Confidence

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).

Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).

When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)

Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 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 3:8-11).

Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).

The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.

Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)

Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).

Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

God’s deliverance

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians pointed out that all unsaved people live according to the covenant that God made with Noah after he destroyed every living thing on the earth (Genesis 9:8-13). Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The phrase Paul used, “the course of this world” and the person he referred to, “the prince of the power of the air” have to do with Satan’s attempt to undermine God’s plan of salvation by imitating the work of Jesus Christ. The Greek words that are translated “sons of disobedience” uihos (hwee-os’) which means “the quality and essence of one so resembling another that distinctions between the two are indiscernible” (G5207) and apeitheia (ap-i’-thi-ah) which denotes “obstinacy, obstinate rejection of the will of God” (G543). suggest that anyone that does not do the will of God is a follower of Satan.

One of the important aspects of God’s covenant with Noah was that one of Noah’s sons was cursed because he disgraced his father. Genesis 9:20-25 states:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;
    a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

Genesis 10:6 indicates that Ham had four sons; Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. There’s no explanation as to why Canaan was the only one of Ham’s sons to be cursed, but it can be assumed that Canaan followed in the footsteps of his father Ham and was committed to being a son of disobedience rather than a worshipper of God.

The nation of Egypt is associated with the descendants of Ham in Psalm 105 where it says, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23) and “He sent Moses, his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. They performed his signs among them and miracles in the land of Ham’ (Psalm 105:26-27). Psalm 105 focuses on the purpose of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. Psalm 105:1-6 states:

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

The psalmist’s instruction to “tell of all his wondrous works!” was meant to encourage believers to remind ourselves that God is able to do things that are beyond human capability. The Hebrew word that is translated tell, siyach (see’-akh) means “to ponder, i.e. (by implication) converse (with oneself, and hence, aloud)” (H7878). The Hebrew word pala’ (paw-law’) which is translated “all his wondrous works” means to separate, i.e. distinguish and “is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations” (H6381). In other words, believers need to talk to themselves about God’s ability to do things that we don’t expect him to, things that we can’t do for ourselves.

Moses was instructed to deliver a series of messages to Pharaoh that were designed to make him think about what God was capable of compared to his own strength and ability. Exodus 9:13-15 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants, and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.'”‘” God wanted Pharaoh to understand that he could annihilate him and his people if he chose to, but he had a different objective in mind. God said, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go” (Exodus 9:16-17).

God described Pharaoh’s behavior as exalting himself against his people. What that meant was that Pharaoh was putting himself in the place of God with the people of Israel. The Israelites were doing what Pharaoh told them to rather than listening to and obeying God’s instructions (Exodus 6:9). One of the problems that the LORD had to deal with when he delivered his people from slavery in Egypt was that they were willing to submit themselves to Pharaoh, but they weren’t willing to submit themselves to God. The foremen that were responsible for making the Israelites deliver a daily quota of bricks accused Moses of bringing evil on God’s people. They said, “The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21). Essentially, what Moses and Aaron had to do was to get Pharaoh to drive the Israelites away, to expel them from Egypt (Exodus 11:1). Otherwise, the people of Israel wouldn’t have been willing to leave.

God said that he had raised Pharaoh up in order to show him his power so that his name would be “proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). One of the ways that the Hebrew verb ‘amad (aw-mad’) can be used is to signify something that is immovable or unchanging (H5975). ‘Amad was most likely being used in reference to Pharaoh’s refusal to let the people of Israel go. God exercised force against Pharaoh by destroying everything that was connected to his creation. Exodus 9:23-25 states, “And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.” God’s dominion over the land of Egypt was clearly demonstrated by his ability to kill everything that lived there including man and beast. The hail’s violent crushing of plants and trees was likely symbolic of the devastation that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day when the fountains of the deep burst forth and the windows of heaven were opened and God blotted out all life that was on the ground (Genesis 7:11, 23).

Pharaoh’s attitude toward God began to change when he saw that there was no hail in the land of Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Exodus 9:27-29 states, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned, the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. Plead with the LORD, for there has been enough of God’s thunder and hail. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD, the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.'” The Hebrew word that is translated sinned, chata’ (khaw-taw’) is sin conceived as missing the road or mark. “From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs” (H2398). Pharaoh’s admission of guilt indicated he understood that he had done something wrong, but it didn’t go so far as to affect a change in his behavior. Exodus 9:34-35 indicates that Pharaoh had not actually repented of his sin. It states, “But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased he sinned yet again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people of Israel go, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses.”

