

For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,

“This is the new covenant I will make
    with my people on that day, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he says,

“I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. (NLT)

It says in Hebrews 10:20 that Jesus’ death opened up “a new and life-giving way.” In other words, Jesus created a spiritual pathway that takes us into the presence of God. The Greek word that is translated life-giving, zao (dzahˊ-o) appears in Matthew 16:16 where Peter identified Jesus as “the Son of the living God.” Jesus also used the Greek word zao when he told the woman at the well that he could give her “living water” (John 4:10). Zao is associated with the resurrection of believers, but more specifically with, “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198). The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus’ death opened the way or in Hebrew the hodos (hod-osˊ). The Greek word hodos is similar to the Hebrew word derek. It refers to the road or the route one takes on a journey, but metaphorically it represents “a course of conduct,” or “way of thinking” (G3598). Jesus’ death made the recovery of physical life from the power of death possible for us and now we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).

Proverbs 12:28 states, “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” Basically, what this verse means is that if we travel through life on the pathway of righteousness, hell will not be a part of our route. Righteousness is the state that believers enter into when they accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for their sins. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham believed the LORD, “and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The transaction that takes place when a person puts his or her trust in Jesus is called justification. Paul talked about Abraham’s justification in his letter to the Romans. Romans 4:18-25 states, “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Spiritual freedom

The Apostle Paul’s letter to a believer named Philemon contains important information about Paul’s attitude regarding spiritual freedom. Paul began his letter with the salutation, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:1-3). Paul wrote to Philemon while he was imprisoned in Rome, so his identification of himself as a prisoner was applicable to his circumstances, but Paul reversed the situation when he added the phrase for Jesus Christ. Even though Paul was imprisoned against his will, Paul believed that God was using his situation to further the gospel. Paul discussed this point extensively in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. Only let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:12-30)

Paul said that he expected his imprisonment to turn out for his deliverance (Philippians 1:19). Paul was not only talking about being released from prison, but was also talking about his “deliverance from sin and its spiritual consequences and admission to eternal life with blessedness in the kingdom of Christ” (G4991). Paul went on to say that it was his eager expectation and hope that he would “not be at all ashamed” but that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). What Paul likely meant by to die is gain was that the believers’ victory over sin and death is not fully realized until we are all in heaven. Revelation 12:10-11 states, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Paul was convinced that he would be released from prison and said, “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:25-26). Paul echoed his confidence of being released in his letter to Philemon. Paul said, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (Philemon 1:21-22). The Greek word that is translated graciously given, charizomai (khar-idˊ-zom-ahee) is spoken “of persons, to deliver up or over in answer to demands (Acts 3:14; 25:11, 16) or in answer to prayer (Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22). Charizomai is translated granted in Acts 27:24 in reference to the lives of those who were sailing with Paul to Rome being saved from death in a storm at sea. Paul encouraged his shipmates and told them, “For this very night there stood before me an angel of God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

Paul’s faith in God made it possible for him to experience spiritual freedom even though he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul talked about the effectiveness of sharing your faith in his letter to Philemon. Paul said:

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)

The Greek word that is translated effective in Philemon 1:6, energace (en-er-gaceˊ) has to do with the internal work of the Holy Spirit. In reference to sharing your faith, energace means that your faith is “active, operative” (G1756). Energace is translated active in Hebrews 4:12. It states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Paul’s letter was intended to activate Philemon’s faith in that Paul used his own situation of imprisonment in Rome to trigger a particular response from his fellow worker. The Greek word that is translated prisoner, desmios (desˊ-mee-os) means “a captive (as bound)” (G1198) and is derived from the word desmos (des-mosˊ), which is translated imprisonment in Philemon 1:10 and 1:12. Desmos refers to “a band i.e. ligament (of the body) or shackle (of a prisoner). Paul used the Greek word desmos in his second letter to Timothy. Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound in chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). When Paul said the word of God is not bound, he used the word deo (dehˊ-o), which appears in Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told his disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Being loosed on earth speaks of persons bound in sin and wickedness, who are loosed through the preaching of the gospel and a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what had happened to Philemon’s slave Onesimus. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).

“Paul acted in strict accordance with the requirements of the law in dealing with Onesimus, a slave who had run away from Philemon. First, Paul gave him shelter in his own hired house. He did not betray him as a fugitive nor did he send word to Philemon to come to Rome and take Onesimus back. Furthermore, Paul instructed Onesimus in the gospel, eventually leading him to salvation in Christ (Philemon 1:10). He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon as a trusted messenger and brother in Christ, bearing a request for Philemon to grant Onesimus freedom (Philemon 1:12). Paul did not accuse Onesimus of wrongdoing by running away from Philemon. Instead Paul stated that it was by the merciful providence of God that he had departed from Philemon. Paul desired for Philemon to receive Onesimus back no longer as a servant, but as a beloved brother and partner in Christ (Philemon 1:15-17)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon). Paul’s strict accordance to the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15-16), gave him the assurance that he was doing God’s will when he took Onesimus in and sheltered him until he had received salvation. Paul’s plea for Onesimus was based on his obedience to God’s word. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:8-10).

Paul’s appeal to Philemon was likely prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that is translated appeal in Philemon 1:9, parakaleo (par-ak-al-ehˊ-o) is derived from the words para (par-ahˊ) and kaleo (kal-ehˊ-o) which “is used particularly of the divine call to partake of the blessings of redemption” (G2564). Paul wanted Philemon to voluntarily grant Onesimus his freedom (Philemon 1:18). The Hebrew fugitive law stated, “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Paul was not required to send Onesimus back to Philemon, but he likely did it so that Onesimus’ testimony could benefit the spread of the gospel (Philemon 1:11). Paul told Philemon, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 1:12-14).

The Hebrew fugitive law indicated that a slave who had escaped from his master was essentially a free person; he could not be imprisoned or returned to his master (Deuteronomy 23:15). This law illustrated the principle of being delivered from spiritual bondage and fits in with Jesus’ teaching about binding and loosing things on earth and in heaven (Matthew 16:19). Jesus told the Jews who believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36). The Greek word that is translated free, eleuthero (el-yoo-ther-oˊ-o) means “to make free, liberate from the power and punishment of sin, the result of redemption (John 8:32, 36; Romans 6:18, 22). Jesus indicated that “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated slave, doulos (dooˊ-los) is the same word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he referred to Onesimus as a bondservant and said that he was sending him back to Philemon “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother” (Philemon 1:16). Paul indicated that Onesimus’ spiritual status had changed because of his faith in Christ.

Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that spiritual freedom means that we are no longer slaves to sin, but have become slaves of righteousness. Paul said:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23)

According to Paul, even though believers are free in regard to righteousness, our spiritual freedom is constantly being attack. Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Wickedness embodies that character which is opposite the character of God and may be thought of as an opposing force to righteousness (H7562). Proverbs 10:2 tells us that “treasures gained by wickedness do not profit but righteousness delivers from death.” The Hebrew word that is translated delivers, nâtsal naw-tsalˊ) is translated escaped in the Hebrew fugitive law (Deuteronomy 23:15) and also appears in Exodus 3:7-8 where the LORD speaking to Moses out of the midst of a burning bush said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver (nâtsal) them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (emphasis mine).

