God’s protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual health

Some of the people Jesus healed were suffering from spiritual afflictions. During one of his visits to Jerusalem, Jesus went by a pool of water where miraculous healings were taking place. The Apostle John said of this incident:

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt Thou be made whole?

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated whole, hugies (hoog – ee – ace’) means healthy (5199). The base of this word indicates growth or enlargement (837). The way that we know that Jesus was dealing with this man’s spiritual condition rather than his physical condition is the command he gave him after he was healed. Jesus said to the man, “Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

The Hebrew term for whole, raphah (raw – faw’) means to mend(7495). Raphah is used figuratively to refer to someone being cured and is also translated as heal and physician in association with spiritual sicknesses identified in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 13 -14). Raphah as a primitive root word means to slacken and is translated in various passages in the Old Testament as feeble, fail, weaken, and faint (7503). In Job 5:17-18 it says, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.” Psalm 119 uses the phrase “whole heart” several times in reference to a believers relationship with God and a healthy desire for his word. This might suggest that the healing that took place when Jesus made the man at the pool of Bethesda whole was a healing of his heart. Jesus made the man’s heart whole again.

One of the illustration’s the prophet Jeremiah used to convey the unrepentant attitude of God’s people was an earthen bottle or jar made of clay that was broken because of it’s hardened state. God told Jeremiah, “Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:10-11). It is possible that the man Jesus found lying by the pool called Bethesda was suffering from a broken heart that had caused him to become so weak that he was no longer able to get out of bed. Today we might say the man was suffering from depression or some other type of mental and/or emotional illness. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be made whole (John 5:6), he was essentially saying, Are you ready to let go and begin to live your life again? Perhaps, what this man really needed to do was forgive himself for some mistake he had made that had brought about the tragedy that happened to him 38 years earlier. When Jesus commanded the man, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:7). It says in John 5:9, “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.”

Prophecy

Following the birth of Jesus, his parents Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to have him dedicated to the Lord. While they were there, Joseph and Mary encountered a man named Simeon to whom it had been revealed that the birth of Israel’s Messiah would take place before his death. Simeon blessed the couple “and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). This strange prophecy may have baffled Joseph and Mary because although they were very familiar with warfare, the idea that a person’s soul could be pierced by a sword had never been spoken of before. The only clue Mary had to understanding what Simeon told her was an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that stated, “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3).

It wasn’t until the book of Ephesians was written many years later by the Apostle Paul that a clear understanding of Simeon’s message became evident. Talking about spiritual warfare, Paul told believers to “put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) and then specifically stated, “and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Spiritual warfare was impossible before Jesus was born because there were no “weapons” for believers to use against Satan. The point Simeon was trying to make when he told Mary “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35) was that Jesus’ words would convict even his own mother of her sinful human nature. Luke eluded to the power associated with Jesus’ words when he stated, “And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power” (Luke 4:32). The full extent of the power of Jesus’ words won’t be realized until his second coming. John’s vision of the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ is recorded in Revelation 1:16, where it says, “And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”

God’s ability to reveal the thoughts, and even intents, of human hearts was at the core of Jesus’ ministry. Many times, Jesus made it clear that he knew what people were thinking and could discern whether or not they had a sincere desire to change or merely wanted to be acknowledged as a good person (Luke 18:18-23). One of the essential reasons Jesus came into the world as a man was so that he could determine for himself the extent of Satan’s influence over the human heart. Simeon’s prophecy about Jesus, “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34) suggested that as a human, Jesus had distinct capabilities by which he could tell whether or not someone was receptive or resistant to the words he spoke to them. Although God is able to see the heart of man, his thoughts and feelings; as a man, Jesus was able to see the looks on people’s faces and could interpret their body language. It says in Proverbs 24:16, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” Essentially, what this verse is saying is that when a just or repentant person commits a sin, you can tell by the look on his face that he is sorry for what he’s done, but when a wicked person does something wrong, he won’t show any sign of remorse. Jesus could see from both the inside and outside what was really going on when he confronted people with their sin.

