The turnaround

During the 40 years that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness because of their unbelief, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). There was never a moment that the people of Israel didn’t know where they were supposed to be when they were in the wandering in desert, but after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, things changed dramatically. God expected his chosen people to start walking by faith and not by sight. The fall of Jericho was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Ai with just a few thousands men. Joshua tells us, “And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:4-5). The people of Israel were overwhelmed with fear when they realized that their success in fighting against the inhabitants of Canaan was not guaranteed. Even Joshua was ready to give up and thought all was lost because of the Israelites defeat (Joshua 7:8-9). In order to set the record straight, God told Joshua that the problem was due to the camp being defiled by things that were devoted to destruction. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

God’s statement, “I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12) was not a threat, but was meant to help the Israelites turn their situation around. Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “Every way of a man in right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” When the LORD weighs the heart, he reveals its contents. According to Psalm 139, God knows everything about us. It states:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12)

The darkness that is referred to here is associated with disorder and is distinguished and separated from light. “In subsequent uses, whether used in physical or a symbolic sense, it describes confusion and uncertainty (Job 12:25; 37:19), evil done in secret” (H2822) and “to the darkness sometimes surrounding persons that requires them to trust in God” (H2825). The people of Israel were operating in spiritual darkness when they attacked the city of Ai, but weren’t aware of it until they were overcome and forced to flee and thirty-six men were killed (Joshua 7:4-5).

God exposed Achan’s sin and required the people of Israel to destroy the things that were devoted to destruction (Joshua 7:10-12). When Joshua confronted Achan, he said to him, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). Achan’s confession revealed that he had broken one of the Ten Commandments and had tried to conceal his sin by hiding the things he had taken from Jericho under the dirt inside his tent (Joshua 7:21). There is no indication that Achan felt any remorse for what he had done or that he was willing to repent of his sin. Therefore, Achan, his family, and all his property were destroyed along with all the things that he had taken from Jericho (Joshua 7:25). Afterward, the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (Joshua 8:1-2). The phrase that God used, arise, go up had to do with the people of Israel being back in fellowship with God and their spiritual power being restored. There was an immediate turnaround in the Israelites circumstances once they did what God told them to and dealt with Achan’s sin.

Psalm 33 focuses on the steadfast love of the LORD and shows us how this characteristic of God causes us to experience turnarounds in our lives because it draws us closer to him when we are in trouble. The Psalmist begins by focusing our attention on God’s faithfulness. He states:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness. (Psalm 33:1-4)

According to the psalmist, everything God does is done in faithfulness. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness, ʾemunah (em-oo-nawˊ) means “to remain in one place” and “appears to function as a technical term meaning ‘a fixed position.’” “On the other hand, the word can represent the abstract idea of ‘truth’…The essential meaning of emunah is ’established’ or ‘lasting,’ ‘continuing,’ ‘certain’” (H530).

God’s dependability and reliability are important qualities when it comes to trust. In order for us to trust or believe in God, there has to be a sense of permanence in his character and actions (H539). The song of Moses refers to Israel’s future Messiah as The Rock and says about him, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tsur (tsoor) “means rocky wall or cliff (Exodus 17:6; 33:21-22). It frequently means rocky hill or mountains (Isaiah 2:10, 19)…The rock (or mountain) serves as a figure of security (Psalm 61:2), firmness (Job 14:18), and something that endures (Job 19:24)…The word means boulder in the sense of a rock large enough to serve as an altar (Judges 6:21). Rock frequently pictures God’s support and defense of his people (Deuteronomy 32:15)” (H6697). Jesus was identified not only as “the spiritual Rock” that followed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), but also as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” because of Israel’s unbelief (Romans 9:33).