God’s ability to deliver believers from wickedness is based on the authority that Christ has in the spiritual realm. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians:

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15-21)

Paul said that the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us is “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The Greek words that are translated working and worked are both derived from the Greek word energes, the Greek word that Paul used in his letter to Philemon when he talked about the sharing of Philemon’s faith becoming effective (Philemon 1:6).

Paul indicated in his letter to the Colossians that the powerful working of God is connected with the believer’s baptism, when he identifies himself with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul said:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:11-15)

According to Paul, believers have spiritual freedom because the record of their moral debt to God has been cancelled. When Jesus died on the cross, he disarmed the rulers and authorities that wage spiritual warfare against believers and through death destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Our inheritance

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with a list of spiritual blessings that belong to every believer in Jesus Christ. Paul said:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance because we are sealed by His presence within us.

Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and told his disciples, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) means “an intercessor…A comforter, bestowing spiritual aid and consolation” (G3875). The reason why Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another Helper was because the Holy Spirit was taking Jesus’ place as the disciples’ spiritual guide. Jesus told them, “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:4-7).

Jesus’ role as the leader of Christianity changed when he left Earth and went to Heaven. Jesus’ physical presence was an essential part of the disciples’ initial decision to follow him. After Jesus was crucified, the disciples were unable to continue the work that he was doing. The thing that was missing was the vital connection the disciples had to the source of their spiritual life. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit made it possible for Jesus’ followers to remain connected to him and the result was that they were able to bear witness to the things that had happened when Jesus was with them (John 15:27). The thing that changed was that Jesus was no longer able to physically guide his disciples to the places and people where he wanted them to work. Instead, the disciples had to follow Jesus’ commandments and rely on the Holy Spirit to give them the power they needed to complete the assignment that they had been given (John 15:10; Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

The Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land concluded with God’s instruction for them to drive out the inhabitants of the land. Numbers 33:50-54 states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it. You shall inherit the land by lot according to your clans. To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance. Wherever the lot falls for anyone, that shall be his. According to the tribes of your fathers you shall inherit.

The land of Israel was inherited by lot, meaning that it was the descendants of Abraham’s destiny to live there, but in order for it to happen, the Israelites had to take possession of the land by driving out its inhabitants.

The connection between our spiritual inheritance and our destiny is that, as Paul stated in his letter to the Ephesians, “God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). The Greek word that is translated predestined, proorizo (pro-or-idˊ-zo) means “to limit in advance” (G4309). The LORD set limits to the Israelites’ inheritance by establishing boundaries that were designated before the people entered the land. It says in Numbers 34:7-9, “This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.” The land was distributed to the various clans by lot (Numbers 33:54). The Hebrew word “goral means ‘lot.’ Goral represents the ‘lot’ which was cast to discover the will of God in a given situation…In an extended use of the word goral represents the idea ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’…Since God is viewed as controlling all things absolutely, the result of casting the ‘lot’ is divinely controlled…Thus, providence (divine control of history) is frequently figured as one’s ‘lot’” (H1486).

The purpose of God’s will is that believers will exhibit Jesus’ characteristics in their lives. Jesus used the example of a vine and branches to illustrate this point. He said:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Even though Jesus did not explicitly state what he meant by bearing fruit, it can be assumed that he was talking about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life because his illustration of the vine and branches directly followed his promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-28) and then, he talked to his disciples about the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:4-15). Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).

The Greek word that is translated advantage, sumphero (soom-ferˊ-o) means “to bear together” (G4851). The root words of sumphero are phero (ferˊ-o) which means “to bear up under or with, to endure” (G5342) and sun (soon) which denotes “union; with or together (i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition etc.)” (4862). The advantage that Jesus was talking about when he said, “it is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7) was the advantage of having the Holy Spirit on the inside of us as opposed to having Jesus on the outside of us. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, God does all the spiritual work for us, but we still have to do the physical part. That is why the Israelites had to drive out the inhabitants and take possession of the land after they received their inheritance. The Hebrew word that is translated drive out in Numbers 33:52 and take possession in Numbers 33:53, yarash (yaw-rashˊ) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place…The verb sometimes means to take something over (in the case of the Promised Land) by conquest as a permanent possession” (H3423).

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that the battle we must fight to conquer sin has to do with overcoming the flesh, or you might say the part of us that is controlled by our human nature that interferes with the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives. Paul said, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:2-6). The key to understanding how God expects us to overcome the world may be found in Jesus instruction to abide in his love. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I love you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10). Jesus went on to say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated life in John 15:13, psuche (psoo-khayˊ) refers to “the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death” (G5590). Therefore, when Jesus said that we are to lay down our life for our friend, he wasn’t talking about dying, but about doing our part to fulfill the destiny of others. This was illustrated in the commitment of the people of Reuben and the people of Gad to cross over the Jordan River with the rest of the tribes and fight with them until everyone had obtained their inheritance. Numbers 32:16-19 states:

Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.”

Similar to the way that all believers are identified as the body of Christ (Romans 7:4), the people of the nation of Israel were viewed as a single unit. They received a collective inheritance from God rather than individual ones. Numbers 34:1-2 states, “The LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders).’”

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul pointed out that the inheritance that God gave Abraham wasn’t intended for all of his descendants, but only for a single person, Jesus Christ. Paul said:

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:15-29)

Paul identified the inheritance that was given to Abraham as righteousness and said that when Christ came we were justified by faith. Paul concluded with the statement, “You are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).

The book of Hebrews provides further clarification as to what Abraham’s inheritance actually is. It states, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in a land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10). The city that was referred to in this verse is the new Jerusalem that is mentioned in Revelation 21:1-3. John said, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself with be with them as their God.” According to the note on Revelation 21:-22:5, “The new heaven and the new earth are not duplicates of the heaven and earth that now exist. The word ‘new’ is a translation of the Greek word kainon (2537), which means ‘qualitatively new.’ To some, this suggests that the new earth will be as the current earth was in its creation.”

Jesus used the analogy of a woman giving birth to a child to illustrate the process of regeneration that believers have to go through in order to become members of God’s family. He said:

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:21-24)

Jesus told his disciples that they could gain access to their inheritance immediately by petitioning the Father in his name. Jesus told his disciples, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). The fullness that Jesus was speaking of had to do with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul indicated that according to the riches of his glory, God grants us to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner beings (Ephesians 3:16). When that happens, we are united with Christ in such a way that nothing prevents us from receiving God’s love (Ephesians 3:17-19, Romans 8:39).