The battle of the wills between God and Pharaoh was similar to the battle that all unbelievers go through when they are forced to admit that they don’t have the power to control their own circumstances. The essential element that was missing in Pharaoh’s situation was the gift of God’s grace. After describing the spiritual condition of unsaved men (Ephesians 2:1-3), Paul went on to tell the Ephesians, “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…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” (Ephesians 2:4-9). Paul emphasized the hopelessness of those that are opposed to God’s will when he said, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

The Greek word that is translated hope in Ephesians 2:12, elpis (el-pece’) has to do with the unseen and the future. As a noun in the New Testament, it means a “favorable and confident expectation, a forward look with assurance” (G1680). To be without God in the world means that one is an atheist. “In Ephesians 2:12 the phrase indicates, not only that the Gentiles were void of any true recognition of God, and hence became morally godless (Romans 1:19-32); but, being given up by God they were excluded from communion with God and from the privileges granted to Israel (cf. Galatians 4:8)” (G112). Paul explained that the reason why Pharaoh was unable to have faith was because he had no knowledge of God and was alienated from him because of the hardness of his heart (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul used the words futility and ignorance to describe the mental barriers that can inhibit faith. One of the benefits of the miracles that Moses performed was that they revealed God’s existence and displayed his magnificent power to Pharaoh and his people. Each time the plagues were removed, Pharaoh was given the opportunity to repent and do God’s will.

One of the reasons the LORD eventually hardened Pharaoh’s heart, meaning God dulled his spiritual senses and made it impossible for him to believe, was because the LORD was strengthening the Israelites faith at the expense of the Egyptians unbelief. Exodus 10:1-2 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go in to Pharaoh for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.'” The Hebrew word that is translated know, yada’ (yaw-dah’) means to have an intimate experiential knowledge and primarily has to do with relational knowledge, “it refers to knowing or not knowing persons” (H3045). God was in the process of developing a relationship with his people when he delivered them from their slavery in Egypt. An important aspect of yada’ is the involvement of the senses, especially eyesight. In other words, you are only able to ascertain who someone really is by seeing them in action.

Pharaoh’s servants seemed to be able to grasp the situation better than he did because they knew there was no hope for them apart from God. Exodus 10:7 states, “Then Pharaoh’s servants said to him, ‘How long shall this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?'” Pharaoh’s servants expected Egypt to cease to exist as a result of the plagues that they were experiencing. Rather than completely destroying Egypt, God’s intention was to bring Pharaoh to his knees (Exodus 10:3). God’s discipline of Pharaoh was likely a result of his attempt to make things right in spite of the hardened state of his heart. After a plague of locusts wiped out all the vegetation that survived the hail, Exodus 10:16-17 states, “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the LORD your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with the LORD your God only to remove this death from me.'” The natural disasters that God used to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt were perceived to be instruments of death and each of the ten plagues became more intense as they progressed. The actual result of the plagues was not so much meant to be the death of the Egyptians as it was an awareness of their lost or unregenerate spiritual state (Exodus 10:7).

The ninth plague that the Egyptians experienced may have been designed to make them feel like they were living in hell. Exodus 10:21 states, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'” The pitch darkness that lasted for three days made it impossible for anyone to move about or even to recognize each another (Exodus 10:22-23). The Hebrew word that is translated darkness, choshek (kho-shek’) is derived from the word chashak (khaw-shak’) which means “to be dark (as withholding light)” (H2821). In other words, there was a concealment or blocking out of all the light in the land of Egypt for three whole days. God said that the darkness was to be felt. What he may have meant by that was that the Egyptians would experience the effects of not having the sun, moon or stars as resources. After the light was restored, some of the Egyptians no doubt realized the extreme depths of their depravity and may have felt like they had been resurrected from the dead. Paul used the analogy of things that were once hidden being exposed by the light to describe the experience of being born again and encouraged unbelievers to let the light of Christ shine on them. Referring to a hymn that was used by early Christians, Paul stated:

“Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)

Paul went on to warn believers that they should be careful about how they use the freedom that Christ has purchased for them. Paul said, “Look carefully then how you walk not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17). The Greek word that is translated “making the best use of,” is exagorazo (ex-ag-or-ad’-zo). “Exagorazo, as a verb, is a strengthened form of agorazo (59 – “to buy”), and denotes “to buy out,” especially of purchasing a slave with a view of his freedom” (G1805). Christ paid the ransom to God for the life of every believer in order to satisfy the demands of His holy character. Paul’s admonition to walk not as unwise but as wise was meant to point out that like God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, there is a purpose for each believer’s salvation; to do God’s will and we must be pay attention to that because the devil is actively engaged in a war against us (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Missing the mark

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was God’s will for him to be crucified. Not long before he was arrested Jesus said, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified” (Matthew 26:2). Romans 8:31-32 tells us that God was the one that delivered Jesus up to be crucified. It states, “What then shall we we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God’s plan of salvation required that Jesus pay the penalty for all sins through his death on the cross. When Jesus said, “you know that,” he was emphasizing the predetermined course that his life must follow in order to fulfill his mission of saving the world. After Jesus acknowledged his imminent crucifixion, Matthew recorded, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:3-4).