Jesus demonstrated his ability to turn the most impossible situation around when he died on the cross and then, was resurrected three days later. By paying the penalty for every sin that had been or ever would be committed, Jesus opened the door for God to erase the errors that cause believers to fall short with regards to accomplishing God’s will for their lives. Psalm 33:5 indicates that God “loves righteousness and justice” and “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” In order for the earth to be full of the steadfast love of the LORD, there would have to be a limitless amount of it to go around. Essentially, what the psalmist was saying was that God doesn’t withhold his steadfast love from certain people. It flows freely to anyone that wants or needs it. The Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊ-sed) appears three times in Psalm 33 and each time it is translated steadfast love. “The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement, and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. Marital love is often related to cheçed. Marriage certainly is a legal matter, and there are legal sanctions for infractions. Yet the relationship, if sound, far transcends mere legalities. The prophet Hosea applies the analogy to Yahweh’s cheçed to Israel within the covenant (e.g. 2:21). Hence, ‘devotion’ is sometimes the single English word best capable of capturing the nuances of the original. Hebrew writers often underscore the element of steadfastness (or strength) by pairing cheçed with ʾemet (H571 – “truth, reliability”) and ʾemunah (H530 – “faithfulness”)…The Bible prominently uses the term cheçed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to the covenant” (H2617).

The reciprocity that is involved in cheçed makes it clear to us that God does not show his lovingkindness to people that want nothing to do with him and yet, we know that God has made a way for everyone’s sins to be forgiven. The psalmist tells us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Psalm 33:13-15)

The Hebrew word that is translated observes, biyn (bene) refers to God’s ability to “to separate mentally (or distinguish)” and “basically means to understand” (H995). God is not only aware of what is going on here, but also understands the implications of everything people do. The Book of Hebrews explains that Jesus’ human nature was the same as our own and it enabled him to be tempted just like us. It states, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). God’s grace and mercy are dispensed from heaven without being earned or deserved. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us is what causes us to be saved and be given a new life. Paul said:

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.

In the same way that Christians are created for good works that God prepares beforehand for them to walk in them, so also the nation of Israel was created by God to accomplish a specific objective. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 explains that the Israelites were brought in to possess the Promised Land because of the wickedness of the nations that were living there. It states:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

“The land of Canaan became the Promised Land the Lord gave to His people based on his oath. He brought them into the land as He had promised by oath to their fathers (Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; 6:10; Joshua 1:6; Judges 2:1; Jeremiah 11:5)” (H7650). Psalm 33:16-17 reiterates this point by explaining why Israel’s military strength was useless to them when they attacked Ai at first (Joshua 7:2-5). It states:

The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

The psalmist used the words saved, delivered, salvation, and rescue to remind us that there is a spiritual dimension to warfare that takes precedence over the physical aspects in determining the outcome of a battle. Paul concluded his letter to the Ephesians with a discussion of spiritual warfare. Paul indicated that we must be strong in the Lord and fight in the strength of his might. The Greek word that is translated be strong, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) is derived from the words en (en) which denotes a (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to make strong” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which specifies “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411).

Psalm 33:18-19 states:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

God’s ultimate objective for every person is to deliver their soul from death. The soul is our inner being with its thoughts and emotions. When the Hebrew word that is translated soul, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) “is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315). That’s why the salvation that God provides for us applies not only to our body, but also to our soul, and our spirit (Matthew 10:28).

Psalm 33 concludes with the reassurance that God’s steadfast love can sustain us in our time of need. Verses 20-22 state:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

The psalmist connected waiting with the soul, suggesting that it is a spiritual activity or you might say a spiritual exercise. The Israelites were impatient and often failed to ask God for help when they needed it. Psalm 106 recounts their journey through the wilderness and notes that they soon forgot God’s work of deliverance and “they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13).

The Israelites’ defeat at Ai was perceived to be God’s fault because he had removed his protection (Joshua 7:8-9), but it was Achan’s sin that the people of Israel needed to deal with. God told them, “They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12). After “they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones…the LORD said to Joshua, Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting me with you, and arise go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city and his land” (Joshua 8:1). During the battle, the army of Ai “left the city open and pursued Israel” (Joshua 8:17). Joshua 8:18-20 tells us:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers.

When Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city, there was a change in their circumstances and the Israelites began to overtake Ai in the battle. Joshua’s act of faith caused a shift in the spiritual dimension of Israel’s warfare to take place. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back in Joshua 8:20, haphak (haw-fakˊ) has to do with transformational change. “In its simplest meaning, haphak expresses the turning from one side to another” and is translated converted in Isaiah 60:5. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). Likewise, the turnaround in the Israelites’ battle with Ai was a result of the Spirit of God getting involved because of Joshua’s act of faith.

God’s representative

The Old Testament prophets were considered to be inspired spokesmen for God. “Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the example for all later prophets. He displayed every aspect of a true prophet, both in his call, his work, his faithfulness, and, at times, his doubts. Only Abraham is called a prophet before Moses (Genesis 20:7)” (H5030). A prophet was someone “who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart.” When Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam and asked him to curse the people of Israel, Balaam refused to do it (Numbers 22:14). “Balaam lived a long distance away from Moab, yet he must have been quite famous for Balak to have known of him and have sent for him. Archeological evidence from Deir Alla indicates that Balaam was highly regarded by pagans five hundred years after his death. His activity is described as divination and sorcery (Numbers 22:7, cf. Numbers 23:23; 24:1)” (note on Numbers 22:5). The fact that Balaam was known as a false prophet, a sorcerer if you will, didn’t stop him from being under God’s authority and control. After Balaam refused to go with the elders of Moab, Numbers 22:15-21 states:

Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

God allowed Balaam to go with the princes of Moab, but he also made it clear that Balaam had to obey his instructions. Balaam referred to the LORD as “my God” (Numbers 22:18) even though he was not an Israelite and had not been called to be a prophet. Balaam told Balak the king of Moab, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38).

Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel was driven by fear (Numbers 22:3) and the hope that he could stop God’s chosen people from overtaking the land of Moab (Numbers 22:6). After Balaam delivered his first discourse, Balak realized his plan wasn’t working. “And Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.’ And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth’” (Numbers 23:11-12). Balaam’s second discourse made it even clearer that Balak’s attempts to curse the Israelites were futile. Balaam stated:

Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
    and the shout of a king is among them.
God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)

Balaam indicated that there was no enchantment or magic spell that would work against the descendants of Jacob and Balak’s attempts to use divination against them were useless (Numbers 23:23). The reason Balaam gave for Israel’s special treatment was that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Balaam also specified that God’s word was linked to his covenant with Jacob and he could not revoke it (Numbers 23:20).

The Hebrew word qesem (kehˊ-sem), which is translated divination in Numbers 23:23 describes the cultic practice of foreign nations that was prohibited in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10) and was considered a great sin. “False prophets used divination to prophecy in God’s name, but God identified them as false (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6); and pledged to remove such practices from Israel (Ezekiel 13:23)” (H7081). One of the last mentions of divination in the Old Testament appears in Zechariah 10 which deals with the restoration of Judah and Israel and makes mention of God’s concern for his people. Zechariah 10:2-5 states:

For the household gods utter nonsense,
    and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
    and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
    they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

“My anger is hot against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
    and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
From him shall come the cornerstone,
    from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
    from him every ruler—all of them together.
They shall be like mighty men in battle,
    trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
    and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.

In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone. After he told the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-40), in which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45), Jesus asked the Jews in the temple that had gathered to listen to him:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:42-44).

