Following the LORD

A little more than a year after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt they left Mount Sinai where Moses had received the Ten Commandments and traveled toward the land of Canaan. Numbers 10:11-13 tells us, “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the LORD by Moses.” The King James Version of the Bible translates the phrase set out as took their journey. The Hebrew word naça (naw-sah´) implies a change in location, but the word journey gives us a clearer picture of what the Israelites experienced when they left the wilderness of Sinai. Naça “has the basic meaning of ‘pulling up’ tent pegs (Isaiah 33:20) in preparation for ‘moving’ one’s tent and property to another place; thus it lends itself naturally to the general term of ‘traveling’ or ‘journeying’” (H5265). In the case of the Israelites, the people weren’t traveling to a designated location, they were following the LORD who “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” (Exodus 13:21). The pillars of cloud and fire were manifestations of the LORD’s presence and were intended to guide the Israelites to the place that God wanted them to go. Exodus 13:22 states, “The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.”

The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were not the only means the LORD used to communicate his will to the people of Israel. Moses was considered to be God’s personal representative. “Moses was a type of Christ (Hebrews 3:2-6). He was chosen by God to be a deliverer (Exodus 3:1-10), functioned as a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15), and was faithful as God’s servant (Hebrews 3:5). Moses was a mediator between God and the Israelites (Exodus 17:1-7; 32:30-35), as Christ is for his church (1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:1, 2)” (note on Numbers 12:7). In Numbers 12:6-7, the LORD made it clear that he was communicating with Moses directly. He said, “’Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself know to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.’” You might think that having direct access to God would make it possible for you to know and do everything that God wants you to, but even Moses failed in his obedience to the LORD. It says in Numbers 27:12-14, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin).”

The LORD stated that Moses had rebelled against his word and had failed to uphold him as holy before the eyes of the people. The Hebrew word that is translated uphold as holy, qadash (kaw-dashˊ) “is used in some form or another to represent being set apart for the work of God. Qadesh, or qadash, as verbs, mean ‘to be holy; to sanctify’” (H6942). Qadash is translated consecrate in Exodus 19 which focuses on the LORD coming down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. When Israel first encamped at Mount Sinai, the LORD called to Moses out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:3-6). John’s greeting to the seven churches in the book of Revelation eludes to the fact that the kingdom of priests that God intended to make of the nation of Israel was accomplished through the establishment of these seven churches. John wrote:

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:3-8)

John’s synopsis of Jesus’ completed work of redemption mentions only the fact that believers in Jesus Christ have been freed from their sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5). The King James Version of the Bible states that Jesus washed us from our sins. The Greek word louo (looˊ-o) means “to bathe (the whole person)…Metaphorically: to cleanse and purify from sin, as in being washed in Christ’s blood (Revelation 1:5)” (G3068). Jesus talked about this cleansing when he washed his disciples feet. John wrote in his gospel message:

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (John 13:5-11)

Jesus distinguished between the new birth and regeneration when he said, “the one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean” (John 13:10). The difference that Jesus pointed out between being bathed and washed was what he referred to as being completely clean or sanctified. The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) “means to make holy and signifies to set apart for God, to sanctify” (G37). “Christians need constant cleansing and renewal if they are to remain in fellowship with God” (note on John 13:8).

The Geek word anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) stresses the process of sanctification and the continual operation of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. “Anakainosis means ‘a renewal’ and is used in Romans 12:2 ‘the renewing (of your mind),’ i.e. the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2). Being conformed to this world means that you are making yourself like everyone else, you are trying to fit in and to be accepted by your peers. Paul encouraged Roman believers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. What Paul meant by a living sacrifice was that followers of Christ were expected to use their physical capabilities and resources to accomplish God’s will instead of their own.

The Israelites were told that they were delivered from slavery in Egypt and taken to the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because of God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9) and were warned to not think of themselves as being responsible for their success (Deuteronomy 9:5). It was the LORD’s will for the Israelites to drive out the nations that occupied the land of Canaan “because of the wickedness of these nations” (Deuteronomy 9:4). Moses told the people of Israel, “Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD” (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). The Hebrew word that is translated rebellious, marah (maw-rawˊ) means “to be (causative make) bitter (or unpleasant)…Marah signifies an opposition to someone motivated by pride…More particularly, the word generally connotes a rebellious attitude against God” (H4784). God noted that the Israelites had repeatedly tested him and would not obey his voice (Numbers 14:22) and said to Moses:

“None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it” (Numbers 14:22-24).

