A foolish mistake

Saul, Israel’s first king, from a human perspective, fully satisfied the desires of the people. “He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe in all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies” (note on 1 Samuel 10:20-24), but Saul lacked spiritual discernment and was prone to making rash decisions. Only a couple of years into his reign as king of Israel, Saul started to show signs of pride and seemed to be overconfident of his ability to defeat the Philistines, Israel’s most formidable enemy. 1 Samuel 13:5-7 tells us:

And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

The Israelites were terrified of the Philistines and Saul’s leadership was little comfort to them. Samuel instructed Saul to go down to Gilgal and wait for him to come and offer sacrifices to God. 1 Samuel 13:8-10 states:

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Saul’s decision to offer the burnt offering himself was a violation of the Mosaic Law and an indication that his heart was not right with God. When Samuel arrived, he asked Saul:

“What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:11-14)

Saul told Samuel that he had forced himself to offer the burnt offering. The Hebrew word that is translated forced, ʾaphaq (aw-fakˊ) means “to contain, i.e (reflexive) abstain” (H662). The name Aphek is derived from ʾaphaq. In the sense of strength, the name Aphek means “fortress” (H663).

It seems that Saul had intentionally walled himself off from the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he decided to offer the burnt offering himself. Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience affirms this viewpoint. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you’” (1Samuel 13:13). Samuel’s assessment that Saul had made a foolish mistake when he went against the command of the LORD was probably based on an awareness of Saul’s motives. The Hebrew word that is translated foolishly, çakal (saw-kalˊ) means “to be silly” (H5528). Silliness is an indicator of spiritual immaturity or a lack of spiritual discernment. The Hebrew word kaçal (kaw-salˊ), another form of çakal, means “to be fat, i.e. (figuratively) silly” (H3688). The connection between fatness and silliness may be a lack of discipline or in a spiritual sense, mental exercise. A word that is derived from kaçal, keçel (kehˊ-sel) is properly translated as “fatness, i.e. by implication (literally) the loin (as the seat of the leaf fat) or (generally) the viscera; also (figuratively) silliness or (in a good sense) trustKecel means ‘stupidity; imperturbability; confidence” (H3689).

Peter’s second letter contained a reference to the prophetic word about Israel’s Messiah being confirmed by Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21). In this passage, Peter stated, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrase carried along means “impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). It seems likely that when King Saul forced himself to offer the burnt offering, he was confident that he was doing the right thing, but Saul was acting according to his own will, not God’s will, as it had already been expressed to Saul that he should wait for Samuel to arrive and that he would offer the burnt offering (1 Samuel 10:8). The book of Proverbs discusses at length the foolish behavior of a man who is void of understanding. The fool has a knowledge of God but does not properly evaluate or understand what he knows (H3683). It says in Proverbs 13:16, “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness” (NLT). Saul’s explanation of why he had offered the burnt offering himself instead of waiting as he had been told to made it seem as if Samuel was at fault and that Saul had saved the day. “Saul said, ‘When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.” So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Samuel’s reply made it clear that Saul was acting out of ignorance, rather than a desire to please God. He said, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The Apostle Paul referred to Samuel’s declaration in a message he shared with the Jews at Antioch. Paul said:

“Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.

“The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm he led them out of their slavery. He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

“And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! (Acts 13:16-23)

Paul identified David as a man after God’s own heart, someone that would do everything that God wanted him to, and connected him with God’s plan of salvation. It was important for the king of Israel to be completely committed to God, but what was really at stake was the execution of a plan that would result in Jesus’ birth. Samuel told Saul, “You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Samuel referred to Saul’s kingdom as your kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God or heaven, and told him that it would not continue. Saul’s reign over Israel was a temporary arrangement that had to do with Israel’s request for a human leader to guide them into military success. Underlying God’s approval of their request was his intention of establishing an eternal kingdom that would be ruled by Jesus.

Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven and on more than one occasion associated it with God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus used the phrase the sons of the kingdom to refer to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israelites that were not members of the kingdom of heaven. The context of Jesus’ statement was the lack of faith among the Jews. “Jesus had just commended the great faith of a Gentile, the Roman centurion who came seeking healing for his servant (v. 10). The ‘sons of the kingdom’ may refer to unbelieving Jews who thought that their ancestry automatically entitled them to the kingdom of God (see John 8:31-59). The Jews thought that they were assured of special favor by God, but the Lord reminded them that they could be ‘last’ in the kingdom of God while those who thought themselves ‘last,’ such as tax collectors and prostitutes, would be ‘first’ if they exercised faith in him (Matthew 21:31). Furthermore, unbelieving Jews would be, ‘thrown into the outer darkness’ because of their hypocritical claim that they were the children and followers of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and although these men were his physical descendants, they were not part of the family of faith” (note on Matthew 8:11, 12).

