Deception

After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, Balak the king of Moab devised a plot to keep the Israelites from entering his territory. Balak offered Balaam, a well-known false prophet, fees to pronounce a curse on the Israelites so that they would be powerless to overtake him (Numbers 22:6-7). Balak’s plan backfired and instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed the Israelites four times (Numbers 23-24), but that was not the end of the story. Numbers 25:1-3 tells us, “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The Hebrew word that is translated whore, zanah (zaw-nawˊ) means “to commit adultery,” but in this instance it is being used figuratively to refer to “the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah” (H2181). Deuteronomy explains from God’s perspective what was going on when Balak tried to curse the Israelites. Numbers 23:3-6 states:

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)

It says in Deuteronomy 23:5 that the LORD God was in love with the people of Israel in the same way that a man and a woman have a strong emotional attachment to each other (H157). The LORD protected the Israelites from Balaam because of his deep affection for them. When the Israelites participated in the sacrifices to the Moabite gods and bowed down to worship them, they were in essence disassociating themselves from the God that had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and who had provided for all their needs throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

It says in Numbers 25:3, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The Hebrew word that is translated yoked, tsamad (tsaw-madˊ) has to do with being like-minded, two or more people thinking the same way about things. The Moabites likely had a mental framework that excluded God’s existence, but it wasn’t obvious to the Israelites. In the book of Revelation, John was instructed to write letters to the seven churches that pointed out the things that each of them was doing right and the things that they were doing wrong. In his letter to the church in Pergamum, the Lord told John to write, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The Greek word that is translated stumbling block, maʿaqash (mah-ak-awshˊ) means “a crook (in a road). Maʿaqash is derived from the word ʿaqash (aw-kashˊ) which means “to knot or distort; figuratively to pervert” (H6140). One way of looking at what was going on between the Israelites and the Moabites was that their practices of making sacrifices seemed to be so similar that the Israelites might have thought it didn’t matter if they did it one way or the other. The problem was that the Moabites were sacrificing to a different god. The Moabites were pledging their allegiance to Baal of Peor and the Israelites by participating in their sacrifices were doing the same (Numbers 25:5).

Numbers 25:18 indicates that the Israelites had been harassed by the Moabites with their wiles and that they had been beguiled by them in the matter of Baal of Peor. Wiles are methods of deceit that are intended to defraud someone (H5231/5230). The Apostle Paul talks about the wiles of the devil in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊtay-mee) means to stand fast against an enemy, but it is also used metaphorically “to impute, e.g., sin unto someone’ (G2476). In Acts 7:30 the dying martyr Stephen used the word histemi when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In that sense, standing against the wiles of the devil might mean that we don’t let the devil’s false accusations stop us from doing God’s will. Jesus was constantly bombarded with false accusations by the Jewish leaders who wanted to put a stop to his ministry. On one occasion, after Jesus healed a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed and walk”’…And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:10-11, 16).

The Jews tried to discredit Jesus by shifting the focus of peoples’ attention from the fact that Jesus was doing miracles to the fact that he was doing them on the Sabbath. Jesus countered the Jews argument against him with this statement:

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)

On the surface of things it seemed as if the Jews were in the right and Jesus was in the wrong, but Jesus pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. The Greek word that is translated right in John 7:24, dikaios (dikˊ-ah-yos) has to do with being impartial. Dikaios is used “especially of those whose hearts are right with God” and of things being just as they should be (G1342).

It is clear that the Jews weren’t able to discriminate between good and evil because they didn’t even realize that Jesus was their Messiah. It says in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him. John tells us, “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:12-13, NKJV). Some of the Jews thought that Jesus was deceiving the people, but the opposite was actually true. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is used with the definite article in Revelation 12:9 as a title of the Devil, “the Deceiver” (G4105). Planao appears throughout the New Testament in connection with the devils activities. Jesus warned his disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5, NKJV). Jesus went on to say about the end times, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:11-14, NKJV) and later, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NKJV). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

John’s first epistle states about Christ, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). Jesus’ question to the Jews pointed out the obvious discrepancy between their behavior and their espoused beliefs. He asked them, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19). The Jews intended to murder Jesus and yet they proclaimed, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20). The Jewish authorities’ hypocrisy was evident to everyone and yet the people justified their doubts about Jesus’ deity based on facts about his human birth. They posed the question, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” and then, answered themselves, “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:20-21). The people were confused because they weren’t looking at things from a spiritual perspective.