Spiritual blindness

Jesus’ miracle of healing a man that was born blind (John 9:1-7) portrayed in practical terms the spiritual condition of the Jews that Jesus was ministering to. “The Jews took pride in their ancestry as God’s chosen people and totally disregarded their own spiritual need” (note on John 9:39). Their spiritual blindness caused the Jews to cling to the false hope of their Mosaic legal system (John 9:28-29) and reject Christ’s message of salvation by grace. Paul wrote about the Jews spiritual dilemma in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Paul talked about the world not being able to know God through wisdom, but only through the foolishness of preaching. God saves those who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:21). The Greek word that is translated wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, sophia (sof-eeˊ-ah) means “skill in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense” and speaks “specifically of the learning and philosophy current among the Greeks and Romans in the apostolic age intended to draw away the minds of men from divine truth, and which stood in contrast to the simplicity of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17, 19-22; 2:1, 4-6, 13; 3:19; 2 Corinthians 1:12)” (G4678). Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 29:14 set the context of his statement as dealing with an intentional effort on God’s part to keep certain spiritual truths hidden from the unsaved. The broader context of spiritual blindness can be seen in Israel’s rejection of their Messiah and God’s judgment of his chosen people. Isaiah 29:9-16 states:

Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
    and covered your heads (the seers).

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again
    do wonderful things with this people,
    with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
    and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah’s declaration, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden” focuses on the lack of spiritual perception that was evident among the Jews during Christ’s ministry on earth. Isaiah may have been using the phrases wisdom of the wise and discernment of the discerning to signify a lack of spiritual or divine gifts among the Jews. The Greek words sophia and sunesis cover a broad range of mental capabilities that have to do with comprehension. A derivative of sunesis is the Greek word sunetos (soon-etˊ-os) which means to reason out and hence to be intelligent (G4908). In a bad sense, sunetos means conceited (G5429) and therefore, suggests that intelligence or perhaps even an understanding of God’s word without the faith that is required to interpret it correctly may be the root cause of spiritual blindness. Jesus told the man that was born blind, “For judgement I came into the world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). The Greek word that is translated blind, tuphlos (toof-losˊ) means “opaque (as if smoky)” (G5185) and is derived from the word tuphoo (toof-oˊ) which means “to envelop with smoke, i.e. (figurative) to inflate with self-conceit” (G5187).

A conversation between the Pharisees and the man who was born blind after Jesus healed him exposed the Jewish religious leaders’ conceit. The man who had been blind told the Pharisees:

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. (John 9:25-34)

The point that the man who was born blind was trying to make was that his eyes were opened as a result of Jesus’ divine intervention and yet the Pharisees didn’t accept what happened as a miracle. The man who was born blind stated, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The phrase “he could do nothing” consists of four Greek words that convey the absence of power, but also suggests that Jesus’ ability to do miracles did not come from within himself, but from his spiritual connection to God the Father. The man’s statement, “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31) implied that the power Jesus displayed in opening the blind man’s eyes was a direct result of him doing God’s will. On the contrary, the Pharisees looked at the situation from a legalistic perspective and determined, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).

The Pharisees argument, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29) was unfounded because on more than one occasion God declared Jesus to be his Son. Matthew’s gospel states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). Mark’s gospel contains a similar account of Jesus’ baptism and also states about his transfiguration, “A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7). Rather than arguing with the Pharisees about his deity, Jesus approached the man who was born blind after he was excommunicated and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man” (John 9:35). The man responded, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him” (John 9:36). Jesus told the man who was born blind, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:37). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated seen, horasis (horˊ-as-is) has to do with both physical and mental perception and refers specifically to “an inspired appearance” (G3706). With regards to seeing God, horasis means “to know Him, be acquainted with Him, know his character” (G3708). Moses’ role in delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was particularly important because he was God’s designated representative, but Moses was human and therefore, couldn’t replicate God’s divine character. At the end of his life, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin)” (Numbers 27:12-14). Moses’ disobedience at the waters of Meribah is recorded in Numbers 20:2-13 where it states:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Paul explained the significance of Moses and Aaron’s mistake in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Paul indicated that the Rock that Moses struck was Christ, the source of the Israelites’ salvation, and that the waters at Meribah were meant to quench the Israelites’ spiritual thirst. Jesus eluded to this in a conversation he had with a woman of Samaria whom he met at a well. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus went on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus referred to the spiritual drink that he wanted to give the woman at the well as living water (John 4:10) and indicated that quenching “one’s spiritual thirst was synonymous with eternal life (v. 14)” (note on John 4:10-14).

The Israelites associated eternal life with living in the Promised Land because God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as an eternal possession (Genesis 13:15). The problem with the Israelites’ expectation was that they didn’t realize they needed faith in order to enter the land. God told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t bring the Israelites into the Promised Land because they didn’t believe in Him (Numbers 20:12). The Hebrew word that is translated believe, ʾaman (aw-manˊ) “signifies the element of being ‘firm’ or ‘trustworthy’…Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting or believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what He said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with his promises” (H539).

The Pharisees that criticized Jesus for opening the eyes of the man who was born blind on the Sabbath (John 9:16) claimed to be disciples of Moses. They said about Jesus, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” (John 9:29). Their refusal to accept Jesus as the Israelites’ Messiah stemmed from a belief that the Jews were God’s ‘spiritual’ children because they were Abraham’s physical children” (note on John 8:41). Jesus rebuked their unbelief by stating:

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

The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing)” (G4100). Pisteuo is derived from the primary verb peitho (piˊ-tho) which means “to convince (by argument, true or false)” (G3982). Jesus told some of the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, the Pharisees’ spiritual blindness made them think they were members of God’s kingdom, but in actuality, they were going to spend eternity in “the lake of fire” because their sins had not been forgiven (Revelation 20:15).

Endurance

The Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy from a Roman prison and “believed that his death was near…Some suggest that Paul was writing a more personal letter to Timothy because of the fact that he was expecting to die soon” (Introduction to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy). Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering so that he could present himself to God “as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul said:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul used three analogies to get his message across to Timothy. First, Paul told Timothy that he must share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers are mentioned throughout the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry because of the Roman occupation of Israel at that time. The Greek word that Paul used, stratiotes (strat-ee-oˊ-tace) refers to “a (common) warrior” (G4757). Paul’s idea of a good soldier of Christ Jesus was probably someone that was always engaged in spiritual battles. Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Paul told Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). The New King James Version of the Bible states it this way. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” The Apostle Peter also talked about becoming entangled in the affairs of this life in the context of false prophets and teachers. Peter said:

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

Paul’s use of the phrase “the affairs of this life” (2 Peter 2:4) was probably meant to be interpreted in the context of normal everyday life. The Greek word that is translated life in this instance, bios (beeˊ-os) refers to “the present state of existence” and by implication “the means of livelihood” (G979). The struggle between doing God’s will and our own will often centers on the question of how we earn our living. The struggle between the two is clearly portrayed in the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. After the Israelites “set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses” (Numbers 10:13), it says in Numbers 11:1, “the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes.” Moses went on to say:

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)

The strength that was dried up may have been the people’s physical appetite, but there was likely more to what was going on than just a lack of physical nourishment. The Hebrew word that is translated strength, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) in an abstract sense refers to vitality and often represents “the inner being with its thoughts and emotions” and by extension, “the whole person” (H5315). At this point in time, it seems that some of the Israelites were beginning to miss their old way of life. Moses referred to the group of people that had gathered together to complain to each other as “the rabble” (Numbers 11:4). It’s not stated exactly who these people were, but it seems likely that they were dissenters who were opposed to the military campaign that was about to take place as the Israelites approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:1-2, 17-19).