John’s gospel opens with a description of Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). John said, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). John went on to say, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). John connected the Word of God to God’s creative acts and said, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Greek word that is translated known, exogeomai (ex-ayg-ehˊ-om-ahee) means “to consider out (aloud)” and also “to bring out or lead out, to take the lead, be the leader” (G1834). One of the primary reasons Jesus came into the world was to make God known and he did it in a way that had never been done before. Hebrews 1:1-4 states:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The phrase “exact imprint” (Hebrews 1:3) refers to the representation of God’s nature being stamped on Jesus as if it was being permanently engraved on a stone. With respect to the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), you might say that Jesus was the embodiment of the Ten Commandments in that through Jesus, the words that God wrote were being brought to life, enacted by way of Jesus’ sinless human nature.

Jesus’ encounter with an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda illustrates the effect that God’s word has on sinners. Jesus began by posing the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The King James Version of the Bible translates Jesus’ question “Wilt thou be made whole?” This suggests that one of the effects of sin is that it makes us to feel like there is something missing in our lives. Jesus wanted to know if the man had a desire for his life to get better. That might seem like a stupid question except that the man’s response showed that he didn’t believe it was possible for him to do what was necessary for his healing to take place (John 5:7). Jesus then commanded the man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The Greek words that are translated get up, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro); take up, airo (ahˊ-ee-ro); and walk, peripateo (per-ee-pat-ehˊ-o) all have a spiritual connotation that indicate Jesus was expecting the man to acknowledge his divine authority. John 5:9 states, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Later, when Jesus encountered the man a second time, he told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ statement made it clear that doing what God tells us to can restore us to health, but we must change our behavior if we want to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

When the Jews criticized Jesus for healing the invalid man on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working. This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus’ equality with God was evident in both his actions and the things that he said. In the Old Testament, when a prophet spoke on behalf of God, he would typically preface his statement with “thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7), but Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus talked as if he was God, as when he commanded the man he healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ comment about the ongoing work of God (John 5:17) had to do with God’s plan of salvation, which had yet to be completed. Jesus indicated that his ministry was a part of God’s plan of salvation and that the things he was doing, like healing the invalid man, were connected to what God wanted to accomplish. Jesus went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Even though Jesus was equal with God, he said that he couldn’t do anything of his own accord, meaning that he could not act independently and decide on his own what he should do in any given situation. In that sense, Jesus was merely God’s representative on earth. The Greek word poieo (poy-ehˊ-o) is used four times in John 5:19 to emphasize the importance of action in the spiritual realm. Poieo is “spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses, i.e. completed action” (G4160). Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). The word sees in this verse refers to spiritual perception and suggests that Jesus had to rely on spiritual discernment in order to carry out his assignment of dying for the sins of the world. The phrase can do nothing means that Jesus in an absolute sense had no power of his own to rely on. Jesus could only do that which he was able to discern through spiritual perception was the will of his Father. Jesus spoke of himself as being sent by his Father (John 5:23). The Greek word that is translated sent, pempo (pemˊ-po) means to dispatch “especially on a temporary errand” (G3992) and does not necessarily denote any official capacity or authoritative sending. Jesus came into the world as a servant (Matthew 20:28) and as a human was limited in his ability to do things, just as we are.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)

Jesus indicated that he had been given authority to execute judgment. An example of Jesus exercising this authority is given in Matthew 9:1-8 where it states:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 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. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus used the authority that he had been given to execute judgment to forgive the sins of people that were suffering from various illnesses and physical defects. Also, Jesus gave his disciples the ability to do the same. Matthew 10:1 states, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus explained to the Jews that he was been given the power to release people from the penalty of their sins because he wasn’t doing it for his own benefit. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then, Jesus went on to say, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews understood that it wasn’t because he was a nice guy that he was going around forgiving peoples’ sins. God wanted his people to be healthy and happy. The Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The problem that the Jews had with God’s plan of salvation was not that his grace was sufficient to remove their sins, but that God’s grace was capable of getting rid of the sins of everyone. Peter said that God is not willing that any should perish and that all would repent of their sins. Jesus made God’s will perfectly clear to the Jews during his ministry by associating with the outcasts of society and by becoming the friend of tax collectors and sinners.