In the same way that the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day thought that their relationship to Abraham would assure them of special favor by God, so Saul thought that his position of king of Israel exempted him from obedience to God’s word. In the heat of a battle with the Philistines, Saul “laid an oath on the people, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening, and I am avenged on my enemies’” (1 Samuel 14:24). It says in 1 Samuel 14:27-30, “But Jonathon had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, ‘Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.”’ And the people were faint. Then Jonathon said, ‘My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.’” When Saul inquired of the LORD and didn’t receive an answer from him, “Saul said, ‘Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathon my son, he shall surely die…Then Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathon.’ And Jonathon was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathon, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ And Jonathon told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.’ And Saul said, ‘God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathon.’ Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathon die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people ransomed Jonathon, so that he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place” (1 Samuel 14:38-46).

The quagmire of unbelief that resulted from Saul’s rash vow led to the LORD’s eventual rejection of Saul as king over Israel. During his confrontation of Saul, Samuel asked him:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Samuel indicated that Saul had rejected the word of the LORD. “Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988).

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God explained to the people of Israel, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23). The book of Hebrews further clarifies God’s point by showing that it was not Christ’s sacrifice that made us holy and acceptable to God, but Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will. Hebrews 10:5-10 states:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Sanctification is “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will.” The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and refers to “the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart” (G37).

Jesus told his disciples after he was gone, that his Father would give them “another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). Jesus went on to say, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins (1 John 2:1); and the Holy Spirit destined to take the place Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). The Holy Spirit’s role of Helper is said to be linked with believers gaining a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth.

Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The concept of sound doctrine is related to nourishment, it is that which brings about health and vitality. Paul described the results of sound doctrine as being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Paul repeated the attribute of self-controlled several times as he continued to talk about the result of sound doctrine on women, young men, and all people (Titus 2:5, 6, 12). The Greek words sophron (soˊ-frone), sophrosune (so-fros-ooˊ-nay), sophronos (so-fronˊ-oce), sophronizo (so-fron-idˊ-zo), and sophroneo (so-fron-ehˊ-o) are all derived from the same root word, sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which means “to save” (G4982). Another word that is derived from sozo is soma (soˊ-mah) which refers to “the body (as a sound whole)” (G4983). The connection between soundness and being saved was apparent in Jesus’ healing ministry. When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, he responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Later, Jesus was approached by a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Matthew tells us that she “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well (sozo, to save).’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well (sozo, to save)” (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Greek word sophron (soˊ-frone), which is translated self-controlled in Titus 2:2, means “safe (sound) in mind” (G4998) and is derived from the base of sozo and phren (frane). Phren appears only in 1 Corinthians 14:20 where Paul told the Corinthian believers, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking (phren). Be infants in evil, but in your thinking (phren) be mature.” Paul associated phren with immature Christians and conveyed the idea of making a foolish mistake. In the King James Version of the Bible, phren is translated understanding. Proverbs chapter eight focuses on the blessings of wisdom and states in verse five, “O child-like ones, learn to use wisdom. O fools, make your mind understand” (NLV). This verse seems to suggest that being self-controlled is the result of training our minds to think wisely and therefore, eliminating foolish mistakes. After Samuel confronted him, Saul admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul’s mistake was that he obeyed the voice of the people rather than the voice of God. It wasn’t that Saul didn’t know what God wanted him to do. Saul knew what God wanted him to do, but the people disagreed with it so, he chose to please the people instead of obeying God.

Godly character

Near the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to a one of his traveling companions named Titus. “Titus was most likely a Gentile from Macedonia (Galatians 2:3) who was led to Christ by Paul (Titus 1:4). Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) when some dogmatic, Jewish brethren insisted that Titus should be circumcised. Paul would not allow it (Galatians 2:3-5) because this would have suggested that all non-Jewish Christians were second-class citizens in the church. Titus remained as Paul’s traveling companion and may have been with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Galatians. After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, Titus traveled with Paul to do mission work in the East. They landed at Crete and evangelized several towns (Titus 1:5). However, since Paul was unable to stay, he left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of congregations in that region. Titus met with considerable opposition and insubordination in the church, especially from the Jews (Titus 1:10). It is quite possible that Titus had written to Paul to report this problem and ask for spiritual advice. Paul responded with this short letter encouraging him to complete the process of organization, to ordain elders, to exercise his own authority firmly, and to teach sound doctrine while avoiding unnecessary strife…The letter was probably delivered by Zenas and Apollos (Titus 3:12). It is believed, however, that Paul penned this sometime between his first and second imprisonments in Rome (ca. AD 64) when he was in the city of Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This was about the same time that the book of 1 Timothy was written. The instructive tone of this epistle to Titus is similar to that of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Both Titus and Timothy endured much criticism from false teachers during their ministries. Paul exhorts Titus to continue to preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to use wise judgment concerning the appointing of leaders in the church (Titus 1:5-9)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Titus).