The second analogy that Paul used to encourage Timothy’s endurance was an athlete that is engaged in a competition. Paul said, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). The point that Paul was making was that it is possible for Christians to be disqualified from the spiritual rewards that they expect to receive from God. An example of this principle was the 40 year delay that kept everyone that grumbled against the LORD from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-30), as well as Moses’ exclusion because he broke faith with the LORD (Deuteronomy 32:48-51). Paul told Timothy at the conclusion of his letter, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The crown of righteousness may be the crown that Paul was referring to when he said that an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5). If so, competing according to the rules might have something to do with preaching the gospel accurately, meaning that there isn’t anything added or taken away from the message that Jesus proclaimed to his followers.

Paul’s final analogy, the hard working farmer, indicated that the principle of sowing and reaping came into play with regard to suffering and endurance. Paul said, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Metaphorically, fruit as it relates to work or deeds is “the visible expression of power working inwardly and invisibly, the character of the ‘fruit’ being evidence of the character of the power producing it” (G2590). Paul’s suggestion that the hard-working farmer should receive the first share of the crops meant that the person preaching the gospel would receive some of the benefits of his own message. In other words, the power of the Holy Spirit would spill over into his own life as the preacher of the gospel went about sowing the seeds of God’s word. Paul concluded with the statement, “Think over what I say; for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). Paul seemed to be aware of the fact that his words of encouragement to Timothy weren’t really all that encouraging, at least not from a human perspective. The Greek words that Paul used, noieo (noy-ehˊ-o) which is translated think over and sunesis (soonˊ-es-is) which is translated understand have to do with the faculties of the mind and may be connected with Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Paul told the Ephesians that they must “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24). Basically, what Paul was referring to was the process of sanctification which results in the divine character of God being manifested in the life of the believer (G38).

After the Israelites complained to the LORD about their misfortunes (Numbers 11:1), they were commanded to sanctify or consecrate themselves (Numbers 11:18). Numbers 11:18-20 states:

“And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

The Hebrew word that is translated rejected, maʾaç (maw-asˊ) speaks of “despising one’s spiritual condition” and describes the Israelites’ actions “in refusing to heed God or accept his authority” (H3988). The Israelites were instructed to consecrate themselves, meaning that they had to go through a process of rededicating themselves to the LORD in order to reinstate his blessing upon them.

Moses’ role of keeping the Israelites in check was a difficult one because of the constant friction between God and his chosen people. Moses asked the LORD:

“Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14)

A short while later, Moses’ authority was challenged by his own brother and sister. Numbers 12:1-9 states:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

Moses’ personal relationship with the LORD made it possible for him to understand things that no other human being could. God said that he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Numbers 12:8).

Like Moses, Paul suffered because of the message that the Lord entrusted to him. Paul said that he was suffering, “bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). The Greek word that is translated endure, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) is derived from the words hupo (hoop-oˊ) which refers to an inferior position or condition (G5259) and meno (menˊ-o) which speaks of “a person remaining in a state or condition” (G3306). The literal translation of hupomeno is “to stay under,” meaning to remain in an inferior position (5278). Paul said that he was enduring prison for the sake of the elect, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul believed that he was in prison because it was a part of his ministry, something that he needed to do to in order to finish his race (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul encouraged Timothy to endure suffering because of the assurance that he had of future rewards. Paul said:

The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)

The Greek word that Paul used that is translated reign, sumbasileuo (soom-bas-il-yooˊ-o) refers to a co-regent (G4821). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Jesus talked about his future glory in his high priestly prayer to his Father. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

One of the conditions that Paul identified for being approved by God was being able to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul contrasted being able to rightly handle the word of truth with irreverent babble that leads people into more and more ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16). Another way of describing irreverent babble might be a fruitless or meaningless discussion. Some people talk about God in a way that destroys other people’s faith rather than building it up. Paul used the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who had said that the resurrection had already happened (2 Timothy 2:18), in order to illustrate how a central fact could undermine the entire gospel. Paul encouraged Timothy to cleanse himself from what is dishonorable, so that he would be “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Paul’s final recommendation for endurance had to do with the spiritual battles associated with winning souls for Christ. Paul said:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Paul’s description of salvation as coming to our senses and escaping from the snare of the devil emphasized the importance of spiritual warfare and its role in helping or hindering a person’s belief in God. The Greek word that is translated captured, zogreo (dzogue-rehˊ-o) means “to take alive (make a prisoner of war)” (G2221). The concept of a prisoner of war suggests that the devil is able to render believers useless to God by tricking them into believing things that are untrue.

Paul admonished Timothy “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14) and then went on to explain that it is the condition of our hearts when we share the gospel that makes all the difference in the success or failure of our attempt. Paul told Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The idea that Paul was conveying of presenting ourselves to God was about the genuineness of our faith or you might say the accuracy of our view of ourselves compared to God’s view of us. We might think we are right with God, but when we stand in God’s presence every unconfessed sin will be exposed. Paul wrote in his message to the Hebrews:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

The shrinking back that Paul mentioned may have had something to do with lowering a sail and so slackening the course of the ship. Paul was likely referring to being remiss in holding to the truth of the gospel (G5288). In other words, leaving out some of the details of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to unbelievers is a dangerous compromise that can diminish your faith and result in spiritual ruin. 

God’s protection

King David revealed some of his most intimate moments with the LORD in the psalms that he wrote which were both songs and prayers. Psalm 61 in particular contained a heartfelt plea for God’s protection and blessing on David’s life. David wrote:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)

The Hebrew word that David used that is translated hear in Psalm 61:1, shamahʿ (shaw-mahˊ) means to hear intelligently and conveys the idea of discernment or a comprehension of the spiritual meaning of a message. David said that he called to God from the end of the earth, suggesting that there was a long distance between them or perhaps that they were spiritually separated from each other. The Hebrew word that is translated end, qatseh (kaw-tsehˊ) means an extremity (H7097) and is derived from the word qatsah (kaw-tsawˊ) which means “to cut off; (figurative) to destroy” (H7096). David may have thought that the end of the earth was a place where God wasn’t present with him or at least that God’s presence couldn’t be felt by him and so David needed to call out to the LORD to make him aware of his situation.

David described his heart as being faint. In the Hebrew context, the heart was not an organ that pumped blood through one’s body, but referred to “some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart was considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). When David said that his heart was faint, he meant that it was disconnected from the spiritual source of its strength. David may have been experiencing spiritual warfare and was seeking God’s protection from his spiritual enemy, the devil.

David’s statement, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) was likely connected to the Israelites’ experience in the desert when Moses brought water out of a rock for them (Exodus 17:6).  The Apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that this rock spiritually represented Christ. Paul said:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

David indicated that the rock was higher than he was. The Hebrew word ruwm (room) means to be high in the context of being exalted or to be brought to a position of honor (H7311). The Hebrew word that is translated lead in Psalm 61:2, nachah (naw-khawˊ) means “to lead, to guide, usually in the right direction or on the proper path…This term is also used metaphorically to represent spiritual guidance in righteousness (Psalm 5:8[9]; 27:11; 139:24)” (H5148).