Paul explained the lost state of the unsaved 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 bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)

Paul described unbelievers as being dead in trespasses and sins, “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” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The picture Paul presented was one of involuntary cooperation. Unsaved people are dead spiritually and yet they are subject to Satan’s influence. Satan’s ultimate goal is to use deception to keep people under his control until it’s too late for them escape eternal punishment. Paul told believers:

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

The Greek word that is translated darkened in Ephesians 4:18, skotizo (skot-idˊ-zo) means “to obscure” (G4654) and is derived from the word skotos (skotˊ-os) which is “spoken figuratively of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655).

Jesus battled against the deceptive forces at work in the Jews minds by teaching them the spiritual truths that govern the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with the key principles of spiritual life, what we know today as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus also compared the ways of the world with the ways of his kingdom in order to show the stark contrast between saved and unsaved individuals. Jesus stated:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus’ declaration that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect was meant to point out that the standard for Christian living is not obedience to the Ten Commandments, but complete surrender to God’s will through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated this point when he said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit caused a division among the people. John 7:40-47 states:

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?

The lines that were being drawn between the Jewish religious leaders and followers of Christ made it difficult for anyone associated with the Pharisees to make a profession of faith. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night to find out how he could be born again (John 3:1-21), was unwilling to openly declare his faith (John 7:50-52). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52).

Paul talked about the deceitfulness of sin being the root cause of the Jews unbelief. Paul said:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)

In a very simplistic sense, unbelief is merely a rejection of the truth, but what is really at work in the hearts of unbelievers is an unconscious choice to believe Satan’s lies. Satan’s deception cannot prevent a person from becoming a believer, but it does provide him with an alternate choice. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15) implies that unbelief is a decision to not listen to the voice of God.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expressed his concern about them getting caught up in the deceptive practices of religion. Paul wrote:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)

Paul went on to remind the Galatians that the central and perhaps only principle they really needed to focus on in order to live a godly life was God’s law of reciprocity. Paul said:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

Paul admonished the Galatians to not be deceived, suggesting that what he was about to say to them would be disputed by the three satanic forces that work against our belief in Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus indicated that we must give the Holy Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives so that we are not taken in by Satan’s deception,  (John 7:38-39).

Destiny

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

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

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

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

Genesis 28:10-17 states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount focused on what happens after a person is converted. In other words, what a Christian’s life should look like. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of the life of a believer. When Jesus came down from the mountain, Matthew 8:1 tells us, “great crowds followed him.” The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). Essentially, the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus was to become like him, to be converted to his way of thinking and behaving. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual treasure

God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation meant that his household would grow to such a significant size that it would be recognized as a distinct “group of individuals who are considered as a unit with respect to origin, language, land, jurisprudence, and government” (H1471). Abraham believed God would bless him, but didn’t understand how he could become a great nation if he didn’t have any children to inherit his possessions. He asked, “‘O Lord, GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:2-6).

The phrase “he counted it to him” (Genesis 15:6) “signifies a mental process whereby some course is planned or conceived. It means ‘to think, account, reckon, devise, plan” (H2803). The plan of salvation that God devised for Abraham and his descendants had to do with a spiritual accounting system that made it possible for someone else’s righteousness to be substituted for theirs. We know today the Savior God provided is Jesus, but Abraham wasn’t given the details of how his offspring was going to save the world. All Abraham knew was that he was going to have a son who would inherit everything he possessed, including the blessing that would ensure Christ’s birth.

Psalm 127:1 states, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” In this instance, building a house refers to a household, the members of one’s family. The Psalmist went on to say, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward, like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Psalm 127:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated heritage, nachalah (nakh-al-aw’) is properly translated as “something inherited” (H5159) and reward or sakar (saw-kawr’) in Hebrew means payment or more concretely salary (H7939). Therefore it might be said that children have a value associated with them and could be viewed as compensation for serving God.

In addition to Ishmael, who was born to him by means of intercourse with his wife’s servant Hagar, Abraham had six sons besides Isaac (Genesis 25:2). And yet, it says in Genesis 25:5, “Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.” This implies that Isaac inherited all his father’s earthly possessions when Abraham died, but what is not stated is that Isaac also inherited Abraham’s blessing from the LORD. It says in Genesis 25:11, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.” The reason why he was treated as Abraham’s only son was because Isaac was the only son God had promised to give Abraham. Isaac was the result of the LORD building Abraham’s house and was a reward for his belief in God.