The transition of leadership in the church from Jesus’ apostles and original followers to Gentile believers that were some of their early converts was difficult because of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles. The issue of godly character was discussed in depth by Jesus, but not in the context of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because he didn’t come into the world until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Paul’s greeting included a doctrinal statement that was intended to lay the foundation for his message to Titus. Paul began by stating:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicated that he had been made an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1) and then, linked his role to the development of godliness. Paul used the phrase which accords with godliness to emphasize the fact that godliness is dependent upon an individual’s knowledge of the truth. The Greek word that is translated godliness, eusebeia (yoo-sebˊ-i-ah) “is from eu, ‘well,’ and sebomai, ‘to be devout,’ denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him” (G2150). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul directly linked godliness with the manifestation of God through Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, and implied that godliness was embodied in, and communicated through, the truths of the faith of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).

A critical point that Paul made about God’s character was his inability to say something that wasn’t true. With regard to our hope of eternal life, Paul said, “God, who never lies” promised it to us before the ages began (Titus 1:2). The Greek word psuedomai (psyooˊ-dom-ahee), from which the word lie (pseudos) is derived, means “to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood” (G5574). The prefix pseudo “is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else” (Wikipedia). Jesus associated lying with the devil and told the Jews who had believed in him:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus contrasted the devil’s behavior with God’s and said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In the same way that God never lies (Titus 1:2), Jesus indicated that the devil never says anything that is true because of his character (John 8:44).

In his letter to Titus, Paul stated, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:12-14). Paul acknowledged that it was the Cretans’ natural tendency to act contrary to their Christian heritage and may have been trying to encourage Titus that it wasn’t his fault that his congregation was lacking in spiritual character. Paul may have wanted Titus to view these believers as being under satanic influences. Paul said that Titus should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). The words Paul used have the connotation of cutting the Cretans off abruptly. In other words, Paul wanted Titus to be rude, if necessary, to convince the Cretans that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul wanted the Cretans to be sound in their faith, meaning that they could recognize for themselves when they were being drawn away from the truth.

The Israelites often stumbled in their attempt to do what God wanted them to. When the people of Israel demanded a king, the prophet Samuel was resistant to giving in to them because he knew they were rejecting God’s authority. God told Samuel to do what the people wanted him to (1 Samuel 8:7). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). Among the guidelines that God established was the stipulation that the king write for himself in a book a copy of the law. God said, “it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God intended that his commandments would be the constitution that his people lived by, but “they wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). In order to prevent his people from abandoning him completely, God gave the man that was selected to be Israel’s king another heart and changed him into another person (1 Samuel 10 6, 9). 1 Samuel 10:9-13 tells us:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah,behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

The Hebrew word that is translated gave in the phrase God gave him another heart, haphak (haw-vakˊ) has to do with transformation. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). The Spirit’s interaction with Saul was not the same as when a believer is converted and the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s heart, what is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul was changed by the Spirit coming upon him which caused him to be transformed into another man (1 Samuel 10:6).

The New Testament speaks of transformation in the context of both internal and external change. Paul’s instruction to the Romans was, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Being conformed to the world means that externally you look and act like everyone else (G4964). Transformation, on the other hand, has to do with a continuous process of inward change that is expressed in the character and conduct of the individual (G3339). Paul indicated that believers are transformed by the renewal of their minds. The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God’s stipulation that the king of Israel have a personal copy of the law was so that he could meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) and adjust his thinking to it in order to develop godly character.

“From a human perspective, Saul fully satisfied the desires of the people. He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe of all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies. Saul was also a man whose own spiritual life mirrored that of the majority of the Israelites; it was not long until he disobeyed the Lord (1 Samuel 13:8-14). During his farewell address, Samuel made the people aware of the fact that they had sinned by asking for a human king. Samuel said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called upon the LORD, and he LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:16-18). The people confirmed their rejection of God’s authority when they asked Samuel to pray to the LORD your God. Samuel assured the Israelites that in spite of their rejection, God would not forsake his people, “for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22).