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they were in control of the situation. They wanted to get rid of Jesus as quickly and quietly as possible. They agreed that it shouldn’t be done, “during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5). Matthew tells us, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26:14-16). The opportunity that Judas was looking for had to do with the timing, not the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The Greek word kairos (kahee-ros’) refers to a “set or proper time” (G2540). It might be that Judas thought he could catch Jesus off guard or would be able to surprise everyone with a midnight raid so to speak, but Jesus knew about everything that was going on and willingly surrendered himself to the Jewish authorities. Jesus instructed his disciples, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples'” (Matthew 26:18).

Jesus indicated that his death was linked to a specific time and place. One way of thinking about the prophecies that were associated with Jesus’ death would be to see them as a bullseye or a mark that he was aiming toward. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The Greek word that is translated mark, skopos (skop-os’) refers to a watcher and denotes “a mark on which to fix the eye” (G4649). The Greek word hamartano (ham-ar-tan’-o) which is translated sin in Matthew 18:21 “means literally ‘to miss the mark’ and is used of ‘sinning’ against God” (G264). Matthew 18:21 states, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?'”

The Old Testament of the Bible views sin in a similar manner. The Hebrew word chata’ (khaw-taw’) is properly translated as “to miss” and causatively refers to being lead astray. “The basic nuance of chata’ is sin conceived as missing the road or mark…From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs…It also connotes the guilt or condition of sin” (H2398). Sin and evil often appear together in the Old Testament as in the account of Pharaoh’s decision to withhold straw from the children of Israel as punishment for the LORD’s demand that he let his people go from their bondage. In Exodus 5:15-19, Chata’ is translated as “fault” and the Hebrew word for evil, ra’ is translated as “trouble.” Exodus 5:15-19 states:

Then the foremen of the people of Israel came and cried to Pharaoh, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” But he said, “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” The foremen of the people of Israel saw that they were in trouble when they said, “You shall by no means reduce your number of bricks, your daily task each day.”

The Hebrew word ra’, which is translated trouble in Exodus 5:19, “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness, one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

Judas Iscariot’s inclination toward evil was evident in his rebuke of Mary when she anointed the feet of Jesus. John’s gospel states, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:1-6). Jesus responded to Judas’ accusation by stating, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:10-11).

Jesus’ rebuke of Judas may have been what triggered him to cross over the boundary of right and enter the forbidden land of the wrong. Luke’s record of the Passover celebration indicated that Satan entered Judas just before he consulted with the chief priests and officers about betraying Jesus. Luke said, “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6). Matthew indicated that Jesus confronted Judas about what he intended to do during their Passover meal. He said:

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25

Judas’ question, “Is it I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25) revealed his lack of spiritual discernment. Whereas the other disciples had asked the question, “Is it I, Lord?,” acknowledging Jesus’ supreme deity, Judas used the Hebrew word rab or rhabbi (hrab-bee’) in the Greek to address Jesus. This seems to suggest that Judas was either unaware or unconvinced that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Son of God.

Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper made it clear to all of his disciples what the purpose of his death was, to expiate or atone for the sins of mankind. Matthew said, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26;26-28). The Greek word that is translated sins, harmartia (har-ar-tee’-ah), “as a verb, is literally ‘a missing of the mark’ but this etymological meaning is largely lost sight of in the New Testament. It is the most comprehensive term for moral deviations. It is used of ‘sin’ as a principle source of action, or an inward element producing acts” (G266). From this standpoint, the forgiveness of sins might be viewed as an adjustment to the sinful human nature that guides our day to day behavior. Jesus was essentially saying that his blood would neutralize the effect of sin in our lives.

After sharing the good news about his death, Jesus gave his disciples the bad news. He said, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31). Falling away is what happens when our faith is challenged and we renege on our commitment to the Lord. The Greek word skandalizo (skan-dal-id’-zo) is where the English word scandalize comes from. “Skandalizo means to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; metaphorically to offend; to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Jesus indicated that all of his disciples would fall away that night, but he went even farther to say that Peter would flat out deny him three times. “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:33-34). The Greek word that is translated deny, aparneomai (ap-ar-neh’-om-ahee) means “to affirm that one has no connection with a person” (G533). In other words, Peter was not only going to deny being a Christian, but would also swear that he had never even met Jesus (Matthew 26:72).