Jesus talked about spiritual rewards in his Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus made it clear that believers will be rewarded in heaven and warned his followers not to pretend to be saved in order to get some benefit from God while they were still living. Practicing righteousness can be as simple as making a donation to a needy cause, which is a great thing to do, but Jesus said that won’t get you into heaven or make any difference in your spiritual bank account.

The primary issue Jesus had with people practicing their righteousness before other people in order to receive a reward from God was that they didn’t understand God’s method of giving. Jesus said, “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4). The Greek word that is translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tos’) means concealed (G2927) and suggests that Jesus was referring to an eternal or spiritual reward.

God told Abraham that he would give his offspring a physical inheritance, but said the land would be possessed by them eternally. He said to him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:14-15). The Hebrew word translated forever, olam (o-lawm’) is properly translated as “concealed, i.e. the vanishing point” (H5769). Olam is derived from the word alam (aw-lam’) which means “to veil from sight” (H5956). It could be that God was telling Abraham his descendants would possess the land he was looking at in some sort of future spiritual state, perhaps in heaven, but more than likely, what God meant by possessing the land forever was that in eternity the physical and spiritual worlds will be reversed. In other words, what we can see now, the physical world we live in, will eventually disappear and be replaced by a spiritual version that looks the same, but will last forever.

Jesus pointed out that the rewards we receive now are not duplicated in heaven. Jesus said when we are praised by others for doing good deeds, that’s the only reward we will get (Matthew 6:2). Jesus also made a distinction between rewards that can be seen and what is concealed or done in secret. He said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6).

The Greek word that is translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (G5273). Essentially, what Jesus was saying was that you shouldn’t pretend to be a Christian if you’re not, but underlying his instruction to pray to God in secret was the idea that God doesn’t reward or answer meaningless prayers. If you want to get something from God, you have to ask him for it specifically and be clear about what you want him to do. Jesus gave this example of a satisfactory prayer:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Jesus indicated that this simple prayer was sufficient because “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). In other words, the purpose of prayer is not to get our physical needs met, but to receive spiritual benefits from God.

The three things Jesus identified in his template for prayer were: daily bread, forgiveness of debts, and deliverance from evil. Each of these things can be viewed from both a physical and spiritual standpoint. Daily bread is obviously connected with food, but it can also refer to God’s word which is considered to be the believer’s spiritual nourishment (Matthew 4:4). Debts have a physical significance in that they are usually linked to property, but Jesus was most likely referring to debts as sins because he went on to say, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus’ final point about deliverance from evil probably had to do with sexual sins like adultery and fornication which involve the body, but can also do damage to one’s spiritual health.

Isaac and Rebekah demonstrated appropriate prayer when they sought God’s help to become pregnant. It says in Genesis 25:21, “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” Similar to Abraham and Sarah’s situation, Rebekah was sterile and was not physically capable of conceiving a child (H6135). This might seem unusual since Rebekah was appointed by God to be Isaac’s wife (Genesis 24:14). Even though Isaac was blessed by God (Genesis 25:11), God didn’t make it possible for Isaac to have children by natural means. The fact that God granted Isaac’s prayer and Rebekah conceived suggests that they were being rewarded by God for their faith in the same way that Abraham and Sarah were.

Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus’ statement implies that there is such a thing as spiritual treasure, but he didn’t give us any details about what it looks like or what it consists of. The Greek word translated treasure, thesauros (thay-sow-ros’) means “a deposit, i.e. wealth” (G2344). Thesauros is derived from the word tithemi (tith-ay-mee) which means to place or to put and “is used of ‘appointment’ to any form of service” (G5087). It could be that there is a connection between the type of service we are involved in during our lives on Earth and the reward or treasure that we will receive when we get to heaven.

One of the things that seems to be evident from Jesus’ instruction to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven is that we can accumulate spiritual wealth in the same way that we can accumulate material wealth. From that standpoint, land, houses, furniture, and clothing might all be a part of our future spiritual life. On the other hand, Jesus warned his disciples that, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Jesus went on to say, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

Jesus’ proclamation that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing (Matthew 6:25) was probably intended to point out that we need to prioritize how we spend our time while we are living on Earth. He went on to say, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33). The Greek word translated seek first, proton (pro’-ton) is derived from the word protos (pro’tos) which means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance)” (G4413). Jesus seemed to be saying that the only thing believers need to be concerned with is their relationship with Christ. If so, then salvation is only the first step in a believer’s lifelong quest to know God more intimately.