Samuel’s final remarks to the people of Israel made it clear that God was not going to give up on his chosen people. Samuel said that “it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22, emphasis mine), implying that the LORD could work things out with or without the cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to create, do, make…This verb is also applied to all aspects of divine acts and actions. In the general sense of His actions toward His people Israel, the word first occurs in Genesis 12:2, where God promises ‘to make’ Abram a great nation” (H6213). God’s intention of making the people of Israel a people for himself was related to his covenant with Abraham and his plan of salvation for the world. The LORD’s anointing of Saul “to be the prince of his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1) was the first step toward Jesus becoming the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was initially recognized and worshipped as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but throughout his ministry he talked about the kingdom of heaven and he told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

The distinction between God’s effort and ours when it comes to developing godly character and the result of us acquiring it are considered in the book of Acts in connection with the healing of a lame beggar. Peter and John were going up to the temple when a man asked to receive alms from them. Acts 3:4-8 states:

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

The lame beggar didn’t ask or expect Peter to heal him. Peter merely commanded the man to rise up and walk. Afterward, Peter asked the people that had witnessed this miracle, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). The Greek word that is translated piety in this verse, eusebeia is translated godliness in Titus 1:1. Peter concluded that it was power and godliness that had made the lame man walk, but wanted everyone watching to understand that he was not the source of it.

Godliness is a spontaneous feeling of the heart that causes us to do things that are godly or for God (G2150). Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that godliness had to be exercised in order for it to be helpful or advantageous to us. Paul said:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

Paul suggested that toiling and striving for godliness was a worthwhile effort “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). The point that I believe Paul was trying to make was that godly character is based on a real person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, we know what the end result looks like. Our hope is based on reality, not a fantasy.

When God gave King Saul another heart and turned him into another man, Saul was immediately converted, but he didn’t have any context for the influence of the Holy Spirit because Jesus, the source of his transformation, hadn’t yet been born. You might say that Saul was left to his own devices when it came to developing godly character because he had no concept of what God was really like. It’s possible that God intended for Saul to be an example of an ungodly Christian. In other words, Saul represented the kind of person that has experienced spiritual rebirth, but has no interest in doing things for God. Saul’s focus was on the material world rather than the kingdom of heaven. In his letter to Titus, Paul identified the qualifications for elders. Paul said, ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8). “The word ‘self-controlled’ is the Greek adjective sophron (4998). It means ‘to voluntarily place limitations on one’s own freedom’” (note on Titus 2:2, 5). Paul used the word sophron three times in the section of his letter that addressed qualifications for elders and the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s emphasis of self-control suggests that it was an important quality of godly character. Sophron is derived from the words sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982) and phren (frane) which means “to rein in or curb.” In a figurative sense, phren is “the supposed seat of all mental and emotional activity. In the New Testament, by metonymy, meaning the mind, intellect, disposition, feelings” (G5424). One way of looking at self-control is that your mind operates like someone who has been saved. A person who exercises self-control demonstrates that he or she has actually been delivered from the power of sin and death and in the process develops godly character.

Divine assistance

Moses’ leadership of the people of Israel ended just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. “Knowing that it would not be long before he would die, Moses asked God to choose a successor to lead the Israelites in his place (Numbers 27:16). God selected Joshua, who had been Moses’ close associate and servant since the time the Israelites were still in Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13; 32:17; 33:11). Even before their arrival in Sinai, Moses had appointed Joshua to be the leader of the army (Exodus 17:8-13). Joshua would make significant military achievements, but his public commissioning (Numbers 27:22, 23) involved much more that the role of military leader” (note on Numbers 27:15-23). Numbers 27:15-17 tells us, “Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘Let the LORD, the God of the spirits or all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” The Hebrew word that is translated shepherd, raʿah (raw-awˊ) in Numbers 27:17 is translated wandering in Numbers 14:33 which refers to God’s punishment of the Israelites for not entering the Promised Land when they were first told to. It states, “And your children will be like shepherds, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. In this way, they will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness” (NLT). The connection between the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and the role of the shepherd had to do with the people’s tendency toward going astray. Jesus used the analogy of sheep that have gone astray to describe people that have been deceived or are mistaken in their beliefs. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) which means “to roam” is translated gone astray in 2 Peter 2:15 and is also translated as be deceived (Galatians 6:7), err (James 5:19, KJV), seduce (1 John 2:26), wandering (Hebrews 11:38), and wayward (Hebrews 5:2) (G4105). Jesus described himself as the good shepherd (John 10:11) and told his disciples:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

Moses’ reputation as the shepherd of the people of Israel was dependent upon the miracles that God performed through him in order to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and then, to sustain them in wilderness for forty years. When Joshua took over as Israel’s leader, God told him, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). God acted as the gatekeeper of the sheepfold by being with Moses and Joshua. These two men were given special abilities so that they could lead the people effectively. It says in Numbers 27:18-20, “So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey.’” The Hebrew word that is translated obey, shamaʿ (shaw-mah) means “to hear intelligently” or “to heed a request or command” (H8085). The authority that Moses invested in Joshua made the people willing to listen to what he said and to do what he told them to.