God said that Caleb had a different spirit and that he had followed him fully. Caleb went against the rest of the men that gave a bad report after spying out the land of Canaan. Numbers 13:30 states, “But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”  The Hebrew word that is translated well able, towb (tobe) “naturally expresses the idea of being loved or enjoying the favour of someone” (H2895). Rather than looking at the size of their enemies or the rough terrain of the country, Caleb saw the blessing that God wanted him to experience and believed that he was able to do what God expected him to in order to receive it.

The individual inheritances that the people of Israel received in the land of Canaan were determined by lot (Joshua 14:1-2), except for Joshua and Caleb. Joshua tells us:

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” (Joshua 14:6-12)

Caleb gave God the credit for keeping him alive for forty-five years and said that he was as strong at the age of eighty-five as he had been when he was forty. The strength that Caleb was talking about was more than likely divine power, spiritual capability that came from God, but physical strength was also necessary for Caleb to be successful because he would have to actually go on the battlefield and face the Anakim, the people of great height who made the spies seem like grasshoppers to them (Numbers 13:32-33). Caleb knew that his success wasn’t dependent on his fighting capability, but on his relationship with the LORD. He declared, “If the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said” (Joshua 14:12, NLT).

Caleb’s statement, “If the LORD is with me, I will drive them out of the land” (Joshua 14:12) was in part an acknowledgement that God was not obligated to be with him. The Hebrew word that was used to communicate the idea of God being with Caleb was ʾeth (ayth). ʾEth is properly translated as “nearness” (H854). When Jesus’ birth was announced to Joseph, he was told:

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20-23)

Jesus’ mission to save his people from their sins and the name that he was called, Immanuel, which means God with us, convey an important point about the way that God works in people’s lives. We have to be near God in order for his power to save us to be effective.

Jesus used the words “follow me” when he wanted someone to be a part of his ministry (Matthew 4:19; 9:9 John 1:43). The Greek word akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o), which is translated follow, is properly translated as “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany” (G190). Jesus made it clear to his disciples that they would have to disconnect themselves from the things that they were used to in order to be with him. Luke tells us, “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus associated his followers with the kingdom of God and indicated that there was nothing more important to them than accomplishing God’s will on earth. Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, Jesus said of his Father’s will, “’I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise, and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Then turning to the disciples he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it’” (Luke 10:21-24).

The Apostle Paul talked about the end result of following the Lord in his letter to the Philippians. Paul said that he counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus and that he had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish (Philippians 3:8), so “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Paul considered the resurrection from the dead to be ultimate goal of being a follower of Christ. Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3:12). Paul thought of the resurrection from the dead as a possession, something that he had to press on to make his own. The Greek word that is translated press on, dioko (dee-oˊ-ko) means “to follow” or “to follow after” (G1377). In order to make the resurrection from the dead his own, Paul compared his life to a race and said, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul emphasized that effort was required to attain his goal and indicated that he had to strain forward to what lies ahead. The Greek word that Paul used had to do with stretching oneself in the sense of reaching beyond one’s grasp. Paul may have been thinking of heaven as a place that he couldn’t quite grasp, a place or state that was beyond his comprehension or imagination. Paul concluded with the statement, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 3:20-4:1).

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.

Visitation

Luke’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem included a unique aspect of his approach that revealed Jesus’ feelings at the time. Luke reported:

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee: and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)

Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem showed his foreknowledge of the end result of his ministry. The Jews rejection of their Messiah would bring about a severe punishment of their nation and divine sentence against their false religion.

The Greek term translated visitation in Luke 19:44 is episcope (ep-is-kop-ay´). “This word expresses that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds, and character of men in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad” (G1984). One of the reasons Jesus came to Earth was to show God’s people he was a real person and was able to see everything that was going on in the physical realm. Jesus existed before he was born as a man and was involved in God’s work which included the creation of the universe (John 1:1-3). Jesus was sad when he looked down on the city of Jerusalem because in spite of all he had done to demonstrate God’s love and concern for his chosen people, they were not interested in the kind of salvation he had to offer them: peace with God and their fellow man.