After Rebekah became pregnant, it says in Genesis 25:22, “The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” Rebekah didn’t understand what was going on, but since God had made her pregnant, she believed that he knew what was happening inside her, so she asked him to explain the situation. The Hebrew word that is translated inquire, darash (daw-rash’) is properly translated as “to tread or frequent; usually to follow (for pursuit or search)” (H1875). Darash “indicates a private seeking of God in prayer for direction.” Rebekah was doing what Jesus instructed his disciples to, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6).

And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall sever the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)

Rebekah didn’t know that she was having twins and that they would play a role in the establishment of contradictory cultures within Abraham’s household. Another way of explaining what was going to happen was that Rebekah’s twin sons would develop two different lifestyles that would result in a split or dividing up of the family’s spiritual and material wealth. The oldest, Esau pursued physical wealth, but his brother Jacob pursued spiritual treasure.

The New Life Version of Psalm 127:2 states, “You rise up early, and go to bed late, and work hard for your food, all for nothing. For the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep.” The picture the Psalmist was portraying was that of a godless person’s useless effort to get rich. The phrase, “You rise up early” has to do with one’s effort to gain wealth apart from or in opposition to God’s sovereign will. The idea that the Lord gives to His loved ones even while they sleep suggests that there is no physical effort expended by them. All believers have to do is go about their normal daily activities and God will take care of their needs on a continual basis.

One part of the spiritual inheritance that was transferred from Abraham to Isaac was a birthright that entitled his first male child to a double portion of his estate. Since Esau and Jacob were male twins, they were both technically Isaac’s first born son, but because Esau came out of the womb first, he was given that privilege. Jacob wasn’t satisfied with that arrangement, so he used extortion to obtain the birthright for himself. Genesis 25:29-34 indicates that Isaac despised his birthright and sold it to his brother for a bowl of stew. It states:

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

It might seem that Esau had little regard for material possessions given that he was willing to give up his birthright to Jacob so easily, but what was behind Esau’s action was his belief that he didn’t need God’s help to become wealthy. Esau was a skilled hunter who was quite capable of providing for himself. Esau’s statement, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32) suggests that his appetites ruled his behavior and he was unwilling to wait even a short while to fulfill his need for food when he was hungry.

The sinful way that Jacob went about obtaining his brother’s birthright showed that it was very important to him. Jacob may have felt that he deserved to inherit more of his father’s possessions than his brother did, but what may have been his real motivation was Jacob’s desire to be his father’s favorite son. It says in Genesis 25:28, “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” Isaac had a strong emotional attachment to Esau (H157), which means he probably ignored Jacob completely or gave him very little attention compared to his brother. Isaac was used to having all of his father Abraham’s love and adoration and may have replicated that kind relationship with his son Esau. As a result, Jacob was left to his own devices and was willing to take advantage of Esau’s situation in order to gain his father’s love.

Jacob might not have known that he had already been chosen by the LORD to be Isaac’s heir and it was God’s will for him to eventually triumph over his brother Esau. The prophecy that Rebekah received about her two sons indicated that Esau would serve Jacob (Genesis 25:23). The Hebrew word that is translated serve, `abad (aw-bad’) refers to work, but its underlying meaning has to do with having a relationship with God (H5647). What God might have meant when he said “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23) was that Esau and his descendants would be dependent on Jacob’s family for their salvation because Jesus, their Messiah would be born through him.

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 to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Blessed

When God commanded Abraham to leave his country and family behind to go to a land that he had never seen before, God promised him “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). The Hebrew word translated blessed, barak (baw-rak’) has to do with the world’s dependence on God for its continued existence and function (H1288). God’s blessing meant that he would provide for Abraham’s needs and protect him from harm. Because of his relationship with God, “Abraham’s family became a divinely appointed channel through which blessing would come to all men” (Note on Genesis 12:1-3).