David’s petition went beyond physical protection and dealt with an eternal state of well-being that he knew only God could provide. David said:

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! (Psalm 61:5-7)

A vow is a voluntary promise that is made to God which cannot be annulled (H5088). Numbers 30:2 states, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” To a certain extent, a vow is the equivalent of a covenant except that it is initiated by a human being instead of by God. A vow is like a legal contract in that it cannot be broken without some penalty. David said that God had heard his vows. In other words, David’s vows had been executed and were considered to be in effect. As a result, David had been “given the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:5).

The heritage that David was referring to was most likely connected to the birth of Israel’s Messiah. David seemed to be talking about an eternal kingdom that he would be the leader of. David asked the LORD to “prolong the life of the king” and David wanted his life to “endure to all generations” (Psalm 61:6). His request that “he be enthroned forever before God” suggests that David was talking about an eternal kingdom that does not yet exist.

Jesus was referred to as “the Son of David” on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9) and Matthew’s genealogical record of Jesus birth showed that he was a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1). Surprisingly, Jesus never talked about his royal heritage and he seemed reluctant to take on the role of a king. Jesus’ title of “King of kings and Lord of lords” is only mentioned in the book of Revelation in connection with his second coming (Revelation 19:11-16) and it marks an important shift in the power structure on earth. After Jesus returns to earth, there will be a world war that will end in the destruction of Satan’s armies and “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” will be bound in a bottomless pit for one thousand years (Revelation 19:19-20:2). During that thousand years, there will be a kingdom on earth that will be ruled by Jesus and his followers (Revelation 20:4), but it doesn’t seem to be associated with the nation of Israel. Therefore, it seems likely that David’s petition to be enthroned forever before God had something to do with the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven after the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-21:2).

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day. (Psalm 61:8)

David connected never ending worship of God with the daily performance of his vows. This seems to suggest that vows had an eternal significance in the Hebrew culture and that David saw his worship of God continuing after his death.

A religious group called the Sadducees expected Jesus to clarify the eternal nature of marriage vows when they asked him a hypothetical question about a woman that had married seven brothers, but had no children from any of them. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)

Jesus made it clear in his response to the Sadducees that it is not our relationship to others that matters after the resurrection, but our relationship to God. Jesus’ comment that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, pointed out that the resurrection of the dead does not result in everyone receiving eternal life. The reason why the crowd was astonished when Jesus said this was because they believed that all of Abraham’s physical descendants would receive an eternal inheritance from God. The fact of the matter was that the Jews would be judged along with everyone else and some would experience a second and final death after the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-15).

Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples before he sent them out to preach the gospel contained an admonition that focused their attention on the kind of personal protection that was necessary for their work and who it was that could provide it. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33)

The Greek word that is translated acknowledges in Matthew 10:32, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) means “to ascent, i.e. covenant” and “to speak the same with another, e.g. to say the same things” (G3670). Jesus said that everyone that acknowledges him here on earth will be acknowledged by his Father who is in heaven and whoever denies him will likewise be denied by his Father. Therefore, there is a type of covenant that is initiated by us while we are still alive that involves God and that covenant will have an eternal effect.

David’s final statement in Psalm 61, “So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” (vs. 8), seems to suggest that the performance of David’s vow was a continuous action that transcended time, meaning that David’s covenant with God began at a specific point in time while David was still alive and then continued throughout eternity. The Hebrew word that David used that is translated perform in Psalm 61:8 is shalam (shaw-lamˊ). Shalam means “to be safe, to be completed. The primary meaning is to be safe or uninjured in mind or body (Job 8:6; 9:4). This word is normally used when God is keeping his people safe. In its simple form, this verb also means to be completed or to be finished” (H7999). Given this context, it seems unusual that David would say that he would perform his vows, but one aspect of the meaning of Shalam is that of reciprocity. David may have actually been saying that he would reciprocate God’s vow to him on a continual basis until it reached a point of completion;  perhaps when David received eternal life or was resurrected from the dead.

God’s personal protection of David’s mind and body was linked to two of God’s characteristics that were also associated with Jesus’ ministry. David said of himself, “May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him” (Psalm 61:7). The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only a fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chesed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The characteristic of faithfulness crosses over the boundary between human and divine capability. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness in Psalm 61:7, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) which means stability (H571) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). Aman means to trust or believe and also signifies the element of being “trustworthy.” “Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting and believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

The connection between God’s personal protection and our belief in him was often the focus of Jesus’ attention in the miracles that he performed. On one occasion, Jesus asked two blind men that wanted to be healed, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” After they answered, “Yes, Lord,” Matthew tells us, “Then he touched their eyes, saying. ‘According to your faith be it done to you’” (Matthew 9:28-29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ahˊ) expresses the relation in which one thing stands toward another and speaks of a standard of comparison or something that is conformable to something else (G2596). From that perspective, Jesus was saying that his ability to heal the blind men was dependent on their faith. In other words, the blind men’s faith was dictating what Jesus could or couldn’t do for them.

Numbers 5:5-8 deals with the issue of breaking faith with the LORD. It states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.

According to this passage, breaking faith with the LORD occurs when a person commits any sin against God or another person. When this happens, the sin has to be atoned for so that the relationship can be restored.

The Hebrew word that is translated restitution in Numbers 5:7-8, shuwb (shoob) means to return or go back. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Numbers 5:6-7 indicates that when a person breaks faith with the Lord, “and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong.” The requirement of making full restitution was likely intended to signify a complete change of heart, something similar to being born again in that the sinner was expected to demonstrate a different type of behavior than what that person had previously displayed.

Aaron and his sons were instructed to say a blessing to the people of Israel that reflected the ideal state that God wanted his people to experience as a result of having a relationship with him. Moses told Aaron, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:23-26).

The Hebrew word that is translated peace in Numbers 6:26, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) means safe and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Peace is a key characteristic of the New Covenant that Jesus established shortly before he died on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus linked the peace that he was giving his disciples to the condition of their hearts. He told them not to be troubled or afraid because he knew their hearts were prone to that type of condition and the only way that it could be prevented was by having a harmonized relationship with God (G1515).

Overcoming the world

John concluded his first epistle with a bold statement about the victory that every believer can expect to have as a child of God. John said:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2-5)

John equated overcoming the world with keeping God’s commandments and indicated that our faith in Jesus is what makes this victory possible for us. John’s concept of overcoming the world was most likely linked to the Jewish belief that eternal life could be attained through moral perfection (Matthew 19:16). The Greek word that John used that is translated world, kosmos (kos’-mos) “is first a harmonious arrangement or order, then by extension, adornment or decoration, and came to denote the world or universe, as that which is divinely arranged” (G2889). The reason why John thought it was necessary for Christians to overcome the world was because the present condition of human affairs is alienation from and opposition to God. If we go the way of the world, we will end up separated from God for all of eternity.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and gave them the opportunity to go in and possess the land that he had promised to give their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but along with that opportunity came the obligation for the children of Israel to serve God and keep his commandments. God assured the Israelites that he would bless them for their obedience and said:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

God’s expectation that the children of Israel would walk in his statutes and observe his commandments was based on his deliverance of his chosen people from slavery. God told them, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Leviticus 26:13). God used the euphemism of breaking the bars of your yoke to signify that the Egyptian Pharaoh was no longer the Israelite’s master. The children of Israel were free to do as they pleased. God’s declaration that he had made the Israelites walk erect meant that his sovereign will had been carried out according to his plan of redemption that was set in motion before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-4). All the Israelites had to do was choose which way they wanted to go.