Integration

The prophet Zachariah’s final night vision depicted the world after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It began with the entrance of four chariots into the Holy Land, of which Zechariah asked the question, “What are these, my lord?” It says in Zechariah 6:5, “And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.” The angel’s reference to the Lord of all the earth indicated that Jesus’ conquest over Satan had already taken place. We know now that it was the Lord’s death on the cross that defeated his adversary Satan. Because Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, he was able to claim the entire world for his kingdom. The angel said to Zechariah, “Behold these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country” (Zechariah 6:8).

The north country represented all of Israel’s enemies because that was “the direction from which most of Israel’s foes invaded their nation” (note on Zechariah 6:8). What the angel was telling Zechariah was that the threat of conquest had been eliminated. We know now that the nation of Israel became extinct in the first century after Jesus’s death, but was reestablished on May 14, 1948. Since that time, God has supernaturally protected the nation of Israel from destruction. What is yet to be accomplished is spoken of in Zechariah 6:12-13 where it says, “Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH;  and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD: even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”

The picture of “The BRANCH” sitting on a throne in the temple of the LORD is a depiction of the millennial reign of Christ. What was shown in Zechariah’s prophecy was that there would be an integration of the roles of king and priest. The Messiah was expected to be a king, but what the people didn’t realize in Zechariah’s time was that the Messiah would also replace the high priest and would be the spiritual leader as well as the political leader of the world. The Messiah’s ability to integrate what we sometimes refer to as the sacred and secular aspects of life is due to his twofold blessing of peace (Zechariah 6:13). Jesus was given authority over all that is sacred in the world because he was born the Son of God. Jesus also inherited the world and was given authority over Satan and every kingdom on earth because he lived a perfect life and died for the sins of everyone, including those that reject him as their savior.

Zechariah showed the people that their hearts were still hardened toward God. The LORD told him, “Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” (Zechariah 7:5). While God’s people were in exile, they went through the motions of worship, but their hearts were not right with him. God wanted to see a different kind of behavior from his people, some evidence of change in their lives, but there was none. God reminded them of their obligation to “execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother” (Zechariah 7:9). Then he said, “but they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 7:11-12).

God explained to his people that it was their own rejection of him that made it necessary for him to implement a revised plan of salvation. Although God intended to restore Jerusalem, there would be a period of time when Israel would not be the center of his attention. In order to incorporate everyone into his plan of salvation, God intended to spread the good news of his free gift of salvation through a different method. What we refer to today as the gospel, the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, was entrusted to both Jews and Gentiles. Just before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told his disciples:

All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18-20)

 

Idols

In his call to turn from idols, the LORD repeated three times the accusation, “these men have set up their idols in their hearts , and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3,4,7). To set up an idol in one’s heart means that you are intentionally giving it a place of priority in making your decisions. In other words, you are planning your life around the thing that you worship and want to make sure it remains a part of your life.

The Hebrew word translated idols in Ezekiel 14:3, gillul (ghil – lool´) is properly translated a log, as in something that is round and can be transported through rolling it (1544, 1556). A log was synonymous with an idol because the images of pagan gods were usually carved into wooden statues from giant trees. Jesus used the illustration of a log being cast out of the eye to teach against hypocrisy. He said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5, ESV).

Jesus may have been referring to the practice of idolatry as a serious problem compared with worry or being anxious about God providing for our needs (Matthew 6:32). At the core of idolatry was the belief that spiritual beings had power apart from God’s control. If you wanted to excel in a certain area of your life, you could gain an advantage by seeking the assistance of a god whose domain was that area. For example, Asherah was the Canaanite goddess of fertility.

Thinking of idols as images that were stored or set up in the heart, you could say that Asherah was a symbol of or was similar to pornography. She was often depicted as a partially naked woman and her image was probably intended to stimulate sexual excitement. As with pornography today, images of naked women take the place of a normal, healthy sex drive. When God said, “these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face” (Ezekiel 14:3), he was most likely referring to the statue of Asherah that was erected in the temple to serve as a daily reminder that sex was the most important thing in these men’s lives.