Jesus’ visitation to Earth culminated in a series of orchestrated activities during the final week of his life. One of those activities was a private dinner at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. John said of this event, “Much of the people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus” (John 12:9-11). The authenticity of the miracle Jesus performed was indisputable. Therefore, the religious leaders knew that in order to stop his work they had to not only get rid of Jesus, but also the evidence of his miraculous power; Lazarus, the man that he had brought back to life.

Matthew indicated that Jesus lodged in Bethany (Matthew 21:17), most likely at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus until his arrest a few days later. During that time, Jesus had an opportunity to fellowship with some of his closest friends and associates of his ministry. Jesus may have intended to lay the groundwork for the church that would be established in that area after his resurrection. Jesus’ visit with the believers in Bethany and Bethphage was probably filled with both joyous and sad moments. One thing that is certain is that Jesus knew he was going to die before the end of the week and wanted to spend as much time as possible preparing his followers for what lay ahead.

 

Baptism

John’s baptism was meant to cleanse sinners from the stains upon their spirits that caused them to separate themselves from God. Just like Adam in the garden of Eden, everyone that commits a sin against God knows that he is guilty and deserves to be punished for what he has done. The key to understanding the effect of John’s baptism was to realize that God didn’t want people to live with the guilt they felt for the rest of their lives and had made a way for their sins to be removed from their spiritual awareness. The description of John’s ministry found in Mark 1:4 states, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” The Greek word translated remission basically means freedom, but it also has a legal connotation that suggests a pardon, such as when a prisoner is set free and is forgiven of his offense. Although John’s baptism was welcomed and there were many who took advantage of his offer of forgiveness, John made it clear that he was preparing the way for Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. “And he preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the lachet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Mark 1:7-8).

John’s baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Although the details vary, there is one aspect of Jesus’ baptism that is the same throughout, the arrival of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit on the earth. Mark described it this way, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11). The baptism of the Holy Spirit was different than John’s baptism because it signified the beginning of a new life. Not only did God intend to forgive the sins of those who accepted his Son as their Savior, but he also wanted to enable believers to live a life similar to that of Jesus Christ, one that would be consistent with his commandments. The Holy Spirit, who is also God in the same way that Jesus is, dwells within believers and causes them to be convicted or aware of their sins. The Holy Spirit’s job is to cause believers to repent and to seek out God’s will for their lives. Only through the Holy Spirit can one really understand what it means to be a child of God. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, no one can realize what Christianity is really all about.

John recognized that Jesus did not need to be baptized by him, because he had no sins to repent of. John tried to forbid him from doing it, but Jesus persisted, “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). What Jesus was saying was that the Holy Spirit needed to be introduced to humanity through his own baptism. You could say that Jesus’ baptism was symbolic of the baptism of everyone that would follow in his footsteps. As the Holy Spirit descended upon him, Jesus represented all of mankind in its sinful state being reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit appeared immediately after Jesus was raised up out of the water (Mark 1:10), because it is the Holy Spirit’s presence that regenerates the believer’s heart and makes him alive spiritually or what we think of now as being “born again” (John 3:3). In his first gospel message, Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ instruction to believe the gospel was intended to be a reminder that repentance was not enough. In order to be truly born again, one must believe that a new way of life is possible.

Filled with the Holy Ghost

The miraculous birth of John the Baptist was accompanied by the unusual involvement of the Holy Spirit in not only John’s life, but also in the lives of his parents. It says in Luke 1:15 that John was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” Although there could be several explanations as to why John needed to be filled with God’s Spirit before he was born, the most obvious was that God hard wired John’s supernatural intelligence into his genetic code when he created him. Therefore, John’s mind couldn’t function properly without the help of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit. John’s mother, Elizabeth was also filled with the Holy Spirit before her son was born (Luke 1:41). The last family member to be filled with the Spirit was John’s father Zacharias. After Zacharias confirmed that his son’s name was to be John as foretold by the angel Gabriel, it says in Luke 1:64-67:

And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake; and praised God. and fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost.