God’s instruction to invest Joshua with Moses’ authority had to do with Joshua’s physical appearance (H1935), but it likely had more to do with what could be seen in the spiritual realm than in the physical realm. The Hebrew word that is translated invest in Numbers 27:20 is similar to a Greek word that the Apostle Paul used in his discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-20. Paul told the Ephesians to put on “the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). The Greek word that Paul used that is translated put on, enduo (en-dooˊ-o) means “to invest with clothing (in the sense of sinking into a garment)” (G1746), but it is often used by Paul to refer to believers putting on things that are invisible or indistinct in the physical realm. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (emphasis mine). Paul also said in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (emphasis mine). What this may suggest is that when Moses invested Joshua with his authority, he gave him the center stage so to speak, so that everyone focused their attention on Joshua instead of Moses from that point forward. It says of Joshua in Numbers 27:21, “At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” In other words, Joshua was calling the shots after he was invested with Moses’ authority.

The first test of Joshua’s use of his authority came after the Israelites’ victory over the city of Ai. Joshua 9:1-15 states:

As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

Moses expressly forbid the people of Israel from making a covenant with any of the nations that existed within the borders of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 7:2). The people of Gibeon were aware that they were going to be destroyed (Joshua 9:24) so they attempted to form an alliance with the Israelites in order to keep from being killed. In spite of his suspicions, Joshua made peace with inhabitants of Gibeon and found out three days later that he had been lied to (Joshua 9:16).

Joshua 9:14 tells us that the men of Israel took some of the Gibeonites’ provisions, “but did not ask counsel from the LORD.” Joshua had the ability to inquire of the LORD (Numbers 27:21), but he decided to trust the Gibeonites and relied on the evidence they provided him of their country being outside the borders of the Promised Land. Joshua’s lack of discernment or perhaps foolish pride compromised the LORD’s plan to have all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land destroyed. The Israelites couldn’t attack the people of Gibeon “because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 9:18). Joshua’s frustration is evident in his response to the Gibeonites’ trickery. Joshua 9:22-27 states:

Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

Joshua noted the Gibeonites’ intentional deception and pronounced a curse upon them. It says in Joshua 9:3 that the inhabitants of Gibeon had acted with cunning. The Hebrew word that is translated cunning, ʿormah (or-mawˊ) means “trickery” (H6195) and is similar to the Greek word Paul used to convey the devil’s activity in believers’ lives (G3180), suggesting that there were probably spiritual forces of evil at work when the people of Gibeon acted with cunning to deceive the leaders of Israel and in particular Joshua who was responsible for deciding their fate.

Proverbs 22:17-21 indicates that all believers receive divine assistance when they place their hearts in God’s hands. It states:

Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
    if all of them are ready on your lips.
That your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today, even to you.
Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,
    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

The phrase what is right and true is meant to convey reality, that which is able to be known with certainty. The Hebrew word qoshet (koˊ-shet) “appears twice in the Wisdom Literature, meaning the vindication of a true assessment by reality (Psalm 60:4[6]); and the realization of a person’s truthfulness by an intimate knowledge of the individual (Proverbs 22:21)” (H7189).

The people of Gibeon told Joshua that because it was told to them “for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives” (Joshua 9:24). The fear that the Gibeonites had was not simple fear, “but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). God’s truthfulness was evident to the people of Gibeon because they had witnessed the destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai. Their strategy of tricking the Israelites into making a covenant with them was a wise move, given that their leaders were able to save everyone’s lives without fighting a single battle (Joshua 9:27). Unfortunately, Joshua proved to be out of touch with reality and neglected to ask for divine assistance when he should have. As a result of his mistake, the situation escalated and Joshua had to ask God for a miracle.

Joshua 10:1-5 tells us:

As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

Adoni-zedek may have thought that Gibeon would be left to its own devices, but the covenant that Joshua made with them entitled the people of Gibeon to God’s protection. “And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, ‘Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us” (Joshua 9:6). The phrase relax your hand comes from a Hebrew word that is connected with one of the names of God. The Hebrew word râphâh (raw-fawˊ) “means to heal, a restoring to normal, an act that God typically performs” (H7495). After God made the bitter waters of Marah sweet, he told the Israelites, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.” The Gibeonites wanted Joshua to save them and may have believed their only hope was God’s miraculous power which can bring the dead back to life.