Paul referred to the message Abraham received from God as the gospel. He stated, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith” (Galatians 3:8-9). Paul connected God’s blessing to faith and indicated that believers are blessed in the same way that Abraham was. Paul explained the gospel in more detail in Galatians 3:15-16 where he stated, “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.”

The Greek word that is translated Christ in Galatians 3:16, Christos {khris-tos’) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Paul explained that, “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 3:26-29).

Jesus talked about the believer’s inheritance in his Sermon on the Mount. He began by stating, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek word translated blessed in Matthew 5:3 is makarioi (mak-ar’-ee-os), which means to be “fully satisfied” (G3107). “In classical Greek, the word referred to a state of blessedness in the hereafter. In the New Testament, however, the term is used of the joy that comes from salvation. This satisfying joy is not the result of favorable circumstances in life but comes only from being indwelt by Christ. Therefore makarioi denotes far more than ‘happy,’ which is derived from the English word ‘hap’ and connected with luck or favorable circumstances” (Note on Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus pointed out that the poor in spirit will receive the benefits of the kingdom of heaven before they die (Matthew 5:3). In other words, if a believer realizes that he is spiritually destitute and he is willing to beg for God’s help, he will get his prayers answered.

An example of this kind of faith in action can be seen in the situation of Abraham sending his servant to the land of his relatives to get a wife for his son Isaac. Abraham instructed his servant to go to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor and said, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there” (Genesis 24:7).

When Abraham’s servant arrived at his destination, the first thing he did was pray this prayer:

“O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:12-14)

Abraham’s servant asked God to do something that only he could do, identify the woman that Isaac was supposed to marry.

The Hebrew word that is translated appointed in Genesis 24:14, yakach (haw-kahh’) means to be right (H3198) and implies that Abraham’s servant was allowing God to decide who the right woman was. One of the reasons the servant wanted God to decide was so that he could be assured of success. He said, “By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master” (Genesis 24:14). God’s steadfast love or chesed (kheh’-sed) in Hebrew “refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship” (H2617). Chesed encompasses every aspect of God’s favor: love, grace, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, and devotion.

When Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit being blessed (Matthew 5:3), he indicated that God’s favor was not linked to individual circumstances, but was shown through his sovereign rule over believers’ lives. The kingdom of heaven refers to God’s presence in the hearts of believers. When a person is born again, the Holy Spirit enters and remains in the believer’s heart permanently. This is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which happens as soon as an individual accepts Jesus as his or her Savior.

God didn’t say anything to Abraham’s servant, but Genesis 24:15-21 indicates that his prayer produced immediate results.

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. When the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey

Rebekah’s actions might have been perceived as coincidental if she had not been acting so extremely kind and thoughtful toward a complete stranger. It was as if Rebekah was trying to impress Abraham’s servant for no apparent reason.

The phrase “gazed at her in silence” indicates that Abraham’s servant was stunned by Rebekah’s behavior. The fact that Rebekah arrived before he had even finished praying and did everything exactly as the man had prescribed made the incident not only astounding, but almost too good to be true. That may have been why the servant waited to see whether or not the LORD had “prospered his journey” (Genesis 24:21). In other words, Abraham’s servant started looking for confirmation that it was God’s will for Rebekah to marry Isaac.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount may have been intended to explain why believers often mistake God’s will for being cursed. The traits Jesus identified; poor, meek, and merciful were not desirable attributes and yet, they were promised to bring God’s blessing. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:4-10) and then, concluded with the statement, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).

The phrase “Rejoice and be glad” suggests that Jesus expected his disciples to do the opposite of what their normal response would be to adverse circumstances. What Jesus was probably getting at was that he wanted his followers to look at things from an eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. Believers should rejoice and be glad not because they are being persecuted, but because their reward in heaven will be great if they do so (Matthew 5:12). Jesus went on to say that believers should not be foolish or deceived by appearances (Matthew 5:13-16), but should strive to be examples of God’s high moral standards (Matthew 5:19-20). It is clear that Abraham’s servant was looking for a hard-working, but also kind and generous woman for Isaac to marry because he asked that the woman God had appointed would offer to water his camels even though they had just traveled hundreds of miles and would likely need more than 100 gallons of water to quench their thirst.