In order to convince the Israelites that it would be best for them to pursue a path of righteousness, God informed his chosen people of the consequences of their disobedience. God said:

“But if you will not listen to me and will not do all these commandments, if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins, and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit.”

“Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins. And I will let loose the wild beasts against you, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your livestock and make you few in number, so that your roads shall be deserted.”

“And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins. And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant. And if you gather within your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.”

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.” (Leviticus 26:14-32)

God’s stern warning was likely intended to inspire the awe and reverence that his chosen people seemed to lack. The grumbling and complaining that was a constant part of Moses’ assignment to lead the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt was a reflection of the Israelites’ negative attitude about leaving behind their lifestyle of spiritual bondage.

The book of Leviticus concludes with an important lesson about the value of a soul. Leviticus 27:1-8 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford.

The Hebrew word that is translated valuation in this passage, erek (eh’-rek) is derived from the word arak (aw-rak’) which means “to set in a row, i.e. arrange, put in order…’To arrange in order’ makes it possible ‘to compare’ one thing with another” (H6186). In many ways, that is what happens when we get involved in activities in the world. We compare ourselves with other people and we often think we are better than they are.

Jesus talked about the value of our soul in the context of compromising our commitment to him in order to gain an advantage in the world. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26). Jesus used the same word interchangeably for life and soul indicating that the part of a person that is saved or becomes born again is the soul. Salvation is comparable to the redemption of persons that was discussed in Leviticus 27 except that salvation is a permanent state of redemption that can only be attained through a spiritual transaction with God. When Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for the sins of all of mankind, he completed the necessary transaction on our behalf. Thus, we can experience the benefits or gain from this transaction without doing anything ourselves. Jesus asked the question, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In other words, if we work to get ahead in the world and neglect the salvation of our souls, we won’t experience any real benefit.

John concluded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4). John’s statement had to do with personal conquest. The point I believe John was trying to make was that at the end of our lives there is only one thing that really matters and that’s the salvation of our souls. In order to be saved, we need to be born again (John 3:3) and John made it clear that the only way we can do that is by faith. The Apostle Paul talked about this in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Paul indicated that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore, grace and faith work together to accomplish the task of saving a soul. You might say that grace is God’s part and faith is our part, but Paul went on to say that “this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe this was the point Jesus was getting at when he asked the question, “what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). A person that is in unsaved state, is spiritually bankrupt and has no means of redeeming himself. It is only through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life.

John seemed to be addressing a concern that some believers had when he said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15). Like the Israelites who grumbled and complained about everything that didn’t seem to be right with them, some of the 1st Century Christians may have expected a life of ease after they committed their lives to Christ. John emphasized the fact that God hears our prayers, but also pointed out that it is only when we ask for something according to God’s will that we know we have the requests that we have asked of him (1 John 5:15). One of the evidences that we have overcome the world is that our will and God’s will are aligned with each other.

John’s message about overcoming the world was continued in the book of Revelation. Each of the seven churches that the Lord instructed John to write to was encouraged to overcome a difficult circumstance in order to obtain a reward. The letter to the church at Ephesus stated, “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NKJV) and the church in Smyrna was told, “He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NKJV). The Lord told the church in Pergamos, “To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NKJV). Each of these spiritual rewards was connected with the kingdom of heaven that Jesus talked about throughout his ministry on earth and seem to form a comprehension picture of what believers will experience after the resurrection of the dead. The final piece of the puzzle was given to the church at Laodicea. The Lord told them, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21, NKJV). In this instance, sitting down on a throne denotes the assumption of power and rule over a specific dominion. When Jesus sat down with his Father on His throne, his conquest over the world became a reality in that he was able to exercise his authority over it (Ephesians 1:20-23). Jesus indicated that we who have overcome the world will do the same after we are resurrected from the dead.

Hypocrites

Jesus confronted the religious leaders that wanted him to follow certain traditions that were contrary to God’s commandments. Jesus exclaimed, “So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:6-9). The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage-player)” (G5273). The word hupokrites is derived from hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin’-om-ahee) which has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong (G2919). One way of looking at hypocrites is to see that there is a false pretense that is driving their behavior. Hypocrites pretend to be something they are not in order to get you to draw a wrong conclusion.

An example of hypocritical behavior is the story that Jacob’s sons told him in order to convince him that his favorite son Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:32). Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father gave him a special coat and loved him more than the rest of his sons (Genesis 37:4). After he told his brothers about two prophetic dreams he had of becoming a world ruler (Genesis 7-11), Joseph’s brothers conspired against him to kill him (Genesis 37:18) and ended up selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:28). “Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, ‘This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ And he identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:31-33).

Joseph wasn’t actually dead, but his brothers wanted Jacob to believe that he was so that they wouldn’t have to explain why he didn’t come back with them when they returned from the pasture. Jacob’s conclusion that Joseph was torn to pieces by a wild animal was based on the false pretense that the blood on his coat was his own and not that of a goat (Genesis 37:31). The reason why Jacob’s sons were hypocrites was not because they lied to their father, but because they pretended not to know what happened to their brother. When they showed Jacob Joseph’s coat, they said, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) as if they didn’t recognize it, but having stripped Joseph of his robe of many colors (Genesis 37:23), they knew exactly who it belonged to.

Jesus explained to his disciples that hypocrisy was a heart problem. Rather than worrying about whether or not they had defiled themselves by eating without washing their hands, Jesus said, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). What Jesus meant by being defiled was that fellowship with God had been broken off. Jesus asked his disciples, “Are you also still without understanding?” (Matthew 15:16) to point out that a connection with God was necessary for spiritual truth to make sense to them. The Greek word that is translated understanding, asunetos (as-oon’-ay-tos) means unintelligent and by implication wicked (G801). Jesus asked, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:17-18).

Jesus’ statement, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” (Matthew 15:18) was referring to the origin of thoughts and indicated that the heart was equivalent to the mind. The Greek word kardia (kar-dee’-ah) comes from the Latin word kar (cor, “heart”). “Kardia is the heart, the chief organ of physical life, and occupies the most important place in the human system. By an easy transition the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. It is used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life: the seat of total depravity, the principle in the center of man’s inward life that defiles all he does (Mt 15:19, 20)” (G2588). The idea that our words come out of our hearts was not a new concept that Jesus introduced, but a reminder that the heart reveals the inner man’s true condition which is affected by having a sinful human nature.

Jacob’s false conclusion that his son had been devoured by a fierce animal could have been corrected by his other sons admitting they had sold Joseph into slavery, but they were unwilling to confess their sin. Genesis 37:34-35 states, “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.” The Hebrew word that is translated comforted, nacham (naw-kham’) means to repent. “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” (H5162).