God responded to the situation and provided divine assistance just as if it were the Israelites’ lives that were at stake. Joshua 10:7-14 tells us:

So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
    and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
    until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

Joshua described what happened as the nation of Israel taking vengeance on its enemies (Joshua 10:13). When the five kings of the Amorites declared war on Gibeon, it was as if they had declared war on the nation of Israel because of the covenant that Joshua had made with the people of Gibeon. “At Joshua’s request, God caused the sun to stand still so that the Israelites could achieve a greater victory. This is one of two times recorded in the Old Testament when God interrupted time as a favor or a sign to a man” (note on Joshua 10:12-14). The fact that God did this miracle for Joshua right after he had made the mistake of making a covenant with the Gibeonites and was fighting a battle to defend the people that he was supposed to have destroyed showed that God’s faithfulness transcended human error and was not subject to a particular people being protected, but was based on God’s willingness to fight for anyone that would put his trust in him.

The first martyr

Stephen’s appointment to oversee the business of the church in Jerusalem was based on his reputation for accurate testimony about Jesus’ life; as well as the fact that he was filled with the Holy Spirit and had the spiritual gift of wisdom (Acts 6:3). Luke identified Stephen as being “full of faith and power” and noted that he “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). As a result of his notable achievements, Stephen’s activities were opposed by certain synagogue members that were most likely jealous of his promotion to a position of leadership (Acts 6:9-10). Stephen was falsely accused of blasphemy, a crime that was punishable by death. When he was brought before the Jewish council to defend himself, Stephen chose to use his trial as an opportunity to preach the gospel to the high priest of God’s temple (Acts 7).

Stephen began his defense by recounting the history of God’s chosen people. With amazing clarity and detail, Stephen reminded the Jewish council that God had been faithful in keeping the covenant he first made with Abraham and then,  later reaffirmed with Abraham’s descendants just before they entered the Promised Land. As he transitioned to his explanation of the New Covenant that was formulated through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, Stephen focused on the analogy Jesus used when he was asked for a sign of his deity (John 2:18-19). Stephen declared, “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands” and then he turned the table on his accusers by stating, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:48, 52-53).

Stephen’s abrupt accusation caused the Jewish officials to be “cut to the heart” (Acts 7:54). In other words, they became fed up and took immediate action to silence Stephen regardless of the consequences. Stephen’s stoning made it look like he had been found guilty of blasphemy, but in reality, he was murdered by an angry mob. Luke said of this incident, “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (Acts 7:56-58).

Dispute resolution

In one of his rare private moments with his disciples, Jesus took it upon himself to settle a dispute among them that could have turned into a scandal if it was left unchecked. Jesus began by asking his disciples, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? Embarrassed by their petty argument, Mark tells us that no one answered, “But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (Mark 9:34). The Greek word translated greatest, meizon (mide’-zone) suggests that Jesus’ disciples were comparing themselves to each other based on their stature, importance, the reputation they had gained by their ability or more specifically, their achievements (3187). In other words, they were arguing amongst themselves about who was the best disciple. It is likely they were boasting about their accomplishments in order to show off and make each other jealous.

Jesus took this opportunity to sit down with his disciples and have a heart to heart talk with them. It was no doubt important to Jesus that he get everyone’s attention and made sure all of his disciples understood what he was about to say to them. Mark tells us, “And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me” (Mark 9:36-37). The point Jesus was trying to make was that stature or importance was not based on their accomplishments.

Jesus went on to explain to his disciples that the most important thing in God’s kingdom was not their accomplishments of casting out devils or healing the sick, but their loyalty to one another. He said, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). The Greek word translated reward, misthos means pay for service or wages(3408). In other words, if you think about what we do for God as a job, the only thing we get paid for is what we do in the name of Jesus, for example, taking care of each others needs. Jesus clarified his statement by saying, we will not be rewarded for taking care of everyone’s needs, but only those that belong to Christ, the body of believers known as his church.

Discipleship

During his ministry on earth, Jesus centered his attention on the spiritual needs of God’s people; and for those who chose to become his disciples, he conducted a three-year apprenticeship program that focused on their membership in God’s kingdom. When the multitudes began to throng about him, Jesus looked for ways to discourage people from following him, rather than seeking to increase the number people that listened to him teach. An example of this can be found in Matthew 8:18 where it says, “Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.” The other side Jesus commanded his disciples to go to was the southern coast of the sea of Galilee. It was there, in the region of Gadara, that Jesus cast out the Legion from a demon-possessed man (Luke 8:33). Gadara was located in the portion of the Roman Empire known as the Decapolis. The Decapolis was a league of ten free cities characterized by high Greek culture (note on Matthew 4:25). Jesus’ motivation for taking his disciples to such a place may have been to expose them to the harsh reality of satanic worship that was taking place within the borders of the Promised Land.