Abraham’s servant waited until his camels were finished drinking before he approached Rebekah and asked her about her family. When she told him she was “the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor” (Genesis 24:24), Abraham’s servant “bowed his head and worshipped the LORD, and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen” (Genesis 24:26-27). The phrase “led me in the way” indicates that Abraham’s servant was being guided in the right direction as he attempted to do God’s will. Because he found the person he was looking for right away, Abraham’s servant concluded that God had blessed his effort and was responsible for his success.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount pointed out that certain sins could keep believers from being blessed by God. Jesus talked about anger, lust, divorce and retaliation in the context of the standard that had been set forth in the Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:21-48). He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:21-24).

The Greek word that is translated liable, enochos (en’-okh-os) can also be translated as “in danger of” (G1777). Enochos is derived from the word enecho (en-ekh’-o) which means “to hold in or upon, i.e. ensnare; by implication to keep a grudge” (G1758). What Jesus was most likely referring to when he said a person would be liable for his anger against his brother was that the person’s internal state or spiritual well-being would be affected by his feelings. In other words, God couldn’t have led Abraham’s servant in the right way if he was still upset about something that had happened to him previously. Jesus said if you want God to help you, you must first be reconciled to your brother (Matthew 5:24).

The Greek word that is translated reconciled in Matthew 5:24, diallasso (dee-al-las’-so) means “to change thoroughly” (G1259). What this may suggest is that Jesus wanted believers to have a completely different attitude about the wrongs that were being done to them. Instead of getting upset about every little thing that was done to offend them, believers were to focus on improving their relationships. Regarding retaliation, Jesus said that we should not resist the one who is evil. “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloke as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).

Jesus’ final example of believers acting in a way that was contrary to human nature was to love one’s enemies. He stated, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). The Greek word ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) suggests that Jesus was referring to spiritual development and that he wanted believers to do things that would cause God to bless them. The phrase “so that you may be sons” could also be translated as make yourself into a son, in the same way that you might make yourself into a husband by getting married. In other words, if you love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, God has to recognize you as his child and will bless you accordingly.

When Abraham’s servant told Rebekah’s family about his prayer and what happened afterward, it says in Genesis 24:50-51, “Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the LORD has spoken.” Laban and Bethuel recognized God’s involvement in the circumstances that brought Abraham’s servant to their doorstep. They didn’t resist letting Rebekah go because they knew that she had been selected by God to be Isaac’s wife. The final confirmation came when Rebekah was asked to leave immediately with a man that she had just met and go with him to a land she had never been to before in order to marry a man she had never even seen. Rebekah confidently responded, “I will go” (Genesis 24:56-58).

Jesus told his disciples, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word that is translated perfect, teleios (tel’-i-os) means complete and has to do with growth in mental and moral character (G5046). Another way of looking at teleios would be spiritual maturity, one who has attained the moral end for which he was intended, namely to be a man or woman in Christ. Rebekah’s decision to go with Abraham’s servant indicated that she was willing to submit herself to God’s will and she was blessed because of it (Genesis 24:60).

Jesus said that that our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). By that he meant that God completes or finishes everything that he does for his children. In the instance of Abraham’s servant seeking a wife for Isaac, everything worked out perfectly because he asked God to be involved in what he was doing. When Isaac and Rebekah finally met, it says in Genesis 24:67, “Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her,” indicating that Isaac was fully satisfied with the woman that God had appointed to be his wife.

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 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 me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The guest list

Jesus used the illustration of a wedding reception to teach the religious leaders he was dining with a lesson about God’s seating chart in heaven. Jesus noticed how everyone at the dinner party he was attending acted like they were VIPs (Luke 14:7). They all thought they deserved the best seats in the house. Rather than seeking out a place of honor, Jesus told these men they should sit in the seat farthest away from the wedding party and let their host decide whether or not they should be moved to a better location (Luke 14:10). The point Jesus was making was that the host knows best where each person belongs on the seating chart. Jesus said, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Jesus realized he was a popular person and wasn’t trying to discourage these men from trying to get to know him. The thing Jesus wanted them to understand was that God wasn’t impressed with the positions these religious leaders held or their good reputations in the community. The thing that mattered most to him was their sincere desire to follow Jesus’ example. Speaking directly to the host of the dinner party, Jesus said:

When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:12-14)