In as much as God knew that idols were a perpetual problem with his people, he reminded Ezekiel that the remnant of people that would be saved from destruction were just as evil as everyone else. It was only by his grace that God would be able to save anyone. He said, “Yet behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their ways and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. And they shall comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:22-23).

Heart trouble

God’s understanding of the human heart goes far beyond a mere perception of who we are or what we want to be. He sees our motives as if they are a clear depiction of the inner being’s true identity. In his condemnation of the ungodly rulers of Jerusalem, God declared, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Ezekiel 11:5). The Hebrew word translated mind, ruwach (roo´ – akh) means wind or breath and is an emblem of “the mighty penetrating power of the invisible God” (7307). In other words, the mind is where the human and supernatural aspects of man become one. As a creature created in the image of God, man’s mind has the capacity to convey the intentions of his heart.

According to Hebrew belief, “the breath is suppose to symbolize not only deep feelings that are generated within man, such as sorrow and anger; but also kindred feelings in the Divine nature. It is revealed that God and God alone has the faculty of communicating His Spirit or life to His creatures, who are thus enabled to feel, think, speak, and act in accordance with the Divine will” (7307). Ultimately, what God wants is for man to reflect his own nature, to be like him. That is why God set apart the Israelites as his own people, they were to be an example to the rest of the world of what God was like. Unfortunately, God’s people failed to take on his characteristics, but instead became like the people of the nations that surrounded them (Ezekiel 11:12).

After the people of Israel and Judah were judged by him and were sent into exile, God planned to return his people to their land and start a new relationship with them based on his forgiveness of their sins on a personal basis. God told Ezekiel, “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). The contrast between a stony heart and a heart of flesh was meant to convey the difference between a heart that was submitted to God and one that was not. Another way of saying a heart of flesh would be a circumcised heart. Circumcision was a symbol of Abraham’s submission to God.

The reason why God had to put a new spirit within his people was because they lacked a desire to do his will. Human nature is such that our independence from God’s control makes it impossible for him to impose his will upon us. Therefore, we must choose to become one with him and accept him into our heart. Union with God is a spiritual transaction in which he transforms the inner person or mind to conform it to his will. This can only happen through a conscious decision to give up one’s right to govern oneself. In the case of the Israelites, God’s chosen people, their right to govern their own lives was relinquished when God purchased them out of slavery through their redemption by a sacrificial system, i.e. the blood of Jesus Christ.

Repentance (Step 4)

Both the books of Isiah and Jeremiah contain illustrations of God as a potter and his chosen people as clay. Isaiah wrote, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thine hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Jeremiah was told a parable in which the clay was marred in the hand of the potter and had to be remade into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). The LORD said to Jeremiah, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The process of repentance includes a willing relinquishment of the outcome of our lives. In order to get us to give up what we once thought to be essential for our happiness, God sometimes has to break our hearts. A broken heart is not about producing sadness, but about the view we have of ourselves that is central to our identity. The heart, according to Hebrew scriptures, is the whole inner man. “It includes not only the motives, feeling, actions and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man”  (3820). In one sense, you could say that a broken heart results in the person you are ceasing to exist.

God’s punishment of his people was intended to change their character. He wanted them to be free of the pride and arrogance that caused them to refuse his help. It says in Lamentations 4:1-2, “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hand of the potter!

God had to use extreme measures to get his people to stop worshipping idols. It says in Lamentations 4:6, “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughters of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.” Sodom’s quick destruction was considered a merciful act because there was no awareness of what was happening. When Israel and Judah were destroyed, not only did God tell them what was going to happen, but he also forced some of them to survive and go into captivity where the memory of what happened would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

It says in Lamentations 4:18, “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.” This passage most likely came from someone that witnessed the destruction of Judah and saw first hand the Babylonian soldiers hunting down people as if they were animals to be killed in sport. This type of ruthless brutality no doubt had a lasting impact on those who survived. Through this experience, the hearts of God’s people were changed forever.