Moses and Aaron’s initial encounter with Pharaoh resulted in a similar denial of the existence of God. Exodus 5:1-2 states, “Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God Israel, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.”‘ But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.'” Pharaoh’s argument that he was not obligated to do what Moses and Aaron asked him to because he didn’t “know the LORD” was based on the assumption that only the children of Israel had to obey God’s commands. Pharaoh retaliated against Moses and Aaron’s request by stating, “Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9). The phrase “pay no regard to lying words” had to do with Pharaoh’s disrespect for God’s authority. Essentially, what Pharaoh was saying was that Moses and Aaron had lied to him about God saying, “Let my people go” (Exodus 5:1), but Pharaoh’s resistance was actually based on him having an unrepentant attitude toward God (Exodus 4:21).

The foremen of the people of Israel blamed Moses and Aaron for the trouble they were in. They said, “‘The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’ Then Moses turned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all'” (Exodus 5:22-23). Moses shifted the blame off of himself and onto the LORD by asking “why have you done evil to this people?,” implying that the LORD had intentionally set him up for failure. The Hebrew word that is translated evil in this instance isn’t ra’, but ra’a’ (raw-ah’) which literally means to spoil something by breaking it to pieces (H7489). Moses seemed to be saying that the situation in Egypt had been fine until he came along and ruined everything. In actuality, the foremen of the people of Israel were the ones that were making the people miserable because they were partnering with Pharaoh’s taskmasters to get the Israelites to do what Pharaoh wanted them to, which was to make their quota of bricks each day regardless of their ability to do so (Exodus 5:10-11).

Even Jesus became discouraged on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:36-39). Jesus was experiencing an extreme amount of external pressure to give up on his mission. In a moment of frustration, after finding Peter, James, and John asleep instead of praying for him as he had asked them to, Jesus said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41). Jesus was referring to Peter’s promise to not deny him when he said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” What Jesus meant was that Peter wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to abandon him if he was sleeping rather than being actively engaged in spiritual warfare.

After the chief priests and the elders of the people came to arrest Jesus, Matthew said, “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word that is translated left, aphieme (af-ee’-ay-mee) means “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned” (G863). One of the uses of aphieme is of a husband divorcing his wife. Aphieme appears in Matthew 4:20 and 4:22 where it says about Peter, Andrew, James, and John that they left their occupation as fishermen in order to follow Jesus. In seems that when these men left Jesus in the garden of Gethsemene, they no longer intended to be his disciples. Peter’s denial of his Lord and Savior was the ultimate betrayal that Jesus experienced from the standpoint of his influence and investment in his disciples being negated. After denying that he had been with Jesus (Matthew 26:70) and taking an oath that he didn’t even know the man (Matthew 26:72), it says in Matthew 26:73-75, “After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Psalm 41 is considered to be a Messianic psalm because it contains statements that clearly pertain to Jesus Christ. Verse 9 states, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” This passage appears to be connected to God’s condemnation of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:15 states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 depicts Christ lifting his heel against Satan and bruising his head, but Psalm 41:9 indicates a close friend would lift his heel against Jesus. It seems that Peter could be the close friend that lifted his heel against Jesus because his denial of Christ must have felt like a crushing blow to the man that was about to die for the sins of the world. The fact that Peter was fully restored in his faith and relationship with the Lord may explain why Psalm 41:9 states that his close friend lifted his heel against him, but did not bruise Jesus as Christ did Satan when he rose from the dead.

God’s will

There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It states:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And 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 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).

God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.

Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.

After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “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, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.

Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.

It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.

Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.

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.

God’s will

Abraham had the benefit of knowing exactly what God wanted him to do. It says in Genesis 12:1, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abraham went where the LORD told him to and afterward the LORD said, “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). Later, the LORD tested Abraham by asking him to do something that he could only do if he believed that God would keep his promise to him. It says in Genesis 22:1-3:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Just as Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son, the angel of the LORD stopped him and Abraham sacrificed a ram instead of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:10-13).

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22-15-18)

The Hebrew word that is translated obeyed, shama (shaw-mah’) means to hear intelligently (H8085). Abraham’s ability to comprehend what the LORD wanted him to do was based on his experience with hearing the voice of God. It was not only that Abraham could hear what the LORD was saying, but also that he was familiar with God’s plan of salvation and could fit his own circumstances into its framework.

Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” The Greek word that is translated considered, logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) means “to reason out, to think out, to find out by thinking” (G3049). Paul used the word logizomai when he said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, emphasis mine). The words counted and consider both have to do with thinking about what someone has asked us to do and deciding whether or not we will do it.

After Abraham died, it says in Genesis 26:1-5:

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

God’s conversation with Isaac was similar to his conversation with Abraham with the exception that his promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Isaac’s offspring was not based on Isaac’s obedience, but that of his father Abraham’s. God said, “And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:4-5).