As he was preparing to enter the ship to sail to the region of Gadara, Jesus was approached by a scribe, a professional writer of the Mosaic Law, who wanted to go with him on his trip. Their short interaction is recorded in Matthew 8:19-20, where it says, “And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head.” It is evident in Jesus’ response that he was trying to discourage the man from joining his entourage. Jesus’ image as an important person that people wanted to get close to was probably the main reason he had to constantly be on the move. This meant that his disciples rarely saw their families and were not afforded the luxury of sleeping in their own beds. The message Jesus was conveying to the scribe was that discipleship involved very difficult work that would require a huge sacrifice and not many were fit for the task.

Along with the hardship of being away from loved ones, and sometimes not even having enough time to eat, Jesus expected his disciples to give up all of their earthly responsibilities in order to focus their full attention on preaching the gospel. When one of his disciples asked to be excused from the trip to Gadara so he could attend to his father’s burial, Jesus responded, “let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:21-22). Meaning, I have more important work for you to do. The spiritual work Jesus engaged in while he was on earth was not something to be taken lightly. During the brief time that he actively ministered to the Jews, Jesus probably spent less time sleeping than most people would think is humanly possible. What Jesus was looking for in the twelve disciples that became his inner circle of confidants and close companions during his three-year ministry was a willingness to leave everything in order to eat, sleep, and breathe with the creator of the universe. There was no middle ground, no half-hearted commitments. It was all or nothing in Jesus’ work of proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.

Leadership

The covenant the Jews entered into after Ezra the scribe read the book of God’s laws to them specifically stated that they would “observe and do all the commandments of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:29). Sometime after his first term as governor had ended, Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem and found that the Jews were doing things they had promised God they wouldn’t. Nehemiah was frustrated by the people’s lack of commitment and prayed, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof” (Nehemiah 13:14). Nehemiah probably felt that his effort to revive the relationship between God and his chosen people had been wasted, but may have hoped that the LORD would at least give him credit for attempting to get the Jews back on track.

More than a hundred years had passed since the first wave of exiles had returned to the Promised Land. In some ways, the circumstances in Jerusalem were no better than they were before God’s people were taken into captivity in Babylon, but there was one major difference. The political structure that existed before the Jew’s captivity was gone. There was no king or even an official leader of the nation. The governor role was primarily established by Artaxerxes to oversee the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem and to ensure that the resources he provided were used appropriately. After the building project was finished, the governor role may have continued so that the Jews would have a representative of the Persian government to consult with, somewhat like the role of an ambassador today.

The lack of leadership in Jerusalem seemed to have both positive and negative effects on the people. The kings of Israel and Judah were for the most part a bad influence on the Israelites. There were only a few exceptions to the list of kings that “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 14:24). While Nehemiah did do a lot to improve the situation in Jerusalem while he was there, things seemed to deteriorate pretty quickly after he went back to Sushan the palace. On the positive side, in spite of their other infractions of the law, the Jews stopped practicing idolatry, the main reason God had sent them into captivity. It could be that their leadership was at fault for this problem. God’s people had demanded a king so that they could be “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Perhaps, they realized afterward that they were better off not having someone to lead them into sin.

Mischief

Nehemiah’s commitment to completing his mission of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem was met with opposition that eventually turned into personal attacks on his character. Nehemiah remained focused and would not risk even the slightest delay in the work. Two of Nehemiah’s most determined distractors, Sanballet and Geshem tried to get him involved in a political battle that would have most likely led to a protracted argument. Making it seem as if they were extending an invitation for him to join their prestigious ranks, Nehemiah said, “That Sanballet and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. The Hebrew word translated mischief, ra’ah means bad or evil (7451). The point Nehemiah was trying to make was that these men were trying to keep him from doing God’s will. If he allowed himself to be concerned with their demands, Nehemiah probably would have lost the respect of his followers.

Nehemiah’s response conveyed the importance of his mission. Nehemiah felt that a delay in completing his assignment was equivalent to disobedience to God. He said, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3). Sanballet refused to take no for an answer. He sent the same message to Nehemiah four times and then made a fifth, more intimidating, attempt to convince Nehemiah he should comply with his request. Sanballet sent what was referred to as an open letter (Nehemiah 6:5). Basically, the purpose of the open letter was to make it possible for rumors to be started that would get word back to King Artaxerxes that a problem existed in Jerusalem. The letter addressed to Nehemiah stated:

It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah. (Nehemiah 6:7)

Sanballet’s threatening letter ended with a direct request for Nehemiah to become a member of his organization. He said, “Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together” (Nehemiah 6:7). The phrase “take counsel together” could be translated, devise a unified plan or join forces (3289/3162). Sanballet was probably implying that he would make it worth Nehemiah’s while to work for him rather than to serve God.