Jesus made it clear that recompense or the repayment of an act of kindness isn’t a bad thing for us to strive for, but he wanted us to be aware that God doesn’t reward what he considers to be normal social behavior. Jesus’ reference to the resurrection of the just may have been the one that takes place just before his thousand year reign on Earth (Revelation 20:4-6). The judgment Jesus depicted in Matthew 25:31-46 showed that “rewards in the kingdom of heaven are given to those who serve without thought of reward” and there is no hint of merit here, for God gives out of grace, not debt (note on Matthew 25:34-40). Jesus said of the just:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was a hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee a hungred and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink: when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? or when saw we thee sick, or in prison and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

Spiritual relationships

Everyone is born into a family. Although their structures can vary greatly, families usually consist of a father and mother, and at least one child. Jesus made his disciples aware of the fact that those who had been born again also had a spiritual family. There may not be much difference between our physical and spiritual family, except that membership is optional, or chosen, in God’s family. While Jesus was teaching a crowd of people, his relatives came and wanted to speak with him. It says in Matthew 12:47-48, “Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who are my mother? and who are my brethren?” It appeared that Jesus’ mother, along with his brothers and sisters, came to listen to him preach and wanted to gain access to the place where he was teaching, but there wasn’t room for them inside. The Greek term that is translated “stand without,” histemi (his’-tay-mee) means “to make to stand” and “to appoint” (2476). Another way of looking at the situation would be to say that Jesus’ mother and siblings had to stand outside because they weren’t important enough to gain access to the building.

Jesus’ reaction to the situation might have looked as if he was indifferent to his family’s request to speak with him, but I believe the point he was trying to make was that his biological family members were no more important to him than those in his spiritual family. It says in Matthew 12:49-50, “And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Jesus was conveying to them that his disciples were of equal importance to him as his own family members, meaning that they were as close to him as anyone could get. This was an important distinction because in the Jewish religion, family relationships were the basis of all spiritual activities. Anyone that was not a member of Abraham’s family was excluded from God’s blessing. The key to understanding Jesus’ distinction between his biological family members and the members of his spiritual family was the statement, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). What Jesus was saying was that doing God’s will was the deciding factor of who gained access to him.

Secret service

Jesus didn’t mean for the life of a Christian to be complicated or difficult to figure out. There were really only three things involved in maintaining a right relationship with God: giving, praying, and fasting. For each of these activities, there was expected to be a reward or you could even say payment from God in return. Jesus made it clear that there would be no spiritual reward given for activities that were done publicly. With regards to giving to the poor, Jesus said, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). One of the reasons Jesus cautioned his followers against doing these things publicly was because there were many hypocrites in the synagogues that were making a show of their supposed good works (Matthew 6:2). Instead of making a big deal out of it, Jesus said, “But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:3-4).

At the core of Jesus’ teaching was the conflict between an individual’s public and private life. Often times, the person that made a spectacle of giving to the poor was privately committing sins against God. Jesus referred to these people as hypocrites. The Greek word translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (5273). There was a lack of authenticity in their behavior. Hupokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which goes even farther to say that such a person had decided to speak or act under a false part, there was a conscious decision to pretend to be something that one was not (5271). Jesus instructed his disciples:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:5-6).

The Greek word translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tos´) refers to something that is concealed or private (2927), but at the root of this word is the idea of an intentional effort to hide something or cover it up, to keep it a secret (2928). Rather than making a show of their good behavior, Jesus was telling his followers to do everything they could to keep it from being found out. The primary reason for this, Jesus said, was because God sees what we do in secret (Matthew 6:6). God is hidden from our view; we are not aware of his activities. He is constantly doing good things on our behalf and he wants us to do the same.

Blessedness

Blessedness, the state of being blessed with divine favor, was the original state of the world when Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden (Genesis 1:22). After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the land was cursed (Genesis 3:17), but it wasn’t until Cain killed his brother Abel that a person was cursed by God (Genesis 4:11). When Abraham was called by God to leave his country and his family behind and go to a land that God would show him (Genesis 12:1), God told Abraham, “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). For 2000 years, the world revolved around Abraham and his descendants, also known as the Israelites or Jews, but when Jesus entered the world, he turned that world upside down. One of the most important messages Jesus delivered to his disciples is referred to as the “Sermon on the Mount” (note on Matthew 5:1-7:29). Jesus began his teaching with something called the “Beautitudes” or be attitudes. These declarations of blessedness were intended to show Jesus’ disciples that happiness was more than an emotion that was dependent on their outward circumstances. Jesus’ used a Greek word, makarios to refer “to the ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy of those who share in the salvation of the kingdom of God” (note on Matthew 5:3).