Abraham obeyed God’s voice, but it says that he “kept” God’s charge, commandments, statutes, and laws (Genesis 26:5). The Hebrew word that is translated kept, shamar (shaw-mar’) means to watch or to be on one’s guard. “The word naturally means to watch over some physical object, to keep an eye on it. In its participial form, the word means human guards, those who watch for people or over designated objects (Jgs 1:24; Ne 12:25). The Lord, as the moral Governor of the world, watches over the moral and spiritual behavior of people (Job 10:14)” (H8104). It could be that Abraham’s presence in the land of Canaan was meant to be a mechanism by which God was able to keep tabs on or be aware of what was going on in an area of the world where his sovereignty was not acknowledged or respected.

When Abraham was confronted by Abimelech king of Gerar regarding his lie about Sarah being his wife, he told Abimelech, “I did it because I thought, ‘There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife'” (Genesis 20:11). The Hebrew word translated fear, yir’ah (yir-aw’) refers to moral reverence. “This fear is produced by God’s Word (Ps119:38; Pr 2:5) and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge” (H3374). In spite of the fact that Abimelech never harmed Abraham and they later formed a treaty in which they swore to not deal falsely with each other (Genesis 21:22-24), when God instructed him to go back to Gerar and settle down there because of a famine in Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 26:6-7), Isaac lied about Rebekah being his wife.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kree’-no) means “to judge in one’s own mind as to what is right, proper, expedient; to deem, decide, determine” (G2919). Isaac’s reason for lying about Rebekah being his wife didn’t have anything to do with Abimelech’s track record of behavior, but his own determination that it wasn’t safe for him to reveal his marital status. When Isaac’s lie was discovered, it says in Genesis 26:9-11:

So Abimelech called Isaac and said, “Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” Isaac said to him, “Because I thought, ‘Lest I die because of her.'” Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, “Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

Abimelech’s assessment of the situation was accurate and his determination that Isaac would have brought guilt upon his people was based on his previous experience with Abraham (Genesis 20:18). Therefore, it seems that Abimelech was actually receptive to the wisdom and knowledge of God (Genesis 20:3-7).

One of the ways that Isaac could have handled the situation in Gerar would have been to ask God to protect him and to prevent the Philistines from taking Rebekah away from him by force. Jesus told his disciples to, “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11). Another way of expressing what Jesus meant by his instruction for believers to ask, seek, and knock when they need God’s assistance might be that they should pursue God’s will and then, they will be assured of getting his help.

The Greek word that is translated good things in Matthew 7:11, agathos (ag-ath-os’) refers to that which is good for you or you could say the things that God wants you to have because they are beneficial to you (G18). One of the meanings of the word agathos is suitable or adapted to. Paul used the word agathos when he instructed believers to follow the example of Christ. He said, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me'” (Romans 15:1-3, emphasis mine).

Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This simple statement is often referred to as The Golden Rule and Jesus indicated that it encapsulates the essence of the entire Old Testament of the Bible. Following this statement, Jesus instructed believers to “enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus’ reference to gates and the way to destruction and the way to life indicated that he was talking about God’s will for mankind to be saved from their sins. The Apostle Peter said that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). This is evident in the LORD’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham’s offspring because he obeyed God’s instruction to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:15-18).

Jesus said that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). We know from Abraham’s example that the way to life is found through believing. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The reason why it was hard for Abraham to believe in the LORD was because God told him he was going to do something for him that was impossible. God said, “‘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'” (Genesis 15:4-5).

Immediately after he was instructed to go to Gerar, God told Isaac he would be with him and would bless him (Genesis 26:3), and yet, Isaac felt the need to lie about Rebekah being his wife in order to protect himself from being killed (Genesis 26:7). This decision not only resulted in Abimelech asking Isaac to leave his territory (Genesis 26:16), but also to a persistent problem with obtaining water while Isaac was dwelling in the land of the Philistines (Genesis 26:15). Ultimately, Isaac was deceived by his own son Jacob and in spite of God’s blessing, there was conflict in his family for the rest of his life.

Jesus used the example of trees bearing fruit to explain how a person’s behavior reveals the condition of his heart. He said, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased trees bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Isaac’s twin sons were at odds with each other even before they were born (Genesis 25:22), so it’s no wonder they competed with each other for their father’s attention, but the marked difference between these two men was that Jacob wanted to please his father, whereas Esau took for granted his favored position. It says in Genesis 26:34-35, “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” Even so, Esau remained his father’s favorite and “when Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, ‘My son’; and he answered, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Behold, I am old’ I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die'” (Genesis 27:1-4).