Perhaps the lowest trick Nehemiah was exposed to was an enticement to hide in the house of God in order to avoid being killed by Sanballet and Tobiah (Nehemiah 6:10). Nehemiah responded, “And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in” (Nehemiah 6:11). It was Nehemiah’s example as a leader that was being challenged in this cowardly suggestion. Nehemiah was right to reject such a proposal, but also wise in his understanding of the impression it would give. Nehemiah’s interpretation of the situation showed that he was aware of his enemy’s attempt to ruin his reputation. He said, “Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me” (Nehemiah 6:13).

Opposition

There were two types of opposition that caused interruptions to the Jews work of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, internal and external opposition. After the work had started, a group of men showed up that were determined to keep the Jews from making progress. Nehemiah recorded, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?” (Nehemiah 2:19). The continual mocking that took place at their worksite was a type of external opposition that reminded the Jews of the ridicule they could expect if they dared to be different from the people around them. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem represented dominant cultures that had previously enticed God’s people to reject him. When these influential men heard that the Jews were trying to start over and intended to obey God’s commandments, they did everything they could to put a stop to it.

In spite of the external opposition they faced, the Jews were able to complete the first half of their assignment, but afterwards, they were threatened with a military attack. Nehemiah stated, “And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease” (Nehemiah 3:11). Nehemiah’s response was to arm the people and get them back to work as quickly as possible (Nehemiah 3:13, 15). Surprisingly, the threat of being attacked didn’t make the Jews want to quit, but Nehemiah knew his crew needed to be guarded or their lives could be in danger, so he armed them with weapons. It says in Nehemiah 4:16-18:

And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both, the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.

As soon as Nehemiah got the situation with his external opposition under control, an internal conflict broke out. Some of the Jews were upset because their children were being forced into slavery because they were too poor to pay the interest on their debt to the Jewish nobles and rulers (Nehemiah 4:1-4). Nehemiah said, “And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, You exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them” (Nehemiah 4:6-7). Nehemiah’s approach to the internal opposition he faced was to take upon himself the responsibility that would normally be expected of a king. The Hebrew phrase Nehemiah used that is translated, “I consulted with myself” could be interpreted as, I put myself in a position of authority, or I took responsibility for the people’s circumstances. When he said he rebuked the nobles, and the rulers and set a great assembly against them, Nehemiah was implying he challenged their leadership openly, as if these men were being put on trial.

Nehemiah was the type of leader that led by example. He didn’t separate himself from the common people, nor did he expect special treatment. One of the things Nehemiah was entitled to as Artaxerxes’ governor of Judah was a daily ration of food. Nehemiah didn’t take this portion from the people as other governors had, but provided regular meals for more than 150 persons out of his own resources. Nehemiah’s explanation for his behavior was  a fear of God and “because the bondage was heavy upon this people” (Nehemiah 4:15, 18). Nehemiah’s motive for overcoming the external and internal opposition he faced seemed to be to protect his reputation with God. Nehemiah appeared to care what God thought of his behavior more than anything else. He prayed to the LORD, “Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Nehemiah 4:19).

Collaboration

Nehemiah’s assignment to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was something that he said, “my God had put in my heart to do” (Nehemiah 2:12). Initially, Nehemiah kept his mission a secret, perhaps because he thought there was a traitor among the Jews living in Jerusalem. It might have been that Nehemiah just wanted to get a first hand look at what needed to be done to secure the perimeter of the city before he shared his action plan. Nehemiah’s night inspection revealed that the wall had been completely destroyed. There was nothing left but rubble of the once magnificent structure that protected God’s people from enemy attacks. Immediately after he had gained the support of the people to start rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah was hit with opposition from what could be considered the local mafia or an organized crime syndicate. It says in Nehemiah 2:19-20:

But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us: therefore we his servants will arise and build: but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.

The key to Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem was collaboration. Whether or not this idea came to him directly from God or was something that Nehemiah developed on his own was not clearly stated, but it seems likely that collaboration was God’s idea, not Nehemiah’s. Everyone in the city was expected to participate in the effort, including the priests, government officials, and even Nehemiah himself. Nehemiah gave out work assignments, making sure that every section of the wall had a leader assigned to it. The way Nehemiah described his plan, there were to be no gaps in building activity, everything was to be done simultaneously.

Throughout the third chapter of the book of Nehemiah the phrases “next unto him” and “after him” appear repeatedly. The picture that Nehemiah painted was an unbroken chain of people surrounding the city of Jerusalem, each person with an assigned task directly related to their own personal welfare and stake in the family’s inheritance of property. Included in Nehemiah’s plan was the restoration of ten of the twelve gates that controlled access into and out of the city. Beginning and ending with the sheep gate, Nehemiah laid out his work plan stating, “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they built the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel…After him repaired Malchiah the goldsmith’s son unto the place of the Nethinims, and of the merchants, over against the gate of Miphkad, and to the going up of the corner. And between the going up of the corner unto the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants” (Nehemiah 3).