The wound

Jeremiah described the problem of sin as one of bondage, enslavement to a way of life that was contrary to God’s written laws. Referring to the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah said, “For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: but they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:8-9). God’s plan to deliver his people from sin began with their captivity. The only way God could convince them of their need for salvation was to let his people see what life was like apart from him, to experience the pagan culture of Babylon first hand.

Separation from God was a foreign concept to the people of Israel and Judah. The temple that stood in the midst of Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s constant presence. The people were unaware that their sin had caused God to turn away from them and that he was no longer paying attention to their sacrifices and prayers. The spiritual condition of the people living in Jerusalem was terrible. They thought they were doing well, but they were actually very sick. Jeremiah declared, “Thus saith the LORD; thy bruise is incurable and thy wound is grievous, there is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines” (Jeremiah 30:12-13).

Isaiah wrote about the good tidings of salvation that would be available in the future. He prophesied, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). The Hebrew word translated meek, ‘anayv refers to someone that has been humbled through affliction or difficult circumstances. The root word anah means to respond or to begin to speak. The idea behind these words is a situation that causes one to pray or cry out to God for help.

God’s promise to his people was that he would not allow them to perish or cease to exist as a nation. He said, “For I will restore health unto thee and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 30:17). The wound God was referring to was the breaking of their hearts. As with a blow that breaks a bone, the truth of God’s word can have a devastating effect on sinners. When the Israelites learned that Jeremiah had been right about Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem, they were crushed spiritually because they had not believed what he told them. After the initial group of captives were taken away to Babylon, those who remained in Jerusalem were left to fend for themselves and terror began to set in, “as a woman in travail” (Jeremiah 30:6).

Heart trouble

At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, the city of Jerusalem was active in its worship of the LORD. After king Josiah made a covenant “to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments,” a Passover celebration took place that included every citizen of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:31; 35:18). It says in 2 Chronicles 35:18, “And there was no Passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the Prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a Passover as Josiah kept.” And yet, the LORD challenged Jeremiah to try to find one upright man for whose sake he might pardon the entire city. He told Jeremiah, “And though they say, The LORD liveth; surely they swear falsely” (Jeremiah 5:2).

Although the people  of Jerusalem were practicing their religion, God could see their hearts were not in it. Jeremiah said, “O LORD, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved, thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return” (Jeremiah 5:3). Jeremiah’s reference to the peoples’ faces being harder than rock was actually a reference to their hard heartedness. The Hebrew word translated harder, chazaq (khaw – zak´) is the same word used to describe Pharaoh’s hardened heart when he refused to let the people of Israel leave Egypt (Exodus 7:13). In reference to Pharaoh, chazaq means “to brace up and strengthen and points to the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (2388).

When the people of Jerusalem celebrated the Passover, they were only going through the motions. Their true motive for participation was a free meal at the expense of king Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:7). God could see the people had become complacent and were no longer concerned about his judgment of them. It was as if they believed God was unaware of what they were doing and could not hold them accountable for their sin. In order to show them the foolishness of their decision to reject his offer of salvation, God intended to let his children experience the fruit of their own labors. He declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “A wonderful and a horrible thing is committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?” (Jeremiah 5:31).

 

The inner man

God’s main concern when he planned for the people of Judah to be taken into captivity was the condition of their hearts. The relationship God wanted to have with his people was one of love and trust. In order for that to be possible, the people had to be devoted to God and open to his involvement in their lives. The way Jeremiah described this was to use circumcision as an illustration of being dedicated to the LORD. He told the people, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Moses used similar language when he said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

The Hebrew words translated stiffnecked, qashah oreph literally mean hard necked or a neck that is unable to bend and be bowed down as in prayer (7185/6203). Looking at this term in relation to the heart, it refers to someone who is hard-hearted, a tough minded person who refuses to submit himself to God. Therefore, to circumcise the heart would mean you cut off behavior that is offensive to God (4135). Jeremiah referred to the cleansing of the heart in connection with salvation. He said, “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jeremiah 4:14). Typically, a person is only concerned with washing the exterior part of his body. Jeremiah was pointing out that it was the inner man that needed to be dealt with.