Jacob’s refusal to be comforted about Joseph’s death suggests that he was struggling spiritually to understand why God had taken his son away from him. Jacob lacked the spiritual strength he needed to get over the devastating news that his beloved son was gone. The Apostle Paul indicated that God is the source of spiritual strength. Paul said, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:14-16). It seems reasonable to assume that the reason God didn’t give Jacob the strength he needed to repent of his son’s death was that Joseph wasn’t actually dead. Joseph was living in Egypt as a slave.

Genesis 38:1 states, “It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers and turned aside to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.” In this instance, time “connotes ‘time’ conceived as an opportunity or season” (H6256) and the words turned aside signify “God’s active, sovereign, and mighty involvement in the affairs of men” (H5186). One way of looking at Judah’s situation was that God decided to teach him a lesson, somewhat like the parables Jesus used to convey spiritual truth. What happened was that Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons (Genesis 38:2-5), but after the oldest one got married, God put him to death because he was wicked (Genesis 38:7). When the second son refused to give offspring to his brother by conceiving a child with his widow, the LORD put him to death also (Genesis 38:10). Finally, “Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house, till Shelah my son grows up’ — for he feared that he would die, like his brothers” (Genesis 38:11).

Judah may have thought he had outsmarted the LORD when he kept his youngest son from marrying his brother’s widow, but God used Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar to convict Judah of his hypocrisy. Genesis 38:12-19 indicates that God was working in Judah’s life in spite of his unwillingness to do things his way. It states:

In the course of time the wife of Judah, Shua’s daughter, died. When Judah was comforted, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. And when Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,” she took off her widow’s garments and covered herself with a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He turned to her at the roadside and said, “Come, let me come in to you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you give me, that you may come in to me?” He answered, “I will send you a young goat from the flock.” And she said, “If you give me a pledge, until you send it—” He said, “What pledge shall I give you?” She replied, “Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. Then she arose and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.

Judah didn’t think anyone would find out about him having sex with a prostitute. Three months later, when he was told his daughter-in-law was pregnant by immorality, Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Genesis 38:24).

The critical point in Judah’s situation with his daughter-in-law was that he thought his secret was safe and that he could get away with condemning Tamar even though he was the one that was guilty of committing a sin. One thing that stood out about Tamar’s confrontation of Judah was that he couldn’t deny that he was the one that had gotten her pregnant. Genesis 38:25-26 states, “As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.’ And she said, ‘Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah identified them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.'” The similarity between Tamar’s statement “Please identify whose these are” and the statement Jacob’s sons made when they showed him Joseph’s coat, “please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (Genesis 37:32) may have been what caused Judah to admit, “She is more righteous than I.” It seems that Judah not only became aware of his hypocrisy, but also repented of his sin because he refrained from having any further sexual contact with his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:26).

An interesting thing to note about Judah’s circumstances was that unlike Jacob’s reaction to losing his beloved son Joseph, Judah was comforted after his wife’s death (Genesis 38:12). The process of grieving for a loved one may be likened to repentance because of the involvement of the heart. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis is on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course” (H5162). What this seems to suggest is that being comforted means a person has grown closer to God or is more open to God’s influence in his life. Spiritual strength is similar to physical strength in that there is an increase in vigor (G2901). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be strengthened with power in their inner beings “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). It could be that after Judah’s wife died, he was open to God’s influence in his life and that’s why he was able to see that he had wronged Tamar and needed to repent.

Judah’s statement about his daughter-in-law Tamar, “She is more righteous than I” indicated that both he and Tamar believed in the LORD. The Hebrew word that is translated righteous, tsadaq (tsaw-dak’) has to do with justification by faith. “The basic meaning of tasadaq is to be righteous, be in the right, be justified, be just…This word is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance. Thus a man is accounted or dealt with as righteous. It is really the reception and exercise of tsedeq (6664)” (H6663). Tsadaq is derived from the word tsedaqah (tsed-aw-kaw’) which is translated righteousness in Genesis 15:6 where it states Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Tamar’s faith in the LORD caused her to be listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew indicated, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:2-3).

Jesus didn’t discriminate between Jews and Gentiles when it came to faith. He departed from Israel for a short period of time and entered the district of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21). While he was there, Jesus was approached by a woman described as a Canaanite from that region. The woman cried out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). The Greek word that is translated mercy, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) means “to feel sympathy with the misery of another” (G1653) and is derived from eheos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery” (G1656).

Jesus didn’t immediately respond to the Canaanite woman’s plea for mercy. In fact he tried to deter her from seeking his help. He answered her, “‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matthew 15:24-28). The Canaanite woman referred to Jesus as Lord, indicating that she recognized his supreme authority over all of mankind (G2962). Her response, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” showed that her attitude toward Jesus was respectful and submissive to his will, but the Canaanite woman’s faith was what got Jesus’ attention.

Jesus responded to the Canaanite woman’s request because she believed he was able to do what she asked of him. Jesus said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). Jesus connected the woman’s faith to her desire for her daughter to be made well, suggesting that it was the woman’s strong desire that caused her faith to be great or you might say big enough to get the job done (G3173). The Greek word that is translated desire, thelo (thel’-o) stresses the involvement of the will. Thelo can mean to wish something, but it implies volition and purpose, to be resolved or determined that something will happen (G2309). Jesus’ command, “Be it done” meant that he had acquiesced or gave in to the woman’s desire to have her daughter healed. Even though she was not a Jew, the woman received the same treatment from Jesus as the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment and write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Compassion

One of the essential characteristics of God’s plan of salvation is its impartial treatment of sinners. God’s word makes it clear that every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living and that we are all “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23). Beginning with Abraham, God counted righteousness to mankind based on each individual’s belief in his ability to take away the effects of sin. Through justification, God declares believers to be innocent of all charges that are brought against them in his heavenly court of law (G1344).

The life of Jacob clearly portrays justification by faith. You might conclude that Jacob did everything wrong and yet, he ended up on the right side of God’s concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. God helped Jacob to overcome the circumstances that threatened to ruin his life. Jacob was the younger and weaker of Isaac’s twin sons, but he managed to steal his brother’s birthright and tricked his father into blessing him. Jacob also obtained the blessing of Abraham which entitled him to possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 28:13-14). With all of these advantages going for him, you would think Jacob would be content, but he continued to pursue prosperity and wound up with two wives that were just as discontent with the status quo as he was.

Jacob’s uncle Laban had two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17). Both of these women became Jacob’s wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew word that is translated hated, sane (saw-nay’) is an antonym of the Hebrew verb ‘ahab (H157), meaning to love. The reason why Jacob hated Leah may have been because she reminded him of the sin he committed against his father Isaac (Genesis 27:19). Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife, but on the evening of his wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel in the consummation of their marriage (Genesis 29:25).