Prior to the birth of John the Baptist, there was only one instance where someone was filled with the spirit of God (Exodus 31:3). Afterward, it wasn’t until the day of Pentecost when everyone who believed in Jesus Christ was “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4) that the Holy Spirit was fully manifested in the world. When someone was filled with the Holy Spirit, it meant that God himself was dwelling inside the person. Apparently, before Jesus was conceived, it was only possible for the Holy Spirit to dwell in one person at a time. The fact that John, his mother Elizabeth, and father Zachariah were all filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time demonstrated that things had changed dramatically. God’s presence in the world was no longer limited; he could be in many places at the same time through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.

Outward appearances

A discouraging aspect of the rebuilt temple was that it didn’t measure up to the same standard that the first temple had. Solomon’s temple was magnificent. Its outward appearance was stunning. Before his death, King David had laid out plans and stored up materials for the temple’s construction. In one of his last speeches to the people of Israel, David said, “Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the LORD must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5). In essence, David was saying that God’s temple had to be more impressive than any other building on earth. The words David used to describe the temple’s outward appearance, fame (8034) and glory (8597), suggest that David wanted God’s earthly home to be the epitome of his divine character.

In his second message to the people that had returned from exile in Babylon, the prophet Haggai focused on their delay in rebuilding God’s temple. Haggai asked them, “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? And how do you see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3). The people knew they could not replicate the awesome appearance of God’s first temple and probably felt it was a wasted effort for them to even try to build something that wouldn’t measure up to the previous temple’s standard, but God encouraged them to go forward. He said, “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:4). The Hebrew word translated work, asah is associated with creation and could indicate a partnership between God and his people in constructing the temple. At the very least, God was telling the people that their effort was necessary for his work to be completed.

God’s people were probably shocked when they learned that the reconstructed temple would surpass the former one in its glory. Haggai told them, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace” (Haggai 2:9). The reason the reconstructed temple would be more glorious than the first one was not because of its outward appearance, but because Jesus would be there. When Christ came to the earthy temple, God’s presence was evident as it had never been before (note on Haggai 2:7). The Apostle John declared, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,” full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God’s temple was supposed to make it possible for him to dwell among his people. In actuality, the purpose of the temple was to remind the people that he was not there.

God’s time-table

The reconstructed temple in Jerusalem was finished on March 12, 586 B.C., almost 70 years after its destruction (note on Ezra 6:15). Darius the king of Persia was primarily responsible for this accomplishment because of a decree he made to help the Jews.  He said to Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shethar-boznai, and his companions  the Apharsachites, who were making trouble for the Jews, “Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered” (Ezra 6:8). The Aramaic word translated hindered, betel (bet – ale´) means to stop (989). This word corresponds to the Hebrew word batel (baw – tale´)  which means to desist from labor (988). Basically, Darius was commanding that resources be given to the Jews so that their work could be continuous until the temple was completed. In other words, he expected the men to work night and day or around the clock until they were finished.

God’s time-table for the Jews’ captivity appears to have been based on the destruction of his temple in 586 B.C. and the finish of the temple’s reconstruction in 516 B.C., seventy years later. These events were probably meant to be noticeable milestones that would alert the Jews to their status with respect to God’s predetermined period for their captivity. The reason God chose to use the temple’s destruction and rebuilding as markers on his time-table was most likely its connection to his presence among his people. An interesting thing to note about the second temple was the most holy place remained empty after its reconstruction “because the ark of the covenant had been lost through the Babylonian conquest” (note on Ezra 6:15). Although the absence of the ark didn’t seem to keep the Jews from conducting their normal worship services, they may have wondered if God really was there with them because there is no indication that God’s glory ever returned to the temple after it departed during Ezekiel’s ministry (Ezekiel 10:19).

According to Ezekiel’s prophecy, the glory of the Lord would return at a future date (Ezekiel 43:4). It can only be assumed that God’s time-table for complete restoration of his relationship with his people still included future events. After the Jews returned from their captivity, there was evidently a lack of interaction between God and his people. Unlike the first dedication, when Solomon brought the ark into the temple and offered a prayer to God and blessed the people (1 Kings 8), it says in Ezra 6:17 that the children of Israel merely made an offering to God and set the priests in their positions. The only positive outcome as a result of the temple’s completion seemed to be a joyfulness that the Jews were able to celebrate their feasts again (Ezra 6:22).