Jesus used the word markarios nine times in his opening statement to a crowd described as “the multitudes” (Matthew 5:1). It is likely there were more than 5,000 people, perhaps as many as 25,000 people, listening in when Jesus preached his sermon on the mount. Jesus’ startling statements were received with amazement, or as we might say today, the people were completely blown away by what he said. Jesus began with this declaration, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus contrasted the person that lived a life focused on spiritual things in this world as a beggar, or someone that was poverty stricken, and royalty in heaven. His intention was most likely to illustrate that the two realms in which we exist, the physical and spiritual, are opposites of each other. What we think makes sense for us to do to take care of our needs in the physical realm might actually lead to spiritual poverty and vice versa. Unlike the free pass that the Israelites received, Jesus taught that entering into God’s kingdom meant that you must live a completely different kind of life than what made sense in the physical realm. Jesus stated, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). The Greek word translated persecuted, dioko means to flee or to drive away (1377). In other words, Jesus was saying that his followers should expect to be outcasts of society.

Rejection

God demonstrated his love for his chosen people by selecting them to receive his mercy and forgiveness even though they didn’t deserve it. God’s explanation for doing this can be found in Malachi 1:2-3, where it says, “I have loved you, saith the LORD, Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” The Hebrew word translated hated, sane´ (saw – nay´) “represents an emotion ranging from intense hatred to the much weaker set against” (8130). Regardless of the intensity of his negative emotions, what the LORD was making clear was that he had made an intentional effort to destroy Esau’s inheritance, while preserving that of his beloved people, the descendants of Jacob.

If there was any doubt about where God’s wrath was directed, the Jews were assured that it was not directed at them. Even though he had sent his people into captivity to punish their unfaithfulness, God did not abandon them or allow his people to be destroyed by their enemies. In fact, after they had been given permission to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 1:3), many of the Jews decided to stay in Babylon and were almost exterminated there (Esther 3:13). Even then, God delivered the Jews from their enemies and eventually commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for their protection. Comparing the Jews to the Edomites, God said, “Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever” (Malachi 1:4).

God’s disappointment with his people was primarily directed at their political and religious leaders. In particular, the priests had failed to teach his people how to live according to his laws. God warned the priesthood, stating, If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse on you, and will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2). Another way of interpreting the phrase lay it to heart would be for God to say, You need to take me seriously or, You need to do what I tell you to. The thing the Jews seemed to always keep forgetting was their obligation to do God’s will. The priesthood was set aside for a particular purpose, to give God glory through their worship and their sacrifices in his temple. In his final reprimand of the priests, the LORD stated, “For the priests lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8-9).

His arrival

In preparation for their Messiah’s arrival, God cleared the way for his people to experience a different kind of life in the Promised Land. For centuries, the Jews had lived in fear of being overtaken by their enemies. God intended to remove the threats to his people’s existence in one fell swoop. The agent of His judgment was Alexander the Great who not only turned the Jews world upside down, but also transformed the world into a single united kingdom through a series of military campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander was able to overthrown the Persian Empire in its entirety and established a Hellenistic civilization that was still evident in the world until the mid-15th century A.D. God told his people, “And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them anymore; for now have I seen with mine eyes.

Zechariah’s announcement of the Messiah’s arrival was quoted in the New Testament as Messianic and as referring ultimately to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (note on Zechariah 9:9). He said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). This picture of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem just before his crucifixion shows that his arrival as the Jews Messiah was linked more so to his death on the cross than to his birth in Bethlehem. The  purpose of the Messiah’s arrival was to make a way for God’s people to live in peace and prosperity. Clearly, the only way that could happen was for Satan to be defeated and the kingdoms of this world to be overtaken by Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Speaking of Jesus’ authority on earth, God said, “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:10). In other words, the Jews would no longer have to engage in military battles to conquer their enemies. Jesus’ authority would be their key to overcoming the world. The picture of deliverance God gave his people was one of hope. He said, “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Turn ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee” (Zechariah 9:11-12). The Hebrew word translated hope, tiqvah is derived from the word qavah which means to bind together. “This word stresses the straining of the mind in a certain direction with an expectant attitude…a forward look with assurance” (6960). God wanted his people to once again expect him to do a miracle on their behalf, which would be the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.