Isaac’s wife Rebekah knew that it wasn’t God’s will for Esau to receive his father’s blessing because the LORD had told her, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall server the younger,” (Genesis 25:23), so she intervened and helped Jacob trick his father into blessing him instead (Genesis 27:8-13). Although this was the wrong way for Jacob to obtain his father’s blessing, Jacob was doing God’s will when he followed his mother’s instructions (Genesis 27:8). It also says in Hebrews 11:20 that it was, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” This seems to suggest that Isaac knew he was being tricked and went along with his son’s charade because he believed God wanted him to bless Jacob rather than Esau.

Jesus told his followers, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus made it clear that God’s will is not evidenced by miraculous power, but by its consistency with his commandments. The Greek word that is translated does in the phrase “does the will of my father” is poieo (poy-eh’-o). This is the same word Jesus used when he said every healthy tree “bears” or produces good fruit (G4160). A word that is derived from poieo is poiema (poy’-ay’mah) which means a product, a thing that is made (G4161). The Apostle Paul used the word poiema when he said we are God’s “workmanship,” created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10, KJV).

One of the ways we can look at God’s will is to see that it’s not about what we do, but about who we are. Of course, it matters what we do because sin can keep us from hearing God’s voice and understanding how our circumstances fit in with his plan of salvation. The ultimate goal is for believers to be in constant communication with the Lord and to follow his instructions daily. Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27).

Jesus’ reference to a house that was founded on the rock was meant to convey the idea of sound doctrine, in other words, the Bible itself, not what you might hear from an unreliable second hand source of information. The best way to learn about God’s will and how it applies to you specifically is to read the Bible for yourself. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in Matthew chapters 5-7, is a comprehensive explanation of how God’s kingdom works in the world that we currently live in. If you are a Christian, your spiritual health and success can be greatly improved by reading it and applying its principles to your life.

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 Test

Abraham’s spiritual development included an important step that no one else in the Old Testament was asked to take on an individual basis. It says in Genesis 22:1 that God tested Abraham. Temptation is when a person’s faith or belief in God is put to the test to see if it will hold up under the pressure of moral conviction. We know that Abraham had reached spiritual maturity before God tested him because it says in Genesis 21:11 that when Sarah told Abraham to divorce Hagar and drive her and her son Ishmael out of their camp, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” The Hebrew word that is translated very displeasing, ra’a (raw-ah’) means bad in a moral sense (H7489). A word that is derived from ra’a, ra (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up what is good and desirable in man and society” (H7451).

Abraham didn’t want to send Hagar and Ishmael away, “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of the slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.'” God dealt with the situation according to his original plan for Abraham and Sarah, which was to bless them and all the families of the earth through their only child Isaac (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:16). But, even though Hagar was divorced from Abraham, God took care of Ishmael and treated him as if he was still under the covenant that God established with his father (Genesis 15:18-21).

The conversation that took place between God and Abraham after he made a covenant with Abimelech king of Gerar at Beersheba (Genesis 21:23-24) is recorded in Genesis 22:1-2. It states:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God’s reference to Isaac as Abraham’s only son was intended to point out that Abraham had a unique, special relationship with his son Isaac. The Hebrew word translated only in Genesis 22:2, yachiyd (yaw-kheed’) is properly translated as united and can be used as meaning “self, my soul” (H3173). You could say that Abraham and Isaac’s hearts were knit together or united in such a way that they were like one person. Their thoughts and feelings were in unison with each others’.

God acknowledged Abraham’s love for his son Isaac before he told him to sacrifice him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). This suggests that Abraham’s spiritual test had to do with his affection for the child that God had promised him. The Hebrew word that is translated love in this verse, aheb (aw-habe’) “is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). You might say that Abraham was in love with his son Isaac or even that he was obsessed with him in that he spent all of his time with Isaac and couldn’t think of anything else. In a way, you could say that God was asking Abraham to give up the one thing that really mattered to him, his relationship with his son.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, it says in Matthew 3:16-17, “immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” The Greek word translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is an expression of God’s divine will in choosing to love his son and to give him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. John 1:29 states that as Jesus approached John to be baptized by him, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” The title Lamb of God could also be translated as God’s Lamb or God’s sacrifice, the one who is able to take away the sins of the world.

As Abraham and Isaac hiked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham’s response, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8) indicated that Abraham believed God would substitute a lamb for his son when it came time for him to make the sacrifice, and yet, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22:9-10).

Abraham’s actions demonstrated that he intended to do what God instructed him to, offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). The burnt offering or owlah (o-law’) in Hebrew symbolized the transferring of one’s guilt to the sacrificial victim in order to make atonement, a covering for sin or expiation of sin for purification. “The central significance of owlah as the ‘whole burnt offering’ was the total surrender of the heart and life of the offerer to God” (H5930). As Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son, “The angel of God called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me'” (Genesis 22:11-12).