The sword

The transition that occurred during the Israelites’ period of captivity was focused on a change in the type of relationship God had with his people. Beginning with Abraham, God sought to establish a personal relationship that included ongoing communication between him and his chosen people. Once the nation of Israel came into existence, God’s messages were delivered primarily through prophets that were often ignored and sometimes punished for what they said (Jeremiah 26:11). In order to reestablish communication with his people, God sent them to a place where the absence of his presence would force them to reevaluate their behavior and admit they had been living in sin (Ezekiel 20:43).

A part of God’s judgment of his people was designed to separate out those who wanted salvation from those who thought idolatry would provide for them a better way of life. God told Ezekiel to say to the land of Israel:

Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of his sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked. Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of his sheath against all flesh from the south to the north: that all flesh may know that I the LORD have drawn forth my sword out of his sheath: it shall not return any more. (Ezekiel 21:3-5)

The LORD’s sword was described as a cutting instrument (2719), perhaps a dagger or knife that he could use against his enemies. The reference to drawing the sword out of his sheath rather than its sheath may indicate the sword was not a physical sword, but actually a person. Talking to his disciples about their mission on earth, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).

Even though Jesus was known as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the result of Christ’s coming was conflict “between Christ and the antichrist, between light and darkness, between Christ’s children and the devil’s children” (note on Matthew 10:34). When Jesus was presented in the temple for dedication to the Lord, a man named Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would recognize the Christ. It says in Luke 2:28-32, “Then he took him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Afterward, Simeon spoke directly to Mary, Jesus’ mother and said, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

In the sixth chapter of the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about putting on the whole armour of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 5:11). In his description of our armour, Paul tells us to “take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Obviously, the armour Paul was talking about was not comprised of physical items that we put on our body. Spiritual warfare must be dealt with in our spiritual capacities that we are not always aware of, so Paul used physical items to relate their usefulness to us, and the means by which we can activate them.

The sword of the LORD was activated when God’s people went into exile. Since we know that Ezekiel was already in exile when he received his message from the LORD, the sword was most likely activated some time after the first wave of refugees was taken to Babylon, but before the fall of Jerusalem took place in 586 B.C. In a symbolic act of mourning, God told Ezekiel to sigh before the eyes of the people. Perhaps also, as a signal to antichrist with whom the spiritual engagement was about to begin to take place, God said, “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord GOD; remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more until he comes whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:25-27).

Face to face

Moses had a unique relationship with God in that the LORD spoke to him face to face, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). When Moses spoke with God, he didn’t actually see his face. “The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being and ought not to be depicted by an image or any likeness whatever” (6440). God himself said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Although it’s impossible to see God, Ezekiel’s vision showed him a man upon a throne that had the appearance of the glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 1:27-28).

Ezekiel’s interaction with the man upon the throne suggests that he was seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ. In other encounters in the Old Testament, when the preincarnate Christ was seen, he did not have the glory of the LORD associated with him. It wasn’t until the book of Revelation was written, after Jesus had ascended, that images of God (Jesus) were depicted in the Bible. Not only did Ezekiel see the man on the throne, but he also heard his voice. It says in Ezekiel 2:1-2, “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that heard him that spake unto me.”

Ezekiel’s commission as a prophet was unique in that the spirit that entered into him was able to cause him to do things against his will. As you might think of a person that is demon possessed, Ezekiel was in a sense possessed by an angel or spirit of God. Ezekiel told us that the spirit took him up and supernaturally transported him to another location, against his will. It says in Ezekiel 3:14, “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.” Ezekiel was furious that God was able to overpower him in such a way, but could not do anything about it.

Afterward, Ezekiel was devastated, as though he had been violated by the spirit. His anger toward God was clearly an impediment to his ability to carry out his mission, and yet, God was determined to use Ezekiel as his spokesman. Seven days later, Ezekiel received a message from the LORD. He said, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Ezekiel was told that if he didn’t warn the people as God instructed him to, he would be held responsible for their eternal damnation (Ezekiel 3:18).

God’s Presence

Although God is invisible, he is not without substance. When the ark was brought into the temple, it says in 1 Kings 8:10-11, “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.”

The word translated cloud, “‘anan is used especially of the ‘cloud mass’ that evidenced the special presence of God” (6051). Solomon intended the temple he built to be an actual home for God because he said, “I have surely built thee a house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever” (1 Kings 8:13).