Leah may not have had the affection of her husband, but she gained an initial advantage over her sister Rachel by giving Jacob four sons to carry on his legacy. After Leah’s fourth son was born, Rachel envied her sister and decided to give her servant Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that she could give birth on her behalf (Genesis 30:3). “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son” (Genesis 30:5-6). God’s vindication of Rachel showed that he was being impartial toward each of Jacob’s wives. God could see that both Rachel and Leah were suffering from the disadvantage of having to share their husband. Rachel said God had heard her voice, in other words God understood Rachel’s situation and showed her compassion.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when some people brought a paralytic to him lying on a bed, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2). Another way of describing what happened would be to say that Jesus was moved with compassion or you might say affected by the people bringing a paralytic to him to be healed. Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) indicating that he saved the paralytic man. Jesus then explained to the cynics who were watching him that salvation and physical healing were essentially the same thing. Matthew 9:4-7 states:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

The critical point that Jesus wanted to make clear was that the paralytic’s well-being was dependent on both his physical and spiritual health. The paralytic wouldn’t benefit from being saved if he had to continue living as a cripple and he wouldn’t be satisfied being able to walk if the guilt of his sins continued to torment him.

Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). The Greek word that is translated easier, eukopoteros (yoo-kop-o’-ter-os) suggests that it was Jesus’ intention to eliminate the paralytic’s grief or perhaps to improve his mental health (G2123). It seems likely that the paralytic’s situation had caused him to become depressed and he may have even thought about suicide in order to escape his unbearable circumstances. Jesus’ command to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6) meant that Jesus expected the paralytic to immediately start living a normal life.

Rachel viewed her moral struggle with her sister Leah as being linked to her physical ability to give her husband a son. After Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a second son, “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed'” (Genesis 30:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated wrestled, pathal (paw-thal’) means to struggle or figuratively to be morally tortuous (H6617). The Hebrew word Yakowl (yaw-kole’) or prevailed in English refers specifically to physical ability (H3201). Even though Leah had given Jacob four sons and Bilhah had given birth to the two she claimed as her own, Rachel saw herself as having won the moral victory over her sister.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Rachel and Leah’s battle. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob two more sons and then Leah herself conceived and bore Jacob two more sons, bringing the total of Jacob’s sons to ten. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!'” (Genesis 30:22-24). The Hebrew word that is translated reproach, cherpah (kher-paw’) denotes a state of disgrace. “The disgrace found in a person or a nation become the occasion for taunting the oppressed. The disgraced received abuse by the words spoken against them and by the rumors which were spread about them” (H2781).

Jesus’ disciple Matthew who had been a tax collector for the Roman government was among the class of citizens that we might refer to today as low life or the scum of the earth. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

A sinner is a person that practices sin as a lifestyle. This category of people would most likely include prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Jesus referred to these people as being sick and in need of a physician. The Greek word that is translated physician, iatros (ee-at-ros’) refers to physical treatment, but figuratively it speaks of spiritual healing (G2395/G2390).

Jesus’ quote, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” came from the book of Hosea which focused on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Hosea was instructed to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s message was one of mercy and redemption and indicated that God was “concerned with the attitude of the hearts of men rather than the ritualistic performance of religious acts, and he values a relationship with his people more than outward ceremonies” (note on Hosea 6:6). Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words steadfast love and mercy are often used interchangeably in the Bible and refer to God’s compassion toward sinners (G1656).

Mercy is God’s attitude toward those who are in distress. The Greek word eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery. Eleos is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Jesus used the example of new wine being put into fresh wineskins to explain how regeneration makes it possible for believers to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine- skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). The Greek term that is translated preserved, suntereo (soon-tay-reh’-o) has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his ability to keep us from being separated from God.

Jesus used the phrase, “take heart” (Matthew 9:2, 22) to signify the effect of being saved. The King James version of the Bible translates the phrase take heart as “be of good cheer.” The Greek word tharseo (thar-seh’-o) means to have courage (G2293) and is derived from the word tharsos (thar’-sos) which means to be daring or to have boldness (G2294). It could be that Jesus used the word tharseo in order to communicate the idea of activating one’s faith by making a bold move or what we might call today taking a leap of faith. Jesus seemed to be encouraging the recipients of his grace to act out the amazing transformation that was taking place inside of them.

Genesis 30:25 indicates that “as soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.'” It was somewhat of a daring move for Jacob to attempt to separate himself from Laban when he had 12 children to feed and no means of supporting them. Thus far, the only wages Jacob had received from Laban were his wives Rachel and Leah. When Laban tried to convince him to stay a little longer, “Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?'” (Genesis 30:29-30). Jacob realized that he had been blessed by God, but the benefit had gone to Laban instead of himself because of his agreement to work for Laban in exchange for his wives. Jacob wanted to gain his independence, but he agreed to continue working for Laban, probably because he lacked the courage to try and make it on his own.

After Jacob made a deal to continue serving him, Laban cheated Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:35-36), so Jacob resorted to unusual methods of producing speckled and spotted livestock in order to gain an advantage over his adversary (Genesis 30:37-39). It seems likely that Jacob’s tactics were not only unconventional, but also involved some type of sorcery. Jacob may have thought he needed to fight fire with fire so to speak, but the bottom line was that God’s blessing was all that Jacob needed to succeed and yet, he continued to do things his own way and managed to get ahead in spite of his lack of faith (Genesis 30:43).

Jesus confronted two blind men when they came to him to be healed. He asked them directly, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). Jesus wanted to know if these two men were willing to entrust their spiritual well-being to him as their Savior. The two blind men replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28) indicating that they recognized Jesus’ deity (G4962) and wanted to be saved. Jesus responded, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ah’) suggests that the blind men’s faith in Christ was necessary for them to be healed. By putting their trust in Jesus, the blind men were giving their Savior permission to do a miracle on their behalf.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Proclaiming the gospel meant that Jesus was telling everyone how to be saved. The fact that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages suggests that he was leaving no stone unturned in his effort to inform the masses that God’s kingdom was open for business. Matthew indicated Jesus was healing every disease and every affliction and “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

The Greek word that is translated compassion in Matthew 9:36, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) is derived from the word splagchnon (splangkh’-non). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections. It is used always in the plural, and properly denotes ‘the physical organs of the intestines’…the word is rendered ‘tender mercy’ in Luke 1:78…and ‘inward affection’ in 2 Corinthians 7:15” (G4698). The primary connection between compassion and God’s mercy is that compassion expresses the motivation behind God’s plan of salvation. The King James version indicates that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). In other words, the compassion Jesus felt inside himself prompted him to heal the people of their diseases and afflictions.

Jesus used the analogy of sheep without a shepherd to express the unbeliever’s need to be taught the word of God. The Greek definition of a sheep is “something that walks forward (a quadruped)” (G4263). Jesus may have chosen sheep to represent the multitudes that sought his help during his ministry on Earth because sheep were known for their tendency to go astray and had to rely on someone else to guide them to their destination. Jesus described the crowds as helpless and harassed (Matthew 9:36). The King James version indicates that Jesus had compassion “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad.” Another way of saying it might be that Jesus was moved with compassion because he saw that the fabric of the Jews’ society was being torn apart and he knew that they were in jeopardy of losing their political identity.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus probably described the salvation of souls as a harvest because it was the result of someone’s intentional effort and occurred at a specific time each year. There was a certain amount of reliability and necessity to the process of agriculture that made it a desirable occupation. Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” suggesting that there was an abundance of work to be done, even more than the labor market could handle. One of the reasons Jesus instructed his disciples to beg God to send out evangelists to preach the gospel was because there was a lack of faith on the part of the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 9:34) and if the job was left to them, no one would be saved.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!