The initial basis for Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was Abraham’s need for atonement. God spared Abraham from having to give up his son, but a sacrifice still had to be made because the ram that Abraham offered in place of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:13) was insufficient to permanently remove the effects of Abraham’s sins. “The only human sacrifice approved by God was that of his Son, the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:29)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Greek word translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) has to do with a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something (G2106). Another way of expressing what God said would be my beloved Son, with whom I am satisfied.

After he was baptized, it says in Matthew 4:1, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ experience in the desert was different from Abraham’s testing in that his faith was not the issue that God was concerned with. The Greek word translated tempted, peirazo (pi-rad’-zo) means to test, but this kind of “testing will cause its recipients to appear as what they always have been” (G3985). In other words, Jesus’ test was designed to show what he was capable of, to prove his abilities as the Son of God. The fact that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness showed that he was doing what God wanted him to. It was not something that he wanted to do, but Jesus was willing to subject himself to the devil’s test in order to prove his devotion to God.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:2-4)

Jesus ability to abstain from food for forty days and forty nights was not a sign of his divine character, but his hunger afterward was a sign of his humanity. The Greek word translated was hungry, peinao (pi-nah’-o) has to do with starvation and indicated that Jesus was probably close to death when the tempter approached him. The first thing the devil tried to do was to get Jesus to perform a miracle to save his own life. The devil wanted him to focus on his physical needs, but instead, Jesus referred to a passage in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 8:3) that pointed out man’s need for spiritual sustenance.

The Greek word that is translated live in Matthew 4:4 which states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” is zao (dzah’-o). Zao refers to spiritual life and more specifically to the resurrection of believers, but also to the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ and the manifestation of divine power in support of divine authority (G2198). Jesus had the divine authority to turn the stones into bread, but he didn’t do it because he knew that as a man, his life was in God’s hand and his physical life would be sustained as long as it was God’s will for him to continue living.

Abraham knew that it wasn’t God’s will for his son Isaac to die on Mount Moriah because he had already told him “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Genesis 17:19). Essentially, it was this word that came from the mouth of God that gave Abraham the confidence to obey the LORD’s command to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. When Abraham saw the place that he was to sacrifice his son, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you'” (Genesis 22:5) indicating that he believed God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12).

The devil’s temptation of Jesus was built on the assumption that he needed to stay alive in order for him to fulfill his destiny of saving the world. After Jesus refused to make bread to keep himself from starving, the devil tempted him to kill himself. Matthew’s gospel states:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘On the their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)

Jesus was free to throw himself off the pinnacle if he wanted to, but he knew that God wasn’t obligated to keep him from dying.

One of the unique aspects of Jesus’ humanity was that he was able to keep himself from sinning. No matter how much he may have wanted to do one thing or another, Jesus always chose to do his Father’s will rather than his own. Jesus understood that in order for him to die for the sins of the world he had to be killed in a prescribed manner, at an appointed time, and in a particular place. Therefore, Jesus refrained from doing anything that might cause him to die another way. The devil’s instruction to throw himself down, implied that Jesus would be putting his trust in God, but in reality, Jesus could have and probably would have had to rely on his own supernatural ability to defy gravity (Matthew 14:25) in order to keep himself from hitting the ground if he did what the devil told him to.

Abraham’s obedience to God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac was an act of faith in that what he was being told to do made absolutely no sense to him and contradicted what God had already revealed to him about his son’s future. Abraham could have easily justified his disobedience, but didn’t seem to waiver at all in his commitment to do what he was being asked to do. When he heard the voice of the angel calling to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11), Abraham could have ignored the voice and went on with what he was doing. It was only because Abraham was completely committed to his relationship with the LORD that he was able to immediately stop what he was doing and change his course midstream (Genesis 22:13).

The final test that Jesus was presented with had to do with his future reign over the kingdoms of Earth. It says in Matthew 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

Jesus recognized that his adversary Satan was the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world and didn’t try to argue with him about whether or not he had the ability to turn them over to him. Jesus’ response merely pointed out that God who was the creator of the world was entitled to the worship and service of his creatures.

Jesus’ command “Be gone, Satan!” was a sign of his authority over the being that was trying to tempt him. The Greek word that is translated be gone, hupago (hoop-ag’-o) could also be translated as go away or get out of here. Jesus seemed to be expressing his frustration with the situation and was in essence saying, I’m done, I’ve had enough of this. Jesus appeared to be in complete control of himself and the situation and was not bothered by the fact that Satan was trying to keep him from doing God’s will.

After Abraham discovered a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, he sacrificed it instead of his son and called the name of the place where he was “The LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:13-14). The Hebrew name Yehovah Yireh speaks to Gods ability to provide that which he requires of us (H3070). Abraham understood that he didn’t need to atone for his own sins, that God would take care of it. Abraham may or may not have understood that God was going to sacrifice his own son at some point in the future. To a certain extent, it was a joint effort because Jesus was not only God’s son, but also a descendant of Abraham.

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!

Acts of faith

The writer of Hebrews defined faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This definition suggests that faith is a tangible substance that exists in the physical realm. The Greek word translated faith in Hebrews 11:1, pistis is derived from the word peitho (pi’-tho) which means to convince (G3982). “Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God.” Jesus was able to perceive the faith of a man that was brought to him for healing. It says in Matthew 9:2, “And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews lists numerous examples of people whose faith was seen in their actions. It says in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became the heir of righteousness which is by faith.” The intersection of the seen and unseen worlds through acts of faith may be the reason why believers are encouraged to do what God tells them to. If we only think about what God’s word says, our imaginations are left to run wild and we are unable to distinguish between the real and unreal aspects of what we believe to be true.

It says in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6. NKJV). Everyone that has received something from God did so through an intentional effort. We do not receive things from God that we have no desire for or are unwilling to accept. The writer of Hebrews said that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The Greek word translated diligently seek, ekzeteo (ek-zay-teh’-o) means to search out and figuratively can refer to craving or demanding something (G1567). What this seems to suggest is that faith is like a magnet that draws us to God. It is a divine force that God uses to accomplish will.

Interjected in the long list of acts of faith that are recorded in Hebrews chapter eleven are references to the fact that all of the Old Testament believers died without receiving the promises of God (Hebrews 11:13, 39). It says in Hebrews 11:40, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” This statement separates those who had faith in Christ before he was born from those who have believed in him since. It seems likely that the better thing that was provided for us is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which helps us to discern God’s will. Faith may be the thing that draws us to God, but the energy or supernatural force that causes us to act comes from the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that they would “receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

The seam that holds Old and New Testament believers together in their acts of faith is the building up or edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). The Apostle Paul declared about the unity of the Spirit that, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). I believe the writer of Hebrews used examples of Old Testament believers to inspire those who came into God’s family after Jesus’ death and resurrection to show us that our faith is a work in progress and that we have to finish what the Old Testament believers started. He stated “that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). Jesus talked about his own perfection and stated in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “I did the work You gave Me to do.” (John 17:4, NLV).

Suffering

The Apostle Peter’s first letter to Jewish believers contained much of the same information that Paul preached to people that were not connected to Judaism. Peter’s mini-version of the gospel focused on just a few of the essential points of Christian living and answered some very difficult questions like, why do Christians suffer? Peter said, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21, ESV). According to Peter, suffering is a part of the process that causes us to become like Jesus. The Greek word translated example, hupogrammos means “an underwriting that is copy for imitation” (G5261). It is as if Peter was saying that we should be a carbon copy of Christ’s suffering. This proved to be true in Peter’s case because he was crucified like Jesus was except that he was crucified upside down (Nero Wikipedia).

Peter’s letter was most likely written to address the persecution that was going on in the latter half of the first century. He stated, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled'” (1 Peter 3:13-14, NKJV). Jesus addressed this kind of suffering in his sermon on the mount. He stated:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Jesus pointed out that persecution is a by product of citizenship in heaven. Earlier in his letter, Peter referred to believers as strangers, indicating that citizenship in heaven causes one to be viewed as an outsider in the material world. Jesus made it clear that Christians who are persecuted on Earth would be rewarded in heaven and even went so far as to say, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). The Greek word translated exceedingly glad, agalliao (ag-al-lee-ah’-o) means to jump for joy (G21). It’s hard to imagine having that kind of attitude toward suffering, but Jesus was obviously expressing a spiritual truth that does not make sense to us from a physical perspective.

The resurrection of Jesus is an indicator of the type of reward that awaits Christians in heaven. Peter said that Jesus in on the right hand of God and angels, authorities, and powers have been made subject to him (1 Peter 3:22). Jesus’ ultimate position of power is a direct result of his triumph over sin. Jesus now has the ability to direct the affairs of men with complete authority over all created beings in the universe. Peter said, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2, NKJV). The phrase “arm yourselves with the same mind” is a reference to spiritual warfare.

To arm yourself means that you are equipped with weapons. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds (1 Corinthians 10:4). One of the ways that we can fight against the devil is to pray and ask God for help. Peter indicated that we need to trust God and believe that his Holy Spirit will help us in our time of need. He stated, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:17-19, NKJV).